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3 nights, 3 hotels: What it’s really like to stay in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic

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LAS VEGAS – The voicemail light was blinking when I checked into my room at New York-New York Hotel & Casino during the Strip’s reopening last week.

Instead of a standard welcome greeting or a leftover message a previous guest never retrieved, the voicemail from a hotel employee was about cleanliness.

My room and linens were thoroughly cleaned prior to my arrival, she said, noting the housekeeping seal, which I had broken when I swiped the magnetic key card to enter the room.

“If you would like us to clean your room again during your stay please contact housekeeping,” the message concluded. “Should you need any other amenities such as fresh towels, slipper or robes, housekeeping can provide (them) as well.”

That’s right: daily housekeeping, a staple of a hotel stay, is now done on request.

It’s one of the many changes prompted by the coronavirus crisis. Hotels, like airlines and other travel businesses, have had to institute new health and safety protocols in a bid to keep employees safe and lure back customers as travel restrictions are eased.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association issued “safe stay” guidelines in May and individual hotel chains have been trotting out their own plans. MGM Resorts, which operates New York-New York and a dozen other Las Vegas hotels, developed a seven-step safety plan and includes a link to the plan on the sticker affixed to each room door.

To get a firsthand look at what it’s like to stay in a hotel during the pandemic, I stayed at three different hotels over three nights while covering Las Vegas’ reopening. In addition to New York-New York, I checked into Caesars Palace, part of casino gaming giant Caesars Entertainment and The D Las Vegas, an independently owned hotel on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. All trips were paid for by USA TODAY and the stays were anonymous.

Hotel policies across the country will vary, of course, and the precautions you find in a Vegas mega-resort will likely be different than those at a budget motel, luxury inn or convention hotel across the country, with some of the changes dictated by state and local regulations. There are variances even within Las Vegas: the Venetian still offers daily housekeeping in each room.

The themes will be similar, though.

The biggest surprise to me: Once inside the rooms, in Las Vegas at least, nothing seemed dramatically different from a pre-coronavirus stay. There were ice buckets, glasses or cups for water, the same old mini-shampoo bottles and prehistoric telephones and alarm clocks.

The only thing I noticed different at New York-New York besides the amenity kit was a black and gold cardboard cover over the remote control, long deemed one of the germiest items in a room. 

“Cleaned for your safety,” it says.

The television remote control at New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas now comes with a little protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.

6 things that are different about staying at a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic

The lobby: Temperature checks are required before you get a room key. At The D Las Vegas, I went through a metal detector-cum-temperature scanner at the entrance to the hotel. I scanned my wrist, registered 98.7℉ and was on the way to the front desk. At New York-New York, an EMT scanned my forehead with a contactless thermometer at the entrance to the check-in line. At Caesars Palace, guests using the front desk go through a thermal scanner, while those checking in at kiosks have their temperatures taken by a contactless thermometer. 

I never registered a temperature higher than 98.7℉. If I had, I would have been tested again after being given a chance to cool off. If I still had a fever, I would be given a COVID-19 test at Caesars and New York-New York and evaluated by a medical professional at The D, all to determine whether I could check in, hotel representatives said. 

Same old Vegas?  Here’s what coronavirus has and hasn’t changed about Sin City

USA TODAY Travel reporter Dawn Gilbertson has her temperature checked before she enters the check-in line at New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during its reopening in early June.

Hotels are promoting mobile check-in and kiosks for express check-in, but traditional front desks are still there and I used them at two of the three hotels. At New York-New York, there were acrylic partitions, like those you see at the grocery store, separating me from the front desk agent. 

Social distancing signs were everywhere on floors, easels and video screens in the lobby and on the way to the rooms.

New York-New York had a sign at the entrance to elevators saying masks are required if you’re traveling with hotel guests outside your group. If you don’t wear one, it says, wait for a private elevator. No one enforced the policy during my visit, though. Caesars had signs saying dictating a maximum of four people per elevator,though no one was counting. At the D, a representative asked to see my room key and punched the number in for me at the bank of elevators.

New York-New York and Caesars have their version of a good housekeeping seal of approval, a sticker on the door declaring the room clean. Caesars’ red sticker says: “Cleaned and sealed for your protection.” The sticker on my 68th-floor room in the Forum Tower was either not affixed tightly enough or a prankster ripped it off because I found it on the carpet in front of my door.

Guests checking into Caesars Palace in Las Vegas will find this red sticker affixed to the door so they know their room has been clean and sanitized. Daily housekeeping is not provided, at least for the time being.

Amenity kits or free face masks and gloves: A red pouch was waiting on the desk in my room at New York-New York. Inside: two periwinkle cloth face masks with the hotel’s name stitched in the bottom right-hand corner; a 2 oz. container of Locke Teddy hand sanitizer, a pen that doubles as a stylus to use on touchscreens and a silver tool for opening doors  with a stylus for pushing buttons. The tool looks like a cross between a bottle opener and a key chain.

Guests checking into New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and other MGM Resorts during the coronavirus pandemic will find a new in-room amenity: a pouch with two face masks, hand sanitizer, a stylus and a silver tool you can use to open doors.

The D was handing out white face masks with its logo. Caesars had employees handing out generic face masks at its entrances. Guests do not have to wear them at most places in the hotels I stayed in, and many didn’t when I was there. A Caesars security guard estimated 80% weren’t wearing one on opening weekend.

Daily housekeeping by request, if at all: Like New York-New York, Caesars and The D had notices about changes in housekeeping policies. During express check-in on a kiosk at Caesars, this message popped up: “In alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, housekeeping will not be provided for guest stays of more than one night. Trash removal and towel refresh will be provided upon request only.”

At The D, the room key holder had a note in it that said housekeeping service would not be offered but that guests could request additional linens and towels to be delivered to their rooms.  

Bill Hornbuckle, acting CEO of New York-New York parent MGM Resorts, had hinted at housekeeping changes when he discussed the chain’s reopening plans on a conference call with Wall Street analysts in late April.

“If I’m a guest in Bellagio, I want to know that my room is pristine when I go in,” he said. “And during my stay, unless I want and need clean towels, I’m probably not going to let a guest-room attendant or other service personnel in my room.”

Bell service: I checked my bags outside Caesars Palace so I could wander around in case my room wasn’t ready. (It was.) The bellman was so rusty from the hotel’s 2 ½-month closure he forgot to give me my ticket and nicely tracked me down in the lobby. When I called for my bags, the bell desk told me to stay in the room, explaining that  employees knock and leave guests’ bags outside the door for them to retrieve. The bellman who delivered my bags, wearing gloves and a mask, dropped them just inside my door because I opened the door and greeted him with a big tip.

Parking: Nobody wants to go into your car and vice versa during a pandemic so valet parking was suspended at each of the hotels I stayed at. (It remains available in some places, including The Venetian.) Self-parking is the only option at most places in Las Vegas and around the country  – at least for now – and it’s free in Las Vegas, unlike before coronavirus.

Room service: There was no room service available at Caesars and The D doesn’t offer it, but New York-New York resumed theirs on opening weekend. You won’t find one of those clunky, faux-leather bound menus in the room, though. There’s a QR code to pull up the menu on your phone. And, yes, it’s still pricey.

Source: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~/627269060/0/usatoday-newstopstories~nights-hotels-What-its-really-like-to-stay-in-a-hotel-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

CNBC

Google Assistant’s driving mode for Android is nearly ready, one year later

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Google Assistant driving mode on Android
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Google promised an Assistant driving mode for phones would arrive in mid-2019, but that clearly didn’t happen — over a year passed without any sign of it. It appears to be ready, though. XDA-Developers has discovered (via Android Police) that Google Assistant’s driving mode is at least partially enabled for Android users. The interface has changed considerably from the I/O 2019 demo you see above, but the concept remains the same with large buttons and text that let you chat, message and play music while keeping your driving distractions to a minimum.

The rollout appears to be server-side, and might be part of a test. It’s not attached to any particular versions of Google’s Maps or search apps, and also works on a variety of devices. Your access might depend on your account.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

It’s rare for Google to have Android feature delays this long, and it’s not certain what prompted the extended wait. However, the redesign suggests that Google wasn’t completely satisfied with the Assistant driving mode it showed at I/O. Whatever the reasoning, this gives you one more way to handle common tasks during your trips.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/google-assistant-driving-mode-215249421.html

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CNBC

Cloud leak exposed sensitive data from over 200,000 voicemails

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Close-up of two IT technician talking and looking at their digital tablets while examining servers.
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Some data leaks contain more sensitive info than most. Security researcher Bob Diachenko and Comparitech discovered (via Threatpost) that Broadvoice, a cloud VoIP provider for businesses, left over 350 million records exposed online in an unprotected cluster, including 2 million voicemail records with 200,000 transcripts. Many of those transcripts included sensitive data, and not just common elements like names and phone numbers — medical conditions, mortgages and insurance policies were all left open.

The largest general data collection, 275 million records, typically included full names, phone numbers, and cities.

The company told Comparitech that the data had been stored on September 28th and was locked down October 2nd, a day after Diachenko notified Broadvoice. There hasn’t been evidence of “misuse” so far, the company said. Marketing VP Rebecca Rosen told Threatpost that it believed “less than 10,000” businesses were impacted, although that doesn’t say how many of those companies’ customers were at risk.

The practical damage appears to have been limited as a result. Even so, this illustrates the dangers of insecure data. The wrong decision can expose vast amounts of info, and it can only take a subset of that data to create serious problems.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/broadvoice-voicemail-data-leak-211913573.html

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Startups

VCs reload ahead of the election as unicorns power ahead

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This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

It was an active week in the technology world broadly, with big news from Facebook and Twitter and Apple. But past the headline-grabbing noise, there was a steady drumbeat of bullish news for unicorns, or private companies worth $1 billion or more.

A bullish week for unicorns

The Exchange spent a good chunk of the week looking into different stories from unicorns, or companies that will soon fit the bill, and it’s surprising to see how much positive financial news there was on tap even past what we got to write about.

Databricks, for example, disclosed a grip of financial data to TechCrunch ahead of regular publication, including the fact that it grew its annual run rate (not ARR) to $350 million by the end of Q3 2020, up from $200 million in Q2 2019. It’s essentially IPO ready, but is not hurrying to the public markets.

Sticking to our theme, Calm wants more money for a huge new valuation, perhaps as high as $2.2 billion which is not a surprise. That’s more good unicorn news. As was the report that “India’s Razorpay [became a] unicorn after its new $100 million funding round” that came out this week.

Razorpay is only one of a number of Indian startups that have become unicorns during COVID-19. (And here’s another digest out this week concerning a half-dozen startups that became unicorns “amidst the pandemic.”)

There was enough good unicorn news lately that we’ve lost track of it all. Things like Seismic raising $92 million, pushing its valuation up to $1.6 billion from a few weeks ago. How did that get lost in the mix?

All this matters because while the IPO market has captured much attention in the last quarter or so, the unicorn world has not sat still. Indeed, it feels that unicorn VC activity is the highest we’ve seen since 2019.

And, as we’ll see in just a moment, the grist for the unicorn mill is getting refilled as we speak. So, expect more of the same until something material breaks our current investing and exit pattern.

Market Notes

What do unicorns eat? Cash. And many, many VCs raised cash in the last seven days.

A partial list follows. It could be that investors are looking to lock in new funds before the election and whatever chaos may ensue. So, in no particular order, here’s who is newly flush:

All that capital needs to go to work, which means lots more rounds for many, many startups. The Exchange also caught up with a somewhat new firm this week: Race Capital. Helmed by Alfred Chuang, formerly or BEA who is an angel investor now in charge of his own fund, the firm has $50 million to invest.

Sticking to private investments into startups for the moment, quite a lot happened this week that we need to know more about. Like API-powered Argyle raising $20 million from Bain Capital Ventures for what FinLedger calls “unlocking and democratizing access to employment records.” TechCrunch is currently tracking the progress of API-led startups.

On the fintech side of things, M1 Finance raised $45 million for its consumer fintech platform in a Series C, while another roboadvisor, Wealthsimple, raised $87 million, becoming a unicorn at the same time. And while we’re in the fintech bucket, Stripe dropped $200 million this week for Nigerian startup Paystack. We need to pay more attention to the African startup scene. On the smaller end of fintech, Alpaca raised $10 million more to help other companies become Robinhood.

A few other notes before we change tack. Kahoot raised $215 million due to a boom in remote education, another trend that is inescapable in 2020 as part of the larger edtech boom (our own Natasha Mascarenhas has more).

Turning from the private market to the public, we have to touch on SPACs for just a moment. The Exchange got on the phone this week with Toby Russell from Shift, which is now a public company, trading after it merged with a SPAC, namely Insurance Acquisition Corp. Early trading is only going so well, but the CEO outlined for us precisely why he pursued a SPAC, which was actually interesting:

  • Shift could have gone public via an IPO, Russell said, but prioritized a SPAC-led debut because his firm wanted to optimize for a capital raise to keep the company growing.
  • How so? The private investment in public equity (PIPE) that the SPAC option came with ensured that Shift would have hundreds of millions in cash.
  • Shift also wanted to minimize what the CEO described as market risk. A SPAC deal could happen regardless of what the broader markets were up to. And as the company made the choice to debut via a SPAC in April, some caution, we reckon, may have made some sense.

So now Shift is public and newly capitalized. Let’s see what happens to its shares as it gets into the groove of reporting quarterly. (Obviously, if it flounders, it’s a bad mark for SPACs, but, conversely, successful trading could lead to a bit more momentum to SPAC-mageddon.)

A few more things and we’re done. Unicorn exits had a good week. First, Datto’s IPO continues to move forward. It set an initial price this week, which could value it above $4 billion. Also this week, Roblox announced that it has filed to go public, albeit privately. It’s worth billions as well. And finally, DoubleVerify is looking to go public for as much as $5 billion early next year.

Not all liquidity comes via the public markets, as we saw this week’s Twilio purchase of Segment, a deal that The Exchange dug into to find out if it was well-priced or not.

Various and Sundry

We’re running long naturally, so here are just a few quick things to add to your weekend mental tea-and-coffee reading!

Next week we are digging more deeply into Q3 venture capital data, a foretaste of which you can find here, regarding female founders, a topic that we returned to Friday in more depth.

Alex

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/17/vcs-reload-ahead-of-the-election-as-unicorns-power-ahead/

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