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Cruises

Protecting Commissions in a Coronavirus World

Few would dispute that suppliers have been working hand-in-hand with their travel advisor partners to help them cancel, refund and rebook their clients in the wake of the coronavirus.

However, moving forward, agents would like suppliers to do more when it comes to protecting their commissions.

“We would love to see a change in the industry to pay agents once the reservation enters full penalty as opposed to waiting until after guests travel, as the livelihood of our businesses rely on it,” said James Berglie of Be All Inclusive.

As an example, Berglie is moving 13 groups scheduled to travel over the next two months to future travel dates. “These groups are paid in full, and in full penalty, so the resort is not issuing any refunds for them,” he said. “The vast majority of the work on our end has been completed, but now our expected income has been moved with those groups to 2021.”

European suppliers such as Trafalgar “have decided to pay agents their commission early since the company is only issuing future travel credits to guests in full penalty,” Berglie said, “but we have not seen that come from the tour operators we work with in the Caribbean.”

Berglie noted that the vast majority of resorts throughout the Caribbean have not altered their penalties for existing groups scheduled to travel in April, May and June. “Those contracts are in full penalty, but the resorts are allowing groups to move to future travel dates into 2021,” he said. “Group contracts are quite different than individual travel—which have a lot more flexibility.”

While he discussed the subject with a number of hotel companies, “they advised the issue is not with the specific hotel, but lies with the tour operators,” he said. “The tour operators collect the payments for the group, and we have hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to them right now that they hold and then pay the hotel the net amount—usually around 30-45 days prior to travel. The tour operators hold our commission and then pay us that portion after guests travel.”

With one large supplier, which accounts for about 90 percent of Be All Inclusive’s business, groups are being moved “all the way up to December 2021—groups we have already done the bulk of work for, and who are in full penalty periods, so will only be issued future travel credits, and now we won’t see a dime of income that was expected in May 2020 until possibly December 2021.”

He added, “With cash-flow obviously being an issue right now, we need a better solution.”

Be All Inclusive groups have specific contracts outlining due dates and penalties. “What I’d like to propose to the suppliers is that once a group enters full penalty, meaning the guests will not be getting any refunds, that they go ahead and pay the commission earned to the agents at that point, as they are guaranteed their money and we have done the vast majority of our work.”

Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel agreed that commissions should be paid in full once the reservation enters the nonrefundable/full penalty stage. “There’s no reason to sit on that money rather than paying the agency the money due,” she said. “When it is nonrefundable the [the supplier] has the money and should remit payment to the agency. And if rescheduling, they should not include an increase in price as the circumstances are beyond the control of the agent and the group—as long as new dates are in the same season of the year. Moving from shoulder to high season would incur an increase but using the same week of the year should not unless a holiday with a variable date falls in that week—Easter being a prime example.”

Meanwhile, Angela Turen of Churchill & Turen said “some suppliers are not paying commissions on the bookings they have canceled—even though the bookings were paid in full—[while] other suppliers are paying commissions.”

She added, “Since we are in the distribution industry, we give the clients on a platter to the suppliers [yet] we cannot partake in their decision making. This has resulted in many lost commissions.”

All things considered, Schoeder noted that things have gone more smoothly than she anticipated through all the coronavirus chaos. “There have been a few bumps in the road and I have lost a lot of commission,” she said. “But this too shall pass.”

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Branded Airline and Hotel Google Search Volume Drops

Unquestionably, the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the airline and hotel industries, a fact that has been further evidenced in findings from SEMrush, a trends data analytic firm, which tracked Google search volume for the two travel segments.

The company’s industry-wide, branded airline searches found a 17 percent decline from January through February.

The hardest hit carriers were Bangkok Airways (-33 percent), China Eastern (-33 percent) and China Southern (-45 percent.)

On a brighter note, searches were expected to increase on average by 16.5 percent in March, according to SEMrush.

Meanwhile, airlines were extremely active on social media in February and March in order to conduct “damage control,” the company said.

SEMrush also conducted a Twitter sentiment analysis to gauge reaction to each global carrier. The most tweeted airlines were, respectively, Delta Air Lines, Ryanair, EasyJet, American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas, Southwest Airlines and KLM.

Interestingly, the data analysis uncovered that Twitter activity was typically more positive than negative – with the exception of Alitalia. Lufthansa “had the highest amount of tweets that used a negative tone,” SEMrush said.

Qatar received the largest amount of tweets “using positive language to describe the airline,” followed by Southwest, Turkish Airlines and SAS, the company said.

On the hotel front, SEMrush data uncovered that Google search volume for major global chains dropped, on average, by four percent from January to February. The hardest chains were Raffles Hotels & Resorts (-33 percent), Choice Hotels (-19 percent); and Belmond Aman Resorts, Ritz-Carlton and Disney Resort Hotels, which were down by 18.5 percent.

“While search volumes for airlines are projected to recover in March, those for the major hotel chains are projected to decline even further in March by an industry average of 14.9 percent,” SEMrush said.

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Cruises

Cruise secrets: Ship crew worker reveals alarming truth about ‘unexplained deaths’ onboard

Cruise ship holidays see passengers exploring a number of different destinations and enjoying life on the floating hotel. While most go off without a hitch, sometimes things do go wrong on cruises. A former cruise ship crew worker has revealed the truth about deaths onboard – or rather overboard.

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Brian David Bruns shared the insight in his book Cruise a la Carte.

He explained that some deaths on cruises never come with any explanation.

“Though statistically utterly significant, unexplained deaths on cruise ships do happen,” wrote Bruns.

“Because most occur in international waters, reporting obligations and behaviour are decidedly less than altruistic.

“Cruise lines invariably fudge reporting, because people read headlines, not articles.

“Whether it’s a suicide or not matters little to critics, who pounce upon any hint of cruise line recklessness.

“Even if it is a suicide, days can pass before verification from land-based authorities, even with the presence of a note.

“By then sensational headlines would have already blown things wildly out of proportion.”

Bruns revealed he had once been on a cruise ship on which a “mysterious” death occurred when someone went overboard.

“Rumours of how and why among passengers and crew were rampant,” he wrote.

“The leading story among the former being that two honeymooners were arguing and there was a push.

“Crew thought differently. Another suicide, most agreed. For suicides are not so rare on cruise ships.

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“More than a few folks intentionally spend their every last penny on a final week of wild abandon and, late on the final night, jump overboard.

“What better way to ensure no one will rescue you? How many people are looking aft of a ship at 3am?

“It is possible to survive such falls, but unlikely unless you’re a fighter.”

Bruns went on to explain what he eventually heard about that tragic death.

“On that dark cruise outside the swamps of Louisiana, nobody knew for certain what happened, what caused the mysterious death,” he said.

“An investigation was eventually resolved somewhere on land, as was always the case.

“The only fact the crew knew for sure was that the man was never found until he washed up on the Gulf Coast several days later.”

According to a cruise line insider who spoke to cruising website Cruise Critic, up to three people die per week on cruises worldwide, particularly on lines that typically carry older passengers.

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

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Hyatt Updates Cancellation Policies and Member Benefits

Hyatt has just released an update to its cancellation and modification policy, and ‘World of Hyatt’ benefits, adding flexibility for its guests and loyalty members in light of today’s difficult and unpredictable circumstances.

Existing reservations for stays through June 30, 2020, that were booked on or before April 1 can be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before a guest’s scheduled arrival. This also applies to Advance Purchase Rate reservations.

New reservations that are being booked between April 2 and June 30, 2020, for any future arrival date can be modified or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours a guest’s scheduled arrival, which also applies to Advance Purchase Rate reservations. The only exceptions would be reservations at Destination Residences and Special Events Rate reservations that were booked after April 1, which are subject to their own cancellation policies as outlined during booking.

These refreshed policies apply to reservations that were booked directly through Hyatt, so guests who booked their stays through third parties, including travel agents and online booking engines, will need to contact their booking providers for assistance. These policies don’t apply to group business or convention guests, owing to the contractual nature of their reservations.

Since most companies’ customer service lines are being flooded with inquiries amid fallout from COVID-19, reservations can be most easily altered or canceled on Hyatt.com or via the World of Hyatt mobile app. Guests with reservations at Hyatt Residence Club property who did not book through Hyatt channels should contact Hyatt Residence Club.

World of Hyatt loyalty program members will also find that additional flexibility being applied to their benefits. For all members, globally, World of Hyatt benefits will be extended in the following ways:

—More time to use points: While points do not actually expire, they are usually subject to forfeiture if a member’s account is inactive for 24 months. Now, Hyatt is suspending that forfeiture rule through December 31, 2020.

—More time to use rewards: All unused Free Night, Suite Upgrade or Club Lounge Access awards set to expire between March 1 and December 31, 2020, are being extended through December 31, 2021. This extension will be applied automatically by World of Hyatt and includes existing awards and covers both existing rewards and rewards that may be earned throughout this year with a 2020 expiration date. Those that recently expired between March 1 and March 31, 2020, will be replaced on April 20, 2020. All other qualifying unused rewards will be refreshed by the 20th of their original expiration month.

—All existing elite members’ status and benefits will be extended without the need to re-qualify. Whatever a member’s status stood as of March 31, 2020, will be automatically updated to reflect an expiration date of February 28, 2022. The extensions should appear on elite-tier members’ accounts by no later than April 15, 2020.

For more information, visit hyatt.com.

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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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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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Occupancies at US Hotels Are at an All Time Low

With the COVID-19 pandemic effectively halting tourism around the world, hotels are facing a rough year with extraordinarily low occupancy rates. In the U.S. specifically, STR and Tourism Economics predict that RevPAR will drop 50.6 percent this year.

STR had originally expected occupancy to only drop 0.3 percent before the United States declared a nationwide emergency. Supply and demand had been expected to increase by 2 percent.

Now, according to Travel Weekly, occupancy is expected to fall by 42.6 percent to 37.9 percent while supply and demand may drop 14.9 percent and 51.2 percent, respectively.

“The industry was already set for a nongrowth year; now throw in this ultimate ‘black swan’ event, and we’re set to see occupancy drop to an unprecedented low,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior vice president of lodging insights. “Our historical database extends back to 1987, and the worst we have ever seen for absolute occupancy was 54.6% during the financial crisis in 2009.”

While STR saw the steepest U.S. RevPAR decline in 30 years the week of March 21, Tourism Economics remains optimistic that the hotel industry will see a quick rebound once the pandemic is over. The president of Tourism Economics, Adam Sacks, predicts “the market to begin to regain its footing this summer.”

STR and Tourism Economics expect that U.S. hotel RevPAR will increase 63.1 percent in 2021, with occupancy increasing 57.3 percent to 59.7 percent and supply and demand increasing by 15.6 percent and 81.8 percent respectively.

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ASTA touts advocacy work coronavirus rescue bill

Not long before President Trump signed the $2 trillion
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act into law on Friday,
ASTA executives detailed the Society’s work to get travel advisors included in
the bill’s relief measures.

ASTA held a webinar talking about the multiple provisions of
the Cares Act that could benefit members, ranging from new loans to unemployment
benefits for independent contractors.

President and CEO Zane Kerby called ASTA’s advocacy campaign
leading up to the act’s introduction “unprecedented.” 

“This is what we are built for,” Kerby said. “No one could
have predicted today’s pandemic, but this crisis underscores the need for
collective action, to speak with one voice. For anyone who sells or dispenses
travel advice for a living, your voice is ASTA, bar none.”

Eben Peck, the Society’s executive vice president of
advocacy, said the road to travel advisor relief under the Cares Act was new
territory for ASTA. The trade group had no playbook but launched a
multi-faceted campaign to reach lawmakers.

It started on March 10, when Jay Ellenby, president of Safe
Harbors Business Travel in Maryland and a former ASTA board chairman, testified
before
the House Committee on Small Business. He talked about how badly hurt travel
retailers have been by the coronavirus outbreak.

“In normal times, this would have been the highlight of our
year, having a member testify before Congress,” Peck said. “The last time this
happened, I’m told, is 2002. But in this case, it was really just the beginning
of our work.”

Peck and ASTA staff members worked “around the clock” to
meet with members of Congress and their staff, he said, until Capitol Hill
closed down to the public on the afternoon of March 12 (Peck said he and
director of advocacy Genevieve Strand may have been one of the last in-person
meetings seen on the Hill).

After that, they shifted to making phone calls to
legislators.

Simultaneously, ASTA launched a grassroots campaign that
“shattered every record in the books,” Peck said.

ASTA set up an online portal to send messages and make calls
to legislators. Since March 13, it has facilitated 28,604 messages.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the record number of messages
sent through the portal was 2,998, when ASTA lobbied to have advisors exempted
from a new worker-classification law in California
last year.

Peck also credited ASTA members who have attended its annual
Capitol Hill fly-in, Legislative Day, in recent years. The connections they
made then ensured someone picked up the phone when they called about
coronavirus relief.

ASTA also leaned on allies within the travel industry. Its
request for relief was endorsed by the Global Business Travel Association, Association
of Corporate Travel Executives, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, National
Tour Association, Student & Youth Travel Association and U.S. Tour
Operators Association.

ASTA’s objectives were two-fold, Peck said: If Congress gave
the travel industry targeted relief, travel agencies had to be included, and
the Society wanted to get as many options for relief as possible for members.
He believes the Society was successful on both fronts.

“There are long days ahead,” Kerby said. “It’s going to take
more than an all-clear from the CDC and WHO to restore confidence in the travel
system. We also have to stay vigilant in reminding suppliers that there is and
will be life after Covid-19, and they need to treat our members, and by
extension the traveling public, fairly. We are all in this together.”

ASTA is creating a members-only page featuring analysis of
the bill at asta.org/covid19member. 

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In a Quarantined World, What Should Travel Advisors Be Doing Right Now?

For many travel advisors, what they should be doing once they’ve finished the seemingly endless task of taking care of clients affected by the coronavirus is arguably not top of mind—at least not currently.

“Priority No. 1 right now is on guests and making sure we are getting them canceled or rebooked to later dates,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise. “But when that dust settles, I believe we will be looking to the future.”

For Nowicki, marketing strategies will be a prime focus.

“Marketing will be big because we want to remind clients—both past, present and prospective—that we are still here, ready to book when they are. Because of what we have seen with online travel agencies (OTA) during this time, and the mess that it has been, I think we will see a much larger group flocking to local travel agents.”

She added, “We want to be ready for them when they do seek us out. This means continuing to have our name/brand out there. We will need to be easy to find when the time comes for people to start looking again. Taking advantage of marketing now will be the key to that.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations Inc. said the agency is hoping to offer a ‘Top 5 Favorite Thing’ campaign “about specific hotels we have traveled to recently [with] honest, quick, easy and visually appealing reviews we can post places—but also use for potential clients who may be interested in that specific hotel.”

For advisors who are proficient at video posting, “now might be a great time to [create] some future pieces you could share with your clients on social media,” Doncsecz said.

On a similar note, Trish Gastineau of Simply Customized Travel said she has noticed “that people are much more open to new ways of social networking, [including] the use of video chats, group virtual cocktail parties and virtual dance parties.”

For her part, Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel is taking the opportunity to touch base—voice to voice and through email—with her customers.

“I am reaching out to clients to simply chat. We have spoken about family, self-quarantine and our future travel plans,” she said. “We have shared our concerns as well as some laughter about our efforts at keeping entertained while housebound. Travel is about relationships, and visiting with my clients by email or phone helps our relationship remain strong.”

Similarly, Nowicki noted that Sunset Travel & Cruise would continue to conduct client outreach.

“This is a difficult time for everyone in general. So taking the opportunity to simply reach out to past and present clients (whether or not they have canceled, rebooked or whatever) is important—not only as travel advisors but as human beings,” she said. “We are all in the same turbulent boat. Reaching out and showing we care could make all the difference, not only now, but well into the future as well.”

Travel advisors and suppliers are also continuing to support one another.

“Travel advisors and travel partners are doing their best to encourage each other and check on each other’s mental and physical well being,” Gastineau said. “That is a beautiful thing. I see people going out of their way for each other. I see the travel community bonding even more.”

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Cruise: The luxurious new trend of spa cabins – but is it really worth the price?

As the modern traveller begins to change, cruise lines have followed suit and began to broaden their offering. No longer are cruises just for one age bracket, but with different companies adding new features from technology to entertainment, there is something for everyone.

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One of the latest upgrades to make its way into several cruise lines is the introduction of luxury spa accommodation.

This may make you envision bubbling jacuzzi at the foot of your bed, or your own personal mud bath.

However, that isn’t quite the case, though they do certainly promise elevated relaxation for your trip.

Kerry Spencer, Editor of Cruise Critic spoke to Express.co.uk to explain exactly why this new form of stateroom is on offer and how much travellers will need to stretch the budget to bag one.

She explained: “Spa cabins generally include special in-cabin amenities, such as specialist toiletries; closer proximity to the onboard spa and VIP privileges within the spa itself.

“In addition, some lines also offer additional perks such as free speciality dining or free beverage packages.”

If you’re someone who frequents the spa on a regular basis throughout your holiday, they could well be worth the extra cost.

“Spa cabins are typically near the ship’s spa since easy access is one of the perks of choosing a spa cabin,” says Kerry.

“They range from inside cabins to suites, and are often the same layout as standard cabins in their class, but with added amenities and a higher price tag.”

Several big-name cruise lines are now offering this pamper-filled package to guests, including MSC, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Costa, Norwegian and Seabourn, though the perks for each cruise line vary.

For example, Royal Caribbean transformed rooms on its Radiance, Voyager, Freedom, Oasis, Quantum and Quantum Ultra Class at the end of 2019 in a bid to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind stay.

The new spa stateroom is described by the cruise holiday provider as “your private retreat for relaxing and recharging”.

The spa Stateroom will include a range of “calming in-room amenities” including specialist, down-feather bedding and “upgraded toiletries”.

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Passengers staying in a spa room will also benefit from 50 percent off one spa treatment, priority spa reservations, a welcome basket of fresh fruit and daily coffee and tea deliveries.

These rooms will be available for journeys beginning in 2021.

Kerry says they will provide “passengers with priority boarding and a relaxing retreat complete with several exclusive perks, such as a welcome gift of fresh fruit in their cabins and a nightly selection of refreshments including bottled water, tea and coffee; plush bedding; upgraded toiletries; slippers and a robe; and a balcony with cushioned furniture.”

Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises already offer their specialist “AquaClass” cabins.

“Of the ones currently found on major cruise lines, Celebrity’s AquaClass spa cabins offer the most included perks, such as upgraded bathroom amenities, specialist bedding, exclusive access to speciality restaurant Blu, as well as the spa concierge, unlimited access to the AquaSpa Relaxation room, the Persian Garden or SEA thermal suite,” Kerry continues.

Furthermore, some boast unique features you might not expect.

“Costa Cruises’ Samsara Spa cabins, for example, have direct access to the Samsara Spa via a glass elevator surrounded by a waterfall,” adds Kerry.

“Seabourn’s penthouse spa suites are also located directly above the Spa and have direct access to and from the spa via a spiral staircase located in the spa’s lobby.

“In the evening, Seabourn spa penthouse passengers can also choose a calming fragrance from a selection of four by L’Occitane to be diffused throughout the suite.”

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However, with the added experience unsurprisingly comes an added price tag, and that varies depending on who you cruise with.

Kerry says: “The cost of a spa cabin varies significantly based on the cruise line, ship and itinerary. The general guideline is that a spa cabin will cost more than a regular cabin in a specific category, but not as much as the next category up.

“A spa oceanview stateroom, for example, will cost more than a regular oceanview, but not as much as a balcony cabin.”

If you do want to enhance your cruise experience, then they may be worth the cost.

It largely comes down to how much you plan on using the spa.

“A spa cabin can certainly enhance your holiday experience if you are going on a cruise for some all-out pampering, and plan on spending a lot of time in the spa,” says Kerry.

“The perks you can enjoy include free thermal suite access, free fitness classes and great discounts on and priority access to spa treatments.

“If all you want are just a few onboard spa days, then the additional cost of a special spa cabin will probably not be worth paying a premium for.”

For passengers hoping to book spa treatments, they should do so quickly. If treatments become fully booked guests could miss out on their favourite experience, even if they’ve paid the extra cost.

“Don’t forget to book spa treatments in advance – ideally, as soon as you book, but definitely before you get onboard – since they can get booked up quickly, and can be more expensive onboard,” warns Kerry.

On the flip side, it is vital customers do their research as they may be disappointed.

Kerry explains: “When it comes to specialist spa accommodations, cruise line offerings vary significantly, so it is worth doing your homework to see if you are really going to gain from the upgrade.

“Work out how much time you also really want to spend in the spa, especially if you are on a port-intensive cruise or are excited about experiencing all the other onboard activities and entertainment programmes on offer.

“You don’t want to be beholden to your spa if it means missing out on other activities or being unsociable with new friends.”

Ultimately, holidaymakers should consider the purpose of their trip before purchasing spa accommodation.

“If you want your onboard experience to be all about pampering, then a spa cabin might be the perfect way to ensure you get the VIP treatment you deserve,” concludes Kerry.

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