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Reinventing the Taj Brand

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Raymond Bickson, chief executive and managing director of the luxury chain Taj Hotels, Resorts, and Palaces, gave a master class in hotel branding to a select group of CEOs yesterday. It's a story that few have heard: how that company regrouped, rebounded, and reinvented itself in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed scores of people and nearly destroyed the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (above).

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Vacationist Hotel Deals: Escape to Italy

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At T+L we’re always dreaming about our next Italian getaway (check out April Europe issue!), and now you can plan your trip for less thanks to Vacationist. Choose between a beachfront villa in Sicily; a terraced retreat along the Amalfi Coast; a grande dame in Capri; and a chic boutique hotel on a side street in Milan. Hotel deals are up 70% off, so start planning now.

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Save Money with Your Dog on the Road

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As much as I love a seven-star oceanfront suite in Bali or a perfect boutique hotel with 10,000-count sheets, I also have a fondness for the classic American motel thanks to a childhood road trip to Disneyland. The problem is, many of the motels that sit along America's highways look like they haven’t been updated since my family made that long drive from New Jersey to Florida in the '70s.

For several weeks, my wife and I have been driving cross-country with our dog. While we've been fortunate to find small owner-operated inns and B&Bs that accept our mutt, sometimes it's impossible to avoid the chain hotels. (By the way, they don't call themselves "motels" anymore. The hotel and lodging industry officially abandoned the portmanteau of "motoring" and "hotel" in 2000.) The results have been mixed. At a certain dog-friendly national chain in Beaumont, TX, we were greeted by an incompetent and rude front-desk worker. At a different chain hotel in Charleston, WV, our room was way too shabby for the $99 per night price tag.

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Travel for a Cause: Packages that Give Back

As if you needed another reason to travel, we've found packages that are helping communities worldwide.

Hard Rock Hotels, including T+L favorites in Las Vegas and Orlando, is partnering with Facebook Places to raise money for WhyHunger, a non-profit organization that is a leader in the movement to end hunger and poverty. From now through December 31st, each time fans use Facebook Places to check into any Hard Rock Cafe location throughout the U.S., Hard Rock will donate $1 to benefit WhyHunger. For more information, and for a list of participating Hard Rock Cafe locations, visit www.hardrock.com or www.facebook.com/hardrock.

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Vacationist Hotel Deals: Mexico, Thailand + Italy

201104-v-matildajpgNow that it’s shoulder season, we’re dreaming about far-flung getaways—places where we can leave the crowds behind. So whether you’re looking to stroll the cobblestone streets in San Miguel de Allende, lay by the sparkling Andaman Sea in Phuket, or dine on Sicilian pastas in Taormina, you’ll find it this week on Vacationist.

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TODAY Show: Secret Island Escapes

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

T+L Features Director Nilou Motamed shares her pick of the best island escapes, including Southport Island, Maine, and Caye Caulker, Belize.

Can’t Book at Room at the Uffizi? Stay at the St. Regis Florence

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Florence’s stately Grand Hotel closed for renovations last September and is slated to reopen quietly on May 1 as the St. Regis Florence. The already 5-star hotel’s re-branding from Luxury Collection to St. Regis signals the arrival of butler service, fewer but larger guest rooms, 19 luxury suites, a spa (individual spa suites are the thing here; no more stripping down in a locker room before your massage), and all sorts of sterling silver bells and whistles.

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Final Four Deals at Four Seasons Hotel Houston

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My experience in the world of sports piqued when I joined my local tee ball league; I spent my time in left field picking flowers and after hitting the ball, I may or may not have run to third base first. Needless to say, I don’t know a thing about sports.

That being said, I’m told that the NCAA Final Four (that’s basketball, folks) is upon us, and to celebrate, since the games are being played in Houston, Four Seasons Hotel Houston is offering some pretty cool specials. If you're a local and weren't able to score tickets (or just happen to be breezing through town), and want to enjoy the games in style, hit up the Lobby Lounge for salmon sashimi cleverly shaped like basketballs. (Just try to tell me those aren’t awesomely adorable.) For $16, you’ll score four.

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Biltmore Estate’s Festival of Flowers

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Ring in spring at the historic 1885 Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. From April 2 through May 26, the property will host its 26th Annual Festival of Flowers. Come tiptoe through over 100,000 tulips planted across 8,000 acres of the Olmstead-designed land.

Events throughout the six-week celebration include live music, gardening Q+A sessions, flower-arranging and cooking demos, and a grape stomp at the on-site winery. Families are invited to join Peter Rabbit, children’s musicians, and face-painters for an Easter Egg hunt on April 24th.

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LAST CHANCE: Enter to win a $10,000 Dream Trip!

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Today is the last day to vote in Travel + Leisure’s World's Best Awards 2011 Survey! All respondents will be entered to win a $10,000 dream trip, among other prizes. Please take a few minutes to tell us your favorite hotels, resorts, spas, cruise lines, airlines, travel companies, and the destinations you love most. The results will appear in the August 2011 issue of Travel + Leisure.

Vote now!

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