Categories
Destinations

Caribbean hotel occupancy at 10 percent

The latest data from STR paints a grim reality for hotels in
the Caribbean, and the bottom hasn’t been hit yet.

On March 28, occupancy was 10.6% and revenue per available
room was down 89% from a year earlier, said STR’s Emile Gourieux in a webinar
on Friday. Puerto Rico had 7.6% occupancy, the Dominican Republic 7.1% and
Barbados a lowly 1.5%.

Gourieux said STR expects that declines will continue
through 2020 and that there will be a “strong comeback for 2021 but most hotels
will not return to their peak RevPAR and high occupancies until 2022.” 

He pointed out that China already has started back on the
road to recovery. 

“I feel that the demand for travel will be even stronger
than before, and the best thing to do now is to take care and to start planning
and preparing for the return of demand,” he said.

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Categories
Destinations

Greater Miami CVB Launches Program to Support Front-Line Responders

To thank the front-line and first responders for all their hard work and risking their own health to help patients infected with coronavirus, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) is launching the Miami Salutes program. The program calls upon local hotels, restaurants and retailers to support hospital workers, medical professionals, firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement officers and National Guard by providing them with special offers to makes their days a little easier.

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The program includes local restaurants such as Bulla Gastrobar, Divino Ceviche, and Pollo Tropical, which have been offering 50 percent off to all front-line and first responders. National brands like Krispy Kreme are offering free donuts while local Starbucks’ are offering free coffee. Sweetgreen has been delivering free salads to local hospitals and Crocs has donated a free pair of shoes to healthcare workers. Miami Salutes provides a compiled, updated list of special offers on the GMCVB’s website.

“Our community is indebted to the heroic medical professionals, police officers, firefighters, military personnel and essential workers fighting to keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” says Miami-Dade County Commissioner and Chair of Miami-Dade County’s Military Affairs Board Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “It is wonderful to see businesses show their appreciation to these workers for their service and loyal dedication, even though many may be going through their own difficult times right now. This program is a testament to the spirit of Miami-Dade County’s community, which will help us all get through this.”

Miami Salutes is just one of several programs that the GMCVB has launched in response to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. Miami Eats was created to support local restaurants by promoting delivery and take-out options for locals. Hotels for Essential Lodgers, meanwhile, was created to keep the hospitality industry afloat by providing accommodations for essential workers who did not want to risk potentially spreading the virus to family or roommates. The GMCVB also set up the Help for Tourism webpage to provide the industry a look at how to secure assistance.

Additionally, the GMCVB has partnered with United Way of Miami-Dade, Miami Herald/Nuevo Herald, Health Foundation of South Florida and The Miami Foundation to create a fund to support hospitality workers and their families with emergency needs including food, supplies, utilities, rent/mortgage assistance and micro-grants.

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Categories
Travel

Grounded: What life is like for the world’s most frequent flyer



Tom Stuker sitting in a car: Featured photo by Zach Honig, TPG

Hitting a million miles flown is a big deal, especially on United Airlines. With some airlines, you’ll earn elite perks for life. In the case of United, you even get to share your current status with someone special, giving them the benefits of elite status without the hustle and spend. Perks increase the more you fly, with United lifetime elites earning Platinum status at 2 million miles, Premier 1K at 3 million, and Global Services for life at 4 million miles flown.

Tom Stuker passed that four-million-mile mark many years ago. In fact, he was just about to hit22 million — before he had to cancel his celebratory trip to Australia, due to COVID-19. Now, the world’s most frequent flyer is sitting out quarantine in New Jersey, where he’s already beginning to adjust to life on the ground, eating three meals a day at home, rather than on an airplane.

I had a chance to chat with Tom this week — we talked about canceled trips, some “secrets” he plans to reveal in a new book, and what life is like right now.

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A post shared by Tom Stuker (@ua1flyer) on Mar 2, 2019 at 5:52pm PST


Where are you sitting out quarantine?

At home in New Jersey. It’s the first time I’ve been at home for two weeks in 45 years. It’s like a bucket list [item] — it’s like a “before I die I’d like to spend two weeks at home” type of thing. One of these days I’ve gotta stay at home and get some of these projects done that we’ve been talking about for years and years, like cleaning out the closets, and cleaning out the garage. My wife’s a teacher so she’s on the computer a lot during the school day, but I’m having breakfast, lunch and dinner with [her].

What was your last flight? What was that experience like?

My last trip was Frankfurt to Newark, in mid-March. The last week I was flying, I could see, flight by flight, business class was a third full, and there were fewer and fewer people on each flight. The following flight would have been my 22 million flight, so trust me, I really wanted to go on that flight, to Australia.

You’ve mentioned in the past that the United agents you work with are like family to you. Have they been in touch? How’s everyone doing?

I still keep in touch with a lot of my United family. I email them, I communicate back and forth with them on Facebook. It’s tough on everybody, but those friendships are deeper than just a a couple flights and check-in. I still chat with a lot of people on the reservations lines. I still have some reservations out there I’m pushing out.

What do you think United will do about frequent flyer status?

I think United, so far, says we’re going to leave everything alone for now. If I was United, from a business standpoint, I wouldn’t say whatever your status is, you’re guaranteed to have that status in 2021. I think United’s waiting to see when the green light is back on, for people to fly, and then I think they’ll incentivize and reward the people that jump back on airplanes with United. Not just, we’ll give you the status whether you fly this year or not. I think they’re going to aggressively reward people who come back to flying. But the majority rules in the airline industry; if two out of three go a direction, the third one’s gonna follow as well. It’s always gonna be that way.

When are you thinking of getting back on the road?

I have absolutely nothing planned for the month of April, but I’m hoping to be back in the sky mid-May. I have some Japan, some Hawaii, I’d like to get back to Australia ASAP. I have Mexico planned for Memorial Day. I’d like to get back and be somewhat busy again.

What are you doing until then?

Two things. I’m going to go on a public speaking circuit, so I have to finish my perfect 45-minute speech. And I think this is the year I write the book. It’s gonna be about 22 million miles from home — the life and travels of the world’s most-traveled man. I want to talk about all my experiences flying, the journeys, the relationships, the experiences I’ve gone through. I’m gonna tell a lot of secrets in the thing, a lot to things people don’t know.

Have you been looking back at a lot of pictures from your adventures?

My wife and I have over 30 or 40 complete albums. The other night we went through literally… we’ve taken at least 100 honeymoons together. And I mean the trip of a lifetime. I’ve done about 100 of them over the last 20 years. We’ve reminisced about all the places we’ve been to, all the memories we shared, all the people we met. The thing I really enjoyed in the last two weeks is the simple things. She’s teaching me how to cook. We’re sharing the meal experience rather than eating on a plane or eating at a restaurant, which I’ve done the majority of my life. I’ve talked to more of my friends and relatives in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. It’s so good to connect with people, because poof, before you know it, you’re 66 years old. I hope to live to 100, and drive the people at United crazy for another 30 years.

What are your tips for anyone who still has to fly right now? Anything they can do in particular to stay safe?

I would feel 100% completely safe on a flight with United right now. My biggest concern is from here to the airplane, and from the airplane back home. Flying, I would be 100% comfortable knowing how the crews are keeping it safe, how United’s keeping it safe. All my life I’ve always sat in row 1. My whole life — that’s my seat, in row 1. If I were flying right now, I’d be in the last row of business class. Nobody coughs backwards. I wouldn’t be paranoid about wiping down my seat, although I would around the head area, since that’s the only part of the seat I touch. I’d probably wipe off the seat in front of me – if I have to get up to go to the bathroom, and they have the seat back, I have to hold onto the seat to get up. I might even wear disposable gloves, because I don’t know if I have enough sanitizer to wipe everything off 100% of the time.

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How do you think coronavirus will change how you travel this year?

April’s gonna be the toughest month we’ve ever gone through. About a third of the cases are within 100 miles of my house. It’s unbelievable. I’m counting on going to Mexico for Memorial Day. I’m hoping to. If the flights are there, and the hotel’s open, and I take the necessary precautions — the place I go to in Mexico is a private villa, and I would self-quarantine. I have 100% confidence in the resort we go to, and I know they will take every necessary precaution to maintain the wellness of their customers. On the plane, I’m not worried about it. Depending on what’s going on, I might wear a mask. I’m going to listen to the experts.

What other trips are you looking forward to after we’re able to fly again?

As soon as Australia opens the borders, and there’s straggler flights back to Australia, I’m on that flight. I was really looking forward to two cruises, but I canceled both cruises for obvious reasons. Every day there’s a ship stuck and nobody wants them. The cruise line I’d go back on is Crystal. It’s the best cruise line in the world, and they’d do everything to make it the safest ship. I’d rebook them for later in the summer, if the green light comes up. And the resort we go to in Mexico — we’ve been there 10 times and it’s like a second home to us. Another second home is in Hawaii. We love going to Hawaii, mostly Oahu because her brother lives there. I love Australia, because I have work there, and so many great friends. We were looking forward to going to Italy this year, but that’s pushed back indefinitely. We’re starting to think a lot more domestically this year, to go see friends and relatives we haven’t seen in a long time. I’m always going to every corner of the world, but I’m thinking there’s no place like home.

SPONSORED: While travel is limited right now due to COVID-19, you need your everyday purchases to give you flexible, forever useful cash. In general, TPG gives preference to transferable points and using your points to travel, but on some days, cash is king.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Categories
Travel

Air travel suffers sharpest decline in demand since 9/11

Air travel has experienced the steepest decline in demand since the terror attacks of 9/11 according to the latest figures released by the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Iata said in its latest report on global passenger traffic that demand in February 2020 fell by 14.1 per cent compared to February 2019.

This figure was skewed by China, which faced “collapsing domestic travel”, with demand falling by 83.6 per cent.

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Asia-Pacific as a whole was also heavily impacted. Demand on flights to, from and within the region fell by 41.3 per cent due to coronavirus, as well as travel restrictions imposed by governments.

Africa also saw a fall in demand by 0.7 per cent.

In contrast however, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe actually saw a slight increase in demand of 5.5 per cent, 3.1 per cent, 1.7 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively compared to the previous year.

As a sign of things to come, Iata said that despite airlines axing flights across the board to reflect the plunging traffic – global capacity fell by 8.7 per cent in February – planes only had a load factor (the number of people on board) of 75.9 per cent, falling by 4.8 per cent compared to the same time last year.

But even this is likely wiped out in March 2020, with airlines reporting no new bookings and only cancellations.

EasyJet, for example, has grounded its entire fleet. Ryanair, which announced in March that there would be no more flights until June, is now operating a handful of flights as part of a skeleton service. And British Airways has furloughed 36,000 staff as it deals with its extensive cancellations.

Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director general and CEO, said: “Airlines were hit by a sledgehammer called Covid-19 in February.

“Borders were closed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. And the impact on aviation has left airlines with little to do except cut costs and take emergency measures in an attempt to survive in these extraordinary circumstances.

“The 14.1 per cent global fall in demand is severe, but for carriers in Asia-Pacific the drop was 41 per cent. And it has only grown worse. Without a doubt this is the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced.”

In its latest estimate at the end of March, Iata predicted the global air travel industry will lose £211bn this year.

This is more than double of the £87bn figure it had predicted at the beginning of March.

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Categories
Cruises

Accor says half of its hotels are closed

Accor says that more than half its hotels are currently
closed worldwide, with that percentage expected to grow to over two-thirds in
the coming weeks. 

“Over the past three weeks, the [Covid-19] crisis has
severely deepened with over half the worldwide population either confined
and/or under lockdown,” said the company in a statement. “The abrupt
deterioration in the situation has prompted the group to take drastic actions
across its global operations.”

Accor has responded with a variety of cost-cutting
strategies, including the implementation of a travel ban, a hiring freeze and
reduced scheduling and furloughs for 75% of global head office teams for the
second quarter, among other measures. Accor estimates that these efforts will
result in at least a $65 million reduction in general and administrative
expenses for 2020. 

The company highlighted its “strong balance sheet,” which
includes cash reserves of more $2.7 billion and an undrawn revolving credit
facility of $1.3 billion.

Accor said it is seeing signs of initial recovery in China,
where there have been “mild improvements” in hotel occupancy and food-and-beverage
sales.

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Categories
Travel

Royal travel: Queen’s ‘peaceful’ foreign escape & the devastating reason she had to leave

Queen Elizabeth is no stranger to world travel, frequenting nations across the globe as part of her royal duty representing the UK. However, there is one destination where experts say she felt most free, and actually settled to live for a number of years.

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A Channel 4 documentary has revealed the destination she so lovingly explored and truly found her freedom, and the heartbreaking reason she was forced to leave her happy place.

The documentary “The Royal House of Windsor” reveals why Queen Elizabeth felt so at home in Malta, when she and her young family were stationed there in 1949 as Prince Phillip took on a vital naval role.

The documentary explains: “In October 1949 Phillip was sent to the British naval base on Malta, where he was promoted to lieutenant commander and took charge of his first ship HMS Magpie.”

Having birthed an air to the throne, Prince Charles, as well as a daughter, Princess Anne, the Queen was free to relax and enjoy her time living in Malta.

According to Author Phillip Eade, who is interviewed in the programme: “She could for the first time do more or less what she wanted.

“She could be like a normal young woman.

“She could go to the hairdresser on her own.

“She could drive around the island. She could go to restaurants with her husband, go on picnics, and all the while the Maltese people left them alone. “And so Malta, for her, represented a great feeling of freedom.”

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The couple resided in Villa Guardamangia, located on the outskirts of the capital Valletta. It is said to be the only place outside of the UK that the monarch called home.

The Royals lived there between 1949 and 1951 while Prince Phillip took on his role as a naval lieutenant.

“Visiting Malta is always very special for me.

“I remember happy days here with Prince Phillip when we were first married,” she once said during a visit to the country in 2015.

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However, the young family’s ideal life in Malta came to a heartbreaking end when her father King George VI became fatally ill with lung cancer.

It was at this time, and for this sad reason, that the Queen returned to the UK to take on more royal duty, including a royal tour on behalf of her father.

This would be the moment the Queen took on life as head of state.

However, Malta is not the only place that has stolen the monarch’s heart over the years.

The Queen is also known to be extremely fond of visiting Scotland, where the Royal Family take their summer holiday annually.

Every year the Queen relocated to Balmoral Castle, where she is occasionally joined throughout by other members of the Royal Family.

In an ITV documentary “Our Queen at 90” Princess Eugenie explained her grandmother’s love of the region.

She said: “It’s the most beautiful place on earth. I think Granny is the most happy there, I think she really, really loves the Highlands…walks, picnics, dogs, a lot of dogs, there are always dogs, and people coming in and out all the time.

“Family-wise we’re all there, so it’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa to be – for us to come and see them up there where you just have room to breathe and run.”

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Categories
Transport

Trump considers selective ban on domestic flying coronavirus

The White House is contemplating a ban on commercial domestic
flying to Covid-19 hotspots.

Answering questions at his Wednesday press briefing,
President Donald Trump said particular consideration is being given to banning
flights that go from one city with a major outbreak to another.

“I am looking where flights are going into hotspots. Some of
those flights I didn’t like from the beginning,” Trump said. “But closing up
every single flight on every single airline, that’s a very, very rough
decision.”

Trump wasn’t specific about the markets he is considering,
but any list of major hotspots would almost surely include the New York/New
Jersey area. Detroit, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Seattle are
other markets with major Covid-19 outbreaks. 

Trump said a reason for his hesitance to shut the industry
down entirely is that restarting operations would be a challenge for carriers.
But he said the White House is weighing the balance between keeping the
industry afloat and risking further virus spread.

“That is a calculation that we’re looking at right now. We’re
looking at it very strongly,” he said.

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Categories
Holiday

Why ‘can I get a refund?’ is travel’s biggest issue: Coronavirus travel Q&A

For the past two weeks we’ve addressed several questions in our Q&A but increasingly readers want to know the answer to just one: can I get a refund? We answered one specific query on this last week and my colleague Miles Brignall also outlined consumer rights in this piece. But as it keeps being raised, we thought it worth addressing again.

Under the Package Travel Regulations (PTR), you are entitled to a refund if your holiday provider cannot fulfil the holiday but – and it’s a big but – tour operators are struggling to meet this legal obligation while facing a massive loss of income and, in some cases, repatriation costs.

In short, the travel industry is in freefall. It has weathered problems from natural disasters to terrorism to recession, but nothing comes close to the Covid-19 crisis, which is disastrous for countries and tourist destinations all over the world. A ludicrous, hypothetical scenario – what would happen if no one could travel? – is now a shocking and surreal reality.

Of course, many sectors are on perilous ground, but the knock-on effects of this global paralysis are arguably worse for travel. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that a million jobs are being lost every day in the travel and tourism sector because of the pandemic.

“From waiters to taxi drivers, tour guides to chefs and caterers, pilots to cleaners, the relentless cascade of job losses is plunging millions of families into terrible hardship and debt. The domino effect of Covid-19 is right now having a massive impact, wiping out an entire economic sector,” said WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara.

Where does this leave holidaymakers?

As Brignall says, you should keep contacting your travel provider for a refund. If the government acts on calls from Abta for the refund window to be extended from 14 days to four months, you will wait longer for the money.

But tour operators are pleading with customers to postpone instead of cancelling, warning that mass cancellations will lead to a meltdown of the sector. Credit notes are protected in the same way as holidays and if the company does go under, the Atol scheme means you will be compensated.

The most responsible tour operators are being as flexible as possible. Much Better Adventures, for example, is offering refunds as an option but incentivising customers to postpone by offering a 5% discount (for life) on future trips. So far it has worked: 80% of customers have opted to postpone instead of cancel. There will be no increase in the cost of trips for 2021, and no expiry date for credit notes. Co-founder Sam Bruce admitted that small companies can be more adaptable but he’s also critical of companies that are refusing refunds. “Lots of companies in our position aren’t being as flexible.”

He also said he doesn’t support Abta’s call for changes to the PTR rules and believes there is “a lot of love being lost between the travel industry and consumers. If customers bought under those terms, they should be honoured.”

For some tour operators that is simply not possible. They are being asked to give full refunds for air-inclusive holidays, often without being able to recoup money from airlines – leaving tour operators out of pocket. “Until governments step up, and bring the airlines to heel, the consumer has to rely on the quit wits and sympathy of small tour operators,” said Douglas Durrant of Caribbean Fun Travel.

As Bruce sees it, this is a test of loyalty – those companies that work with customers during this challenging time will be the ones that benefit in the long term.

“There are a lot of travel companies making rash decisions, and they may not come out of this looking too rosy at the end. This is about treating customers well so the terms know who to trust when this passes.”

That is small comfort if you are trying to get money back right now, but worth bearing in mind when you come to book a future holiday.

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Categories
Travel

First koalas released back into the wild after Australian bushfires

Although Australia is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the world, there is a sliver of good news for the land Down Under – the first rescued koalas are starting to be released into the wild.

The marsupials were rescued from their bushfire-ravaged habitats last year, and have been in the care of zoos and animal hospitals ever since.

With the 2019/2020 bushfire season officially over in Australia as of 31 March, rescuers have started releasing these animals back into the wild and, in some cases, even back to the tree where they were found.

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The first were released by Sydney-based conservation organisation, Science for Wildlife.

The non-profit group released 12 of the animals back into their natural habitat in the Blue Mountains on 25 and 27 March.

The koalas were rescued in December last year, and had been in the care of staff at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

Dr Kellie Leigh, executive director of Science for Wildlife, said in a statement: “While they have coped well in care, we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again.

“The recent rains have helped and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in OK.”

Koalas are also being released in other parts of New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located.

Staff and volunteers at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, based four hours’ drive north of Sydney, released their first koala on 2 April.

The four-year-old named Anwen was rescued in October last year, and will be the first of 26 koalas to be released into the wild by the animal hospital over the coming days.

The remaining koalas will be split into three groups and will be released back to their original habitats in Crowdy Bay (South of Port Macquarie), and two areas in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve.

Sue Ashton, president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, said, “This is a heart-warming day for us – to be able to release so many of our koalas back to their original habitats, even to their original tree in some cases – makes us very happy.

“Anwen was our first ever female koala to be admitted during the bushfires and her recovery has been extraordinary. It marks a proud moment for Australia; to see our Koala population and habitat starting to recover from what was such a devastating time.”

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has also cared for koalas from Taree, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury. The hospital said these will be returned to their “home” areas to be released.

Australia’s latest bushfire season nearly doubled the country’s greenhouse emissions.

As a result of the extensive damage, the country changed the rules of its Working Holiday Visa scheme to allow young Britons to count volunteering in bushfire-ravaged areas towards obtaining a second or third year visa.

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Categories
Cruises

Booking Holdings CEO tests positive for Covid

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel has
tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus but has not showed any symptoms
since March 28.

According to a financial document filed with the Securities
and Exchange Commission,
Fogel showed “mild symptoms” of the coronavirus on March 26 and was tested that
day. The positive test result came on March 31.

Booking Holdings said Fogel has continued in his role as CEO
through the illness.

“Also, the company maintains full succession plans for all
senior executives including temporary delegation of responsibilities to other
leaders within the organization if necessary for any reason,” the company said.

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