Vicki Freed Royal Caribbean International

Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of sales and trade support and service, has been reaching out to the travel advisor community in a variety of ways amid the Covid-19 pandemic, including calls, emails and her weekly “coffee talk” webcast. Senior editor Jamie Biesiada spoke with Freed about the importance of communication as the travel industry copes with the impact of the crisis.

Q: How have you been connecting with travel advisors?

A: I’m dropping them notes in the mail, I’ve been sending them emails. I’m just trying to connect with people so that when we get through this, they’ll remember that human connection.

A lot of them just need guidance: What should I be doing now? How should I be marketing? Should I be marketing? How do I keep my business alive? I think they view me as a resource, somebody who’s been in this business a long time. I’m a pretty calm, level-headed person, so I think people say, “You know, she won’t get emotional, she’ll be able to help guide us through these challenging times,” or at least be a sounding board.

I’ve been giving travel partners some messaging on how I would message during these times. I wouldn’t be doing a hard sell. I would just be reminding people to be healthy, stay healthy, and that we, too, shall get past this. And then, if you do decide that you’re going to need a break post-Covid-19, I’ll be here, whether it’s 2020, 2021 or beyond.

Q: How have you been using video in your outreach efforts?

A: The purpose of my coffee chats, it’s really [travel advisors’] hour. What’s on their mind? However, I do spend the first 12 minutes giving them an update on maybe [the cancellation program] Cruise With Confidence, or last week it was [agency assistance program] RCL Cares, or how to find your FCCs [future cruise credits]. An insight. And then I try to give them two little nuggets of something they can look forward to in their business. It’s really the rebuilding of their business. It’s something that they can take with them to gain some knowledge. I don’t want to keep rehashing where we’re at, because where we’re at isn’t going to change. We need to look forward.

We talked about hosting virtual cruise nights a couple weeks ago, and I got a lot of feedback on it. People said, “I tried it, it was excellent, Vicki.” And other people said, “I really want to try it, but I don’t get it; give me the step by step.” So I showed them the different platforms and what the costs were, and then I showed them the six steps to launching an “armchair traveler” program or a “stay vacation” program or “let’s dream about vacation” program.

Q: What tools are you giving advisors for connecting with clients? I’ve seen some nice Royal Caribbean photos used as video call backdrops.

A: Yes, and we showed them how to get that. We said, ‘Look, you could have Perfect Day  at CocoCay in the background, you can have a ship in the background, and it’ll make you look a little bit more professional. It’ll give people the color and the excitement.’

Q: Have you started looking at restructuring agreements with travel agencies or offering incentives at this point?

A: It’s a little too soon to start that big journey, but what we have done is we are protecting commissions on the final paid bookings if canceled, whether they’re electing to cancel on their own because it’s Cruise With Confidence or whether we cancel the sailing. So we are helping the travel partner by giving them their full commission. Even though this costs our company a lot of money and we didn’t generate any revenue because the sailings were canceled or the people canceled on us, we feel that, in the long haul, we need these travel partners to be successful, to be financially strong. So we’re doing our part.

Q: I’ve noticed you’re still sending your emails with Vicki’s Tips every day, messages of inspiration, business ideas and more.

A: I’m trying to just be in their inbox, make it relevant to the times we’re in right now.

So many travel partners are home-based. Some of them are very isolated. Some of them might be living alone. I just want to be somebody who they know is a resource to them and somebody that cares about them. Really, that’s my goal. I do care about these travel partners. My whole career has been about serving travel advisors.

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Caribbean Resorts and Destinations Expand COVID-19 Restrictions

Top Caribbean hotels, resorts and destinations followed through with wider closures and shutdowns as COVID-19 spreads globally. The closures come as more destinations across the tourism-reliant region take action to prevent increasing their own coronavirus infection levels.

Two signature Caribbean resort operators were among the most recent COVID-19 victims. Nassau’s Baha Mar resort will suspend operations at 3 p.m. on March 25 until further notice, said company officials in a statement. “We will be working closely with our nation’s government to ensure that we do all we can to support our associates financially over the coming days,” said officials.

“As the global community grapples with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the safety, and well-being of our staff, partners, guests and citizens of The Bahamas are our top priority,” the statement adds.

“During this time, we will be working with reservation holders to refund or reschedule planned stays” at the properties three hotels, the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, Rosewood Baha Mar and SLS Baha Mar. Officials are encouraging guests to “contact your travel professional or the resort directly.”

“The weeks ahead are sure to be trying,” the statement reads, “but we look forward with hope and anticipation to a time when we will welcome our guests and associates back to our property for the spectacular experiences we are known for around the world.”

Sandals Resorts will close its properties between March 30 and May 15, 2020 due to COVID-19, said Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the all-inclusive resort company’s chairman. Sandals operates 19 resort properties in Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos.

The firm’s Beaches Resorts properties will also close during the period, and the company will not accept new reservations beyond March 23. “Never could we have imagined the impact the current global health crisis would have on the world,” said Stewart.

“Now more than ever, the safety and health of our valued guests and team members is of paramount importance.” Stewart said the combination of “recent global travel warnings, coupled with airline carrier cancellations” led to the decision to close the resorts.

Stewart also pointed out that Caribbean destinations and tourism companies have frequently dealt with adversity and have proven their ability to rebound. “The Caribbean is resilient, said Stewart. “We have always come back better, stronger and more passionate than ever. We promise this time will be no exception.

He added, “Our team will be reaching out to you to assist with rescheduling your plans. This way, you can spend less time trying to reach us and more time with loved ones. We will take this time to make further enhancements to our resorts. Soon come back.”

Jamaica’s iconic luxury resort Half Moon also announced it would close temporarily due to COVID-19 restrictions. “We recognize the need to do all we can to ensure the health and safety for our entire Half Moon family: guests, service professionals and community,” said company officials.

“Therefore, we have taken the difficult decision to temporarily close the resort” through May 1, 2020, officials said. Half Moon’s reservations team and website however “remain open for bookings beyond this date range.”

“The company continues to liaise with the government on this situation,” officials add. “We are committed to reopening Half Moon as soon as it is prudent to do so.”

Destination Report

Several Caribbean countries, meanwhile, updated policies and enhanced preventative measures as the illness spread.

The Turks and Caicos has no confirmed coronavirus cases, said officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Tourist Board, yet still implemented new regulations that affect travel to the destination. All air and seaports have been closed and no visitors will be permitted to enter or transit through the Turks and Caicos for 21 days.

Turks and Caicos native and resident returning to the territory are exempt from the border closure, as are emergency, cargo and medical flights and ships. Residents will be required to self-quarantine upon their return.

Martinique has extended earlier-announced restrictions by closing Aimé Césaire International Airport to all international flights on March 23. The same regulations apply to the four other French overseas Caribbean islands of Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Guadeloupe and French Guyana.

In addition Martinique’s hotels and villa rentals “are bringing their activities to a close, while waiting for the departure of their last guests,” Martinique Tourism Authority officials said. New guests will be prohibited and amenities including pools, spa and other activities have been closed.

Additionally, the Martinique Port Authority has halted all cruise calls scheduled for the season and “all maritime transportations are suspended.” Restaurants and bars across the country are closed, and public transportation, along with “all businesses” excepting supermarkets, banks and pharmacies are also closed.

Anguilla also announced a temporary border closure despite a lack of confirmed coronavirus cases. The country closed its air and seaports to “all passenger movements” for 14 days on March 20 “in light of the most recent global developments,” according to a joint statement from the island’s governor and premier.

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Some Caribbean resorts decide to suspend operations coronavirus

As Caribbean countries ramp up travel restrictions in
response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the region is seeing a wave of
temporary resort closures.

Club Med will suspend operations at its Club Med Punta Cana
and Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda resorts in the Dominican Republic from
March 19 to May 1.  

Excellence Resorts will temporarily close the Excellence
Punta Cana from March 20 to June 5. Excellence said all guests who were
scheduled to stay during this period can be accommodated at the Excellence El
Carmen in Punta Cana.  

Both moves come as the D.R. has suspended the arrival of all incoming passengers and has
effectively closed its borders for an initial period of 15 days. The Dominican Republic had
previously suspended flights to and from China, South Korea, Iran and Europe.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Club Med is shuttering the Club
Med Columbus Isle in the Bahamas between March 21 and May 1. 

The Bahamas said on March 16 that the country is prohibiting
entry to any foreign nationals who have traveled in the U.K., Ireland or Europe
in the last 20 days. That restriction is in addition to the Bahamian government’s
March 5 decision to deny entry to any nonresident who has visited China, South
Korea, Iran or Italy in the last 20 days.

Meanwhile, Jamaican resort Half Moon has similarly announced
plans to shut down from March 18 to May 1, citing the Jamaican government’s
recent enactment of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers from
countries where there is local spread of the coronavirus.

The Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas advised future
guests arriving through April 12 to postpone their trips. For guests already at
the resort, Bolongo advised them to book earlier flights home while they are still

In Jamaica, the Riu Negril, Riu Palace Jamaica and Riu
Montego Bay are closing March 19 through April.

Also in Jamaica, Iberostar Hotels plans to consolidate
guests at its three properties in Montego Bay (Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, Rose
Hall Beach and Rose Hall Suites) to two properties.

In the Dominican Republic, the Royalton Punta Cana and
Hideaway at Royalton Punta Cana have relocated their guests to the Royalton
Bavaro Resort & Spa in Punta Cana with a room upgrade based on

In St. Maarten, the Sonesta Ocean Point Resort and Sonesta
Maho Beach Resort will close from March 22 to March 31 due to
government-imposed restrictions on travel to the destination.

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