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LONDON (Reuters) – These days it is easy to find an all-inclusive holiday, where all travel, accommodation, food, drink, entertainment and activities are included in one price. Online travel advisors travelsupermarket.com (www.travelsupermarket.com)…
Updated and corrected 2/17/11 10:16 am ET
If the cash-strapped US Postal Service wants to save money it should ensure that its workers arent booking pricey hotel rooms and airplane tickets or buying pornography, according to a new watchdog report.
Over a two-year period, some postal workers used credit cards meant for travel and lodging expenses to buy family members flights to Spain and Italy, purchase Apple computers and make more than 50 purchases at adult entertainment stores.
The findings, detailed in a Postal Service Inspector General report, also reveal that USPS didnt cancel 2,491 credit cards issued to former employees, including 53 who were listed as deceased. Two former employees were still using their cards after they left, according to the report.
All told, the mail agency could have saved more than $600,000 in excessive travel costs during fiscal 2009 and 2010 if it had cracked down on non-compliant workers, the report said.
Despite the fraud, the Postal Service cut its travel budget by 17 percent in fiscal 2010 to $94.8 million.
USPS employs 583,000 workers and funds itself through the sale of postal products and services instead of taxpayer dollars. It plans on cutting about $2 billion in costs this year — mostly by eliminating 40 million work hours — but still forecasts a $7 billion loss after losing a record $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010. It warned again this week that it will likely run out of money by the end of the fiscal year after exceeding its borrowing limit with the US Treasury.
The report reviewed 155,104 lodging transactions and found that more than 21,000 exceeded government lodging rates established by the General Services Administration. In one case, a worker claimed 326 nights of hotel bills that exceeded government rates by $17,877. Workers who attended the largest postal customer convention in 2009 and 2010 — mostly mid-level executives and sales personnel based in regional offices and Washington headquarters — collectively exceeded lodging rates by almost $89,000.
The inspector generals office further investigated several cases of employee misconduct unearthed by the investigation and some of the workers were later fired, the report said. Investigators also recommended tighter enforcement of the lodging and travel reimbursement policies and suggested USPS retrain workers on the rules.
Responding to the report, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who closely tracks postal affairs, said she was alarmed by the findings.
It is very frustrating that an organization that was $8.5 billion in the hole last year, has not adopted a frugal culture, she said. The proper controls are not in place to either prevent or uncover frequent credit card abuses.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), a normally supportive backer of postal leadership, also expressed concern. Ive told the new postmaster general and his predecessor that he and other top postal executives need to do their part as well, Carper said in a statement. If they are going to ask postal employees and customers to make sacrifices to save the Postal Service, then the postal leadership certainly has a responsibility to set a good example when it comes to frugality and basic financial management. In this case, they have clearly failed.
Officials quoted in the report said they wont retrain workers due to the high costs of doing so, but will closely monitor travel transactions and remind workers of the existing policy. A Postal Service spokesman declined to comment further on the report.
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US President Barack Obamas controversial plan to invest in high-speed and intercity rail service over the next six years won the support of the US Travel Association. In a statement, Roger Dow, president and CEO of US Travel said the administrations high-speed rail proposal was a much-needed step toward strengthening the US economy.
Investing in high-speed and intercity rail service is a positive and much-needed step toward rebuilding and expanding the national transportation system and strengthening our economy, Dow said. We should pursue viable and responsible funding mechanisms to help make this happen because transportation is the gateway to job creation in Americas hotels, restaurants, attractions and destinations from coast-to-coast.
The Administration should continue to lead the way in working to spur greater public and private financing of high-speed rail networks that will relieve congestion on regional highway systems, provide travelers with an efficient option and means of reaching their destinations and help protect the environment.
To ensure the nations economic competitiveness, the US should try to ensure that business and leisure travelers alike have affordable options, according to Dow. The US Travel chief said the association was looking forward to working with the administration and new Congress to improve the way transportation was funded, prioritized and designed in the future.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford has had to adjust his front court due to foul trouble all year, but now his adjustments are taking place before the Cowboys even step on the court.
After news broke of Cowboy forward Darrell Williams pending legal charges, Ford is faced with the challenge of replacing the Big 12s Rookie Of The Week.
Its going to give other guys some opportunities, Ford said. Were just going to need other guys to step up
Matt Pilgrim, a senior, is one player who could see increased playing time during Williams absence.
(Pilgrim) is starting to score in the post a lot better, Ford said. Were going to ask him to do a little bit more, but I dont want to put too much pressure on him.
That pressure could be relieved with players who have seen limited time in the past and now stepping into a bigger role, like that of sophomore Jarred Shaw.
Im just staying ready, Shaw said. Whenever my name is called, Ill do what I do. Ill go out and play hard, and try to get a win.
Pilgrim, Shaw and the rest of the Cowboys (16-7, 4-5 Big 12) will look to use those adjustments to their advantage when they take on the Cornhuskers Saturday in Nebraska.
Were really excited, guard Keiton Page said. We know Nebraska is playing good basketball right now, and theyve been doing it all year.
Nebraska (15-8, 3-6) is coming off a 74-70 loss at Baylor, but Ford said he isnt taking them lightly.
They do a great job of forcing teams to take tough shots, Ford said. Thats something they take pride in.
With seven games left in conference play, Shaw said the team is focused and ready for a final run.
It doesnt matter how you start, it matters how you finish, Shaw said. I think we are going to finish strong. This is nothing new to us or the coaching staff, and they are getting us ready to be successful.
The 2011 NASCAR season is here and if youre a fan and want to be in on the action it is not too late to book your trip to Daytona for the 2011 Daytona 500. The race is less than two weeks away, but there are all inclusive vacation packages that include accommodations, tickets to the race and extras such as scanners to listen on all the action throughout the race.
Hotel in Orlando and Daytona 500 Tickets
This package is the most economical and offers a three night stay at the Spring Hill Suites in Orlando. Check in is on Saturday February 19. This package includes a front stretch ticket to the Daytona 500 and round trip motorcoach transportation from the hotel to the race and back. Ride in style and dont worry about celebrating throughout the day. MyRaceTravel staff will be on hand at the speedway to assist with any questions or needs you may have and you will also receive a Daytona International Speedway souvenir and an official Daytona 500 race program. Prices range from $495 and up for up to four guests per room. My race travel will also provide a special welcome gift.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Shares of Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., which runs the Food Network and other cable channels, fell Thursday after the company posted a smaller-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, saying its year-old purchase of the Travel Channel helped expenses jump 17 percent.
Its $326 million in fourth-quarter expenses included a marketing push and consolidating results for the Travel Channel, in which it holds a controlling interest. The company also took an $8.6 million write-off of Travel Channel programming that was already in development when it bought the network.
Scripps Network Interactive earned $130.6 million, or 77 cents per share, in the December quarter. That is a 38 percent increase from year-earlier earnings of $94.4 million, or 57 cents per share.
Excluding an income tax benefit and charges related to its purchase of the Travel Channel, the company said it earned 68 cents per share, up from adjusted earnings of 52 cents per share in the year-earlier period. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting 70 cents.
Revenue rose 33 percent to $573 million from $429.7 million, beating the $563.7 million that analysts were expecting.
Shares of Scripps Networks Interactive, based in Knoxville, Tenn., fell $1.04, or 2.1 percent, to $49.33 in midday trading.
In addition to the Food Network and the Travel Channel, the company also runs HGTV, the Cooking Channel, DIY Network and the country music channel Great American Country. It also owns Shopzilla, BizRate and Beso, a family of comparison shopping websites.
Advertising revenue from its cable channels rose 23 percent and affiliate revenue jumped 61 percent. In both cases, the Travel Channel had a positive effect on results. Meanwhile, revenue from its comparative shopping sites rose 38 percent, mostly thanks to Shopzillas popularity in Europe. The company said it is still working to build brand awareness for its websites in the US
For the year, the company earned $411 million, or $2.45 per share, up from $299.3 million, or $1.81 per share, in 2009. Revenue rose to $2.07 billion from $1.54 billion.
The company did not issue an earnings forecast.
A giggly San Francisco Chronicle reporter caught up with Governor Brown at the Sacramento airport as he boarded his Southwest flight solo. Her shaky camera style video (by the Chronicles aptly-named Shaky Hand Productions) shows the Governor answering in all seriousness when the reporter laughs, are you really going to fly Southwest by yourself?
Brown explains that he doesnt have a private jet (unlike his predecessor) and as for his lack of entourage, he replies, I feel that the people of California are good seatmates. Were guessing Brown wasnt exactly sure why it was so funny, and were apt to agree with the LA Times nod to his strategic frugality: his populist flare could also be an important weapon for Brown as he tries to persuade voters to support billions of dollars in extended taxes. As he begins taking his message to voters around the state, he may be doing it one Southwest flight at a time.
The governor flew to Los Angeles today to give the keynote speech at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Inaugural Dinner. He will address the California budget crisis, explaining the need to cut and streamline the budget while raising taxes to make up the shortfall. LAist reports that the $500-per-plate fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce is recognized as the premier business and civic leadership event in Los Angeles.
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The Pittsburgh Business Times ranked the largest Pittsburgh-area travel agencies by 2010 local retail sales.
Coming in at No. 7 on the list was Worldview Travel LLC, with $19,000,000 in 2010 local retail sales.
For a sneak peek at the rest of the Top 7, click here.
The complete list of the largest Pittsburgh-area travel agencies is available to subscribers via the digital edition or on Page 17 of this weeks print edition of the Business Times. Want more research like this? Check out the 2011 Book of Lists in print or digital format, or get access to our interactive Book of Lists database.
The Hong Kong government is considering the lifting of the ?black travel ban it issued on the Philippines following the bloody hostage-taking in Manila last August, which left eight tourists from the special Chinese territory dead.
Hong Kong-based Chinese-language newspaper The Standard quoted Hong Kong security chief Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong as saying that the government of the Chinese territory is looking at the possibility of ?adjusting the black outbound travel alert issued on the Philippines four months ago in the direct aftermath of the hostage fiasco.
Lee?s statement came days after Philippine tourism chief Alberto Lim visited Hong Kong on a ?goodwill mission and assured residents and officials of the Chinese territory of measures being undertaken by the Philippine government to ensure the security of tourists in the country. (See: PHL, HK officials to discuss Manila hostage fiasco)
The newspaper report also quoted an unidentified source privy to the discussions of the Hong Kong and Philippine governments over the past days as saying that both sides have already agreed on an appropriate time to lift the travel ban.
The report also cited Joseph Tung Yao-chung, an official of Hong Kong?s Travel Industry Council, as saying that the first priority is to restore tourists? confidence in visiting the Philippines considering the ?great damage caused by the hostage fiasco.
Daniel Chan Kin-pang, deputy general manager of Hong Thai Travel?the travel agency that had organized the ill-fated Manila tour last August?also said his agency will not organize any tours until the black travel advisory is lifted.
Last August 23, dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus carrying 25 people, including 20 tourists from Hong Kong, in an attempt to get his job back.
The 11-hour hostage drama ended in a bloody carnage, killing eight Hong Kong nationals and the lone hostage taker in a bungled police rescue. (See: Massacre in nation#39;s heart: Timeline of Manila bus siege)
An hour after the hostage crisis ended, the Security Bureau of Hong Kong issued a ?black alert warning on the Philippines, advising its citizens to avoid all travel to the country. (See: HK issues travel ban to RP after hostage crisis)
The Hong Kong government renewed the travel ban on the Philippines earlier this month, this time citing possible terrorist attacks in the country?s capital region. (See: Hong Kong issues black travel advisory on PHL over terrorism threats)?Andreo C. Calonzo/JV, GMANews.TV
CINCINNATI – The American Humane Association has compiled a list of tips on how to safely travel with your pets this holiday season.
- Always make sure your pet is properly identified with current information, like address and phone number.
- Have your pet travel in their kennel to ease stress of the animal.
- Makes sure the kennel is the right size. Your pet should be able to stand up and turn around comfortably. If traveling by plane, make sure the kennel is labeled with this end up and live animal stickers to insure safety.
- If traveling by car, try to keep your pet on the same potty schedule as at home.
- When traveling by plane, try to book direct flights and inform the flight attendants that you have a pet in cargo.
- Avoid traveling with pets that are too young, fragile, or sick to travel. Animals that are pug-nosed should not fly in the cargo of a plane. Take copies of vaccination records in case of an emergency. These documents are usually required for flying.
- Plan your trip in advance. Some states have strict rules on pet travel. If this happens to affect your trip, planning ahead will allow time to contact a kennel. Holidays are a busy time for kennels, so they fill up quickly.
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