New York hoteliers look to Port Douglas in hope of quadrupling town’s wedding market

With year-round sunshine and facilities like St Mary’s seaside chapel, Port Douglas has been a popular wedding destination for decades.

Now the company behind New York’s Plaza Hotel is looking to cash in on the matrimonial industry in the 3,500-resident town by proposing a 253-room luxury hotel with a rooftop wedding venue.

If the project is granted a development application by the Douglas Shire Council, the hotel will be the first in Australia to be operated by hotel chain Fairmont, which is owned by Accor.

The proposed five-star Fairmont Port Douglas would feature several on-site restaurants, a day spa, and treetop walk.

But its developer has been told to address 33 aspects of its original proposal by the town’s planning department.

Property developer Paul Chiodo said it would be the first resort to be built in the town for nearly two decades and would have an environmental focus.

“Instead of just a standard corrugated iron roof structure that creates a lot of heat … we’ve got an activated roof up there,” he said.

“It actually provides a cooling system for the hotel as well, so it doesn’t generate excess energy and power and is far better for the environment.”

A wedding platform is planned to feature on the rooftop pool area, which Mr Chiodo said the company was hoping would boost the local wedding industry.

“There are 500 weddings a year in Port Douglas and we’re hoping to quadruple that with our hotel,” he said.

The company said it would reuse some of the 5,000 tonnes of concrete from the demolished building on the site for the road base at the resort.

The council was concerned the five-storey building was too tall.

“The proposed building height is approximately 20 metres, with council’s planning scheme limiting building height to 13.5 metres,” the council’s manager for environment and planning, Paul Hoye, said.

But Mr Chiodo said that depended on where you measured from.

“How the planning scheme works, it takes its height from a natural ground level of the site,” he said.

The planning department also questioned why the company had not provided adequate parking for guests, falling 185 spaces short of what was required.

Mr Chiodo said the company’s research showed that much parking was unnecessary.

“We’ve provided a study that actually shows that people actually won’t be driving themselves to the hotel,” he said.

He also said the design had been amended so that three iconic palm trees would be relocated rather than removed.

Mr Chiodo said if the development application was approved the resort could be completed within two and a half years.

He said a recent report revealed that during construction the development would create 694 jobs and eventually add $203 million in annual gross value to the local economy.

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NQ’s top tourism towns revealed

THREE North Queensland towns have made the list of finalists for Queensland’s Top Tourism Town.

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Vaccine Tourism Is an Economic Boon for Some Towns

For Quincy, Illinois, hosting a mass-vaccination site is helping revive what had been, pre-pandemic, a strong tourism industry. The city of 40,000, about five hours from Chicago, typically hosts all sorts of visitors in a normal year: road-trippers following the national scenic byway along the Mississippi River, Abraham Lincoln enthusiasts mapping the 16th president’s travels (he and Stephen Douglas held a debate in the city in 1858), and Mormons tracing their faith’s westward migration. When the virus hit, many of these guests stopped coming to town, causing hotel tax revenues to plunge by more than 30 percent and dealing a blow to the city’s restaurant scene. But since the Quincy mass-vaccination site opened to all of Illinois in March, the city has drawn more than 2,000 tourists each week from outside the region, many from the Chicago area. “It’s definitely something that we’re encouraged by,” Holly Cain, the director of the Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, told me.

The tourists seem to be helping reverse some of the city’s economic losses. Teri Zanger, the general manager of the local Quality Inn, told me the hotel had laid off employees at the beginning of the pandemic, but now vaccine tourists have increased bookings by roughly 25 percent, filling every available room. The hotel is now in the process of hiring again. Lindsey Schmidt, a staffer at Winkings Market, said that the restaurant and grocery store was also seeing a surge in out-of-town customers. The boost has been so significant that the store seems to be doing better business now than it was before the pandemic. “If you know the restaurant industry, you know the winters are tough. Everything drops down,” Schmidt told me. “But we’ve been having a summer in the winter.”

These places can all use the additional dollars. Over the past four decades, wealth in America has flowed to a handful of already-rich metropolitan areas, leaving other parts of the country behind. Quincy’s population has declined since 1970, and, as in Plattsburgh and Habersham, its median income is below the national average. In some cities hosting mass-vaccination sites, such as Kennewick, Washington, business leaders told me they aren’t aware of any economic benefits. Regardless, economics isn’t everything: If the boost in commerce was coming at the expense of locals getting their shots, that would be a bad trade-off.

But while lots of rural Americans, particularly in areas without pharmacies, are genuinely struggling to get jabbed, there haven’t been any clear downsides to vaccine tourism for some communities. The share of vaccinated residents in the counties including and surrounding Plattsburgh exceeds the statewide average. Adams County, home to Quincy, has the highest percentage of fully inoculated residents of any county in Illinois. Three of the four neighboring counties also have an above-average share. “It’s been a win-win for us,” Kyle Moore, Quincy’s mayor, told me. “We know that the state can get back on its feet quicker the more people who are vaccinated, and if we can play a part in that, we’re happy to do it.”

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Some college towns grapple with Covid-19 after students return

“MSU is committed to doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” MSU Physician David Weismantel said. “The safety of our entire community is a priority and we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the virus.”

Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia — home to the University of Georgia — told CNN Saturday his city has seen a “dramatic spike” in cases after maintaining lower case counts and death counts throughout the summer. UGA classes began August 20.

“Clearly it’s the return to campus of large numbers of students who are not here through the summertime,” he said.

“Certainly young people are going to do the things that young people do, so we need to create the underlying conditions that keep people safe,” Girtz said, calling for better coordination among state and national leaders. “So that means very low allowance of gatherings and really as much digital or online learning as possible.”

Six students at Miami University in Ohio were cited after holding a house party even though at least one of them tested positive for Covid-19, according to police records. The university declined to comment, citing federal privacy laws, but said students would face disciplinary action if they violate quarantine orders or the city ordinance on mass gatherings.

Arkansas reported a record high of 1,107 new cases on Friday, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said a backlog in testing was to blame. About 13% of the state’s cases were attributed to young people in college communities, according to Dr. José Romero, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health — though he said that was down from previous counts, calling it a “good indicator.”

More than 6.4 million infections have been recorded in the US and 193,482 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Air pollution from wildfires could lead to vulnerability

Doctors warn that bad air quality stemming from smoke produced by the wildfires ravaging Western states could make people more vulnerable to coronavirus infections.

“Multiple studies have shown a correlation between higher levels of pollution in the air and greater spread and severity of Covid-19 cases,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, citing several studies conducted in the United States, China and Italy. “Some studies have also shown that exposure of lung tissue to pollution may increase susceptibility to viral infections.”

US could see a 'very deadly December' with tens of thousands of new coronavirus deaths, experts say.

Smoke from wildfires can irritate the lungs and cause inflammation that can affect the immune system, said Dr. Rekha Murthy, an infectious disease specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. That inflammation can make people more at risk of lung infections.

“Whenever the lining of the lung or the airways become inflamed or damaged, it increases the potential for inhaled viral particles to take hold in the lungs and cause infection,” Murthy said.

There are also concerns that smoke-filled air will drive coronavirus-positive people indoors, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen said. That, she said, could potentially increase the spread of the virus.

“We know being outdoors versus indoors reduces the rate of transmission … but now people are being told you have to go indoors because you don’t want to breathe in the air that could cause respiratory issues,” she said. “But you don’t want to be indoors with other individuals and have a higher rate of contracting COVID-19… so, it’s really a catch-22.”

To prevent the possible spread of coronavirus during the intense fire season, those remaining indoors due to poor air quality should stay away from anyone who is not in their immediate household, Wen said.

Early mask wearing would have saved lives

About 150,000 of the lives lost would have been saved if more Americans wore masks earlier on in the coronavirus pandemic, a health expert says.

“If the President had said from day one everyone is wearing a mask, we’d have about 45,000 deaths in this country,” said CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at George Washington University.

Reiner pointed to how Germany handled the pandemic.

“They haven’t been the best. They haven’t been the worst. They’ve been OK in their pandemic response and they’ve had about 10,000 deaths,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett.

The US has four times the population of Germany. “So we’d have about 45,000 deaths in this country,” he said. “So about 150,000 people would be alive.”

He reiterated the importance of embracing masks.

“If you want to think about why we still have 40,000 cases a day and 1,000 deaths a day in this country, it’s because we’re still talking about masks,” Reiner said. “It’s so basic.”

More deaths predicted if people let their guards down

An influential model is predicting a catastrophic winter with a significant rise in coronavirus deaths.

A possible scenario sees 415,090 Covid-19 deaths by January, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington says in its latest forecast. The worst-case scenario is 611,000 deaths by January 1.

“When we look ahead into the winter with seasonality kicking in, people becoming clearly less vigilant, you know mask use is down, mobility is up in the nation, you put all those together and we look like we’re going to have a very deadly December ahead of us in terms of toll of coronavirus,” IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Despite the dire prediction, President Donald Trump says the US has done “really well” in fighting the virus.

One of the leading coronavirus vaccine trials is currently paused. Prominent vaccine researchers tell CNN that's unusual

“I really do believe we’re rounding the corner and the vaccines are right there, but not even discussing vaccines and not discussing therapeutics, we’re rounding the corner,” Trump said.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he does not agree with the President’s statements.

“We’re plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day, and the deaths of around 1,000,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He said test positivity is increasing in some regions of the country and people are spending more time indoors because of cooler weather.

“That’s not good for a respiratory-borne virus,” he said.

Fauci warned that the country needs to get the levels down lower “so that when you go into a more precarious situation, like the fall and the winter, you won’t have a situation where you really are at a disadvantage right from the very beginning.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Harmeet Kaur, Amir Vera, Ben Tinker, Maggie Fox and Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report.

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