Scenic scraps summer tours and cruises

Scenic Group
joined the growing list of companies canceling their summer travel season
because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company has suspended operations for river cruises and
land tours through Aug. 31 for the Scenic, Emerald and Evergreen brands.
Sailings on luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse have been halted through the
end of September. 

“Our top priority is to ensure that our guests and crew are
able to travel safely before we resume operations,” Scenic COO Rob Voss said in
a press release. “Although we see some easing of national lockdowns and
progress being made on Covid-19 measures, the restrictions on travel still vary
considerably from country to country, making it difficult to navigate.”

Voss said industrywide health protocols still need further

“Suspending operations through Aug. 31 just makes sense as
it allows more time for those protocols to be developed and gives our guests
enough notice to better plan for their future travels,” he said.

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Startup uses wireless sensors to help hotels save on energy costs

As cash-strapped hotels gear up for a post-pandemic
recovery, one company is selling properties on an energy-efficiency
system that promises to save both money and the environment.  

Launched in late 2016, Singapore-based SensorFlow touts a
“smart building management solution” for hotels’ heating, ventilation and
air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, which can account for about 60% to 70% of a
building’s total energy expenses, according to SensorFlow CEO and cofounder
Saikrishnan Ranganathan.

“Looking at the hospitality space, we can clearly see that
energy consumption is one of their biggest problems,” said Ranganathan, adding
that next to labor costs, “it’s typically their No. 2 expense.”

SensorFlow’s technology features sensors, smart thermostats
and energy meters that work together to automate the HVAC in each guestroom,
detecting occupancy, decreasing A/C use when a room is vacant, controlling
humidity, measuring energy consumption and collecting data. 

Unlike other HVAC solutions on the market, including smart
thermostat systems from stalwarts such as Honeywell or Schneider, Ranganathan
claims that SensorFlow’s IOT (or Internet of Things) platform is completely
wireless and can be installed in a guestroom in under five minutes. The
SensorFlow system is powered by batteries that need changing every five years,
and the hardware and software connects to its own low-power, wide-area network,
which means it won’t interfere with or slow down a hotel’s existing WiFi.

“There are a lot of building automation systems, but some of
their tech is old school,” Ranganathan said. “They need wiring, which means
it’s tough to retrofit existing hotels.”

The technology also doesn’t rely on key card-activated power
switches, which have long been popular within the hospitality sector, despite
evolving consumer needs.

“The key card model was built long ago, before mobile
phones, laptops and whatnot,” Ranganathan said. “It just turns off the power
supply, so you can’t even charge your laptop while you’re at the pool or
something. No one likes it; they always ask the front desk for a second card.
Guests game that all the time.” 

Also setting SensorFlow apart from the competition is its
business model. The company doesn’t charge to install its technology in hotel
rooms, profiting instead from a portion of the property’s savings. Ranganathan
estimates that SensorFlow can save a hotel about 30% to 50% on HVAC costs, with
average savings ranging from $30,000 a year to up to $300,000 a year, depending
on property size. 

The company’s system is currently installed in about 10,000
rooms across 50 hotels in the Asia-Pacific region, including properties flagged
under Dorsett Hospitality, Hyatt and Accor brands.

“We have seen some other good wireless products out there,
but they’re still [capital expense]-based, meaning you have to pay a lot of
money up front,” Ranganathan said. “This model doesn’t really work for most
hotels, because they need that [capital expense] budget.”

Prior to the pandemic, SensorFlow would measure a hotel’s
savings over a four-month period, then take a fixed sum of that period’s
average as a monthly payment. In the wake of the coronavirus, however,
SensorFlow has thrown the four-month average out the window, instead taking a
70% cut of whatever a hotel’s savings happen to be each month.

The company’s new “floating” payment model has helped boost
SensorFlow’s profile in recent months, as hotels in some parts of the world
look to shave costs ahead of reopening.  

“Initially, there was a lot of panic,” Ranganathan said.
“But now a lot of hotels are preparing to recover, and we’re having
conversations with senior leaders at all the big global chains as well as all
the domestic chains, here in Asia. Reducing expenses is going to be a big
priority for them coming out of Covid-19.”

SensorFlow recently closed on an $8.3 million funding round
led by Openspace Ventures and Gaw Capital Partners, which builds on $2.7
million in funding the company raised last year. The investment will bolster
expansion plans, with SensorFlow set to enter the U.S. in the fourth quarter of
this year, focusing on markets such as New York, Las Vegas, Washington and Los
Angeles. Additionally, SensorFlow is making early inroads into Europe, with
pilot programs in that market set to go live next quarter.

Ranganathan said the company is targeting installation in a
million guestrooms by 2023.

“Hotels want to use this downtime effectively to renovate
and add systems like ours,” he added. “And when you do it through our sort of
business model, then there’s basically no risk.”

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Cruise Lines Prepare for Return but CDC No-Sail Order Still in Place

The financially battered cruise line industry is hoping for a return to the seas in short order, with some churning out itineraries that begin in a month.

The problem—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still has a no-sail order in place that is effective through July 24 due to the spread of the coronavirus, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Yet Royal Caribbean said its own suspension of cruises will end on June 12, while Norwegian intends to sail again on July 1.

Carnival announced it will hit the water again on August 1, although it hedged its bet by tweeting: “Any resumption of cruise operations—whenever that may be—is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials.”

But as the Post noted, cruise lines are gearing up with no published policies on how they plan to keep ships sanitized or deal with social distancing protocol.

“I was super surprised to hear them coming out with sailing dates so early, but on the financial side, they have to,” Peter Ricci, Director of Hospitality & Tourism Management Programs at Florida Atlantic University, told the paper. “They can do a number of things to get back in operation where people would feel comfortable, but I wouldn’t book until I saw that.”

Ricci said part of the issue is that, unlike other modes of travel, a cruise is a vacation in and of itself that relies heavily on social, group participation.

“Their entire model is based on social activity,” he said. “From the large lobbies to the dining facilities, bars, nightclubs and casinos.”

The CDC’s no-sail order states, in part, that “cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases.”

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Crisis nearly derailed plan to sell agency

Don and Karen Wood, the owners of Gold Key Travel in Longmont, Colo., were ready to retire and sell their agency this year. The husband-and-wife team have worked at the agency — founded by Don’s mother, the late Muriel “Mitzi” Wood, in 1966 — since 1979.

Their son Eric, the agency’s president, told them in February that after 11 years at Gold Key, he wanted to pursue a different path. Don and Karen both turn 65 this year. They planned on retiring anyway, so selling Gold Key seemed like the natural decision. A few agencies in Colorado were interested.

“And then March hit, and then everything changed,” Don Wood said.

Covid-19 caused a virtual halt to travel. It also halted Gold Key’s discussions with potential buyers. Negotiations hadn’t yet begun, Don Wood said. He and his wife thought they would take their time with the sale. With a number of larger groups on the books, it was going to be the agency’s biggest year ever, a good one in which to sell.

But the potential buyers were grappling with layoffs and focusing on their own agencies, he said, so adding to an already complex situation with an acquisition didn’t make sense.

Here’s how to meet legal and business obligations if you decide to close up shop.

And on top of that, none of Gold Key’s 15 current employees were interested in taking over the agency.

The Woods decided to send a notice to their database of 4,000 that they would retire and Gold Key’s doors would close. They started to look for options for their employees who wanted to continue selling travel, like affiliating with a host.

“But then, when word got out, some people approached us that they were interested in buying the agency, and that’s where we stand now,” Don Wood said.

The potential buyers, which include a young couple, have experience owning small businesses. Don Wood said he believes they will have a successful career at Gold Key. He also said now is an especially good time for them to get into the business: With the halt in travel, they can spend time getting up to speed and learning the industry.

He also believes when travel does return, the industry in general will benefit from a huge amount of pent-up demand — demand he is pleased his family’s travel agency will be able to fulfill for its community.

“It’s kind of what I’ve always dreamed of,” Don Wood said. “We came in as quite young people in our 20s. It’s just been a wonderful business and lifestyle. We really appreciate all the benefits that we’ve gotten from this business.”

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Oceania Cruises Launches “Ultimate Sale” With Fares Starting at $999

In an optimistic sign for the cruise industry, Oceania Cruises launched “The Ultimate Sale” featuring major price reductions with fares starting at $999 per guest for inside staterooms and $1,399 for veranda staterooms.

The company currently has set July 1 as the target date to resume cruising after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Savings are offered on more than 400 voyages departing in 2020, 2021 and 2022 throughout Europe, Alaska, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, the South Pacific, New England/Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Panama Canal, South America, Africa and Arabia, and even Grand Voyages that traverse the continents.

Several Specialty Cruises are included, such as voyages hosted by President and CEO Bob Binder; James Rodriguez, executive vice president of sales and marketing; Jacques Pépin, executive culinary director; and Claudine Pépin, daughter of Jacques Pépin and godmother of the Sirena.

For more information, click here.

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Uniglobe virtual conference

Uniglobe Travel Center (UTC) was set to go to Walt Disney
World for its annual conference from May 31 to June 2 at the Coronado Springs
Resort. But like nearly every other event, the conference was canceled in light
of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some have opted to refocus their efforts on 2021
conferences. Others have set new dates for this year’s events. UTC, however,
took a different tactic: It moved its event online.

“This was not the conference we had been preparing for, but
when life gives you lemons, well, you know the story,” UTC vice president Betsy
Geiser said.

From April 28 to 30, some 200 attendees joined in via Zoom
for general sessions and supplier sessions, receptions and social hours and
even a game night gala. Its theme, “Looking to the Future,” was apt, as content
focused on preparing for what the industry — and
the travel agency community — will look like once the pandemic has passed.

“Now is the time to revisit who you are and how you operate
your business, which suppliers you choose to partner with and how to ensure an
income outside of commissions,” Geiser said. “Let’s make sure our toolbox is
filled with everything we need to be successful in our new world.”

Camille Olivere, Norwegian Cruise Line’s senior vice
president of strategic sales and trade partnerships, was April 28’s keynote

Suppliers and agents alike are in pain, she said, but
Norwegian’s sales team meets daily on Zoom to discuss ways to better support
the trade. 

She encouraged advisors to use this time for education and
client connection as well as to have some fun with Zoom parties and the like.
Stay positive, she said, but acknowledge the stress of the situation.

“After we get through these times, we are going to be tough,
and those of us that persevere are going to be stronger than ever,” Olivere

David Slivken and Tom Carpenter, the owners of Huckleberry
Travel, a UTC agency in New York, also offered advisors a practical game plan
of preparing for the future. 

“We can’t really see how things are all going to work out
and what the new normal is going to be,” Slivken said.

He encouraged advisors to determine what their strengths
are, the kind of travel they sell and where it makes sense to look for
business. That will help determine their value proposition, which they can use
to communicate their value and expertise to clients.

Carpenter also encouraged agents to reflect on their
personal strengths so they can focus on what they do well.

The purpose, Slivken said, is “to be able to take the time
knowing what your value proposition is, what your personal strengths are, and
then spending the time to build your business workflow to play to those

They recommended creating or revisiting workflow from a
prospective client’s first contact through the post-trip follow-up and creating
or rewriting scripts for frequently asked questions. For instance, they have a
script for talking to clients about what they do, touching on subjects such as
their value proposition and their fee structure. It ends by asking the prospect
if they can send them their new client information form.

“When we say ‘script,’ we’re not talking about memorizing
what to say,” Slivken said. “It’s really about practicing, even to yourself,
how to talk about these things, so when people ask you’re not having to pull
out information from nowhere. It’s stuff that you’ve thought about.”

While most every facet of the conference touched on the
pandemic and what Olivere called the resulting “grand pause” in travel, the
presenters were all optimistic about the future.

U. Gary Charlwood, founder of Uniglobe and UTC, kicked off
the conference, saying, “When we overcome the current challenges that so many
face, including ourselves, we should look back on this chapter with a
resounding ‘Well done,’ all of us together.”

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Tour operator Intrepid cancels all trips through September

Citing uncertainty about when the Covid-19 pandemic will
ease enough for borders to reopen, Intrepid Travel has suspended all trips
through September.

The company announced the extended closure in a letter from
CEO James Thornton,
in which he also asked customers to take a 110% future travel credit instead of
a refund to help support the company and its sustainability mission.

On each trip the company runs, he said, the company makes
just a 4% profit. The other 96% goes to staff and suppliers around the globe.

“When we sell a trip for $2,000, we make around $80,” he
wrote. “And we put an enormous chunk of that 4% profit back into community and
environmental projects around the world that help improve livelihoods and work
towards safeguarding this planet for future generations.”

Thornton said suspensions between March and May alone led to
35,000 cancellations. Opting for credits over refunds “will help us plan for
the future, it will help us employ countless numbers of people both in our
offices and destinations, and it will enable us to offer you the best service
and trips imaginable when the world opens up again.”

Still, he emphasized that Intrepid won’t deny refunds.

“We understand that some of our customers have also lost
jobs and income as a result of the pandemic and a credit simply won’t cut it,”
he said. “We are not denying those people refunds, and their wellbeing is
extremely important to us.”

Those customers who can afford to take a credit, however,
will be “making a down payment on the kind of world you want to see when the
worst of this coronavirus epidemic has passed.”

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Lindblad Expeditions Returns $6.6 Million COVID-19 Relief Loan

Lindblad Expeditions has returned a $6.6 million loan it recently received under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small business, with CEO Sven Lindblad calling it “the right thing to do, given the environment.”

In a Washington Post editorial published Friday, the expedition cruise line’s founder said his company applied and was approved for the emergency funding due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has halted cruise operations since mid-March.

However, Lindblad Expeditions was among the many publicly traded companies to receive harsh criticism from the media and elected officials for accepting the relief funds.

According to Lindblad, the negative press “led to concerns from many of our core loyal guests who could not reconcile their view of us as a responsible, and environmentally and culturally respectful company with the idea of us taking funds from this program.”

“We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being approved for a loan that is no longer tenable for us to accept. We have decided to return the loan,” wrote Lindblad. “Our hope is that the money can be redistributed to the large number of small businesses, especially those in the travel industry—travel agencies, tour operators, app developers, reviewers, local artisans and our extensive supplier network—that most need the assistance to stay in business.”

Lindblad said that the cruise line doesn’t qualify for any other government loans and that “access to capital for a company our size is challenging and costly,” leaving it no choice but to lay off or furlough workers to protect the business.

Lindblad Expeditions employs more than 460 workers in the United States.

“As this crisis unfolds, we urge Congress and the administration to look for ways to help companies such as ours—each one of which employs hundreds of skilled American workers—to gain access to the affordable capital needed to survive,” added Lindblad.

“We hope new action is coming soon from the government to help companies such as ours that fall between the cracks of current relief efforts.”

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Tour operators seeing uptick in bookings

As some countries and states begin easing Covid-19
shutdowns, tour operators say they are seeing renewed interest in travel.

“We went through about five straight weeks of declines in
web traffic,” said Jeff Roy, executive vice president of Collette. “In the last
two weeks it has all turned positive. 

“We’re starting to see customers kind of re-engage. They are
starting to shop, research.”

Ben Perlo, managing director for G Adventures’ U.S.
operations, says it, too, is seeing a lot of activity. 

“People are booking right now through us,” he said. “And it’s
not just people rebooking. We’re getting a lot of good new bookings.”

So when and where do people want to go?

Roy says Collette still has a lot of domestic travel on the
books for July and August. But interest remains high for international travel
and the company still has a lot of Europe on the books for fall.

Top destinations for new bookings, Roy said, include
Britain, Ireland, national parks, the Canadian Rockies, Finland and South

At G Adventures, which does small-group travel, Perlo says
most new bookings are for about nine months out. Interest, he said, is
especially high for South and Central America.

“My sense is that people, one, want to go out and explore.
And two, they want to be out in nature, somewhere they can get off the beaten
path,” Perlo said.

“We are also seeing a pretty good pickup in the Galapagos,
which I found interesting. Anecdotally, I think it’s because our ships down
there are only 16-passenger ships. So we’re getting inquiries about taking the
whole boat.”

Perlo said G adventures is also gaining traction with their
tailor-made products for private groups.

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Carnival using ships to bring home its workers

Carnival Cruise Line will send nine ships to points around
the world to repatriate more than 10,000 crew members. The employees remain
onboard due to global travel restrictions that have limited their flight

Sister brands Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and
Seabourn are also repatriating crew by sailing them home.

The Carnival Spirit, Splendor and Panorama are already en
route to the Philippines and Indonesia or awaiting clearance to debark crew there.
Other ships will sail to South America, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Panama,
East Asia, South Africa and India.

Carnival said 18 ships that have been at various U.S.
homeports will rendezvous in the Bahamas over the next several days as final
plans are put in place for the journeys. Carnival will move crew from ship to
ship using water shuttles off the coast of the Bahamas.  

Carnival said all 10,000 crew members have undergone a health
check and declared fit for travel by Carnival’s medical team. They have had
their temperature taken daily and will do so again during the debarkation

Prior to Carnival’s operations pause that started on March
13, its fleet of 27 ships had nearly 29,000 crew members — 10,000 have already
repatriated via flights. Another 6,000 will be repatriated by air charters or
on the three ships that already departed. 

“Given the pause in our operations, we are committed to
getting our crew members safely home to their families,” Carnival president Christine
Duffy said in a statement. “We sincerely thank them for their hard work,
patience and understanding during this process.”

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