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Marriott Discloses Data Breach Affecting Around 5.2 Million Guests

Marriott is notifying some of its guests about an “incident involving a property system” according to its public statement released today. A cybersecurity breach, which is currently under investigation in cooperation with relevant authorities, was identified at the end of February, but the illicit activity is believed to have begun in mid-January 2020.

The personal information of as many as 5.2 million Marriott guests has been exposed through an apparent hack of “an application to help provide services to guests at hotels,” which used the login credentials of two employees at a particular franchise property.

There was no indication given as to whether the employees whose credentials were used to conduct the theft are themselves suspect in the inquiry.

While not all information was accessed for every guest involved, leaked details are believed to have included contact information, such as name, mailing address, phone number and email address, and further personal details like company, gender and birth date.

Marriott Bonvoy loyalty account information (excluding passwords and PINs), linked airline loyalty programs and corresponding account numbers, and such guest-indicated preferences as language and room selection were also potentially exposed.

Marriott has pointed out that it “currently has no reason to believe” that the incident involved the exposure of such sensitive particulars as, “payment card information, passport information, national IDs, or driver’s license numbers.”

Marriott is currently contacting all guests involved to notify them about the incident and suggesting steps they might take. The company has also set up a dedicated call center and website with information for affected guests about enrolling in a personal information monitoring service that Marriott is providing.

In response to questions about why the company waited a month before going public about the breach, Marriott said, “We are still investigating the incident. We identified that an unexpected amount of guest information may have been accessed using the login credentials of two employees at a franchise property. We have several policies and controls in place related to the relevant property application. Marriott remains committed to further strengthening its protections to detect and remediate incidents such as this in the future,” reported Travel Weekly.

This latest incident hearkens back to the 2018 cybersecurity breach of Marriott’s Starwood network reservations system, in which the personal information of around 383 million guests was ultimately found to have been stolen.

In that instance, such highly sensitive data as payment card details and passport numbers was leaked, in addition to guests’ names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.

For more information, visit mysupport.marriott.com.

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Globus cancels travel until July

Globus, one of the world’s largest tour operators and the
parent of river cruise line Avalon Waterways, has cancelled all tours, cruises
and vacation packages through June 30 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While many travel companies earlier this month suspended
operations through April, they have increasingly over the past few weeks pushed
back expected restart dates through at least the end of May.

President Trump on Sunday extended until the end of April
his call for Americans to stay home and practice social distancing. Many
countries have closed their borders indefinitely.

Click for links to travel companies’ schedule changes and
cancellation, refund and commission policies.

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Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC Partners With the City of Chicago to Provide Sanctuary During COVID-19

WHY IT RATES: Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC responds to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus by offering over 1,000 rooms to support medical professionals working amid the pandemic. – Mackenzie Cullen, Editorial Associate

Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC, an Oxford Capital Group, LLC affiliate, is supplying the City of Chicago with up to 1,100 rooms at some of its hotel properties throughout Chicagoland to support efforts against the spread of coronavirus. In addition to housing asymptomatic guests and those requiring isolation, the rooms will also provide sanctuary for first responders who are involved in the war against COVID-19.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our community, we wanted to do our part to provide a sanctuary for those who need it during this difficult time,” says John W. Rutledge, founder, president, and CEO of Oxford Capital Group, LLC and Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC. “We’re proud to help the city combat this crisis and allow our brave medical professionals to focus on their most critical patients in their hospitals.”

The hotels will also provide three meals a day. As hotels have been deemed essential businesses to house travelers, including medical personnel, Oxford maintains strict protocols across the country around sanitation procedures that help combat the spread of viruses between guests and employees. This includes frequent sanitation of high-contact points, such as elevator buttons, door handles, reception counters, and bathrooms.

“Chicago is the first city to adopt this hotel plan, and we are gratified to be able to assist the city during this difficult time,” says George Jordan, President, Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC. “In addition to helping the city, this arrangement allows Oxford to retain a number of its employees who are interested in contributing to the relief effort. It’s inspiring to see our hospitality teams come together, even when they’ve had to weather the storm themselves.”

In building this partnership, Oxford Capital Group, LLC worked with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, organized labor including UNITE-HERE Local 1 and the Operating Engineers Local 399, and other parties, to bring an end to an 18-month strike at Hotel 166. As part of this resolution, Oxford helped craft an amended collective bargaining agreement and is simultaneously taking over management of Hotel 166, demonstrating that business, labor, and the private equity investment community can productively work together in Chicago.

In addition to Hotel 166, the partnership includes Hotel Cass, Hotel Essex, Hotel Felix, and Hotel Julian. Oxford’s hotels LondonHouse Chicago, The Godfrey Hotel Chicago, and Hotel Versey are not currently part of the agreement.

Oxford’s partners in this initiative include Fillmore Capital Partners at Hotel 166, and The Bricton Group and The Gettys Group at Hotel Felix and Hotel Cass.

For more information, visit ohrllc.com

SOURCE: Oxford Hotels & Resorts, LLC press release.

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Some airlines processing refunds outside ARC coronavirus

Eight airlines have informed ARC that they will manage
refunds directly and not allow them to be processed via GDSs or ARC’s
Interactive Agent Reporting (IAR) system.

The carriers are Air France, KLM, WestJet, El Al, TAP
Portugal, Air Transat, Kazakhstan-based Air Astana and Spain’s Plus Ultra
Lineas Aereas.

The changes come as refunds are far outpacing sales because
of the coronavirus pandemic. Travel advisors, said ARC, should contact the
airlines directly and follow their individual policies for refunds. 

ARC said it will update its own webpage as soon as it is
notified of any change in an airline’s refund process. The airline-owned
corporation also said that it recognizes the changes will impact the business
flow and processes of agencies, including records, back-office files and
disbursements. 

“ARC settlement is designed to facilitate efficient sales,
exchange and refund processes between airlines and travel agencies. While we
are unable to process refunds for airlines that have made the decision to
manage these transactions directly, we are striving to make it as easy as
possible for agencies to quickly and efficiently contact airlines regarding
refunds,” the corporation’s website says. 

Columbus, Ohio-based travel agent Richard Lewis said he
worries that evolving policies by airlines will lead him to undertake
transactions that result in debit memos. 

“I can’t afford to fight a battle if I’m debited back by a
carrier,” he said. 

Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airlines for Travel
Leaders Group, said that he expects cancellation rules to continue evolving. He
added that debit memos are on the rise. 

ARC declined to comment on debit memos.

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Obituary Legendary hotelier Sol Kerzner

Hotel magnate Sol Kerzner, best known for building the
Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas and the Sun City resort in South
Africa, died of cancer on March 21 at the Kerzner family home in Cape Town,
South Africa. He was 84.

The South Africa native opened Sun City in December 1979 north
of Johannesburg in an area that previously had no roads or other infrastructure.
The resort was in a Bantustan (a territory set aside for black inhabitants),
and the apartheid government declared the territory an independent state,
enabling Sun City to have gambling and topless revues — entertainment that was illegal in the rest of
the country.

Sun City became a popular holiday destination, and it also
became a lightning rod for worldwide protest against South Africa’s apartheid
government. The United Nations instituted a cultural boycott of South Africa in
1980, and many musical artists refused to perform at Sun City, which had a
6,000-seat arena that did manage to draw big acts such as Frank Sinatra and rock band
Queen.

In the 1980s, Sun City expanded to include four hotels and
two golf courses.

Before opening Sun City, Kerzner had a long career developing
South Africa hotels. He began his hospitality career in 1962, when he purchased
the Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa, that he transformed into a popular
hotel. In 1964, he opened the Beverly Hills, Umhlanga Rocks in Durban, which is
said to be the first five-star hotel in South Africa. He partnered with South
African Breweries to establish Southern Sun Hotels, which by 1983 operated 30
luxury hotels.

Kerzner sold his South Africa holdings in the early 1990s.

In 1994, Kerzner made his first major acquisition outside
Africa — the Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. A major redevelopment and
expansion transformed the bankrupt property into the extravagant Atlantis Paradise
Island, a 2,300-room resort with one of the world’s largest man-made marine
habitats and the Caribbean’s biggest casino. Later expansions of the Cove and the
Reef hotels added 1,100 rooms.

Atlantis Paradise Island president Audrey Oswell said, “Sol will remain in our hearts forever.”

“The role that Sol played in the Bahamas and in all of our
lives is immeasurable and hard to put into words. As the founder of Atlantis,
he will always be the father of the Atlantis family. Those of us who were
fortunate enough to know him will remember his loving smile, mischievous
chuckle and warm heart. He was an extraordinary man, a legend and truly
remarkable.”

By the 1990s, Kerzner was working closely with his son,
Butch. Together, they developed the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Connecticut
and founded One&Only Resorts. In 2006, Butch Kerzner, who had recently
assumed the role of CEO of Kerzner International, was killed in a helicopter
accident while scouting for sites in the Dominican Republic. His father
then returned to the CEO role. 

Kerzner went on to extend the Atlantis brand with the opening
of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai in 2008. In 2014, Kerzner exited Kerzner
International and retired as chairman of the company.
___

This report was updated on March 23 with a quote from Atlantis Paradise Island’s president.

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Agents use local media to get their message out coronavirus

As Covid-19 continues to spread,
travel advisors are getting in front of local news cameras to
discuss the virus and its impact on the travel industry. It’s also a way to
talk about the benefits consumers get when they book with an advisor.

“This is our time to shine, and this is our time to be
visible,” said Vanessa McGovern, co-founder and CEO of Mooresville, N.C.-based
Gifted Travel Network.

“For years,” she said, “we’ve been crying that we’re not
visible, and here is our opportunity to show in force, in really meaningful
ways, how we’re literally saving people’s vacations and bringing home students
on study abroad programs.”

In some cases, she said, the beneficiary wasn’t even a
client, adding, “It’s amazing what travel advisors are doing under these
circumstances.”

McGovern appeared on WCNC-TV in Charlotte on March 10, where
she asserted that the entire industry has been affected and remains in “very
uncharted, unprecedented territory.” 

She encouraged travelers to insure their trips. At the time
of the broadcast, she was still planning to take a group to Paris and hoped
that would inspire confidence in consumers. Unfortunately, European travel
restrictions were announced the next day.

McGovern’s interview was of her own making. Travel industry
representation had been missing from recent coverage, she said, so she wrote to
the station offering herself as a source. The next day, a reporter was in
touch.

Dave Hershberger, president of Prestige Travel Leaders in
Cincinnati, got a call from local TV station WKRC, and Prestige has since
participated in four interviews with the news station. He asked why all the
sudden interest  — Prestige hadn’t been on camera in some five
years — and the reporter said other agencies were not
willing to talk.

“Now they know there’s a place they can go to even talk
about difficult stories,” Hershberger said.

Lynn Clark, a partner at Travel Leaders in Delafield, Wis.,
already has a regular presence on “The Morning Blend,” a program on the local
NBC affiliate. She pays to do a regular segment on travel. As her most recent
segment was approaching, though, she felt she needed to deviate a bit. Up
front, she talked about the virus and said advisors were there to help guide
travelers through the confusion.

“The overall importance of being out there and talking about
it ties into, really, the reason people come to us in the first place,” Clark
said. “They come to us for information and guidance, and ultimately, they want
to have confidence in travel plans and their travel decisions. They don’t feel
confident doing it on their own.”

Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, said she feels an
obligation to be a voice for the industry. She appeared on Fox Business to talk
about the pandemic.

Cruise Planners is providing talking points, media training
and advice to its advisors, Fee said, so they can “be a voice in their
communities.”

Even so, one frequent local media contributor is not doing
interviews at the moment. Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in
Bethlehem, Pa., has turned down several prerecorded interviews for two reasons.
The most important, she said, was a concern about how they would be edited, and
the other was that information might be out of date by air time because the
situation has been changing so rapidly. 

Instead, she recorded an informational video for clients and
posted it to the agency’s Facebook page. It had nearly 5,000 views as of last
week.

But for those who do want to contact local media outlets,
McGovern offered encouragement.

“All you have to do is send an email, raise your hand, speak
from your heart, and they are going to listen,” she said.

Erika Richter, ASTA’s director of communications, said the
Society has received a “near-constant barrage” of media requests as Covid-19’s
spread has unfolded. 

She often floats requests with a closed Facebook group, ASTA
Press Inbox, which has close to 600 advisor members. She also sends leads to
consortia communications teams, who are well positioned to direct news outlets
to the right advisors.

On a recent ASTA webinar, Dina Ruden, senior vice president
of communications and public relations for Travel Leaders Group, offered some
tips to advisors who might be interested in working with the news media.

First, she said, read up on the latest information from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the
State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s important to acknowledge, Ruden said, that there are
concerns related to travel and that the decision to travel can only be made by
individual travelers. 

Talk about the importance of travel insurance, she advised,
and emphasize that advisors are seeking assistance from the government to keep
working and serving customers.

Ruden also encouraged agents to talk about the value of
advisors and to emphasize why they are the consumer’s best advocate, something
with which McGovern agreed.

“This is the time to tell that story,” McGovern said. “This
is our window to show the consumer why it’s so important to use an advisor, and
we have this opportunity, and we absolutely all need to embrace it.”

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Tenon Tours leaves USTOA

Tenon Tours has resigned its membership with the U.S. Tour
Operators Association and is thus no longer part of the group’s $1 million
consumer-protection program. 

Tenon specializes in tours to Ireland, Scotland, Britain,
Italy and Iceland.

“The current global situation we are all facing has required
us to reevaluate our company’s immediate needs,” Tenon Tours president Bryan
Lewis said in statement released with USTOA. “Although we valued our membership
immensely, we have regretfully decided to resign from USTOA and look forward to
rejoining in the future.”

A call to the company’s reservation line on Friday confirmed
the company is still operating.

Nonetheless, USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale advised
travel advisors that while purchases of Tenon tours made between Feb.  5 and March 18 of this year may be protected
under the USTOA $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program, payments and deposits
after that will not be covered.

Under USTOA rules, active members must post a $1 million security
in the form of a bond, letter of credit or U.S. treasury bill. The fund covers
consumer payments if a company goes out of business.

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Florida Keys to Close Lodging Businesses to Tourists

The Florida Keys have become another popular tourist destination to suspend operations in order to reduce the risks of coronavirus transmission, when government officials announced on Thursday that all lodging businesses will close at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 22.

Officials have instructed hotels to stop taking new reservations effective immediately. The government will re-evaluate the tourism closures and make changes when appropriate.

Renters in vacation homes and RV parks will be allowed to remain until the conclusion of their contracts.

According to Bob Eadie, the administrator and health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, there are currently no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Keys. However, with Florida’s total number of coronavirus cases reaching 520 as of Friday, officials are concerned about the potential risk spreading to visitors and residents of the Keys.

“We know that closing down the tourism industry is a major inconvenience for our visitors,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers. “But the health and safety of our visitors and residents are paramount.

“We certainly hope our visitors will return to the Keys once the coronavirus crisis has passed,” she added. “We also understand the economic impacts all Keys businesses and families will likely face.”

Carruthers assured the public that Monroe County continues to follow the directives of the Centers for Disease Control, the Florida Department of Health and State of Florida Governor’s Office Executive Orders.

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Ban on inbound travel from Europe baffles coronavirus

A stunned travel industry on Thursday accused President
Donald Trump of sowing heightened fear and confusion over the Covid-19 virus
with his ban on most European travel to the U.S., which officials said will
only further devastate an already crumbling global travel economy.

USTOA CEO Terry Dale said he was “surprised and discouraged”
by the administration’s decision.

“It adds more confusion and uncertainty to our already
beleaguered industry,” he said.

European officials said they were baffled at Trump’s logic,
which Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tourism Association, said “stigmatizes
an entire continent.”

“The coronavirus is a global crisis not limited to any
destination, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” said
Eduardo Santander, head of the European Travel Commission.  “Planes fly from A to B and B to A. The
European tourism sector disapproves this unilateral travel ban without any
consultation, which will equally affect travel and tourism businesses and
citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Ironically, Jenkins said, the biggest loser could be
America.

“America has basically said to its largest target (tourism)
market, ‘You’re not welcome,” he said.  “It’s
kind of a bad thing to do.”

As for the impact on Europe, Jenkins said, “If we’re being
realistic, in the short term, there is very little good news for European
tourism in any case. … Even before this announcement, bookings were drying up
and cancellations were coming in. So all this announcement does is further
impair confidence in a product which is already suffering.”

U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said that “temporarily
shutting off travel from Europe is going to exacerbate the already heavy impact
of coronavirus on the travel industry and the 15.7 million Americans whose jobs
depend on travel.”

“We have and will continue to engage Congress and the
administration on policy steps that are necessary to ensure that travel
employers — 83% of which are small businesses — can keep the lights on for
their employees,” Dow said in a statement.

According to U.S. Travel Association economists, 850,000
international visitors flying from Europe (excluding the U.K.) entered the U.S.
in March 2019, accounting for about 29% of total overseas arrivals to the U.S.
These visitors spent approximately $3.4 billion in the U.S.

Trump, in a Wednesday address from the Oval Office, announced
the 30-day ban on inbound travel from the 26 nations in the Schengen Area of
Europe, which the White House said has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19
cases outside of mainland China. The most serious outbreak has been in Italy,
which has shut its borders.

Although noting that the virus started in China, Trump
blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak and
claimed  the clusters of infections
growing in the U.S. were “seeded” by European travelers.

While Trump in his address indicated all European travel
would be cut off, Homeland Security officials later clarified that the
restrictions would apply only to most foreign nationals who have been in the
Schengen  zone at any point for 14 days
prior to their scheduled arrival. The zone includes Austria, Belgium, Czech
Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland,
Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands,
Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The restrictions don’t apply to legal permanent U.S.
residents, immediate family of U.S. citizens or others “identified in the
proclamation” signed by Trump, according to the Associated Press.

The exclusion of the U.K. and Ireland was further baffling,
officials said.

“Countries such as Belgium and Austria have fewer cases and
deaths than the U.K.,” Ralph Hollister, a travel and tourism analyst at the
U.K.-based firm Global Data, said in a statement.  “A lack of reason for this allowance could
point to sheer pragmatism. The U.K. was the top inbound source market from
Europe for the U.S. in 2019, with 3.5 million arrivals. Global Data’s
pre-coronavirus projections show that visitation was set to increase at a
compound annual growth rate of 1.5% between 2019 and 2023. This may explain why
the U.K. is exempt.”

Other non-Schengen members excluded from the ban include
Croatia, San Marino, Monaco, Serbia and Montenegro.

Hollister said the ban is “set to further increase pain for
major players in the U.S.”

“Since mid-February, stocks have taken a significant
downturn for United, Delta and American airlines,” he said. “This has created a
knock-on impact for behemoth Boeing, a company which makes a valuable
contribution to the U.S. economy through employment. The aircraft manufacturer
has announced it has frozen hiring due to coronavirus market turmoil.”

The cruise industry has also been hard hit by the virus,
with several large ships being quarantined because of infected passengers and
crew members. 

Earlier this week, the State Department and the Centers for
Disease Control advised Americans against cruising, an advisory that the Trump administration walked back the next day, saying that cruising was fine for healthy people and that elderly persons, particularly those with underlying health conditions, should be more reticent.

On Wednesday, Viking said it was suspending river and ocean
cruise operations until May 1, a response to the coronavirus situation. On
Thursday, other cruise lines began to follow suit. Princess said it was
shutting down its global operations until May 10.  Virgin Voyages said it was postponing until
Aug. 7 the maiden voyage of its first cruise ship, the Scarlet Lady.  And Uniworld Boutique River Cruises said it
would suspend the start of its European river cruise season until April 23.

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Congressman pressures travel insurance firms to accept coronavirus claims

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has written to the U.S. Travel
Insurance Association, asking members to approve claims related to Covid-19 that
might not have been initially covered under the policy.

“Insurance companies should not be in the business of
effectively encouraging travel in this emergency situation by refusing to honor
travel insurance policies when consumers wish to cancel or change travel plans
because their lives, and the lives of others, depend on it,” Markey said in a
statement.

For many insurance companies, the coronavirus pandemic is
already considered a known event, meaning benefits do not apply to virus-related
claims, according to travel insurance comparison engine SquareMouth. Still, some insurers are providing benefits if customers test
positive for coronavirus, as they do not consider illness contraction a
foreseen event even during a pandemic.

Still other insurers have already moved to do just what Markey is requesting, widening coverage so
customers can file coronavirus-related claims.

Markey ruffled feathers in the travel insurance industry in 2018
when he issued a report on insurance, saying policies sold by airlines and OTAs
were “aggressively pushed onto customers” and fail “to provide promised
coverage.” 

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