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State Department Issues Worldwide Travel Alert Over Planned Florida Qu'ran Burnings

The U.S. State Department has just issued a worldwide travel alert based on the planned burning of Qurans by a Florida-based fringe religious group on Saturday, September 11, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. The Qu'ran is the holy book of Islam. The planned anti-Islam event by Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, has already resulted in violent demonstrations in Afghanistan and Indonesia. "We urge you to pay attention to local reaction to the situation, and to avoid areas where demonstrations may take place," said the State Department.

Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor of Travel + Leisure.

Ferran Adria: Cuisine Can’t Travel, So People Must

201009-b-bulli-3jpgYesterday morning, at I had the pleasure of meeting Spain’s most celebrated chef, Ferran Adrià. Since I’ll probably never get the chance to eat at El Bulli—his widely adored Catalunya restaurant-turned-culinary-institute, (which now no longer accepts reservations, though they were near impossible to get even when it did)—I consider it an accomplishment just to shake the man’s hand. Though, alas, I suspect that his was not the hand that prepared the cookies and Starbuck’s coffee on offer during the break...

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ACLU Sues Feds To Stop Border Searches of Non-Suspicious Laptops

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government's right to search the contents of laptop computers at border crossings when the owner is not suspected of criminal activity. According to the ACLU, more than 6,500 electronic devices were seized and their contents examined at U.S. border crossings between October 8, 2008, and June 2, 2010. Nearly half of those seizures were made against American citizens.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 26-year-old graduate student who holds dual U.S. and French citizenship. Returning to his New York home by train from Montreal, Abidor was interrogated and detained by U.S. border guards. His laptop computer was taken from him; when it was finally returned 11 days later, according to the lawsuit, there was evidence that authorities had searched his personal files, including online chats with his girlfriend. No charges were ever leveled.

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Big Industry Players Push Back Against Hidden Airfare Fees

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You may have seen some of my rants here or in the print edition of T+L about the outrageous fees and surcharges the airlines tack onto their base airfares. The airline industry says the surcharges allow consumers to pick and choose the additional services they want rather than forcing them to pay for perks they don't need. I say baloney. They're doing it out of greed. The base airfares they advertise are deceptively low, and can increase by 30 percent or more when you tack on all the extras, like fees for carry-on baggage, checked baggage, telephone reservations, select seat assignments, meals, et al ad nauseam. What's worse, it's often difficult to find out about these charges until a consumer pays for the tickets or, in some cases, until he arrives at the airport.

Now some big guns are marshaling their cumulative power to challenge the airlines on these hidden fees by creating a new website called madashellabouthiddenfees.com.

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Air France-KLM Considers Launching Low-Cost Carrier

Travel PulseAir France-KLM is considering starting a low-cost domestic carrier in order to compete with low-cost rivals, according to press reports. The company would not comment, but the French news agency AF reported that the airline is considering setting up a new entity within the airline that could compete with low-cost carriers that are eating into the airline’s market share.

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Wisconsin Bans Smoking in All Hotel Guestrooms

USA TODAY | Unlike most other non-smoking states, Wisconsin in July passed a statewide smoking ban that bans smoking in every hotel guestroom.

In most states that have banned smoking in public places, such as Kansas, the legislation allows hoteliers to exempt a certain percentage of guestrooms.

But in Wisconsin, "there can be zero rooms" that allow smoking in sleeping rooms, Trisha Pugal, CEO of Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association told me in an interview.

And the new law is causing "a major culture change" for hoteliers and guests alike.

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Worse than Sand in the Labor Day Potato Salad? Hurricane Earl

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As of 2pm, the National Weather Service had issued a hurricane watch for the North Carolina coast. The state is currently evacuating visitors from Hatteras Island and the rest of the Outer Banks.

Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware, and the Jersey Shore (batten down the Situation!) are all under hurricane warnings, and small craft advisories extend into New England, and all the way south to the Florida Keys.

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Grupo Mexicana Suspends Airline Operations

CNN | Grupo Mexicana suspended operations at its three airlines Saturday "until further notice," citing the financial problems inherited when the group changed owners a week ago.

The company's three airlines—Mexicana Airlines, MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink—stopped all flights at midday Saturday, according to a statement from the group.

"Today's decision is a painful one for the 8,000-strong Grupo Mexicana family, but we will continue seeking out ways of securing the company's long-term financial viability, so our passengers can once again enjoy the quality services they are accustomed to," the statement said. "We hope to be back in the air soon and would like to thank everyone involved in this process for their support and understanding."

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VisitOrlando.com to Add Travel-booking Engine

Orlando Sentinel |  The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau has cut a deal with Travelocity.com L.P. that allows visitors researching an Orlando vacation to book their stay right on the agency's website.

201009-w-afc-orlandojpgThe area's tourism promoters say they wanted to offer one-stop shopping on the site, VisitOrlando.com, which draws millions of potential visitors a year. The agency said that, after it talked with various online travel operators and other companies, Travelocity brought the "best total package" to the table.

The bureau site currently provides information about local attractions and hotels, but online visitors have to switch to other websites to act on their plans. (...) When the newly redesigned website launches early next year, the booking engine for flights, hotels, car rentals and vacation packages will not only make it easier for guests but will generate added revenue for the CVB through advertising and a share of any sales.

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New Orleans Attracts More Visitors

201008-w-cafe-du-mondejpgWall Street Journal |  On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, tourism in New Orleans is growing at one of the fastest paces in the U.S., but it remains a fraction of its pre-hurricane levels.

In 2004, New Orleans saw a record 10.1 million visitors; in 2006, post-Katrina, the number had dropped to 3.7 million. But 7.9 million tourists visited New Orleans in 2009, and of the 25 top U.S. destinations, New Orleans had the second-highest growth of revenue per available room in the first half of 2010, according to a report from hotel-industry research and consulting firm Smith Travel Research Inc. (...)

Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit that promotes tourism in the region, says next to rebuilding infrastructure, the biggest challenge the tourism industry faced post-Katrina was "convincing people that it was safe to come back." Photo credit: Philip Scalia / Alamy.

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