MILAN (AP) — Culinary tourists are pushing growth in foreign tourism to the United States, which is transforming its image as a fast-food mecca to a land of regional tastes and dishes, said officials visiting the Expo 2015 world’s fair focusing on food this week.
Foreign tourism to the United States in 2014 rose by 7 percent to over 75 million, contributing $221 million to the economy, according to Christopher L. Thompson, president and CEO of the Brand USA, a private marketing organization created five years ago to promote the United States as a destination. That’s on the way to the Obama administration’s goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2021, from 55 million in 2012.
The boost coincides with Brand USA’s culinary initiative to make food one of the country’s main selling points, including the creation of guides for top culinary destinations, videotaped chef vignettes for its Discover America web portal and sponsorship of the Food Truck Nation food concession at Milan’s Expo world fair, which is expected to attract at least 20 million visitors.
In the second year of the culinary focus, food rose to be among the top five reasons for choosing the United States as a destination, officials said.
“We’ve recognized culinary as a real driver of tourism, with all the diversity that the United States offers,” Thompson told The Associated Press. “It is becoming one of the reasons that people are coming to the United States.
Daniele Catania, who runs the Alidays travel tour operator that organizes tours for Italians in the United States, said he has started creating itineraries guided by food.
“Food is like a language. You can learn a lot of history through food,” Catania said.
Thompson said Brand USA’s goal is to attract visitors not only to cities well-known for their cuisine, but also to smaller towns and rural areas that also have food stories to tell.
“Palates have no boundaries,” said Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center and president of the Friends of the USA pavilion. She declared the days that the hamburger defined American food as bygone, saying American cuisine is developing regionally, with strong immigrant influence.
“We don’t think the rest of the world understands how regional tastes are,” she said. “If you are Vietnamese and living in New Orleans you are eating a lot of shrimp. You won’t necessarily see that in New York.”
NEW YORK (AP) — Taylor Swift has apologized to Nicki Minaj for calling her out on Twitter regarding her MTV Video Music Awards nominations.
Swift tweeted Thursday that she thought she was “being called out” by Minaj. The singer added: “I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.”
“That means so much Taylor, thank you,” Minaj replied.
Minaj and Swift traded words Tuesday on Twitter after MTV announced the nominees for the VMAs, where Swift is the leader with nine. Minaj was upset she didn’t earn a nomination for video of the year for “Anaconda.” She launched a series of tweets about how slim women earn top nominations and later said black female entertainers don’t get enough credit for their influence on pop culture.
She didn’t mention any names, but Swift thought the rapper was referring to her.
Minaj tweeted there were no hard feelings Thursday after a fan tweeted that he was happy the performers had made up.
“I’ve always loved her. Everyone makes mistakes. She gained so much more respect from me. Let’s move on,” Minaj tweeted.
Minaj is nominated for three awards, including best female video and hip-hop video for “Anaconda.” Swift’s nominations include best female video, pop video and collaboration.
Taylor Swift’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/taylorswift13/
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — In a profanity-laced video, Grammy award-winning singer Chris Brown vented his frustration Thursday at being stuck in the Philippines for a second day after running afoul of a politically powerful religious group that filed a fraud complaint against him for a cancelled concert.
Brown was still in the country Thursday evening and had not applied for the emigration clearance he needs to leave Manila, Immigration Bureau spokeswoman Elaine Tan said in a text message to the AP.
The 26-year-old R&B singer performed at a packed concert in Manila on Tuesday but has been prevented from leaving since then.
In videos posted on Instagram, Brown clowns around, asking, “Can somebody please tell me what the (expletive) is going on?”
“I don’t know, I’m reading headlines after headlines, what the (expletive)!” he added, smiling as his companions laugh in the background while sprawled on sofas.
In another video, Brown says when he gets to customs, he will say he did nothing wrong. He then breaks into dance as people laugh.
The expletive-laden video appeared to have been removed from Brown’s Instagram account Thursday.
A new video posted around midnight showed Brown kneeling on the same patterned carpet as before and pleading, “Please, please, let us leave, please,” then doing a back flip. The clip’s caption seemed to be a mock appeal to President Barack Obama.
The dispute traces back to last New Year’s Eve when Brown canceled a concert at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena north of Manila, which is operated by a corporation owned by the politically influential Iglesia ni Cristo religious group.
The 101-year-old group is believed to have more than a million members both in the Philippines and abroad and is known to vote as a bloc in a nation where politicians often seek endorsements from church leaders.
The organizers said they were told at that time by Brown’s representative that the singer lost his passport and could not make it to the concert.
In a complaint, the Maligaya Development Corp. says Brown and his Canadian promoter, John Michael Pio Roda, backed out of the concert after they were paid in full for a $1 million contract.
MDC promoted the concert and sold tickets based on the guarantee that Brown would perform, the complaint alleged.
The religious group filed a formal complaint with a prosecutor at the Department of Justice, a preliminary step before the filing of charges in court.
Brown was being delayed while immigration officials consulted with the Justice Department about the case, Tan said.
A concert scheduled in Hong Kong for Wednesday was rescheduled to Thursday. A club manager who did not want to be named said late Thursday evening that the concert was being rescheduled again but the date was uncertain until they heard back from Brown’s representatives.
Another concert, scheduled for Saturday in Jakarta, Indonesia, was cancelled due to safety concerns, according to Brown’s Twitter account.
An Indonesian promoter, Trilogy Live, said it looked forward to having Brown come to Jakarta later and that tickets would be refunded.
Another promoter, E-Motion Entertainment, told reporters that one reason for the cancelation was the recent unrest in Tolikara district of Papua province.
Last week, a mob attacked Muslims marking the end of Ramadan and a mosque and several Muslim-owned stores went up in flames, allegedly after a meeting of Christian leaders was disrupted by the volume of the mosque’s loudspeakers. Soldiers and police stopped the angry mob, wounding 12 people with warning shots.
Papua is Indonesia’s easternmost province, far from the capital, but the violence angered many Muslims. Security was the main concern of Brown’s management, said Rangga Ibiza from E-Motion Entertainment. “No matter how small the security issue is …, it would influence their decision to hold the concert.”
Associated Press writers Angela Chen in Hong Kong and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A video showing a South African and a Swedish hostage alive in Mali after three years, is a sign that their captors are willing to negotiate, the founder of a South African humanitarian organization said Thursday.
Gift of the Givers, a South African humanitarian organization, has begun efforts to negotiate the freedom of South African Stephen Malcolm McGowan and Swedish citizen Johan Gustafsson, said founder Imtiaz Sooliman. Gift of the Givers was approached by the hostages’ families after the aid group negotiated the release of a South African held in Yemen.
Last month a video was posted online showing Gustafsson and McGowan appealing to their governments to negotiate for their freedom.
The video is a sign that the men’s captors are open to negotiations, said Sooliman.
“You don’t keep broadcasting proof of life videos unless you want a reaction, and that reaction is ‘We want to talk to you,'” said Sooliman. Gift of the Givers has identified a negotiator well-known by local Malian tribes who will try to build a relationship with the kidnappers.
“I hope that something can be done. I hope that a negotiation can be brokered with mujahidin,” McGowan says in the video. He and the Swede have long beards and wear loose fitting clothing. They show no obvious signs of ill health.
It is believed the men are being held by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the north African wing of the international group. Earlier videos of the hostages identified the captors as belonging to al-Qaida, said Sooliman. The June video bears a logo that appears to be that of the group’s media arm, al-Andalus.
Gustafsson and McGowan were abducted in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu in northern Mali. A Dutch national kidnapped along with them was rescued by French special forces in April.
NEW YORK (AP) — Google’s new service for organizing and backing up images blends some of the best of what Apple and Yahoo have rolled out in recent months.
These services come as smartphone cameras get better, and people take more photos and video with them. The problem is many of the images simply sit on the phones, taking up valuable space. Worse, digital memories can disappear when phones are lost or stolen.
Photo services from Google, Yahoo and Apple all store copies of those photos and video online. Images taken with tablets and stand-alone cameras can be added, too, giving you one home for your entire image library. These services also offer editing tools and help organize your images. After all, why bother taking photos if you can’t find them later?
The latest offering, Google Photos, isn’t perfect. Recently, Google apologized when the service mistakenly labeled two black people as gorillas. And there’s a catch with free storage of photos and video. On the other hand, Google has the best tools for searching photos. That’s no surprise, coming from the world’s most popular search engine.
Here’s a look at Google Photos and how it compares with Apple’s and Yahoo’s offerings.
STORAGE AND BACKUP
Just download the Google Photos app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device and connect over Wi-Fi. Photos and video on your device will automatically upload to Google’s servers.
Google offers unlimited storage of photos of up to 16 megapixels. That covers iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. For the few phones that exceed that, Google will either reduce the file size or let you store the original as part of a free allotment shared with Gmail messages and other Google services. You get 15 gigabytes, enough for a few thousand photos at 16 megapixels, after which you pay $2 or more a month. If you choose to store the originals, all photos will count toward the quota, including those under 16 megapixels. Unless you’re looking for poster-size prints, 16 megapixels is fine for printing, but the extra pixels help when cropping.
Free video storage is limited to 1080p high-definition resolution. That’s fine for iPhones, but many devices including the Galaxy S6 phones can shoot better. Again, you can choose to reduce the size or pay for more storage.
Apps for Mac and Windows PCs will search your computer and camera memory cards for photos to upload. The same size limits apply.
Flickr, a similar service from Yahoo, has no size limit on individual files, but you get 1 terabyte for your entire collection. That’s likely more than enough unless you’re a professional or serious photographer, in which case Yahoo likely wouldn’t be for you because it doesn’t handle images in the higher-quality RAW format.
Apple’s Photos app syncs images from iPhones, iPads and Mac computers only, not Android or Windows devices. You have 5 gigabytes of free iCloud storage, shared with other Apple services, so you’ll likely need to buy storage starting at $1 a month.
With Google and Yahoo, you need to delete images from your phone to free up space once they transfer online. With Apple, the service automatically reduces the file size when space is low and grabs the originals online when needed. That makes it seamless for users, but Apple’s storage quota isn’t as generous.
EDITING AND SHARING
All three services offer basic tools for touching up photos. Apple’s Photos app on the Mac has the most advanced options. With all three services, changes you make on one device will sync with the others. Google also has tools to automatically create collages and animations out of batches of photos.
Once online, you can view images from any device, no matter which camera they came from. You can easily share those images, too, with just a tap or two. Don’t worry. Unless you share an image or album, it’s for your eyes only.
ORGANIZING AND PRIVACY
Google, Apple and Yahoo use computer software to tag photos to help you find them more easily.
Google and Apple use face-recognition technology to sort photos by individuals, while Yahoo knows only that there’s someone there — not who. Google was even smart enough to automatically group together photos of the same person at 2 months old and 6 years old (though it missed the ones from right after birth). With Apple, you can link them manually on a Mac. Apple’s index is stored on the app, rather than online, limiting what the company has on you. Google does the analysis online, but insists it doesn’t attach faces to specific individuals. Although privacy is something to consider, it isn’t much different from trusting Google with your email and searches.
As for objects, Google and Yahoo let you search for “boat” to get photos containing boats, even if “boat” isn’t in the file name. That’s because the companies scan images to identify common objects and attributes. You can remove a tag when there’s a mistake, but you can’t add your own. What if you have a bunch of boat pictures, might you start seeing ads for sailing lessons? Google and Yahoo say they have no current plans to target ads that way, but neither ruled it out.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A fast-moving wildfire in Glacier National Park torched a car and a historic cabin and forced tourists to abandon their vehicles on the Montana park’s most popular roadway while officials evacuated hotels, campgrounds and homes.
Visitors left their vehicles along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and were shuttled out by officials Tuesday, park spokeswoman Denise Germann said. The two-lane road that carries thousands of vehicles on peak days in July and August was shut down for 21 of its 50 miles.
One family from Missouri nearly found themselves trapped when they briefly stopped on the road to take video of the fire.
“It was smoldering and smoking just like a normal fire,” Lakota Duncan told The Associated Press. “As soon as we started driving, it just exploded. That’s the best I can say.”
Duncan’s father began driving at high speed as the flames drew closer, while Duncan yelled, “Go, Dad, Go,” from the back seat and continued to record as they made their escape.
Park officials were helping tourists retrieve their cars Wednesday, while rangers searched the backcountry for any remaining hikers after the blaze doubled in size overnight to more than 3 square miles.
By Wednesday evening, the fire had burned more than 6 square miles. It also destroyed the Baring Creek Cabin, a historic backcountry structure.
Officials also were evacuating the small St. Mary community at the park’s eastern entrance and homes along a lakeshore.
“We’re kind of in the direct line right now,” said Susan Brooke, who owns the St. Mary Glacier Park KOA, where more than 600 people fled Wednesday afternoon. “It’s raging down the ridge toward St. Mary.”
Wind gusts and low humidity were expected to move through drought-parched northwestern Montana, increasing the risk of the fire spreading even more quickly, and park officials were preparing for more evacuations.
“These conditions may create explosive fire growth potential,” Germann said in a statement.
That dangerous fire weather extended to Washington state, which is also struggling with drought. About 600 firefighters on the ground and in the air attacked a wildfire that has burned one home and nearly 6 square miles in the southeastern part of the state. It was likely human-caused, officials said.
In Glacier National Park, officials evacuated the 72-room Rising Sun Motor Inn and a nearby campground with 84 spots. They also evacuated the 148-site St. Mary campground, one of the largest in the park.
Glacier Park Lodges general manager Marc Ducharme told The Hungry Horse News that about 150 guests and 60 employees were evacuated from the hotel. The guests were given refunds and a list of area hotels, while the employees were set up in tents at a campground in Coram.
Peak tourist season is underway, and 95 percent of park visitors travel some length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which bisects the park and hugs the mountainsides to cross the Continental Divide.
Officials on Wednesday also began evacuating the small community of St. Mary and homes surrounding St. Mary Lake as a precaution. A Glacier County sheriff’s dispatcher said she did not know how many people were included in the evacuation order.
Greg Fullerton, who owns Glacier County Honey Co., said he has been watching the fire from a highway above St. Mary since Tuesday night. The fire has spread east along the lake, and burning trees were visible from his vantage point.
“In some locations, it’s burning on the shore, in other locations it’s two-thirds up the mountain,” he said.
The National Weather Service warned that wind gusts combined with low humidity in the park and the rest of northwestern Montana have created extreme conditions for wildfires Wednesday afternoon.
Helena National Forest officials say a separate blaze in central Montana has burned about 2 ½ square miles since Tuesday and threatened homes in a rural area about 15 miles east of Townsend. Two campgrounds and a day-use area were closed.
Fire officials don’t yet know what caused either Montana fire.