Review Category : Top Stories

Marriott Embraces Text Requests, Signaling Major Shift in How Hotels Service Guests

ponsulak/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Between mobile check-in, automatic check out and even robots delivering room service, hotel guests have decreased their interaction with staff dramatically in recent years.

And this summer, travelers staying at Marriott hotels no longer need to pick up the phone to get even the most unusual requests fulfilled. They can just send a text.

The brand has just announced its new Mobile Request app feature. It was introduced at 46 hotels earlier this month and will launch across the entire portfolio of the Marriott Hotels brand — 500 in all — this summer.

“Some 75 percent of people travel with one or more mobile devices and the percentage is higher for younger travelers,” said Matthew Carroll, vice president, Marriott Hotels. “We know today’s travelers want a mobile experience built around their changing needs and desire to communicate on their terms. Mobile Request is the brand’s next evolution since our introduction of mobile check-in, checkout and room ready alerts worldwide.”

Mobile Request will be available to the 50 million members of Marriott Rewards, the company’s loyalty program. Members will be able to communicate with their hotel in two ways within 72 hours of their reservation and for the duration of their stay. The “Anything Else?” feature offers guests two-way chat functionality to have conversations in real time with the hosts at Marriott Hotels who can fulfill and confirm their requests. It also offers a drop-down menu with most requested services and amenities, such as extra towels and pillows.

And while a few may bemoan the loss of the personal touch at hotels, industry experts say texting is exactly what travelers want.

“Texting for hotel service is a brilliant idea whose time has come.,” Professor Chekitan Dev, hotel expert at Cornell University and author of Hospitality Branding told ABC News. “Today’s customer has a very simple mantra for businesses they deal with: I want what I want, when I want it, how I want it, and I want it now. In our age of instant gratification, reducing the response time from wish to fulfillment is key.”

He added that his research indicates request response time is closely tied to guest satisfaction and loyalty.

Guests are getting far more creative than pillows and towels. Marriott said guests have requested running routes near the hotel for workouts, car service from the airport and even a cinnamon roll with a candle for a 6-year-old’s birthday.

Marriott’s not the first hotel to use texting, Dev said, but the hotels using it are still few. Marriott said the two-way chat feature is an industry first.

Texting requests is particularly attractive to millennial travelers, Dev said. They’re the “hotel industry’s newest target customer, for whom texting is the preferred mode of communication.”

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Salmonella Outbreak Possibly Linked to Tuna Sushi

adisa/iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — More than 50 people in nine states have been sickened with salmonella, and investigators suspect raw tuna in sushi is to blame, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is reporting that 53 people have been sickened — including a child younger than 1 year old — with a strain of salmonella called paratyphi B variant L(+) tartrate(+).

No one has died, and 10 people have been hospitalized. Of the 36 people interviewed, 34 reported eating raw tuna in sushi, according to the CDC.

“The investigation has not conclusively identified the source of this outbreak, but most ill people interviewed reported eating sushi made with raw tuna in the week before becoming ill,” the CDC announced. “The investigation is ongoing and has not identified a common brand or supplier of raw tuna linked to illnesses.”

Symptoms usually take between 12 and 72 hours to appear and include cramps diarrhea and fever, according to the CDC. Children under 5, over 65 or with compromised immune systems are most at risk and should avoid raw seafood regardless of whether there’s an ongoing outbreak, it said.

Cases have been reported in Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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Did TLC Pull “19 Kids and Counting” in Wake of Josh Duggar Scandal?

David Welker/TLC(NEW YORK) — In the wake of Josh Duggar admitting that he inappropriately touched minors several years ago as a teenager, several outlets are reporting that TLC has pulled the show in which he’s featured with his large family, 19 Kids and Counting.

When contacted by ABC News, TLC had no comment on reports that the show had been pulled from the cable network and has not officially announced any cancellation.

The firestorm started when In Touch magazine reported that Duggar was investigated in 2006 for alleged misconduct starting when he was 14 years old.

Duggars’ representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement first provided to People magazine and then posted to Facebook, Josh admitted, “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. …I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged.”

Josh, now 27, admitted he told his family, including his wife Anna, of his actions and received counseling.

People magazine added that Josh has now resigned from his position at the Family Research Council.

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Obama Seeks To Reassure Jewish Americans About Iran Deal

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama told a Jewish-American audience on Friday that he has a personal stake in making sure the Iran nuclear deal is a success.

“This deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise,” the president said, echoing the comments he made to The Atlantic earlier this week.

Seeking to reassure the Jewish community, the president reiterated that the U.S. and Israel share the same goal: “Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate,” he continued. “The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal.”

Obama also reiterated that a deal is not yet done and that “all options are and will remain on the table.”

“I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” he said.

The president, wearing a white yarmulke, spoke before the Congregation at Adas Israel at an event marking Jewish American Heritage Month.

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What to Expect from Google’s I/O Conference

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) — Every year Google’s I/O Conference is the place where creators and developers unite to discuss some of the biggest ideas that enrich and change the way people interact with their devices.

This year’s conference kicks off next Thursday in San Francisco. While Google isn’t spilling any of its big plans yet, a look at the agenda online reveals what could be in store.

Android M

At the top of the list is sweet news for Android fans. The next flavor of Google’s Android operating system — dubbed M — could be unveiled next week.

A mention of a May 28 session for an “An Android for Work Update” was quickly scrubbed from the calendar earlier this month, indicating that perhaps one of the big reveals of the conference had been teased too soon. The caption mentioned how Android M can open “huge new markets for hundreds of millions of devices to workers at small business, deskless workers, logistics and warehouse jobs.”

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has once again become a hot topic — with Mirosoft introducing its HoloLens mixed reality goggles earlier this year and Facebook’s Oculus announcing the consumer version of its headset will ship in early 2016.

At I/O last year, Google put a fun spin on the idea, releasing its Google Cardboard glasses that can connect to a smartphone. Earlier this year, Google and partner Mattel also revealed a first look at a revamped virtual reality View-Master using cardboard and Android.

While we’ll have to wait and see if any new big announcements are coming, a session called “Make Believe” next Thursday invites attendees to “explore virtual reality and how it may change our lives.”

Satellite Mapping

Google bought satellite mapping company Skybox last year. We’ll learn more about how the search engine giant plans to leverage that technology in a session called “The Earth in Real Time.”

“With Skybox, we’re looking to take the next step forward in satellite imaging and find new ways to help people use data from space to solve problems on Earth,” the event description said.

In a statement announcing the $500 million cash deal last year, Google said it plans to use Skybox’s technology to bolster Google Maps by keeping its imagery even more “accurate” and “up-to-date.”

“Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in,” the statement said.

Fitness

With the rise of fitness trackers and wearables, it’s no surprise that Google is carving out some time to discuss Google Fit and how the fitness tracking service is serving millions of users.

“As a fitness developer, how can you use this data to help people lead fuller lives? What kind of data is it and how are we generating it?” the agenda said. “The Google Fit team reveals all in this talk.”

The Future

Expect to hear about Project Ara, Google’s modular smartphone which will be piloted in Puerto Rico later this year. The puzzle-like device allows people to create phones with customized looks and capabilities.

Google also said to expect “wearables that we hope will blow your socks off.”

“Our goal: break the tension between the ever-shrinking screen sizes necessary to make electronics wearable and our ability to have rich interactions with them. Why can’t you have both? We like to build new things. Sometimes seemingly impossible things,” the company said.

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US Won’t ‘Begin to Consider’ Returning to Tripoli Until 2016

State Department Office of Inspector General(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department hasn’t set a date for returning to its embassy in Tripoli, Libya and likely won’t “begin[] to consider such a return” until 2016, according to a recent State Department report, citing the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The State Department Inspector General report, published online Wednesday, looked into what the department should do with 26 armored vehicles — estimated to cost $200,000 each — that were left in Tunisia after American officials in Tripoli had to make a hasty, overland escape from the Libyan capital last summer amid a quickly deteriorating security situation.

Beginning at dawn, it took five hours for the convoy’s black SUVs and other vehicles to slip out of Tripoli and drive 250 miles through the desert to an American airbase in Tunisia, a spokesperson for the Pentagon said on July 26, 2014. The whole time, F-16s, troop-carrying tilt-rotor aircraft and other American aerial surveillance assets were keeping an eye on the precarious expedition.

Officials said the operation came off without a hitch, but apparently in the intervening months no one at the State Department put a lot of thought into what to do with the more than $5 million-worth of vehicles that were eventually brought to Tunis and then left to collect dust. The IG report notes that armored vehicles can “deteriorate rapidly, particularly when they are stored outdoors or exposed to harsh weather conditions, such as those that can occur in Tunis.”

Embassy personnel in Tunis said they would take measures to help protect the vehicles from the elements so that they’d be good to go when the U.S. wanted to take them back to Libya, but that’s when the U.S. ambassador reportedly gave the IG the bad news: The U.S. isn’t going back anytime soon.

“However, according to the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, there is no established date for returning to Tripoli, and the earliest date for beginning to consider such a return would be 2016,” the report says.

A State Department official further told ABC News, “We take the security of our diplomatic institutions and personnel seriously.”

“We are constantly assessing the security situation in every country around the world, as we continue to do in Libya,” the official said. “We cannot predict when conditions will allow for the re-opening of our Embassy in Libya.”

Libya has devolved into widespread unrest since the ousting and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In 2012, the then-U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

After the Benghazi attack, the U.S. maintained its embassy in Tripoli until last July, when rival militia groups “began vying for control” of Tripoli’s international airport — not far from the U.S. embassy. That was enough for the U.S. to pull the plug and get its people out.

Since then, the terror group ISIS has established an affiliate in Libya, which in recent days reportedly took control of Gadhafi’s old home town of Sirte.

A stark travel warning from the State Department in January painted a dire picture of the country where control of the capital has fallen to militant groups, “military-grade” weapons are in the hands of militias and regular people, and there are repeated calls for attacks on American citizens and interests.

“U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately,” the warning says.

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What Mysterious Uber Test Vehicle Was Doing in Pittsburgh

Uber(PITTSBURGH) — Take one look at the mysterious Uber car spotted on the road in Pittsburgh earlier this month, and it’s clear it isn’t a typical vehicle in the ride-hailing app’s fleet.

A device appears to be rotating on the top of the Ford sedan, along with “Uber Advanced Technologies” emblazoned on the side of the vehicle. A photo of the less than inconspicuous car was posted by the Pittsburgh Business Times.

As Google’s driverless cars prepare to hit the road around the company’s Mountain View headquarters this summer, Uber told ABC News the bizarre vehicle was not a self-driving car.

“This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems,” an Uber spokesperson told ABC News via email.

Uber announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in February to open the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

“The center will focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” the company said in a statement announcing the partnership.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has previously expressed a fascination with autonomous driving technology and said at a conference last year that self-driving cars would drive down the cost of hailing a ride since customers would no longer have to pay for the driver, or as Kalanick put it, “The other dude in the car.”

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Does George Clooney Want Kids? You’re Not the Only One Asking

Paul Drinkwater/NBC(NEW YORK) — Now that George Clooney is a married man, he’s getting used to being asked repeatedly if he and wifeAmal Clooney are going to have kids.

“I just did a junket,” Clooney said about his new film, Tomorrowland. “Each of the outlets has a different version of how to get to it. They’ll be like, ‘There’s a kid, who plays you as a young guy George’ and I go, ‘Yeah.’ [Then they go] ‘Does it ever make you want to have a little George?’ There’s always some way in.”

The actor stopped by Popcorn with Peter Travers to chat not only about his new film, but married life.

“I’m a happier person,” he said of being a newlywed. “We have a very happy life. We enjoy many of the same things and I very much enjoy the projects she takes on, because they have real consequence.”

Clooney said his lawyer wife doesn’t get involved in his work, but she offered to take a teaching job for three months while he was working in New York on a movie directed by Jodie Foster.

“I said, ‘I gotta be in New York for three months.’ She’s like, ‘Okay, I can do that.’ Then she says, ‘You know what I’ll do, I’ll take a teaching job at Columbia,'” Clooney explained, the joked, “I’ll take a teaching job at Columbia, too. So, we are able to adapt. I’ll go to London and spend a little time in London while she can work and we’ll be able to move back and forth.”

Clooney added that Amal watches his films, but isn’t a fan of all of them. “She didn’t like Gravity. She felt that I floated off in space a little too soon,” he said.

Clooney’s latest film, Tomorrowland, is in theaters now.

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Michael Sam Signs Two-Year Deal with Montreal Alouettes

Scott Clarke / ESPN Images(MONTREAL) — After a short stint in the NFL, defensive end Michael Sam is crossing the border and joining the Montreal Alouettes.

The Canadian Football League team announced on Friday that they have signed Sam to a two-year deal.

“With the signing of Michael Sam, we have become a better organization today,” Jim Popp, the general manager of the Alouettes, said in a statement. “Not only have we added an outstanding football player, we have added even a better person that brings dignity, character, and heart to our team.”

Sam made headlines last year for being the first openly gay man drafted in the NFL. He was picked up by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 draft and was cut from the team before the start of the regular season. He then joined the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad but was released on Oct. 21.

Sam, who has been a free agent since, said he is “very excited and proud” to join the Alouettes.

“I cannot wait to put on the pads, get back on the field and work hard each and every day with my teammates to bring a Grey Cup to the great fans here in Montreal,” he said in a statement.

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Dog Loses Eyes to Glaucoma, ‘Younger Siblings’ Take on Role of Guide Animals

Courtesy Jessica VanHusen(WATERFORD, Mich.) — After a vet tech’s 10-year-old dog lost both eyes to glaucoma, her two younger pets stepped up to act as guides to the injured animal.

Kiaya is an Akita who lives in Waterford, Michigan, with her owner, Jessica VanHusen.

“She’s my furry daughter,” VanHusen told ABC News Friday. “She’s amazing.”

When Kiaya was diagnosed with glaucoma — an eye condition that can cause blindness — she had to have both of her eyes removed, VanHusen said.

That’s when Kiaya’s “younger siblings” — 8-year-old Cass and 2-year-old Keller — jumped in to protect her.

“They were kind of bookends to her,” VanHusen said. “They’re not fiercely protective but they’re always touching her. They’re really respectful of her.”

“Cass definitely took the role upon himself to guide her around the yard which made me, of course, cry my eyes out,” she said. “It’s adorable.”

“It’s been wonderful. They’re my kids,” VanHusen added. “It’s nice to see them step up.”

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