Cybersecurity expert shares what guests, hotels should know in wake of Omni breach

The Omni Houston Hotel at Four Riverway, Dec. 31, 2020, at in Houston. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — In the wake of a recent cyberattack on Omni Hotels & Resorts that prompted a “shut down [of] its systems to protect and contain its data,” experts are reminding people of the actions guests can take to preserve their digital safety and weighing in on risks facing the hospitality industry at large.

“We are currently working to determine the scope of the event, including impact to any data or information maintained on Omni systems,” the company said in an statement following the cyberattack on Friday, March 29. “Our investigation into the incident remains ongoing and we are working with external specialists in this process.”

When Omni learned of the issue, the company said it shut down certain systems, “most of which have been restored” and “launched an investigation with a leading cybersecurity response team, which is ongoing.”

The Dallas-based luxury hospitality chain with over 50 properties across the U.S. and Canada first confirmed the outage on social media. Omni said it would “post relevant updates” to its cyber attack update page “as new communications can be shared,” and in the meantime said guests could contact travel planners or the hotel directly with any questions about a stay or guest experiences.

“As our team works diligently to restore the remainder of the systems to full functionality, we continue to welcome our guests and accept new reservations,” the company’s statement continued. “We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this cyberattack is causing. The care and comfort of our guests remains our highest priority and we are grateful for the hard work of all our teams who are doing everything possible to deliver the Omni experience expected by our guests.”

Omni and TRT Holdings, the owner of the hotel chain, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for additional comment.

Initially, the outage included a shut down of reservations, hotel room door locks and point-of-sale systems.

How guests can stay safe if hotels fall victim to cyberattacks

BlackCloak CEO Chris Pierson, a cybersecurity expert with more than 25 years of private and government experience in the industry, which has included clients in hospitality, told ABC News’ Good Morning America what steps people should take to protect themselves after a breach.

“Every single company is going to be targeted by cybercriminals,” Pierson said. “Data breaches, ransomware attacks, extortion, stolen credit card information, all these things are a fact of life. The important thing is knowing what to do about it — what should they do and what should they know.”

“If you are a consumer of a hotel that has had a breach, the biggest immediate impact could be on the financial side,” he continued. “Making sure that you know what credit card information was included or was used for that hotel is going to be critical. Monitoring that credit card for any signs of fraud or identity theft, perhaps switching that credit card are also things that you should think about doing.”

“The second thing is going to be the information that you’ve given or transmitted to the hotel,” he continued. “Have you given them your name, address, phone number and email address information? … Be on the lookout for scams like phishing and other types of social engineering attacks.”

For domestic travelers, Pierson said to check if you provided your driver’s license information, and for international travelers, any passport information.

“That information can then be used for additional forms of onward identity theft or making you susceptible to scams,” Pierson added.

What makes hotels, hospitality industry more susceptible to cyberattacks

Pierson, a former cybersecurity adviser to the Department of Homeland Security, explained what makes the hospitality industry so susceptible to cyberattacks like the one on Omni Hotels & Resorts.

When cyber criminals target specific industries and companies, “they are seeking the largest payout in the most expedient time possible,” Pierson said, adding that with service-oriented businesses, “that does cause a time clock to speed up on their end in terms of every hour, day, week, that that industry is down.”

“Especially for the hospitality industry or transportation — if those are unable to be up and running and operational, then they are literally losing money each and every minute, hour, day and week,” he said. “That can bring about swifter decisions [by a company] to get back up and get clients back onto the platform, back into their hotel rooms, back into their kind of service experience.”

Hotel responses to cybersecurity attacks

“All of these different hotels that have been in the news are victims, [guests] trust that their information is going to be secure.” said Pierson, who now specializes in digital executive protection for corporate executives, boards and other high value targets including employees and their families.

“When there is a breach, obviously some trust is lost there. However, cybercrime, cyber attacks, ransom, data breach, and all the rest are facts of life, they will hit most major companies,” he continued. “What consumers need to pay attention to is, ‘Is the company communicating with me? Has the company communicated with me in a manner that is clear and ethical and consistent? Have they provided me with an explanation as to what is happening to the best of their knowledge at that given point in time?'”

Pierson said that the current updated U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission guidance stating that “publicly traded companies must disclose a material cyber incident within four days” could “potentially cause more confusion in consumers.”

“Every initial statement is going to say: ‘We’re investigating something that has happened, we can’t tell you exactly what has happened because we’re at the beginning stages of the investigation, and as a result, we don’t know or have any other further details,'” Pierson said. “Providing that type of a disclosure can actually cause more frustration than having waited a week until you had more details.”

Pierson said that every data breach response can take “about seven to 14 days until a company actually knows all the proper details that it needs in order to more fully disclose what has happened.”

Preventative steps companies take to ensure guest, customer information is safe

Pierson explained some of the steps business leaders might want to take to prevent attacks.

First among those is “making sure you have a cybersecurity program that is in place at the company, that is at least updated annually, and the threats and risks around it are known,” he said.

Second, he said, is “making sure you have have governance and supervision, in terms of enterprise risk management, over that program from a board level and from an executive level.” He added that risks need to be “absolutely clear” to best ensure “they’re being mitigated.”

“Number three, making sure that you have all of the right things in place for incident response, because events will happen,” he said. “Making sure that you know what they are, when they are, what to do when they happen and how to respond is going to be the other critical part.”

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How Walmart shoppers can qualify for cash from $45 million settlement

Self-service checkout customer scanning and paying in a Walmart Supercenter in Miami, Florida. (Jeffrey Greenberg/Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Walmart shoppers may be entitled to up to $500 in cash after the retail giant agreed to pay $45 million to settle a class action lawsuit over “weighted goods.”

The company, which has denied any wrongdoing, was accused of overcharging customers for sold-by-weight items such as meat, poultry, pork, seafood and bagged citrus fruit at Walmart locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico between Oct. 19, 2018, and Jan. 19, 2024, according to the administrator for the settlement’s website.

The 2022 class action lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Florida, stated that “Walmart uses unfair and deceptive business practices to deceivingly, misleadingly, and unjustly pilfer, to Walmart’s financial benefit, its customers’ hard-earned grocery dollars.”

Other products that customers may have “paid more than the lowest in-store advertised price,” include certain organic oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and navel oranges sold in bulk in mesh or plastic bags — referred to as “Bagged Citrus.”

The settlement administrator site includes “product descriptions and a searchable list of UPC Codes for the Weighted Goods and Bagged Citrus” to help customers navigate the products up for reimbursement.

Walmart has denied the claims in the lawsuit. 

ABC News has reached out to Walmart for comment on the settlement.

How to claim cash from Walmart grocery settlement

Walmart shoppers who purchased qualifying items between the more than five-year period can submit a claim online or through the mail by June 5, 2024 to receive compensation.

If you’ve kept your receipts, you can qualify for up to $500 cash back, and if not, you may still be able to get up to $25.

If a customer does not have their receipts, they can try to retrieve them via Walmart’s website, looking at past purchase history.

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What’s after AI? The next watershed technology could be quantum computing

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(NEW YORK) — Artificial intelligence commands the attention of corporate giants and political leaders but a global race is underway to develop what some experts consider the next transformative technology: quantum computing.

The computers, which draw on theoretical physics, could drive advances in everything from drug research to stock investing to encryption, promising an economic boon for the companies and nations that lead its development, some experts told ABC News.

Google, Microsoft and Intel are among the companies trying to achieve breakthroughs in quantum computing. Tech firm IBM announced on Friday its first-ever quantum computer on a university campus, unveiling the machine at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI, which is located in Troy, New York.

Here’s what to know about how quantum computing works, why the technology matters and what’s significant about the new machine at RPI:

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing uses the principles of abstract physics to supercharge a machine’s computational horsepower well beyond what’s found in an everyday computer.

The next-generation technology stands in contrast with classical computing, or binary computing, which relies on tiny units of data called bits. Those bits are oriented as either ones or zeroes, indicating on/off switches that make up the basic inputs of any task performed by a computer.

On the other hand, quantum computing draws on a fundamental concept of quantum physics known as “superposition,” which means a single entity can occupy multiple states at the same time, Daniel Lidar, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, told ABC News.

“In some sense, this is one computer performing many calculations all at once,” Lidar said. “In a standard case, you’d need lots of computers performing simultaneous calculations.”

Three decades ago, a physicist named Peter Shor proved that quantum computing could break a common form of internet encryption within just a few hours; whereas a standard computer would take billions of years to achieve the same task, Lidar added.

“Ever since that discovery, there’s been a worldwide race to build these computers,” Lidar said.

What’s at stake with the development of quantum computing?

The countries and firms that develop quantum computing stand to gain a significant advantage in an array of lucrative industries, some experts told ABC News.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company identified four industries most likely to see early economic impact from quantum computing: automotive, chemicals, financial services and life sciences, according to a report last year. Across those four industries, the technology could add a combined $1.3 trillion in value by 2035, the report said.

In 2022, President Joe Biden visited IBM’s quantum data center in Poughkeepsie, New York, which features the world’s largest collection of quantum computers, the company said in a news release at the time.

“The government that will hold the first truly useful quantum computer will have a power at its fingertips that is breathtaking,” Lidar said. “That’s why many governments are heavily invested and companies are betting billions of dollars on this field.”

While thousands of researchers worldwide work out the kinks of quantum computing, concrete applications remain 5 to 10 years away, Lidar said.

What is the significance of the new quantum computer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute?

The IBM quantum computer at RPI marks the first of its kind on a university campus.

The machine will help students push quantum computing from experimental uses to real-life applications, Jay Gambetta, IBM fellow and vice president of Quantum Computing, told ABC News.

“Getting quantum computing into their hands is essential for us to create this industry,” Gambetta said.

Thirty percent of the university’s sophomore class major in computer programming, RPI President Martin Schmidt told ABC News. The newly unveiled quantum computer will equip them with direct training in one of the latest advancements in the tech field, he added.

“Everybody’s going to be scrambling for talent,” he said. “There are going to be some people that just really make this thing sing. And I want to see that magic happen.”

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How Rochester, New York, hopes the eclipse brings a lasting economic boom to city

Rochester, New York, is expecting between 300,000 and 500,000 people to visit the region to watch the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. — ABC News

(ROCHESTER, N.Y.) — Seven years ago, Debra Ross wondered why she should care about an eclipse.

Her daughter, Ella, vowed that she would get her driver’s license and that they would take a road trip to Missouri to see the 2017 total solar eclipse that stretched across the U.S.

“I was still skeptical about this,” Ross told ABC News. “I knew what an eclipse was, but I didn’t know what the big deal was. It gets dark every day. I know what a shadow is, right? Why is it such a big deal?”

Ross and her daughter drove to Kimmswick, Missouri, — about 20 miles southwest of St. Louis — where they found a railroad trestle and watched the eclipse. As Ross watched the sun slowly be obscured — and then completely covered — by the moon, she felt a change come over her.

“When totality happened … and the world around us just whooshed down to darkness, and I saw the stars come out around the sun, and it looked like this velvet hole in the sky … I was just completely transformed and taken,” she said. “So, after totality, I understood what a human and what a unifying kind of community experience this was.”

Ross knew the next total solar eclipse in North America was happening on April 8 and that her home city of Rochester, New York, was going to be in the path of totality. She wanted the city to be prepared, so she became the Rochester Eclipse Task Force chair and started contacting community members.

For the past seven years, Ross said the local government, museums, and small businesses—from restaurants to brewing companies to chocolate shops—in the mid-size city have been preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists to watch the total solar eclipse on April 9.

Store owners, residents and local officials are hoping the eclipse brings an economic boom to a city that was once a hub of industry and has struggled to recover from the pandemic that shuttered so many small businesses.

‘Wonders for the economy’

Rochester is estimating the eclipse will bring in between 300,000 and 500,000 visitors and between $10 million to $12 million from Friday to Monday, Mayor Mailk Evans told ABC News. He said the celestial event is a great opportunity to market the city from an economic development standpoint.

“The eclipse is only about three minutes and 38 seconds, but what we’ve said is no, we want to make it three days, and even longer,” he said. “So, we’ve used this as an opportunity to have people come to Rochester to see what all of the region has to offer.”

The city has gone all out, including a festival at the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC), an all-day celebration at the public market, performances by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, art exhibits, eclipse-themed specials at restaurants and eclipse-themed merchandise being sold including beer, chocolate and jewelry.

“These are all things that we are marketing, in connection with the eclipse, so that gives us the opportunity to see a large economic impact,” Evans said.

Both Evans and residents said they are hoping this will be a huge money maker, particularly for small businesses, which were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, like many places across the U.S.

The population of the city dropped slightly, by about 2,000, during the first two years of the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Rochester and the Finger Lakes region, 37% of households struggled to afford basics in 2021, up from 29% in 2019, according to a report from United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

Perhaps no businesses were hit harder than restaurants.

Kelly Metras, co-owner of Salena’s Mexican Restaurant, said when Ross first contacted her in 2021 to help get restaurants on board with preparing for the eclipse, she wasn’t sure if her restaurant would be open by then.

“I told her we didn’t know if we were going to be open next week, much less 2024, and that restaurants specifically wouldn’t be ready to prepare till much closer to the event,” she told ABC News.

Her husband and co-owner, Aaron Metras, said business has slowly been building back up and, while the restaurant is not in danger of closing, the eclipse presents a well-timed boost.

“The pandemic has changed a lot of things; business levels are still not quite the same as they used to be,” Aaron Metras said. “The landscape for business in general, especially for restaurants, has gotten a lot more difficult, since 2020.”

“The influx of tourists and dollars is certainly going to be helpful for all the businesses that have been struggling, and hopefully this will be the start of an upward trajectory that just keeps rising,” he added.

Jason Snyder, owner of Blu Wolf Bistro, feels similarly. He said although his restaurant was able to adapt during the pandemic, it was difficult and he’s still building back his business.

“The pandemic was hard for restaurants, especially small, non-chain restaurants,” he told ABC News. “We’re hoping the eclipse will kind of spring us forward to great sales for the summer … We’re going to use the eclipse and the money and business that brings in to try to get things finally back to normal.”

Snyder said coming out of the pandemic, he and his co-workers were looking for something to look forward to, and the eclipse did the trick.

“When we figured out we were in the path of totality, it was a light at the end of the tunnel for us,” he said. “We see this as the beginning of a great new year, a new beginning for Rochester … we think it’s going to do wonders for our economy.”

John Urlaub, owner of the Rohrbach Brewing Company, said over the weekend he is expecting to a see a 20% to 30% boost in sales compared to what he sees in a normal weekend, which he described as “significant.”

Lindsay Tarnotff, co-owner of Laughing Gull Chocolates, has faced struggles, too. She said the while she felt confident her business would survive the pandemic — and that she and her team pivoted to serve those who were purchasing chocolates online — it doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges.

“All of our costs went up pretty dramatically, and so that impacted and still is impacting the bottom line of our business, and we work hard every day to be successful,” Trarnoff said. “We are a very, very small business, and we are known within our community, but hoping that [the eclipse] kind of raises awareness about us and all of the other small businesses.”

Tarnoff continued, “We want people to support small businesses. Small businesses, women-owned businesses are such a huge part of our economy that people don’t always think about.”

Culmination of years-long preparation

Ross, the chair of the Rochester task force, said when she first started talking to people about preparing for the eclipse, it was several years out, and some people thought she was too eager.

“I mean, I think probably I was a little over the top. So maybe people were saying. ‘Seven years out, really Deb? Six years out, five years out. This a little early, isn’t it?'” she said. “But the fact is pulling all these folks together and working for something that’s going to happen far in the future for three minutes and 38 seconds, that is a kind of wacky proposition. But it was really fun, and everybody just jumped right on board.”

The effort has paid off. The Rohrbach Brewing Company and Laughing Gull Chocolates are both selling eclipse-themed beer and chocolate and are hosting the event at the public market.

Salena’s Restaurant and Blu Wolf Bistro are both hosting eclipse-themed events and have eclipse-themed food and drinks.

“I know a lot of businesses, ourselves included, rolled out the red carpet,” Snyder said. “We want to make it a special day and we hope people leave thinking what a great city Rochester is, and they’ll come back.”

At the Museum & Science Center, more than 500,000 pairs of eclipse glasses were ordered, with more than 30,000 passed out to the Rochester City School District, according to Dan Schneiderman, Eclipse Partnerships Coordinator.

The Museum & Science Center is planning its Roc the Eclipse Festival, which will have several events including speakers, exhibitions, planetarium shows and comedic acts.

“We’re just going all out for the weekend,” Schneiderman said. “We are expecting several thousand people on Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday, April 8, we are expecting about six [thousand] to 80,00 people in total at the RMSC.”

The Museum & Science Center said it expects several thousand people on Saturday and Sunday and between 6,000 and 8,000 people on April 8. Schneiderman said there is a mix of emotions as the museum reaches the culmination of its preparation.

“There are some times when I’m feeling anxious,” he said. “There are times when I’m feeling overwhelmed, just because there’s still so much to do, and then there’s just times of calm. It’s very surreal, overall getting to this point of years and years of working towards this one moment in time.”

Putting Rochester on the map

Evans is hoping eclipse weekend doesn’t just encourage people to come back to visit Rochester but also even convince them to move to the Flower City.

Rochester currently has a population of 209,000, according to 2022 U.S. Census Bureau data. While this makes it the fourth most populous city in New York, it is a decline from the peak of the 20th century when, in 1950, 332,000 lived in the city, data shows.

As companies like Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb left and Rochester changed from a “company town” to a “town of companies”, the number of jobs declined — and so did the population, officials said.

But Evans said he’s met many residents who decided to move to Rochester due to events they attended in the city.

“There are plenty of people that I’ve met over the years … and you ask them later on to say, ‘How did you end up living in Rochester?’ and it was an event that they came to that piqued their interest,” he said. “I think that we want to use this eclipse as a way to showcase Rochester, all that it has to offer, and we want to invite people to come back and we hope that one day they will decide to live here.”

Ross agreed and said she hopes eclipse weekend is “imprinting” the city on people’s minds.

“What we’re going to be doing is kind of imprinting Rochester on the memories of all these people who are here,” she said. “You always remember where you were when you were in the path of totality. So, by giving people all of these different experiences all weekend, we’re kind of saturating them not just with the eclipse, but with Rochester, and we think they’re going to take that away as they leave, but then I think that’s going to help them come back.”

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Boeing paid Alaska Airlines $160M in compensation after door plug incident, airline says

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Boeing has paid Alaska Air Group approximately $160 million in compensation following the door plug incident on Alaska flight 1282, according to an SEC filing from the carrier.

Alaska said the money is “initial compensation” from Boeing “to address the financial damages incurred as a result of Flight 1282 and the 737-9 MAX groundings,” the filing stated.

The airline said as a result of the incident, it lost approximately $160 million in first-quarter pretax profit — “primarily comprising lost revenues, costs due to irregular operations, and costs to restore our fleet to operating service,” the filing, dated Thursday, stated.

Alaska also said additional compensation is expected from Boeing, the terms of which are confidential, according to the filing.

In response to a request for comment, Boeing referred ABC News to comments made by its CFO, Brian West, at a conference last month where he said there is going to be “customer consideration that is going to manifest itself in the quarter.”

“We’ve got to take care of that and we’re well down the road to do that. And we continue to stand behind our customers with that responsibility,” West said at the Bank of America Industrials Conference on March 20.

The door plug of Alaska Airlines flight 1282 fell off a few minutes after take off from Portland International Airport on Jan. 5. Passengers captured footage showing a hole where the door plug came loose on the Boeing 737 Max 9 plane. The plane safely made an emergency landing and no one was seriously injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration grounded approximately 171 Max 9s worldwide following the incident. Alaska resumed flying the Boeing 737 Max 9 following fleet inspections on Jan. 26.

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report released in February found that four bolts designed to prevent the door plug from falling off the Boeing 737 Max 9 plane were missing before the flight.

The incident remains under investigation by the NTSB. The Department of Justice has also launched a probe.

The FAA increased its oversight of Boeing and began an audit of the company’s production and manufacturing in the wake of the door plug blow-out.

Amid the fallout of the door plug failure, Boeing announced last week that its CEO, Dave Calhoun, will step down at the end of the year.

“The eyes of the world are on us, and I know that we will come through this moment a better company,” Calhoun said in a statement last week. “We will remain squarely focused on completing the work we have done together to return our company to stability after the extraordinary challenges of the past five years, with safety and quality at the forefront of everything that we do.”

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Cosmic yoga, portable toilets: Solar eclipse will deliver ‘tourism boom’ for economy

People watch the Annular Solar Eclipse with using safety glasses in Brownsville, Texas on Oct. 14, 2023. (Mike Gonzalez/Anadolu via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — A fully booked hotel in Maine said it received its first request from a solar eclipse tourist five years ago. A portable toilet vendor in Indiana said it is doing 10 times more business than it usually would at this time of year. A botanical garden in Texas already sold out its eclipse viewing event, warning “walk-ups will not be accepted.”

A wave of travel to the 15 states in the viewing path of the total solar eclipse, set to take place on April 8, will generate a surge of spending to the tune of at least hundreds of millions of dollars, delivering a windfall for local businesses and a burst of activity for towns suddenly transformed into tourist destinations, some economists told ABC News.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Adam Kamins, senior director of economic research at Moody’s Analytics, told ABC News. “It will essentially be a weekend-long tourism boom.”

In the U.S., the path of totality will begin in Texas and travel upward through midwestern states such as Indiana and Ohio, ultimately reaching the likes of New York, New Hampshire and Maine.

As many as four million people will travel to the path of totality for the eclipse, making it the largest travel day of the year, according to research group Great American Eclipse.

Travelers will mainly shell out money for gas, lodging and food, generating between $372 million and $1.5 billion in economic activity, Bulent Temel, professor of practice and economics at the University of Texas, San Antonio, told ABC News.

Temel examined the spending of a typical tourist during the most recent solar eclipse, in 2017, adjusting for inflation and projecting that visitors this time around would each spend about $244 each.

“It’s quite significant,” Temel said.

Rangeley, Maine, a snowy resort destination for stargazers and snow-mobile riders, is home to 1,200 people.

The town expects as many as 20,000 visitors for the eclipse, Travis Ferland, owner of the Rangeley Inn and board member at the local chamber of commerce, told ABC News.

The Rangeley Inn, which began taking reservations in November, sold out in January. To serve eclipse tourists, the hotel will host a “Coffee & Constellations” discussion leading up to the eclipse and a themed party afterward, replete with a live band.

Other activities on offer for eclipse tourists in Rangeley: “Cosmic Yoga,” “Total Eclipse Paint Night” and “Night Sky Trivia.”

Parkside & Main, a local restaurant, has received about 20 calls per day from eclipse visitors as far flung as Washington State, California and Australia, Kash Haley, the part owner of the businesses, told ABC News.

“People love their astronomy,” Haley said.

The restaurant plans to stock 50% more food than it typically would at this time of year, but Haley said he doesn’t want to run the risk of purchasing too much and suffering the cost.

“For a small business, it’s tricky,” Haley said. “There’s no science behind it.”

The restaurant has sold themed T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Parkside of the Moon,” and an illustration of a fork and knife inside the iconic triangle that appears on the cover of the Pink Floyd album by a similar name.

In all, the eclipse is expected to bring more than $24 million in spending to Maine, according to research firm The Perryman Group.

The spending in Texas, which Temel estimated could reach more than $600 million, will make it “the most profitable 22 minutes in Texas history,” Temel said, referring to the expected duration of the full solar eclipse over the state.

In Arkansas, the eclipse could bring nearly $50 million in economic activity, according to a study by Michael Pakko, chief economist and state economic forecaster at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“It might very well be the biggest single tourism event in the state’s history,” Pakko told ABC News.

Kamins, of Moody’s Analytics, said the eclipse would bring a significant, albeit temporary boom for towns and cities along the path of totality. However, he added, the economic benefits will be limited by the lodging and restaurant capacity of the regions involved.

Some of the states — including Arkansas, Ohio and Indiana — rank among the lowest for their share of the nation’s consumer-driven economic output, Kamins added.

“Obviously, it’s a natural event,” Kamins said. “It has no concern for where the tourism infrastructure might be.”

An unsung feature of that infrastructure: toilets. In Bloomington, Indiana, where local officials expect 300,000 visitors for the eclipse, a portable toilet company called Izzy’s Rentals is seeing more customer demand than it ever has in its nearly 20 years of operation, Cindy Lewis, the company’s part owner, told ABC News.

Izzy’s typically rents out about 20 portable toilets on a typical weekend day in April, Lewis said. On the day of the eclipse, she added, the company will rent out 200.

In preparation, the family-owned firm added a third employee and expanded its inventory with help from a company in Indianapolis, Lewis said.

“To have a big day like this in April is wonderful,” Lewis said, while acknowledging some trepidation about the frenzy headed her company’s way.

“It feels like a big impending storm,” Lewis added. “You don’t quite know what’s coming.”

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Largest US egg producer temporarily halts production due to avian flu at Texas facility

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(NEW YORK) — As avian flu continues to spread in birds across the United States, a major chicken egg manufacturer has temporarily halted production after the highly contagious disease was detected at its facilities.

Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., the nation’s largest producer and distributor of fresh eggs, announced the positive test result for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) at its Parmer County, Texas facility on Tuesday.

The outbreak has resulted in the loss of nearly “1.6 million laying hens and 337,000 pullets, or approximately 3.6% of the Company’s total flock as of March 2, 2024,” Cal-Maine Foods announced. This was due to guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on poultry infections.

The company followed U.S. Department of Agriculture protocols in shutting down operations and said it’s “working to secure production from other facilities to minimize disruption to its customers.”

While there are “robust biosecurity” measures in place, the egg producer said “no farm is immune from HPAI” which is “still present in the wild bird population and the extent of possible future outbreaks, with heightened risk during the migration seasons, cannot be predicted.”

Despite a recent human infection following an outbreak at a Texas cattle farm, the risk of bird flu to the public is considered low and no person-to-person spread has occurred, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amidst the increase in outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reminded consumers that HPAI “cannot be transmitted through safely handled and properly cooked eggs.”

There is also no known risk related to HPAI associated with eggs currently in the retail market and as of time of publication, no eggs have been recalled.

Cal-Maine Foods said in the release that it’s working “closely with federal, state, and local government officials and focused industry groups to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks and effectively manage the response.”

The Ridgeland, Mississippi-based company produces, grades, packages, and markets fresh shell cage-free, organic, pasture-raised, free-range, and nutritionally enhanced eggs.

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Fed Chair Jerome Powell pumps brakes on rate cuts

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(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Reserve will see if inflation moves beyond its current rough patch before imposing highly anticipated interest rate cuts, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday.

Addressing a business conference at Stanford University, Powell touted progress in the fight to cool price increases while acknowledging that such headway had stalled in recent months.

“On inflation, it’s too soon to say whether the recent readings represent more than just a bump,” Powell said.

“Given the strength of the economy and progress on inflation so far, we have time to let the incoming data guide our decisions on policy,” Powell added.

Inflation has fallen significantly from a peak of 9.1% but it remains more than a percentage point higher than the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

At a meeting last month, the Fed opted to keep rates highly elevated. The Fed Funds rate remains between 5.25% and 5.5%, matching its highest level since 2001.

The move marked the fifth meeting in a row at which the Fed has left rates unchanged, marking a prolonged pause of the aggressive rate hiking cycle that started in March 2022. The Fed said last month that it still intends to make three interest rate cuts this year.

The Fed’s next rate decision will take place at the beginning of May.

On Wednesday, Powell said the central bank faces risks whether it cuts interest rates too early or too late.

“Reducing rates too soon or too much could result in a reversal in the progress we’ve seen on inflation and ultimately require even tighter policy to get inflation back to 2%,” Powell said. “But easing policy too late or too little could unduly weaken economic activity and employment.”

He added, “As conditions evolve, monetary policy is well prepared to confront either of these risks.”

Interest rate cuts would lower borrowing costs for consumers and businesses, potentially triggering a burst of economic activity through greater household spending and company investment.

But the Fed risks a rebound of inflation if it cuts interest rates too quickly, since stronger consumer demand on top of solid economic activity could lead to an acceleration of price increases.

U.S. job gains far exceeded expectations in February, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data earlier this month showed.

The U.S. added 275,000 jobs in February, surpassing predictions of about 200,000 jobs added, but marking a substantial decline from the hiring of roughly 350,000 workers in January, according to BLS data.

The S&P 500 reached a record high last month.

Attitudes about the economy have improved in recent months. Consumer sentiment inched lower in February but preserved much of the large gains achieved in previous months, a University of Michigan survey found.

Still, some areas of the economy have cooled.

The housing market has slowed substantially due in large part to soaring mortgage rates.

The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage has soared to 6.79%, rebounding after a steady decline at the end of last year, according to a report from Freddie Mac last Thursday.

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Speaking on Wednesday, Powell referred to surveys of consumer and business sentiment that suggest inflation is widely expected to return to normal levels.

“The public does believe — and it’s a good thing, because it’s true — that inflation will go back down to 2%,” Powell said. “That’s very reassuring but that’s partly because of the very strong action we took and also because of our ongoing commitment to actually return inflation to 2% over time.”

“And that is our commitment,” Powell added.

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Disney shareholders reject activist investor Nelson Peltz’s board nominees


(NEW YORK) — Disney shareholders on Wednesday rejected board nominees allied with activist investor Nelson Peltz, ending a combative, months-long proxy battle centered on the company’s navigation of the topsy-turvy onset of the streaming era.

A majority of shareholders instead voted in support of a 12-person slate of board nominees put forward by Disney, the company announced at its annual shareholder meeting. (Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)

Trian Partners, the hedge fund founded by Peltz, had leveraged its standing as one of Disney’s largest shareholders to carry out a high-profile campaign critical of the company’s growth strategy, and insistent about a plan for a successor to 73-year-old current CEO Bob Iger.

Addressing the activist push at a Morgan Stanley investor conference earlier this month, Iger touted a recent strong stock performance run and dismissed Peltz’s campaign as an effort “designed to distract us.”

“Obviously, many of the businesses are experiencing the effect of disruption,” Iger added. “It’s one that takes not only a significant amount of knowledge, but a tremendous amount of time and focus.”

Peltz, 81, sought board seats for himself as well as former Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo. They called on shareholders to deliver them the seats currently held by Maria Elena Lagomasino and Michael Froman.

The proxy war arrived as a shift to streaming upended the media business. Beset by cord-cutting and the decline of movie theater attendance, Disney has grown the audience for its bundle of streaming services, which include Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. However, the new platform has yet to turn a profit.

Via a website devoted to the activist campaign, titled “Restore the Magic,” Trian Partners calls on Disney management to “develop and articulate” a clear streaming strategy that can achieve “Netflix-like margins.”

Outlining a series of reforms, the website requests cost cuts for the streaming business, a full review of the creative process, and an emphasis on the acquisition of new intellectual property.

For his part, Iger has said Disney is in the midst of a company transformation to address the streaming challenge identified by Peltz.

Disney+ has amassed 111.3 million subscribers over roughly five years since its launch, though the platform lost 1.3 million subscribers over the final three months of 2023, quarterly earnings in February showed.

The company said in the earnings report that it slashed streaming-related financial losses by $300 million over the three-month period, keeping it on pace to cut $7.5 billion in costs by the end of fiscal year 2024.

Cost cuts have helped boost Disney’s stock price 23% since a recent low in October, but the price remains down 30% from a high attained in March 2021.

The issue of succession is another key point of contention in the proxy fight.

During Iger’s first stint as Disney CEO, from 2005 to 2020, he managed to push back his departure multiple times. He returned to the position in November 2022 under an agreement to step aside again after two years, but months later the company announced a contract extension through 2026.

Trian Partners has urged the company to clarify its succession process and undertake an exhaustive search for Iger’s replacement, the activist campaign’s website says.

Upon receiving his contract extension nearly a year ago, Iger emphasized in a statement his commitment to a smooth succession.

“The importance of the succession process cannot be overstated, and as the Board continues to evaluate a highly qualified slate of internal and external candidates, I remain intensely focused on a successful transition,” Iger said.

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What to know about JetBlue checked bag pricing, increased fees for Trusted Traveler Programs

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(NEW YORK) — As airlines continue to update baggage policies and everywhere from fast food chains to theme parks introduce dynamic pricing, JetBlue is combining the two business trends by introducing a new peak and off-peak payment structure for passengers.

The New York-based airline, which first increased its checked bag fees in February among competitors, again changed up its pricing to now charge $50 for the first checked bag and $70 for the second bag while traveling during peak times.

According to JetBlue’s baggage info website, the peak pricing applies to passengers paying to check a bag within 24 hours of departure and are traveling in Blue, Blue Basic, or Blue Extra fare classes within the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, or Canada.

The fee for a third checked bag is $135 during peak times, and $160 for a fourth or more bags.

The new pricing also applies to “peak-season” travel dates:

April 11 to April 29
June 20 to Sept. 3
Nov. 21 to Dec. 2
Dec. 19 to Jan. 6
Feb. 13 to Feb 24
April 3 to April 28

The first bag is included for free for customers flying in Blue Plus, Mint, Mosaic, or are a JetBlue Plus cardmember, regardless of whether the time is peak or off-peak.

Those flying in Blue, Blue Basic, or Blue Extra will pay $45 for the first checked bag and $60 for the second bag during off-peak hours and $50 and $70 respectively during peak times.

The airline noted that travelers can save $10 on their first two checked items when added before check-in, at least 24 hours before departure. Additionally, checked bag fees are only refundable on JetBlue if the entire booking is canceled prior to scheduled departure.

JetBlue chalked up the increase for customers as a result of higher business operating costs, such as fuel and increased wages.

Other major carriers including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and United Airlines have all recently made incremental price hikes on checked bags.

CBP announces new fee changes for Trusted Traveler Programs

Prices are also on the rise for travelers who utilize Global Entry or other Trusted Traveler Programs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday.

The new fees going into effect on Oct. 1, for NEXUS, Global Entry, and SENTRI programs, have not been updated in more than 15 years, and “better reflecting the program costs,” according to CBP.

Global Entry fees will increase from $100 to $120.

SENTRI, which formerly had an “a la carte” fee structure, will move to a uniform fee of $120 to be collected in full when an application is submitted.

Fees for NEXUS will increase from $50 to $120 for travelers who utilize the joint program managed by CBP and Canada Border Services Agency allowing dedicated processing between the U.S. and Canada.

“As these programs have matured and expanded, updating the fee structures is critical to the continuation and management of the programs,” CBP stated.

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