Steve Sammut Rocky Mountaineer

One of the travel trends that has gained steam in recent years is the concept of “slow travel.” And one way travelers can slow down and see where they’re going is from the comfort of a luxury train, such as those run by Canada-based Rocky Mountaineer, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Before travel was virtually halted by Covid-19 earlier this month, senior editor Jeri Clausing talked with Steve Sammut, president and CEO of Rocky Mountaineer, about his company’s product and how it has evolved.

Q: The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Tell me a little bit about how it began and where you are today.

A: Peter Armstrong founded the business 30 years ago. As he would tell you, it’s very different today. He had those old, single-level rail cars built in the 1950s. They carried 7,000 guests the first year. Now we do over 100,000 guests a year and have carried close to 2.5 million travelers.

Q: You have been with Rocky Mountaineer for several years. What kind of trends and changes have you seen during your tenure?

A: I’ve been here about seven and a half years. What I have seen in my time here is just a huge growth in interest in terms of traveling with us. We are out there, building brand awareness and working with different partners.

I think there is a trend toward people looking for these kinds of experiences, where they can really get in an area and learn more about it, a slow experience, not rushed.

You can basically fly between [Alberta and British Columbia] in an hour and a half. On the train, we do it in three days, sometimes five. This is really just a nice way to see so many different things. Whether it’s the beauty of the landscape or the wildlife, there are so many things to see.

Q: How many trains do you operate?

A: As we are growing interest, we’ve actually been working with different suppliers to add new cars to our fleet. In the past six years, we have basically doubled.

Our signature cars are bilevel and glass-domed, with seats on the second floor, where our hosts serve drinks and snacks and tell stories. Downstairs is where we serve meals.

We had 16 of those and have added 10 more. We have also increased the size of our Silver Leaf Service. They also all have domed windows, but they are all on one level.

Q: So you don’t have sleeper cars on your trains.

A:  No. We’re not a sleeper train. We have three different routes. One is called “First Passage to the West.” It starts in Vancouver. You’re on the train for the day, listening to the guide, getting meals and service. Then you overnight in Kamloops, [British Columbia], at a hotel. The next day, you get back on the train for another great day of storytelling on the way to Banff.

The second route starts or ends in Banff or Lake Louise, [Alberta]. After the first day, you overnight in Kamloops and end in Jasper in Alberta. That’s called Journey Through the Clouds. The third route, [Rainforest to Goldrush], starts or ends in Vancouver. You spend the night in Vancouver, then Quesnel, [British Columbia] and on to Jasper. You can also combine these.

This system of itineraries with overnights in hotels has worked very well for us.

Q: Where do most of your guests come from?

A:  About 93% come from four different geographic markets. No. 1 is the U.S. Right behind that is Australia. Then it’s the U.K. and Canada. Those four markets make up the vast majority. But we get people from most countries.

We also have opened our first sales office in China, and we have a separate rail car with Mandarin service. But we really just started on that.

Q: What about age groups? What is your key demographic?

A: We get all ages. But it really does appeal a lot to the baby boomers, the way it is done, the level of service. They really appreciate the care, the fine food, the storytelling.

Q: Do you offer any themed journeys, say for adventure or culinary?

A: What we have done is worked with partners to create packages around our train trips. Because when people are on the train, the focus is on the
storytelling and the scenery.

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VIDEO: Take a trip on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway

The St. Kitts Tourism Authority has launched an hour-long slow video of the country’s iconic Scenic Railway, to help Brits to de-stress while on their commute to work.

The idea came following consumer research by the tourism authority that revealed Brits waste on average 202 minutes a week waiting in queues, being subject to train delays, waiting for public transport or walking behind slow people.

More than one third said they get frustrated trying to get to the office quickly, and everyone around them is slowing them down.

To help Brits understand the St. Kitts way of kicking back and relaxing, often described as Limin’, the tourism authority has shared an hour-long slow video of the country’s Scenic Railway.

They hope that the relaxing footage – showing the island’s historic sugar cane plantations, unspoilt coast lines and famous Mount Liamuiga, alongside the calming sounds of native animals – will help Brits escape to the island through the power of video.

Racquel Brown, chief executive of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, said: “To help Brits overcome the daily stresses and strains of commuting to work, we have launched a mesmerising slow video of our iconic Scenic Railway, the last railway in the West Indies.

“Those watching can sink into tantalising views of both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, see the sumptuous green scenery roll past and hear the relaxing sounds of the native birdlife on the island.”

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BA passengers face even longer wait times as airline closes call centre due to coronavirus

British Airways customers trying to get in touch with the airline to cancel flights or find a way home amid the coronavirus pandemic may have a longer wait to make contact after the company announced its Delhi call centre was shutting.

The Indian government closed down the office as part of its response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

BA informed the travel trade of the closure on Sunday night.

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The British flag carrier said customers may experience longer than usual call waiting times until contingency plans have been put in place.

Customers are being asked to only telephone the airline if they are due to fly within the next 72 hours.

It comes as Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, announced it was unlikely to be operating any commercial flights from today until June.

Flight bans across Europe have now closed the continent’s skies to all but a handful of rescue flights, and Ryanair has stated that, based on the length of China’s lockdown, most travel is likely to be suspended for three months.

“We do not expect to operate flights during the months of April and May at this time, but this will clearly depend upon Government advice, and we will in all cases comply with these instructions,” said the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, in a statement.

Passengers whose Ryanair flights have been cancelled due to new travel restrictions will receive an email outlining their options over the next two weeks.

The airline has requested that customers be patient and refrain from calling, as it has reduced office staff by 50 per cent to comply with social distancing rules.

Fewer staff means they will be unable to accommodate anything but the most urgent of cases, which over the coming days will be rescue flights, according to the statement.

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Impact of Coronavirus on Travel Industry Job Losses Worsens

The U.S. Travel Association says that projections of job losses in the travel industry from the coronavirus outbreak are direr than previously thought.

The organization has revised projections, which now show a loss of 5.9 million jobs by the end of April due to declining travel, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics.

Last week, the data showed 4.6 million jobs lost to travel declines before May.

Travel supports 15.8 million American jobs in total—employment for one out of every 10 Americans and the loss of this many jobs will more than double the U.S. unemployment rate from 3.5 percent to 7.1 percent by the end of April.

“The coronavirus crisis is hitting the travel economy hard, and it’s also hitting fast,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow. “These new figures underscore the extreme urgency of financial relief for travel businesses—83 percent of which are small businesses—so they can keep paying their employees. Not only are workers suffering right now, but if employers are forced to close their doors, it is unknown when or if those jobs will ever come back.”

The association is advocating for several measures in the “Phase III” coronavirus package that is currently being negotiated in Congress. Among their requests are:

—Access to more significant small business loans, and ensure immediate access to retain employees and cover basic costs during the shutdown.

—A Workforce Stabilization Fund to help medium and larger travel businesses retain their workers and remain solvent.

—Tax relief to help mitigate economic losses.

The new U.S. Travel Association data also forecasts an expected loss of $910 billion in travel-related economic output in 2020, which would be seven times the impact of 9/11 and the organization predicts that the slowdown in the travel sector alone will push the U.S. economy into a protracted recession.

“The health crisis deserves the government’s full attention, but the economic crisis will be worse and longer without aggressive action to confront it right now,” Dow said. “Businesses can’t keep their lights on if they don’t have any customers, and they don’t have any customers because of the actions that are necessary to stem the spread of coronavirus. The resulting closures will take the greatest toll on the frontline employees who can least afford to lose their jobs—wait staff, housekeepers, concession workers, etc.

“Robust intervention by the federal government is the only avenue to make sure those outcomes are minimized.”

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National parks plea for social distancing after busy weekend




  • Living alone on a paradise island

    Living alone on a paradise island
    In 1989, Mauro Morandi's boat docked on Budelli Island in Italy. Discovering that the island's caretaker was retiring within the next two days, Mauro decided to extend his stay indefinitely. – Great Big Story

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    CNN

  • Determined to still travel, then a forced change

    Determined to still travel, then a forced change
    Maria Cousins, who's from New Zealand, was set to start some big travel plans despite the coronavirus outbreak, but a development beyond her control halted her plans.

    CNN Logo
    CNN

  • Often visitors are taken aback by Uruguay's distinct lack of mountains, and yet, rock climbing is a growing activity in the South American country -- once people realise it's possible. ARRANGED IN SEQUENCESN°1PR5U9

    The surprising rise of climbing in 'flat' Uruguay
    Often visitors are taken aback by Uruguay's distinct lack of mountains, and yet, rock climbing is a growing activity in the South American country — once people realise it's possible. ARRANGED IN SEQUENCESN°1PR5U9

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Report: Airlines Drafting Plans to Completely Shut Down




  • Living alone on a paradise island

    Living alone on a paradise island
    In 1989, Mauro Morandi's boat docked on Budelli Island in Italy. Discovering that the island's caretaker was retiring within the next two days, Mauro decided to extend his stay indefinitely. – Great Big Story

    CNN Logo
    CNN

  • Determined to still travel, then a forced change

    Determined to still travel, then a forced change
    Maria Cousins, who's from New Zealand, was set to start some big travel plans despite the coronavirus outbreak, but a development beyond her control halted her plans.

    CNN Logo
    CNN

  • Often visitors are taken aback by Uruguay's distinct lack of mountains, and yet, rock climbing is a growing activity in the South American country -- once people realise it's possible. ARRANGED IN SEQUENCESN°1PR5U9

    The surprising rise of climbing in 'flat' Uruguay
    Often visitors are taken aback by Uruguay's distinct lack of mountains, and yet, rock climbing is a growing activity in the South American country — once people realise it's possible. ARRANGED IN SEQUENCESN°1PR5U9

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    AFP


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Flight bookings to the UK for January 2021 up 229%

Good news FINALLY arrives for the travel industry: Flight bookings to the UK for January 2021 up 229% and to Spain they’re up 171%

  • Even Italy is showing an upward trend for January of next year 
  • Analysts say travellers are showing signs of confidence for end of the year, too
  • Travellers from Asia are more pessimistic about future travel to the UK 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Silver linings amid the coronavirus crisis are hard to come by right now for the travel industry – but they haven’t disappeared altogether.

Analysts have revealed that travellers are showing signs of confidence for January 2021 and the end of the year.

There has been a 229 per cent year-over-year increase in global flight bookings made in the past 14 days to the UK for January 2021 and a 171 per cent increase for bookings to Spain.

Analysts have revealed that travellers are showing signs of confidence for January 2021 and the end of the year

Even Italy is showing an upward trend for January of next year.

The number-crunching comes courtesy of digital travel marketing solutions firm Sojern, which presented a range of findings in a blog post.

It explains that when it looked at flight searches made in the past 14 days, it’s ‘the Middle Eastern, Western and Eastern European, and North American travellers who appear keener to reinstate their travel plans as soon as they can and are showing interest in travelling to the UK towards the end of the year’.

It continued: ‘Eastern and Western Europe show a very early increase in year-over-year travel intent for January 2021, with an above-average year-over-year increase of 144 per cent and 85 per cent (up from eight per cent and nine per cent last week) respectively compared to the same time last year.’

Travellers from Asia are more pessimistic about future travel to the UK, the data shows. 

There has been a 229 per cent year-over-year increase in global flight bookings made in the past 14 days to the UK for January 2021

Sojern’s explanation for the upturns is that it ‘could be a result of some airlines announcing their winter timetables early and also releasing a more flexible cancellation and booking policy’. This may have led to an increase in consumer confidence for booking trips for a date when it’s felt the pandemic could be in the recovery phase, the firm says.

Right now, though, the picture is bleak.

Sojern says: ‘Analysing consumers’ travel plans gives some sense of the gravity of the situation and it will come as no surprise that global flight bookings to Europe have declined drastically, with Italy seeing almost a 94 per cent year-over-year decline in flight bookings last week. This is to be expected given the travel restrictions currently in place as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The UK showed a 63 per cent decline in year-over-year flight bookings last week, down from 37 per cent the previous week.’

Chris Blaine, VP of EMEA at Sojern, said: ‘The covid-19 outbreak clearly presents a significant threat to the travel industry as a whole and it is unlike anything I have previously witnessed.

‘However, this isn’t going to last forever. The industry will recover, but it will take time. Travel marketers need to be prepared and ready for this recovery and while there is likely to be plenty of pent-up demand, travellers will also be initially very cautious. We are likely to see domestic tourism recover first and long-haul following later. It’s important to base your strategies on real-time consumer behaviour, which will inevitably follow the path to recovery.’

 

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Coronavirus survived in Diamond Princess cabins for 17 days, CDC says

Cabins on Diamond Princess harboured coronavirus for up to 17 days after passengers left the ship in Yokohama, Japan.

The Princess Cruises ship, carrying 3,700 passengers and crew, was quarantined on 5 February by Japanese officials in the port of Yokohama after Covid-19 was detected. The vessel became a coronavirus hotspot in its own right. Nine people who were on board the ship have died, including one British holidaymaker. 

More than 700 other passengers and crew were infected with the virus.

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Now research assessed by the US Centers for Disease Control has revealed that surfaces in cabins occupied by infected passengers continued to harbour the virus responsible “for up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess”.

The virus was identified before disinfection procedures had been conducted.

Cruise ships are often settings for outbreaks of infectious diseases because of their closed environment and contact between travellers from many countries.

The CDC said: “Cruise ships bring diverse populations into proximity for many days, facilitating transmission of respiratory illness

“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. All persons should defer all cruise travel worldwide during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

In addition to Diamond Princess, the ship quarantined by Japan, a sister ship – Grand Princess – was forced to remain off the coast of California for days after cases were discovered on board.

The vast majority of the 270 cruise ships that were in service before the coronavirus crisis began are in port, but some are still making their way around the world.

A third Princess Cruises ship, Coral Princess is due to arrive in Rio later on Tuesday to disembark some passenger. 

The cruise line said: “Although Brazil has been closed to cruise ship traffic, we are working through diplomatic channels to obtain permission and have received positive responses.

“Guests with confirmed homeward flight arrangements will be permitted to disembark and go directly to the airport.”

Top: Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Bottom: Charles Bridge, Prague

Grand Mosque, Mecca

2/20 Grand Mosque, Mecca

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

3/20 Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Nabi Younes market, Mosul

4/20 Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

5/20 Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

Charles Bridge, Prague

6/20 Charles Bridge, Prague

Taj Mahal hotel, India

7/20 Taj Mahal hotel, India

Dubai Mall, UAE

8/20 Dubai Mall, UAE

Beirut March, Lebanon

9/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Gateway of India, Mumbai

10/20 Gateway of India, Mumbai

Cairo University, Egypt

11/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Amman Citadel, Jordan

12/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

13/20 Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Beirut March, Lebanon

14/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Cairo, Egypt

15/20 Cairo, Egypt

Cairo University, Egypt

16/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Victoria Memorial, India

17/20 Victoria Memorial, India

Amman Citadel, Jordan

18/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Amman Citadel, Jordan

19/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Sidon, Lebanon

20/20 Sidon, Lebanon

1/20

Top: Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Bottom: Charles Bridge, Prague

Grand Mosque, Mecca

2/20 Grand Mosque, Mecca

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

3/20 Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Nabi Younes market, Mosul

4/20 Nabi Younes market, Mosul

Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

5/20 Basra Grand Mosque, Iraq

Charles Bridge, Prague

6/20 Charles Bridge, Prague

Taj Mahal hotel, India

7/20 Taj Mahal hotel, India

Dubai Mall, UAE

8/20 Dubai Mall, UAE

Beirut March, Lebanon

9/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Gateway of India, Mumbai

10/20 Gateway of India, Mumbai

Cairo University, Egypt

11/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Amman Citadel, Jordan

12/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

13/20 Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Beirut March, Lebanon

14/20 Beirut March, Lebanon

Cairo, Egypt

15/20 Cairo, Egypt

Cairo University, Egypt

16/20 Cairo University, Egypt

Victoria Memorial, India

17/20 Victoria Memorial, India

Amman Citadel, Jordan

18/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Amman Citadel, Jordan

19/20 Amman Citadel, Jordan

Sidon, Lebanon

20/20 Sidon, Lebanon

But “due to limited flight availability” not all passengers will be be allowed off. They will be kept on board for a 12-day voyage to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“This is an unprecedented situation and we thank our guests for their continued patience and understanding,” Princess Cruises said.

The P&O ship Arcadia is currently in port in Durban, South Africa, but passengers are not being allowed to disembark. 

Instead, supplies are being taken on for a 17-day voyage nonstop to Southampton.

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Travel Agents Can Benefit From Online Communities

In a time of crisis, people often turn to their community for advice. Right now, travel agents are facing an uphill battle trying to save their businesses as travel has come to a screeching halt and social distancing has cut off face-to-face interactions.

Just as society bands together as a community to save one another, so too can travel agents build their own online groups to problem-solve together.

Host Agency Reviews has a guide that identifies the benefits of building communities as well as places travel agents can go to get answers to questions or just come together for support.

Host Agency Reviews’ Mary Stein points out the benefits of community:

—Staying current with travel industry news and resources

—Troubleshooting monthly/weekly/daily

—Peer accountability/encouragement

—Revitalizing marketing strategies and thinking “outside the box”

—Building client-base/developing leads

—Creating structure to set/achieve goals

Social media groups can be the easiest way for travel agents to come together online. There are several Facebook groups where agents can find tips, support and ideas.

Host Agency Reviews has its Travel Agent Think Tank. There is also the closed Facebook Group “Travel Agents Helping Travel Agents,” and younger agents will want to check out Millennials in Travel.

Several host agencies and consortia also offer online groups, including Uniglobe Travel Center, Travel, Travel Quest, Bridges & Holmes, Nexion, Signature and Travel Leaders.

When social distancing rules are relaxed, travel agents may want to seek out more face to face opportunities with co-working spaces or local networking groups. Until then, though, building an online community can provide a connection to the outside world.

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