National / International News

Time to mourn the minibar

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:58

Good-bye, midnight Snickers bar. Adios, Pringles cylinder. Sayonara, bourbon nightcap.

They may never go away completely, but the hotel minibar can certainly be considered a rare and endangered species.

Why are minibars vanishing?

"In Las Vegas, a little bottle of vodka can cost you more than $14. And in Washington D.C., if you want a bag of peanuts, be prepared to pay over $7," says Kevin Carter with the travel planning website TripAdvisor.

A recent TripAdvisor survey found just 7 percent of U.S. travelers even remotely care about a minibar in the room. Not surprisingly, PKF Hospitality found that between 2007–2012 minibar revenue fell by nearly 30 percent.

Disappearing minibars is just one of several changes in modern-day U.S. hotel rooms. Woodworth says what hotels lose in certain antiquated amenities, companies hope to make up in room rates.

"If I can get you to pay an extra dollar for your room tonight, about 90 cents of that is pure profit," says Woodworth. "The energies and management focus has been really optimizing room revenues."

TripAdvisor found travelers want a lot of stuff that starts with the word "free": Free wifi. Free breakfast. Free parking.

Oh, and we want outlets – lots and lots of electrical outlets.     

5 more "amenities" disappearing from your hotel room

PKF Hospitality President Mark Woodworth says hotels are recalculating what makes them money. Here are five services on the chopping block: 

1. Dry cleaning.

There will still be ironing boards, but you'll have to push them yourself.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

2. Telephone services. 

Perhaps wake up calls will be rerouted to cell phones.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

3. Renting movies on hotel TVs. 

Enough guests prefer their own screens. 

Jimmy Sime/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

4. Room size.

The smaller the room, the bigger the hotel's profit. And the closer you are to your cell phone, which is what you care about anyway. 

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

5. Coffee makers.

For now, the coffee makers are still there -- but you have to pay for anything you brew

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twitter tries out 'mute' feature

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:55
Twitter is trialling a feature in its mobile apps that allows users to mute accounts that are becoming irritating.

Sheikh renames French royal theatre

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:55
A theatre in France's famous Palace of Fontainebleau is renamed in honour of the ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Student drinking event 'insensitive'

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:52
The mother of a student who drowned in a river in York after a night out says a university drinking event is "insensitive".

Firefighters strike over pensions

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:51
Members of the Fire Brigades Union in England and Wales hold a five-hour walkout over changes to pensions and the retirement age.

Day in pictures: 2 May 2014

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:49
News photos from past 24 hours: 2 May

Elon Musk, Tesla plan 'Gigafactory' site

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:48

Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, or Arizona? There can be only one home for the Gigafactory

Or possibly two... if two are built.

The Gigafactory is a massive battery plant, built by the electric car maker Tesla, that will take up to 1,000 acres and will include its own on-site wind and solar energy plants. Tesla has narrowed down its choice of location to four states, but rather than pick one now, it will prepare to build in two or three (or potentially all four), CEO Elon Musk announced on Wednesday.

Replicating engineering work, design work, site selection, connection to power and utilities, and permitting is a costly strategy, says Ben Kallo, senior equity analyst with Robert W. Baird.

"You can talk about millions and even tens of millions [of dollars] to do this" for just one extra site, according to Kallo.

But the cost of not doing it could be much greater. Tesla plans to have 500,000 electric cars on the road by 2020. This would include more of its Model S sedans, a new SUV, and a more affordable car (at $35,000, it might be described as 'less unaffordable'). Tesla also plans to expand into electricity storage to the wind and solar industries, says Kallo. And the gigafactory is the foundation of that plan. A delay could damage Tesla's competitive advantage as a first mover, and could damage investor confidence. Aside from its own share holders, Tesla needs investors to finance the $5 billion behemoth project.

Jakki Mohr teaches marketing at the University of Montana and has followed Tesla closely. She says having multiple possibilities to site the gigafactory is a savvy negotiating move.

"States give huge incentives to get this kind of business in their regions," says Mohr, and this is a way of "playing one state against another to receive better incentives to locate there."

There's also one critical but underappreciated concession Tesla wants, according to Charles Hill, professor of management at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. Tesla wants to sell cars itself, not through dealerships.

"It may be that Tesla picks a state that's initially hostile to that – Texas would be an example – as a way of getting leverage for them to change that policy as well," says Hill.

"The political issue around whether Tesla should have a direct sales model as opposed to selling through dealers is almost as big of an issue as the battery plant, and I don't think the two are totally separable."

The more back up plans you have, the more arms you can twist.

Capital tram starting date revealed

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:32
Edinburgh's new trams will carry their first paying passengers on Saturday 31 May, leaving the Gyle shopping centre at 05:00.

School heads say slow pace of change

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:25
Many parents think pupils' education is being harmed by the pace and extent of change in schools, a survey suggests.

Despite strong jobs report, wages still flat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:19

[UPDATED: FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2014, 9:58am ET]: The April 2014 jobs report from the Department of Labor shows much stronger employment growth than economists expected, and a significantly lower unemployment rate. The unemployment rate fell 0.4 percent to 6.3 percent in April.

Nonfarm private- and public-sector payroll jobs rose by 288,000 in April. The consensus expectation was 215,000. Job gains came across the board, in white- and blue-collar jobs: Professional and business services (+75,000), temporary employment (+24,000), retail trade (+35,000) with car dealerships particularly strong. Bars and restaurants added 33,000 jobs and construction added 32,000 jobs, a welcome recovery for a housing sector that has seemed weak in recent months. Health care and mining also rose strongly. Manufacturing and government jobs were both essentially unchanged.

The unemployment rate decline appears very favorable on its face -- 6.3 percent is the lowest unemployment rate since September 2008, as the financial crisis was raging. It hit a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, before beginning its painstakingly slow, steady decline to April 2014’s level.

One force driving the unemployment rate down is a decline in the labor force participation rate -- to 62.8 percent in April. The number of people in the civilian labor force -- those either working, or unemployed and actively looking for work -- declined by 806,000, after increasing by 503,000 in March. Data from the household survey -- the source of labor force measures -- is considered more volatile than the job-creation numbers derived from the Establishment Survey, and it might be a few months before these trends settle out more clearly.

Job gains turn out to have been better than previously reported during the winter, when the economy slowed dramatically amid severe weather events. February’s figure was revised up from +197,000 to +222,000, and March was revised from +192,000 to +203,000. That puts the three-month average at 238,000. That could signal a moderate, but significant, acceleration of job-creation in the economy. At some point, faster wage growth could even follow.

Finally, April was a 'pretty good' month for jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:19

[UPDATED: FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2014, 8:35am ET]: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported domestic employers added 288,000 to non-farm payrolls in the month of April, bringing the current unemployment rate down to 6.3 percent. 

Chances are, today's Employment Situation Summary for April from the Labor Department will be a pretty good report.

Job growth is expected to have improved compared to mid-winter's labor-market polar vortex. The consensus among economists (Bloomberg) is 215,000 new jobs created in April, and unemployment falling 0.1 percent to 6.6 percent. Job growth has come in around 175,000 non-farm payroll jobs per month since February (3-month average).

For the past six months, economists have had a hard time determining underlying labor-market strength. Nearly every monthly report has been skewed by anomalous or seasonal effects: the partial government shutdown in the fall; expiration of long-term federal unemployment benefits after the New Year (maybe people stopped looking, and getting counted?); severe winter weather in the Northeast and Midwest and Southeast and Northwest that suppressed consumer spending, travel, and hiring nationwide.

In recent weeks, economic signals have been mixed: a strong April private-sector jobs report from payroll processing firm ADP; higher first-time claims for state unemployment benefits (rising to a nine-week high in May 1 report); consumer spending up 0.9 percent in March to a four-year high. Meanwhile, GDP barely cleared the flatline in the first quarter (+0.1 percent preliminary, compared to 2.6 percent in Q4/2013). Home sales and building construction have all but stalled.

Mark Hamrich, who tracks the economy for personal finance website Bankrate.com, says the labor market hasn't changed very much in the past two years. Job creation has averaged , just below 200,000 every month and the unemployment rate has fallen gradually to below 7 percent. That represents slow, steady improvement—without, however, much acceleration in job creation.

"I call it a 'more, please' job market," says Hamrich. He says that's stressful for middle-income Americans--suffering from the lingering effects of the financial crisis, and the precipitous fall in assets such as retirement savings and home values.

Hamrick says income has largely stagnated. "Even for those who have been employed," he says, "many have had to put up with sub-standard wage gains on an annual basis. That leaves people feeling like they aren't making much progress."

Finally, April was probably a 'pretty good' month for jobs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:19

Chances are, today's Employment Situation Summary for April from the Labor Department will be a pretty good report.

Job growth is expected to have improved compared to mid-winter's labor-market polar vortex. The consensus among economists (Bloomberg) is 215,000 new jobs created in April, and unemployment falling 0.1 percent to 6.6 percent. Job growth has come in around 175,000 non-farm payroll jobs per month since February (3-month average).

For the past six months, economists have had a hard time determining underlying labor-market strength. Nearly every monthly report has been skewed by anomalous or seasonal effects: the partial government shutdown in the fall; expiration of long-term federal unemployment benefits after the New Year (maybe people stopped looking, and getting counted?); severe winter weather in the Northeast and Midwest and Southeast and Northwest that suppressed consumer spending, travel, and hiring nationwide.

In recent weeks, economic signals have been mixed: a strong April private-sector jobs report from payroll processing firm ADP; higher first-time claims for state unemployment benefits (rising to a nine-week high in May 1 report); consumer spending up 0.9 percent in March to a four-year high. Meanwhile, GDP barely cleared the flatline in the first quarter (+0.1 percent preliminary, compared to 2.6 percent in Q4/2013). Home sales and building construction have all but stalled.

Mark Hamrich, who tracks the economy for personal finance website Bankrate.com, says the labor market hasn't changed very much in the past two years. Job creation has averaged , just below 200,000 every month and the unemployment rate has fallen gradually to below 7 percent. That represents slow, steady improvement—without, however, much acceleration in job creation.

"I call it a 'more, please' job market," says Hamrich. He says that's stressful for middle-income Americans--suffering from the lingering effects of the financial crisis, and the precipitous fall in assets such as retirement savings and home values.

Hamrick says income has largely stagnated. "Even for those who have been employed," he says, "many have had to put up with sub-standard wage gains on an annual basis. That leaves people feeling like they aren't making much progress."

Teacher murder accused in court

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:13
A 15-year-old boy charged with the murder of a teacher who was stabbed in front of her pupils appears before Leeds Crown Court.

VIDEO: Opera lovers on making their music

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 02:03
Opera's Mr and Mrs Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello on their first album together

Maidana no pushover - Mayweather

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:51
Floyd Mayweather says he will need to be at his best to maintain his unbeaten record against Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas.

Bank warns on housing 'correction'

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:49
The recent surge in UK house prices could end in a crash, the Bank of England deputy governor who oversees financial stability warns.

Coalition split over knives policy

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:43
A proposal to bring in tougher penalties for criminals convicted of knife crimes prompts disagreements within the coalition government.

Blue star guilty of criminal damage

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:32
Singer Lee Ryan pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen after being caught driving erratically.

Dozens hurt in S Korea subway crash

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:19
Dozens of people have been injured after two subway trains collided in the South Korean capital Seoul, officials say.

Five monkeys stolen in zoo break-in

BBC - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:16
Five monkeys have been stolen during a "targeted" break-in at Blackpool Zoo, police say.
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