• 5/16/2014 7:17:04 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Do hotel star ratings mean anything anymore?


     For many travelers, user-generated online reviews have become the go-to source for information when booking hotels. Legacy rating systems  meant to provide an accurate and objective assessment of accommodations have had their reliability diminished. And many hotel groups  use their own "star" or points-based rating systems based on user reviews.

    So where does this leave legacy star ratings?


    Inspectors with no vested interest in the outcome of ratings  have traditionally appraised hotels and other accommodations according to basic established criteria and guidelines which vary by country. For example, In the UK, the Automobile Association (AA) maintains a "common standards for hotel and guest accommodation" based on a one-to-five star system, with 60 points of assessment in areas such as service, bedrooms and food intended to  guarantee balanced and unbiased reviews.


    As a result, each country has different requirements for awarding stars -- a three-star rating in Baltimore, Maryland, is different from a three-star rating in Kerala, India. Although these could be classified as impartial ratings there is no standardization,  leading to a disparity of standards and facilities in different countries.


    The question is what do those ratings actually mean and what does the traveler expect when looking at them -   is it the décor, level of service,  amenities or   price range?


    A unified global rating system has been proposed by the World Hotel Rating Project , but so far nothing has gotten off the ground. The trouble is standardization.  In 15 European countries, including Germany, Austria and Sweden, which have a harmonized hotel-ranking system, a five-star hotel room must include a personalized greeting with flowers or a gift and a one-hour ironing service as part of the room rate. In the UK, where ratings are run by tourist boards and the AA, five-star hotels should offer a range of undefined "extra" facilities as well as multilingual service. Guests should be greeted at the door. In the United States, where the American Automobile Association (AAA) runs its well-known diamond hotel ranking system, a five-diamond hotel will offer turndown service, personalized wake-up call and the "ultimate in luxury and sophistication" and "extraordinary physical attributes.


    This does make star-rating systems confusing particularly when each country not only has its own but in some cases more than one. In addition to criteria including quality linens, Jacuzzi bathtubs and valet parking, the tourism ministries are rolling out new guidelines  to reflect things like  how many hooks are in each bathroom,  phones next to the toilet and a luminous LED wall clock with numerals at least three inches apart.


    The reputation of the star-rating system was further diminished in China this year when some hotels voluntarily downgraded themselves from five to four stars after the government banned officials from staying at five-star properties making  their official star ratings   somewhat misguided their hotels’ amenities. And in Dubai where th the Burj Al Arab hotel  is commonly referred to as ‘the world's only seven-star hotel’ - a   myth likely started by an awestruck journalist  and isn't a rating the hotel itself promotes.

    ."Website ratings on the other hand,  are based on personal opinion and individual guest experience.


    Due to the lack of basic criteria against which these are made, the  systems are completely unregulated, rendering them almost  worthless. Do they have a future? Review sites such as Hotels.com, Bookings.com, Expedia and others mean travelers are awash with information about hotels. New topics are added every day to the site's forums. Travelers should have a set of quality standards by country  against which the individual experiences could be compared especially as ratings are manipulated by clever reputation management operatives, and can't be trusted.


    In lieu of a universal hotel rating system, referral to a legacy rating with  acceptable standards for your destination should enable an informed decision when your options suggest, two or three star, budget or five star.  Simple, right?




  • Do hotel star ratings mean anything anymore?

    5/16/2014 6:55:12 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

  • 7/17/2013 11:43:40 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Cell phones compatible with hearing aids


    We live in a remarkable time where no one goes without a cell phone and when cell phones are used for almost every practical purpose from banking, checking out at local supermarkets to checking in on line for travel.  People with hearing loss have a wide variety of cell phone options.

    These options however, could be a bit more  complicated as these individuals require more amplification to first hear/understand  the explanation of the different models available and then  find a cell phone capable of delivering,  whatever the circumstances,  as there could be added requirements for their existing hearing aid or implant to be effective like  visual means of communicating reception.

    Thanks to FCC regulations and ever improving technology, people with hearing loss have excellent cell phone options once  you  know what to look for.  The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 gave the FCC authority to require that all ‘essential’ telephones be hearing aid compatible. Nevertheless, mobile and wireless phones were not part of that original regulation.  In 2003, the FCC determined that the exemption for mobile and wireless phones could severely limit accessibility for individuals with hearing loss and began establishing rules for hearing aid compatibility for digital wireless phones.

    Why the fuss?  Cell phones use radio frequency –RF, waves to communicate with cell phone towers and satellites.  But the RF waves  can produce a buzzing sound in hearing aids.  Fortunately recent regulations led to  efforts by cell phone and hearing aid manufacturers to minimize the RF interference in hearing aids.

    Acoustic coupling works best when there is minimal background noise in the environment, such as on a busy street or while other people are talking.  To achieve optimal acoustic coupling the cell phone speaker must be held as closely as possible to the hearing aid’s microphone

    Another method uses a different electronic part in the hearing aid where the microphone is temporarily turned off while the electronic part. The telecoil (also called a T-coil) is turned on.  Telecoild can be used with certain personal and public assistive listening devices such as hearing loop systems.

    To learn whether your hearing aid has telecoils and how to operate them, consult with your hearing healthcare professional or check your hearing aid instruction  manual.  They may need to be activated and/or programmed.  Some of the newer ‘invisitble hearing aids may not have a telecoil because of size limitations.

    To better understand the ratings given for these devices,  there are a few considerations to be made for compatibility with a prospective cell phone. M-ratings refer to the microphone and  involve hearing aids that do not have built-in telecoils or have telecoils not turned on.  The FCC requires that hearing aid -compatible cell phone providers indicate a quality measure (or rating) of how much ‘RF emission’ (interference) is produced by the cell phone device with M1 having the greatest interference (least compatible) and M4 having the least interferene (most compatible)  T-ratings refer to the telecoil and  involve only those hearing aids with built-in telecoils.  Similar to M-raqtings T1 are the least compatible and T4 the most compatible.

    Even when telecoils are beneficial for use with hearing aid-compatible cell phones and other audio devices, they may not be immune to other sources of interference in the environment.  For example, certain fluorescent room lighting, computer monitors, theft protection systems and even cell phone backlighting can cause radio-frequency RF emission buzzing.  Solutions could be as easy as moving to a different location but the problem may be due to malfunction of the other devices mentioned or even of the circuitry of the hearing aid itself.

    Keep in mind that M- and T-ratings for hearing aids are not regulated by the FCC,  Any reporting of these ratings for hearing aids in currently voluntarily offered by individual hearing aid manufacturers.  The FDA regulates hearing aids and it is possible that over time we may come to see increased reporting of these ratings.  The American National Standards Institute provides standards that call for a simple formula to determine the overall quality of hearing aid compatibility with cell phones.  All these variables, including ratings mean that it would be best to try before you buy.  Most cell phone providers will allow in-store trials using a live phone but you will have to ask about the store’s merchandise return or exchange policy if you want to take a cell phone to try it in other listening situations.

    Other considerations include, vibration, volume control, font size, speakerphone, Bluetooth streaming, video chat, senior mode, clamshell flip, text only plans, external microphones and various apps that make life easier for people with hearing loss.  Caution should be exercised when using apps that raise the volume, particularly when wearing earing ear buds.

    Extract from hearinghealthmag.com 




  • Ode to Michelle

    12/5/2012 2:38:16 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    C. Michelle Hope, President and Founder of ASL inside ATL, a passionate advocate of the deaf, hard of hearing and blind communities was the producer of the televised Worship Service of Crusselle Freeman Church of the Deaf in Atlanta.

    The celebration of her life on November 24 was a vibrant testimony of her work to have these communities fully integrated in every sector of daily living.  As friends and family silently filed by her coffin it was comforting to see the hands loudly speaking of their sadness while testifying to her friendship and support.

    Her going home ceremony with a selection by the Deaf Choir and reflections of her life given by both the spoken word and sign language was deeply inspiring. It brought attention to the talent and abilities of citizens which to date have not been fully acknowledged and a heart searching awareness of their lack of access to spontaneos interaction that is so often taken for granted.

    “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time” - H. W. Longfellow. Michelle leaves all hands the opportunity to take the next step towards full inclusion especially for the deaf, hard of hearing and blind communities. 

  • Sustainable Tourism

    5/27/2012 7:23:09 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment


    …………Planning  your Trip


    Tourism has a big impact on the world economy. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism receipts were estimated to have reached $919 billion in 2010. That’s some serious cash. Used in a responsible way, that money can help improve the lives of local people and help protect fragile environments.


     No industry has been quite as rife with accusations of green washing as tourism. A combination of a growing international appetite for unique, place-centered travel along with some unscrupulous, or sometimes ignorant tour companies and destinations, has led to plenty of confusion on the subject.


     Part of the problem can be explained by plain old learning curves; this is new territory for many countries - in some places even traditional tourism barely has a history, let alone guidelines for what eco-friendly or sustainable means in that locale. Another challenge is dealing with regional differences: What is planet-friendly in one part of the world could be irrelevant in another.


     "Eco" is a fashionable label used widely in the tourism industry. It sounds appealing, but much of what is marketed as "eco" is simply conventional tourism with superficial changes. So it's important to check behind the labels.One of the challenges of the eco-travel industry is to come up with standards and yardsticks by which to measure the efforts of a property or tour in a fair, unbiased way that can assess a sleepy B&B in the rainforest as well a thousand room hotel in Las Vegas for example.


     There are a number of regional and state-based programs around the world. So far, there isn’t one generally accepted international certification, and there may not be for some time, as becoming certified can sometimes be an expensive or time-consuming process. Especially for smaller establishments, they might not have the money or staff time to dedicate to getting certified. And differences abound as to what sustainable tourism means.


     One thing is for sure: A growing number of tourism businesses are helping to finance and materially support community projects as well as  offering travelers the opportunity to get involved. Many of The International Eco-tourism Society  members around the globe are leading the efforts to give back to local communities and enhance the livelihoods of local people through ecotourism. You are encouraged to contribute to and participate in these projects, and support those companies that are making positive impacts on the lives of local hosts.


     The extra time and effort of looking for a sustainable, conscious destination is  worth it Most destinations with a serious environmental commitment will have  information detailed on their website or in some way accessible to visitors that deal with the basic components of this program.


     Energy:How does a hotel or lodging power itself? Do they use solar panels, local hydropower, wave energy or geothermal to heat or cool their buildings? Do they use biodiesel or electricity to power their vehicles? Do they buy carbon offsets?


     Water:Do they recycle greywater (sink and shower water) to water plants? (This is very common in water-challenged locales and is a pretty basic move). Do they encourage guests to save water, and how do they dispose of sewage? In many countries the rules about sewage are weak or unenforced; responsible parties won’t be dumping untreated sewage into oceans or streams.


     People:Are employees local, and are they paid a fair wage? Are there programs to improve the areas around the tourist areas or hotels (in the Caribbean, it’s common for resorts to build and staff schools and community centers, for example)? Are employees trained in how to reduce waste and protect their local environment?


     Food:Is food local and are farmer partnerships in place so that the local economy is supported by the hotel or destination? Is food organic or grown without pesticides or minimal chemicals? (Oftentimes the word ‘organic’ isn’t used or known, but many foods are grown without chemical additives, so you can ask about that.)


     Wildlife:Are local plants and animals protected from being harassed by visitors? Is the lodging built in such a way to have minimal impact to the already-existing animal life in the area? Is the staff knowledgeable about which animals, plants and insects are endangered or threatened?


     Recycling: In many countries, recycling facilities don’t exist, but if they do, recycling should be evident. Is food composted? Are towels and sheets reused? Are there creative and thoughtful solutions to the inevitable waste generated by guests?


      Making informed choices before and during your trip is the single most important thing you can do to become a responsible traveler. With a little planning, you can improve the quality of your trip, while making a real difference to the people and places you visit. When choosing destinations, accommodations, and tour operators, consider which ones work to protect the environment and benefit local cultures and communities. See article on Destination Britain in our current Newsletter.



  • 1/2/2012 1:10:21 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

     How to Pick the Right Cruise Cabin

    On paper, choosing a cruise cabin seems pretty simple. You think there are just four basic styles: insides (no window), outsides (with window), balcony, and suite – wrong.

    Booking a stateroom is not a snap. Even though there are just four room styles, cruise lines divvy them into as many as 20 price categories. A cabin's location, size, and amenities determine the price, which generally increases the higher, bigger, and more deluxe you go. The trick is figuring out what's worth paying extra for, and that depends on your priorities. If you don't plan to spend much time in your cabin, feel free to book the cheapest price you can find. But if you think of your stateroom as a retreat and an added feature in the luxury that the cruise offers, proceed carefully and avoid these not-so-ideal scenarios.

    Cruise cabins are designed for maximum efficiency, so they're generally more than adequate as long as you're neat and you haven't overpacked. Some cabins, however, are just plain miniscule. Rooms on older vessels can be as little as 100 square feet, particularly for inside cabins. If this is your home for a week, you might feel like an inmate in a cell. When looking at cabin measurements, note that cruise lines often include the veranda in the overall square footage. A balcony cabin on Celebrity Summit, for example, may look about average size at 208 square feet, but that factors in 38 square feet of veranda. The cabin itself measures just 170 square feet. So the advice is: Think hard before booking a cabin that's extraordinarily small and apparently more economical.

    A ship's deck plans, available at each cruise line's website, are easily readable.What is important is to check what's below, above, and around the corner from the cabin you're considering.  Avoid anything right under the lido buffet, as meals are served nearly around-the-clock. Unless you plan to close the ship's late-night disco, don't book a stateroom nearby. If your cabin is just below the pool deck, your morning wakeup call could be the scraping sound of chaise lounges being dragged into position. Cabins on lower decks are cheaper largely because guests have to put up with the hum of propellers. The best bet is to choose a cabin that has staterooms above and below it—and then cross your fingers that the neighbors in every direction aren't rowdy night owls.

    Every outside cabin pretty much looks out on a similar sea-and-sky vista, but there are some notable differences. Most are located either port or starboard, so you're always looking sideways. A front-facing stateroom lets you see where you're heading, but also takes the brunt of wind and rough seas—the big reason why these cabins rarely come with balconies. Backward-facing cabins boast the best views. There's something incredibly Zen-like about gazing at the wake and the panorama behind the ship. Backward-facing cabins are hard to come by because most cruise lines devote that part of the ship to public spaces. Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises are among the lines that regularly have backward-facing cabins and sometimes you can  get a better view  without paying for an upgrade.

    Many passengers prefer centrally-located cabins because they're close to stairways, elevators, pools, and buffets. Still, there's such a thing as too central a location. Stateroom doors are absurdly flimsy, so you'll hear pretty much everything going on outside. There is no truly quiet corner of a cruise ship. But it's smart to avoid lower deck cabins that are close to the ship's atriums—the extravagantly designed openings, often several stories high, attract a lot of foot traffic. In a cabin around the corner from an atrium, you'll hear the hordes milling or power walking past your door from dawn to dusk.

    Newer ships have all sorts of nifty stabilizers that try to tame the sea and give passengers a smoother ride. Most people feel fine, even during mildly rough seas. But if you are unusually sensitive to movement, you may want to forego the higher decks. The higher you go, the more likely you'll get not only back and forth (or side to side) rocking, but will also feel an unsettling swaying effect. Stick to the center, the most stable part of the ship, and by all means avoid any stateroom within a dozen cabins of the front. This would be a reason to opt for a lower deck in a stable location.

    As we enter the New Year and plans are being finalized for our vacation it is worth thinking of past experiences to better enjoy the next.  What can be done differently to get the best of your stay both on board and on shore.

    Do not hesitate to contact us for more professional  information to make this happen.


  • Parenting in the face of High Technology

    9/5/2011 4:51:51 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment


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