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Travel Roundup: Starwood Drops Stars, Galveston Cruise Ship Rates Stay, Sands Bethlehem Wants Smokers and More

Starwood joins others in dropping prices and amenities -- Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. announced it will drop prices and amenities, including stars, to complete with rivals Hilton Hotels Corp. and InterContinental Hotels Group Plc, who have already cut their ratings. Luxury hotels are the hardest hit in the recession, and most operators know that slashing stars means lower rates for business and vacation travelers. Most are willing to part with flowers, newspapers and 24-hours room service to save money. Occupancy rates for luxury hotels fell to 57 percent through July of this year, and 71 percent in last year, according to Smith Travel Research. [Source: Bloomberg]

Galveston harbor pilots drop application to raise rates on cruise ships -- Galveston and Texas City harbor pilots dropped their application to raise rates on shipping and cruise lines. The Board of Commissioners of Pilots for the Ports of Galveston County granted the 16 pilots a 7.1 percent rate hike that was expected to be ratified on Monday, but the pilots surprised many at the hearing by yanking the application. A spokesman for the West Gulf Maritime Association, which represents shipping and cruise industry interests, said the decision was a victory. [Source: Houston Business Journal]

Sands Bethlehem increases smoking area for more revenue -- When a revenue report told Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem officials that their smoker-friendly slots were bringing in more business, the casino decided to expand its smoking area to 50 percent of its gambling floor. Pennsylvania allows casinos to increase its smoking area up to 50 percent if business outstrips nonsmoking areas after 90 days of operation. Since the 90-day mark passed last week, the smoking area showed a 79 percent difference. [Source: Express-Times]

Concur signs deal with Southwest -- Concur Technologies Inc. reported that it signed a deal with Southwest Airlines that will give Concur's travel clients access to the airline's fares and schedules. Rajeev Singh, president and chief operating officer of the Redmond-based Concur, said the deal delivered direct access to corporate travel booking and expense reporting. Financial details of the partnership were not disclosed. [Source: Puget Sound Journal]

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