Wednesday, September 14, 2011

14 SEP 11: Donut Hole City?

The scoffers in Phenix City say it's wrong for city officials to spend a lot of money to recruit a new downtown Marriott hotel. But maybe they're forgetting something. Tourists checking travel websites might conclude it's the only one within several miles of all the Columbus attractions.

Despite the long court fight over lodging taxes, several major travel sites still list NO Columbus motels. Yet a study presented to Columbus Council Tuesday indicated local motels seem to be thriving, anyway. Maybe most budget-conscious travelers are doing what I do on road trips - picking up a coupon book at McDonald's.

Smith Travel Research determined Columbus hotels actually are doing better than the national average. The occupancy rate is at 67 percent, up nine percentage points from last year. Do we give thanks to base realignment for this - or all those Craigslist ads which lead to police stings?

Yet while the occupancy rate is up, WLTZ reported the "average daily rate" for Columbus motels is down ten dollars. I guess this refers to the actual price of a room -- since I haven't heard of anyone trading motel futures at the downtown Raymond James office.

A ten-dollar drop in motel rates can turn into big bucks. Jack Pezold of Valley Hospitality estimates his company has lost three million dollars, because travel websites have delisted Columbus in recent years. So if your room has a five-year-old TV set which only picks up local stations, blame it on Expedia.

Jack Pezold complained when it comes to Expedia, Priceline and, "Columbus, Georgia does not exist on this planet." There's something noteworthy about Pezold's statement. One year ago, the Georgia Governor also could have been on that list.

WTVM checked several travel websites, and found Orbitz lists Columbus motels after settling its suit with the city. showed Phenix City locations, while Expedia brought up nothing. Nothing?! Most search engines automatically would assume Columbus, Ohio and show something....

I had a similar experience recently, while booking a car rental for an upcoming road trip. Travelocity's list of Columbus motels offers Phenix City locations for the top six choices. An unrated Microtel Inn and Suites on Fountain Court came up seventh - so maybe the key is for Columbus managers to tell guests not to mention their stays online at all.

(Travelocity also offered a "top secret hotel in Columbus" Tuesday night for 40 dollars. No, I did NOT click on it - in part because I don't want undercover police officers getting my IP address.)

The future of Columbus in terms of travel websites currently is in the hands of a federal court in Macon. Depending on the outcome of that case, the issue could return to Muscogee County Court - but it would no longer be in the hands of retired Judge Doug Pullen. Do we need to check which judges are members of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce?

By the way, another thought occurred Tuesday night about all those nominees for the open Superior Court seat. After years dealing with Judge Doug Pullen, a lot of attorneys who want his job are pushin'.

Before we pack our bags and fly into the past for humor, here are some other Tuesday news tidbits....

+ Which city employee prepared Tuesday's Columbus Council agenda to include an item about "Warms Spring Road"? Has the City Manager blocked access to Google Maps, too?

+ WBOJ-FM "88.5 the Truth" pulled a surprise, by breaking a business news story. Sanctuary Christian Bookstore at The Landings will close at the end of the month. This same thing occurred at The Landings five years ago, when the Mustard Seed store folded [23 Feb 06] -- but this time, you can't blame it on my attempting to sell albums there.

+ The annual Maneuver Conference opened at the Trade Center. This year for the first time, the U.S. Armor School joined with Fort Benning's Maneuver School of Excellence. But if they called it the "Armor Conference," too many people would think it's being held at the Buckhead Grill.

+ Officials in Opelika announced Pharmavite will open a vitamin manufacturing plant in the city. Yes, it means more than 250 new jobs - but it seems strange for those conservative leaders to suddenly encourage pill-popping and a form of drug-running.

+ The Birmingham area had a small 3.0 earthquake. But in September, this is no big deal - as residents automatically assume the epicenter is close to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

+ University of Georgia football coaches announced Isaiah Crowell will start at tailback this weekend. The Carver High graduate probably could have started last weekend. But doing that against South Carolina could have made Crowell.... well, you know.... too Cocky.

+ Instant Message to the student driver who was in front of me Tuesday on Macon Road: If there's a teacher in the passenger's seat, does your car really need that big "Report my driving" bumper sticker in the back?

TEN YEARS' LAUGHTER/14 SEP 01: Polls released Thursday night shows President Bush's popularity has jumped suddenly to the 80-percent range. Isn't this amazing? Terrorist thugs fly airplanes into skyscrapers - and suddenly millionaires in the White House aren't so bad.

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to permit the wiretapping of suspected terrorists. Vermont's Patrick Leahy is concerned the bill is written too broadly. After all, how many parents have referred to their children as "little terrors?"

Religious leaders are commenting about the Tuesday of Terror, even before the day of prayer. Pat Robertson of "The 700 Club" claimed the U.S. has lost the "protection of heaven." Well, Al Gore DID warn us about that hole in the ozone layer....

Pat Robertson says the terror attacks stem from U.S. residents insulting God, in areas such as abortion and Internet pornography. Maybe so - but if strictly-Muslim Afghanistan doesn't have those things, why is it at the brink of hurting even worse?

Secretary of State Colin Powell declared Osama bin-Laden a "prime suspect" in the hijackings. Trouble is - how do you spell his first name? ABC spells it "Osama." Fox News says "Usama." But if the armed forces can track him down and hit hard enough, they might change it to "OW-sama."

The Southeastern Conference HAD planned to play college football games on Saturday -- but suddenly changed its mind Thursday afternoon. The last straw apparently came when Mississippi refused to change its nickname from "Rebels" to "Patriots," to show some sympathy.

(Do you think these football teams have been tipped off to something - that maybe a different sort of "all-out blitz" is on the way?)

Hunting season opens in our area this weekend - but for some reason, the Army base just outside town [Fort Benning] has banned hunting on the grounds for a while. We'd think the commanders would WANT extra people with guns there. They'd love to put the "extremist terrorist" on the endangered species list.

(The Army base also called off this weekend's post-wide yard sale. Spare coffee cups can be lethal, when they're dropped from 20-thousand feet.)

The school district in our town [Muscogee County] decided NOT to cancel classes for today's National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. After all, the civil liberties groups might complain about the "remembrance" part discriminating against Alzheimer's patients.

We're filling in at a TV station in town right now, and taking the most amazing phone calls. One caller Thursday suggested our station play "The Stars and Stripes Forever" to stir up viewers. People apparently are so overwhelmed they can't tell the difference between radio and television.

Then there was the 67-year-old retired veteran who called, expressing his desire to speak with a "senior military officer.... someone who's shot and killed somebody.... at least Colonel rank or higher." He claims he wants to see if he's relating his military experiences properly to young people. We wondered if the newspaper rejected his "Personals" ad.

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