Commercial flights no longer an option for disembarking cruise passengers

Cruise lines passengers disembarking ships in the U.S. must
return home via chartered or private transportation, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention said on April 5. 

“Commercial flights and public transportation may not be
used,” the directive reads. “Outbreaks of Covid-19 on cruise ships pose a
risk for rapid spread of disease beyond the voyage. Aggressive efforts are
required to contain spread.”

The CDC said that cruise ships are often settings for
outbreaks of infectious diseases because of the “semi-enclosed environment and
contact between travelers from many countries.” 

The latest directive is a change that the CDC says “might be
confusing for travelers.” Previously, the CDC had advised cruise ship
passengers with no symptoms or temperature to travel on commercial flights with
face masks and to self-isolate for 14 days once home.

“The Covid-19 pandemic in the United States and globally is
constantly changing. We will continue to evaluate and update our
recommendations for returning cruise ship travelers as the situation evolves,”
CDC said. 

The directive comes after two cruise ships recently arrived
in the U.S. with passengers that tested positive for Covid-19 — Holland
America Line’s Zaandam
and Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess.

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Coral Princess docks in Fort Lauderdale

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Another cruise ship with
coronavirus victims onboard, including two fatalities, docked in Florida on
Saturday.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamali said in an email
that the Coral Princess was docking in Miami. The ship with 1,020 passengers
and 878 crew members had been in limbo for days awaiting permission to dock.

As of Thursday, Kamali said seven passengers and five crew
members had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Anyone in need of hospitalization would disembark first, the
cruise line said, although it wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen.
Those fit to fly were to begin leaving on Sunday, while others with symptoms of
respiratory illness would remain on board until cleared by ship doctors.

A day earlier, the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam were
permitted to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, with 14 critically ill
people taken immediately to hospitals. The remaining passengers were slowly
being allowed to board flights for home.

The Coral Princess had been on a South American cruise that
was due to end March 19 in Buenos Aires. Since then, the ship has encountered
obstacles to docking because of various port closures and cancellation of
airline flights, the cruise line said.

Passengers have self-isolated in their staterooms and meals
have been delivered by room service. Crew members also have remained in their
quarters when they are not working.

The Coast Guard said in a news release Saturday it has been
involved with processing about 120 vessels carrying some 250,000 passengers
over the past three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coast Guard statement said as of Saturday there are 114
cruise ships carrying 93,000 crew members either in or near U.S. ports and
waters. That includes 73 cruise ships with 52,000 crew members moored or
anchored in U.S. ports and anchorages. 

The cruise line industry announced a voluntarily suspension
of most ship operations from U.S. ports on March 13. The next day, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “no sail” order to all cruise
ships that had not suspended operations.

“We commend the decision by the cruise industry to cease
operations. However, pausing a global tourist industry does not happen
instantaneously or easily,” said Vice Admiral Dan Abel, Coast Guard deputy commandant
for operations. “The federal, state, local and industry cooperation to achieve
this feat truly represents the whole-of-nation approach directed by the
president and is essential to fighting the spread of this virus and working to
minimize the loss of life.”

Princess Cruises is a brand of Miami-based Carnival Corp.,
the world’s largest cruise company.

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W Mexico City: Youthful, Earthy Energy

Upon arrival into my gorgeous room at the W Mexico City, I found a note from Diego, my W Insider, with a Lady Gaga lyric.

“Hot like Mexico, rejoice,” it read, appropriately. Inside was the ticket for the National Museum of Anthropology we’d been e-mailing about.

That’s one of the brand touchpoints of W hotels. The W Inside is like a “super concierge,” a neighborhood expert who cultivates neighborhood relationships so the hotel’s guests have a—well, an insider—in their corner.

I myself am not after the hottest nightclub or most exclusive new coffee bar, but in Mexico City’s tony Polanco neighborhood, that’s all to be had for certain. The hotel is across the street from a Bentley dealership a stone’s throw from Chapultepec Park and Avenido Paseo de la Reforma.

Just north of the hotel is the leafy Lincoln Park, where a statue of Abraham Lincoln stands sentry, locked eyes with another statue of Martin Luther King Jr. across the avenue. The surrounding neighborhood is bursting with pasty shops, restaurants with global cuisines and high-end fashion retailers—all with a global sensibility, although I could still get a pack of four hot, fresh churros in cinnamon sugar with hot chocolate from a storefront called El Moro that’s been serving them up since 1935.

Mexico City, for all its notoriety, is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. The vibe here is of a Mexico that’s worldly, cosmopolitan, and eager to enjoy days filled with savoir-faire. I watched families excitedly poring over the exhibits and played in the fountain at the anthropology museum on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, and on my walk back to the hotel through the park, I happened upon a single young man who had staked out a place in a dusty clearing, standing stiffly upright, practicing long, sweeping circles with a capote, the magenta and gold cape used in a bullfight.

Any hotel in such an enchanting place would be charming by necessity, but the staff here easily pass the high bar Mexico sets for hospitality, whether they’re pouring sophisticated mescal cocktails in beveled highball glasses at the lobby bar or serving Mexican cuisine with pre-Columbian styles sand flavors upstairs at 25DOS, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

It’s there that I try dogfish empanadas and a lovely chicken broth poured atop piping hot chicken taquitos, and finish the evening with a black sesame cake with dulce de leche, dining alfresco, cooled by the alpine evening.

AWAY Spa worth checking out, if for no other reason than the temazcal, a Mesoamerican sweat lodge heated by volcanic stones and smokey embers over which is poured mint-and-chamomile infused water for an earthy aromatic steam. Well, perhaps the expansive hot tub with city views or the top-notch massage is also reason enough to check out the spa.

25DOS does a lovely breakfast spread in the mornings with fresh fruit and country favorites like eggs with tomatoes, fried cheese and cactus, but I’m told there’s a lovely brunch next door at the JW Marriott Mexico City. A mimosa, an embarrassing number of glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice and countless tacos of salmon and rib eye grilled to order outside next to my table, plus selections from the raw bar rang affirmative that the recommendation wasn’t to be overlooked.

The hotel’s rooms and suites have lovely views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Rooms are brand standard and well maintained, but it’s the suites that are truly jaw-dropping, from the Cool Corner suites to the Marvelous One-Bedrooms which are loft style with a staircase and an upper-level bedroom.

I’m lucky enough to snag the Extreme Wow Suite, which has sweeping views of the city from three directions and a separate butler’s pantry and dining room, a wet bar, two balconies and a cheeky round bed. But the real winner for this suite is the soaring two-story marble bathroom with jetted tub in the center. The glass-walled shower upon first glance appears to be lit by a chandelier, but upon closer inspection that also turns out to be the four separate showerheads, in addition to the four coming from the wall.

It’s the perfect place to cap off a perfect day in this exciting city—a hotel that feels like the pinnacle of luxury in a city that feels like the center of the world.

The Takeaway

W Mexico City’s location, heartfelt hospitality, and art ethos will attract sophisticated, energetic travelers seeking to explore vibrant neighborhoods with youthful vigor.

The Math

I’ve seen rooms as low as $158 USD per night, which varies according to occupancy, season, and exchange rate.

Instagrammable Moment

Lobby art, craft cocktails, views from rooms and suites, and the collection of sugar skulls at 25DOS all rate an Insta-mention.

Loyalty

Marriott Bonvoy

Good to Know

Allow extra time for walking due to the elevation – Mexico City is over 7,000 feet.

When arranging transport, inquire with the hotel staff about travel times—the journey to the airport can be as little as 30 minutes or as long as an hour and a half.

Accommodations and meals were furnished by W Mexico City in preparation for the story.

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Caesars Temporarily Closes All North American Properties

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Caesars Entertainment Corporation, also known as “The Company,” will temporarily shut down its properties in North America.

“It has become clear that we must take this extreme action to help contain the virus and protect the safety and well-being of our team members and guests,” said Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio.

The Company will furlough roughly 90 percent of employees and corporate staff, with the remaining 10 percent needed to maintain basic operations. It is not certain how long the closures will last; however, the furloughed staff will remain employees of Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Furloughed employees will be paid for the first two weeks of the closure period. They can use their paid time off afterward. Employees enrolled in the Caesars health benefit plan will receive 100 percent of health insurance premiums until June 30 at the latest.

“Given the closure of our properties, we are taking difficult but necessary steps to protect the company’s financial position and its ability to recover when circumstances allow us to reopen and begin welcoming our guests and employees back to our properties,” said Rodio. “The Company entered this crisis with strong operating performance, which, combined with the steps we are taking now, are critical to the future of our company.”

All Caesars reservations during the closure period will be automatically canceled. Guests will be refunded within a few days after the closure of the property. All game tournaments and live entertainment events will be suspended at least until April 30.

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Shuttered Wynn Resorts Will Continue Paying Employees Through May 15

Wynn Resorts announced Wednesday the company would extend payments to all salaried, hourly and part-time employees through May 15 as the coronavirus outbreak continues to devastate the hospitality industry.

The decision to continue payroll for 60 days is part of a series of initiatives designed to share responsibility for the health and safety of its employees, their families and the Las Vegas and Greater Boston communities during the viral pandemic.

The payroll coverage will include more than 15,000 current Wynn and Encore employees.

As for hotel and casino workers who live off tips, Wynn’s coverage includes the average tip compliance rate or distributed tips/tokes since the beginning of the year.

“It is our shared responsibility to follow the direction of health and safety professionals to stay home, and limit social contact,” Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said in a statement. “We owe it to each other, our families and to our community.”

Despite the temporary closure of the hotel industry, companies have stepped up for employees and the local communities they support in many ways, including donating food and medical items to organizations and hospitals in need.

Earlier this week, the CEO of Airbnb announced it would pay hosts 25 percent of the losses associated with cancellations on bookings between March 14 and May 31. The company estimates payouts to eligible hosts would total around $250 million.

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STR study US hotels facing unprecedented low for 2020

STR and Tourism Economics have updated their 2020 U.S. hotel industry forecast in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, predicting that nationwide RevPAR will drop 50.6%, to $42.84, for the year.

Concurrently, occupancy is expected to be down 42.6%, to 37.9%, while average daily rate (ADR) is set to dip 13.9%, to $112.91. Supply and demand for the year are predicted to decline 14.9% and 51.2%, respectively.

Prior to the pandemic, STR had projected that RevPAR for 2020 would be flat, with occupancy set to fall 0.3%. Supply and demand had both been expected to increase slightly, at just under 2% growth.

“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.”

For the week ended March 21, STR said it saw U.S. RevPAR plummet 69.5%, the steepest drop ever recorded in the hotel data analytics firm’s 30-year history. However, Tourism Economics said it expects a fast rebound will help buoy overall performance for the year.

“Travel has come to a virtual standstill, but we expect the market to begin to regain its footing this summer,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics. “Once travel resumes, the combination of pent-up travel demand and federal aid will help fuel the recovery as we move into the latter part of this year and next year.”

For 2021, STR and Tourism Economics are forecasting that U.S. hotel RevPAR will increase 63.1%, to $69.86, while occupancy will be up 57.3%, to 59.7%. ADR is expected to grow 3.7%, to $117.05, and supply and demand are set to surge 15.6% and 81.8%, respectively.

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Diamond Princess Cleared to Sail Following Thorough Cleaning

Diamond Princess is out of quarantine and fit to sail once again following a deep cleaning of the entire ship in Japan on the heels of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak earlier this year, Princess Cruises confirmed on Monday.

The disinfecting process was monitored and approved by both the Japanese Ministry of Health and the environmental consulting firm CTEH.

The 2,670-guest ship, which has no traces of COVID-19, is currently at a shipyard by Yokohama Harbor to receive a refurbishment that will include new mattresses, linens, toys and other items in addition to planned technical projects.

(2/2) @MHLWitter certified the ship, lifting its quarantine and confirming her fit to sail with no traces of COVID-19. The ship is now at a shipyard by Yokohama Harbor for a refurbishment — including replacing all mattresses, linens, toys, etc. — and planned technical projects.

Last month, Princess Cruises announced that it would be temporarily halting global operations for 60 days due to the global impact of COVID-19. As of now, the cruise line plans to resume cruise operations on May 11.

Diamond Princess is scheduled to sail from Japan this summer.

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How the CARES Act Can Provide Relief to Travel Advisors

Last week, Congress passed a massive stimulus bill known as The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In it is relief for struggling travel advisors but, as these bills usually are, the language is dense and hard to decipher—so ASTA has stepped in to outline the benefits.

One of the clearest parts of the bill was the $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees reserved for the airlines and “ticket agents,” but there are many ways in which travel advisors can get financial relief from the bill.

“Most members will access relief through the Small Business Administration program,” ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby told advisors on the webinar.

One of the major benefits of the CARES Act is that it opens access to unemployment benefits to independent contractors and the self-employed.

Workers on 1099 are not usually eligible for unemployment because they don’t pay into state unemployment programs; however, the CARES Act recognizes that this global pandemic has created an unprecedented need for relief. Self-employed people’s incomes have been decimated by this crisis, and now they will be able to have access to these benefits.

“Through the end of the year, ICs who meet the stated criteria can receive benefits through their state unemployment program to essentially the same extent that they would have if they were W2 employees,” said Peter Lobasso, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at ASTA.

The IC only needs to certify that he or she has been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and, but for that, would have been able to be available to work as usual.

“I believe that this requirement will be very loosely interpreted,” said Lobasso.

The amount of the benefit will be determined by each state’s computation system, but it will definitely be based on the IC’s net income for the last tax year. In addition, the IC will be eligible to receive an additional $600 available even if the worker was previously earning less than that.

The benefit will run through the end of the year, and those needing access should contact their state unemployment agency.

New Loans

Companies with more than 500 employees have access to $454 billion in loans and loan guarantees to support eligible U.S. businesses that have not received adequate relief from other available loan programs. This is in addition to the $25 billion that is earmarked for the airlines and travel agencies.

Applicants for these loans must establish that alternative financing is not reasonably available.

The terms are up to five years; interest is at prevailing market rates prior to COVID-19, and there is no loan forgiveness. The Treasury Department will be publishing application procedures and minimum requirements within 10 days of bill enactment.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans

There are special SBA loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Businesses don’t need to have employees to qualify, so independent contractors and self-employed people qualify for these SBA loans.

Loans provide up to $2 million and are designed to provide working capital for regular business expenses such as rent, payroll, utilities, etc.

The interest rate on these loans is 3.75 percent, and the maximum term is 30 years. There is no collateral or personal guarantee needed, and there is a one-year deferment on the first payment.

As of March 13, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have been declared disaster areas for SBA purposes.

The SBA says that the best way to apply is online, which will be the fastest way to get approval.

Small Business Interruption Loans

This is a new program that loans up to $10 million to U.S. businesses that fall under the SBA size standards ($22 million in annual revenue or with 500 or fewer employees). Independent contractors and the self-employed are also eligible for these loans. These guidelines are less restrictive than they were previously, and these loans no longer require collateral or guaranty.

The portion of these loans that covers payroll, mortgage, rent or utility expenses from February 15 to June 30 may be eligible for loan forgiveness in whole or in part.

There is a less rigorous application process for these loans, and they have fixed low-interest rates and terms of up to 10 years.

Airline Economic Stabilization Loans

There is $25 billion set aside for Airline Economic Stabilization Loans. These are available through the Treasury Department for “ticket agents” and other related aviation industries. The Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of Transportation allocate these funds, and ASTA will work with these departments to implement the provision.

ASTA said that this portion of the relief package is probably going to take the most time to sort through because it is done in consultation with so many outside partners.

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Travel agents stay connected with virtual events coronavirus

When joining an online Zoom meeting hosted by a travel
agency, one isn’t usually greeted by the sound of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna
Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” 

But that’s exactly what attendees of Largay Travel’s meeting
got on Friday, March 20, when the agency hosted its first virtual dance party.

As many across the country have been ordered to shelter in
place and practice social distancing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19,
the typically extroverted travel agency community has turned to the internet
for everything from video meetings to peer interactions, to, yes, even virtual
dance parties and happy hours.

“Times are tough all around for everyone, and we just have
to remember to support each other in any and every way possible,” said Amanda
Klimak, the president of Waterbury, Conn.-based Largay. 

Besides, she said, it’s crucial to “emotionally, physically,
help each other out.”

Largay’s first virtual dance party was open to everyone,
including advisors from Largay and beyond, suppliers and clients. It also drew
a fair number of children, cats and dogs among its 81 attendees. Even Virtuoso
CEO Matthew Upchurch stopped by with his wife, Jessica Upchurch, Virtuoso’s
sustainability ambassador.

“Everybody was so excited to just see everyone else being
silly, and it was just nice for 15 minutes for everyone to laugh,” Klimak said.

That was the root from which the idea grew, offering travel
advisors, who have been hit 24/7 with an onslaught of concerned clients, travel
warnings and a multitude of supplier policy changes, a chance to decompress,
even if for just a few minutes.

Largay isn’t just holding dance parties online. The agency’s
annual retreat was originally scheduled for this week but was canceled. Now, it
will be held fully online on Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3. The agency has
also started a “meditation Monday” online event, and it is encouraging advisors
to post photos of their favorite souvenirs on social media with the hashtag
#souvenirsaturday.

Klimak said it wasn’t difficult to move online, as Largay
was used to hosting things such as sales calls on Google Hangouts or Zoom.

“We were already most of the way there” before the
coronavirus crisis began, she said. “But what we really started training [our
advisors on] was on how do you have client meetings via Zoom? How do you have
client events via Zoom? So we’re going to be doing virtual cocktail parties and
all sorts of different things.”

Especially at a time when almost everyone is under some sort
of order to either shelter in place or remain socially distant from others,
video has taken on added importance, Klimak said. 

“I think the phone is great, and having conversations is
wonderful, but there is so much more gained when you can look someone in the
eye and be able to talk to them,” she said. “What we really found is that the
best way to keep people from getting super-depressed or feeling even more
isolated is to just use video as much as possible.”

She finds it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the
situation that agencies are facing.

“Believe me, we all need to deal with the reality of the
situation,” she said. “But we do need to allow ourselves still to be happy at
moments and maintain our emotional health, because that’s just as important as
our physical health.”

Ensemble Travel Group is also encouraging members to connect
online.

The consortium has started a new initiative,
#EnsembleStrong, via a private Facebook group for members.

Alexa Wheeler, Ensemble’s brand marketing and communication
specialist, said the group is meant to be a way for advisors to talk business
as well as to share some more positive things with each other.

“As everyone knows, right now there is a lot of emotion
around everything going on with Covid-19, and it’s hard to stay positive,
especially in our industry,” Wheeler said “And industry leaders keep saying
that it will get better, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the
tunnel right now. 

“We wanted to just create a movement for our members with,
like, a sacred place (so to call it), where they can go for positive advice,
positive feedback, inspiration, funny memes,” she said. “Anything that will
just help them, whether it’s making their day or advice on what they could do
for their own business.”

Wheeler conducted a poll among the group’s members to see
what kind of content they were interested in. Most wanted sharable content for
their own audiences, followed by positive, industry-related updates, then “just
for laughs” content and inspirational content.

After Ensemble canceled several meetings recently, creating
a space for members to interact became even more important, she said.

“Unfortunately, that has to be done online now, but as long
as they have that space to do it, they seem, so far, to be very appreciative of
the efforts,” Wheeler said. “It’s a way that they can get through the difficult
times together.”

Tom Ogg, founder and co-owner of TravelProfessional
Community.com, said the site has seen an uptick in traffic related to
coronavirus. The site is free for advisors, but they are vetted before they
gain entrance to the community of around 16,000.

The site houses quite a bit of content, Ogg said, but there
is one area agents gravitate to: the forum. It’s the place where advisors can
start threads about any number of professional topics. Naturally, a number have
been related to coronavirus lately, including discussions about suppliers (who
are not permitted on the site) and business survival tactics.

Now more than ever, he said, it’s important for travel
advisors to interact with their peers for professional advice and even some
fun.

In Klimak’s view, “Our industry right now is under siege,
and even if we can’t financially help each other, we can at least emotionally
help each other and be kind to one another in this industry. It’s so
important.”

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Gorga takes leadership role at P Jason King Associates

Former Travel Impressions chief Steve Gorga has joined P. Jason King Associates, where he’ll serve as executive vice president for the executive search and consulting firm that focuses on the travel industry.

Gorga has held leadership roles in the industry for more than a quarter century. He was CEO and president of Travel Impressions from July 2001 through June 2013 and upon leaving that post was president and CEO of Tourism Holdings, a company focused on investing in and acquiring companies that serve the travel industry. He remained in that role until 2017.

“I have known Steve for quite some time and have worked very closely with him throughout much of his career,” said King, who launched his company in 1975. “Steve’s reputation as a strong leader, coupled with his customer-centric leadership, will enable him to rise to the occasion in both our consulting and executive search divisions.”

Gorga’s resume also includes 15 years in a number of key leadership roles at Sabre and American Airlines within the AMR Corp.

“During this difficult period of our world and our industry, we all want to be prepared for the eventual rebound,” Gorga said. “Additionally, the “people” side of business has always been my favorite and most satisfying part of my career. The global resources, systems and talent within P. Jason King Associates Inc. are extraordinary. I want to put these resources to great use to assist our industry to be ready for the explosive growth ultimately expected.”

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