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Caribbean, Latin American Countries Coordinate Food Supply

Some 25 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America have joined forces and signed a declaration of cooperation, ensuring that food is not lacking in the region during the coronavirus global pandemic.

Ministers and secretaries of agriculture, livestock, fishing, food and rural development from each nation signed the pact, committing to coordinating the supply of sufficient, safe and nutritious food for its 620 million inhabitants, Dominican Today reported.

There is no current need for alarm, the group stressed, as the region’s markets have enough food to ensure supplies. Global stocks of major foods are at a good level, and harvests in major producing countries have been good.

“Unlike previous crises, the food supply has remained stable in the world and in our region,” the group said in a statement. “Therefore, there are no reasons to justify significant increases in international food prices, so we call on all actors in the food system to prevent speculation at this time of emergency. However, if the pandemic spreads over time, food supply chains will come under increased pressure. In this sense, if all countries strive to keep local, national, regional and global supply chains operating, we can ensure food in a sustainable way for the entire population.”

Presumably, this also includes preparing for the return of tourists when the virus finally dies down.

According to ForwardKeys, which analyses global aviation capacity, flight searches and over 17 million flight booking transactions a day, tourism to the Caribbean grew by 4.4 percent in 2019.

Analysis of the most important origin markets shows that the increase in visitors was driven by North America, with travel from the U.S. (which accounts for 53 percent of visitors) up 6.5 percent, and travel from Canada up 12.2 percent.

The gains are likely to be wiped away by the global impact of the virus, which has curtailed travel worldwide.

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Mexican Officials Announce Closure of Beaches, Over 1,100 Hotels

Mexican officials announced Thursday that all beaches have been closed after beach tourism was deemed a nonessential activity as the country attempts to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Mexico News Daily, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell revealed every beach in the country would remain closed until at least April 30 after the federal government declared a national emergency.

“The order has been given,” Lopez-Gatell said in a statement. “It obliges state and municipal authorities to take coherent measures and suspend tourist activity on beaches, be it international or local tourism.”

In addition to the beach closures, the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association (AMHM) announced more than 1,100 hotels across Mexico have temporarily closed due to travel restrictions associated with the viral outbreak.

Of the closures, the AMHM said 645 of the hotels were run by small and medium-sized businesses rather than large chains. Cancun and Mexico City have seen the highest number of closures.

Around 460 hotels in Baja California Sur will be forced to close on April 6, while more than 500 hotels in Sinaloa are temporarily shuttering in the coming days. Occupancy levels across Mexico have dropped drastically since travel restrictions were implemented.

While the closures hurt the tourism industry, the National Tourism Business Council said Mexican authorities have spoken to hotel owners and CEOs about possibly providing beds for coronavirus patients if the country’s health system becomes overwhelmed.

Last week, the United States Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, asked tourists and citizens still in the country to consider returning to the U.S. as the coronavirus outbreak continues to impact the world.

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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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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.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.
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Sunset at the beach. Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. (photo via ChepeNicoli / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Mexican Officials Announce Closure of Beaches, Over 1,100 Hotels

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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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UK dining chain Carluccio's succumbs to virus turmoil

Carluccio’s said its Irish operations and Middle East franchises would not be affected by the decision

Carluccio’s said its Irish operations and Middle East franchises would not be affected by the decision.

Britain-based Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s said Monday it has collapsed into administration, blaming challenging conditions made worse by the coronavirus outbreak.

The company said in a statement that it has appointed advisory firm FRP to oversee administration — the process whereby a troubled company calls in outside expertise to try and minimise job losses.

Coronavirus: Carluccio's no plans to shut Middle East restaurants, despite UK money troubles

Italian restaurant brand was bought by Dubai’s Landmark Group in 2010

The news threatens 2,000 employees at Carluccio’s, which has 71 restaurants around Britain.

The decision was taken “after a sustained period of challenging trading conditions, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the broader issues currently facing the UK’s retail and hospitality sector,” the statement said.

“The company faced significant cashflow pressures and as a result was ultimately unable to meet its financial obligations.”

Administrators will access the British government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to furlough most of the staff while assessing options.

Meanwhile, they are meeting interested parties regarding the sale of all or chunks of the business.

Carluccio’s said its Irish operations and Middle East franchises would not be affected by the decision.

In further high-street gloom on Monday, controversial rent-to-own retailer BrightHouse also collapsed into administration — placing 2,400 jobs at risk.

BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting the poor with extremely high rates of interest, made the announcement days after closing around 240 stores due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Non-essential businesses have been told to temporarily shut down to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Britain, which is two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

Interactive Investor analyst Richard Hunter told AFP: “to have been thrust into the list of businesses forced to close down temporarily as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak seems to have been the final straw for several.”

“Fixed costs remain but revenues all but evaporate,” Hunter noted.

“For those companies already working on wafer-thin margins, this has proved to be a step too far,” he said.

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Botswanas Xigera Lodge set to reopen

The Red Carnation Hotel Collection is scheduled to open the completely refurbished Xigera Lodge in June, its first safari property in Botswana.

Xigera, located on the western side of the Moremi Game Reserve in the heart of the Okavango Delta, comprises 12 fully air-conditioned suites. The focus at Xigera will be on the quality of the service, with 105 staffers attending 24 guests. Facilities include a library, where visiting specialists will give talks and screen wildlife documentaries, a dining room, an interactive kitchen, a bar and wine cellar and a traditional boma for storytelling and stargazing. Wellness areas include a gym, swimming pool and spa.

Travelers will be able to enjoy game drives as well as exploration of the delta by motorboat and traditional mokoro (canoes commonly used in the region). Private walking safaris, photographic safaris and workshops, private yoga sessions, helicopter excursions and bush lunch or picnics will also be available.

Red Carnation is a family-owned hospitality group that currently owns a trio of properties in South Africa.

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Villas of Distinction make it through this

Gay Nagle Myers

I checked in on the Caribbean villa market about a year ago in a conversation with Steve Lassman, vice president of Villas of Distinction, a division of World Travel Holdings (No. 17 on Travel Weekly’s 2019 Power List).

“How’s the villa market doing?” I asked him then.

“Great,” he answered.

I asked that same question during a March 16 interview with both Lassman and Willie Fernandez, Villas of Distinction’s vice president and general manager.

What a difference a year makes.

Until the onslaught of the coronavirus, “we were doing great, bookings were strong and the year was a bright one,” Lassman said. “But the bottom fell out when the stock market started to suffer, and that’s when we began to feel the impact.”

Although that impact has resulted in villa cancellations, “we have been able to move  90% to 95% of our customers’ bookings to future arrivals,” Fernandez said. “That’s what they are asking for now.

“Some customers do request refunds, and we work that on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “The majority want to move their current bookings to another date, some as far out as 2021.”

New business is coming in, as are inquiries and requests for rate quotes, according to Lassman. Some clients, already ensconced in their villas, have extended their stays, not wanting to return to areas where the virus is circulating.

“Most of our clients are luxury travelers who have the ability to move their travel plans as well as travel by private jet,” he said.

In light of the current health crisis, the company tweaked its Peace of Mind Policy by updating travel policies to ensure that vacation plans and investments are protected, adapting ease-of-rebooking procedures, relaxing several of the payment terms and increasing villa cleaning and sanitation procedures.

Travel policies, for example, now permit cancellations up to 28 days prior to arrival, and customers’ deposits and payments are placed in escrow accounts, making reimbursements and refunds easier and faster. In addition, final payment terms have been relaxed and are now permitted 45 to 60 days prior to arrival instead of the previous 90-day requirement.

“Now through March 31, a date that will be extended, we give up to $750 in bonus commissions to our travel advisors for all 2020 and 2021 bookings,” Lassman said.

The company’s global portfolio tops 2,650 villas, with more than 1,230 properties in the Caribbean, followed by Italy, the second largest market.

The most popular Caribbean destinations currently are Jamaica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbados and St. Lucia, with the average villa a five-bedroom property, according to Fernandez.

“One of the primary reasons right now that travelers choose a villa stay is that they can bring their own family and friends with them and they are not rubbing elbows with strangers in a hotel pool or restaurant, which lessens concerns over catching the virus or the danger of being quarantined when they arrive home,” he said. The villas are deep cleaned after each group of guests departs, and the fully staffed villas are cleaned daily.

Every villa undergoes a rigorous inspection process by Lassman, Fernandez or another member of the team before being accepted into the collection. “Travel advisors have confidence in our product line because they know what it takes to gain entry and to maintain that listing,” Lassman said.

Both men voiced optimism regarding the future.

“We are a strong company, and we will make it through this,” Fernandez said. “We are committed to the travel advisor community, and there will be a lot of pent-up opportunities after this is behind all of us,” Fernandez said.

“Demand will be there and we fully anticipate exciting world travels to resume once this crisis is resolved,” he said.

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Etihad Airways to halt all passenger flights from Thursday

CEO of Abu Dhabi-based airline says ‘unprecedented’ decision being made to help prevent the spread of new coronavirus

Etihad Airways said on Monday it will temporarily suspend all flights to, from, and via Abu Dhabi from the end of Wednesday.

The decision follows an earlier announcement from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, and the General Civil Aviation Authority to suspend all inbound, outbound, and transit passenger flights in the UAE.

This suspension has been made to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus and to protect citizens, residents, and international travellers, Etihad said in a statement.

It added that flights to and from Abu Dhabi International Airport will stop at 11.59pm (UAE local time) on Wednesday and will last for an initial 14 days, subject to further directives by the relevant authorities.

Cargo and emergency evacuation flights are exempt and will continue, the statement said.

Tony Douglas, Group CEO, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “These are unprecedented times and unprecedented decisions are being made by governments, authorities and companies, including Etihad, to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to help minimise its effects around the world.

“We stand with our loyal customers, who are having to endure disruption and inconvenience to their travel and their daily lives, and we dedicate all our efforts and resources to ensuring we do all we can to assist them with their travel planning during this challenging period.

“As the national airline, we stand in full support of the UAE government’s decision, and are confident that we’re well prepared to weather the commercial and operational impact this suspension will have on our services.”

Etihad said guests will be notified if their flight is cancelled. However, prior to proceeding to the airport, all guests should still check the status of their flights, using the Etihad Airways Flight Tracker at: https://www.etihad.com/en-ae/manage/flight-tracker

Gulf countries have imposed various restrictions to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the air transport sector.

The UAE has stopped granting visas on arrival and forbidden foreigners who are legal residents but are outside the country from returning.

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Margaritaville in Nassau to open this summer

The Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau plans a summer opening.

The 284-room property is spread across two towers. The Hotel Tower offers 155 oceanview rooms and suites, and the One Particular Harbour Tower will have 129 residential condos ranging from studios to a four-bedroom penthouse, each equipped with a full kitchen.

The condos are privately owned but will be placed in the hotel rental pool when not owner-occupied.

Resort facilities will include the Fins Up water park with slides, a lazy river, climbing wall, dive pool, grotto, surf machine, beach with loungers and private cabanas and a 45-slip marina.

The entertainment complex features virtual reality sports, karaoke, bowling, billiards and a movie theater.

Eleven food and beverage venues include a two-story waterfront restaurant and lounge, a rooftop cigar lounge, a French bakery, pool bars and a steak and seafood eatery.

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Emirates to operate charter flights to repatriate Russians

Dubai-based airline says to operate selected charter flights to Moscow and St Petersburg between March 20-29

Emirates will operate special charter flights to Russia to facilitate the return of travellers whose journeys were disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Due to the temporary suspension of air services between Russia and UAE, Emirates will temporarily suspend its operations to Russia starting from Friday until June 30.

Emirates said it will operate selected charter flights to Moscow and St Petersburg between March 20-29.

It added that only Russian nationals will be allowed to travel on these special flights from Dubai to Moscow and St Petersburg and the return Emirates flights will only be open to non-Russian nationals.

Below are the flight schedules. All timings are local for March 20-29:

Dubai to Moscow: EK133 departs at 9:15am and arrives at 1:45pm.
Moscow to Dubai: EK134 departs at 5pm and arrives at 11:15pm.

Applicable to March 20 only:

Dubai to Moscow: EK131 departs at 4:15pm and arrives at 8:40pm.
Moscow to Dubai: EK132 departs at 11:50pm and arrives at 6:15am.

Applicable to March 20-25 and 27–29 only:

Dubai to St Petersburg: EK175 departs at 3:30pm and arrives at 8:45pm.
St Petersburg to Dubai: EK176 departs at 11:25pm and arrives at 6:35am.

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