Categories
Destinations

Could US Virgin Islands See Tourism Boost if New Marijuana Bill Passes?

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. resubmitted a revamped version of his proposed U.S. Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Act, which would enable travelers 21 and older to purchase marijuana in the destination.

While medical marijuana has been legal in the USVI since January 2019, government delays have hindered its implementation, according to Vibe High.

The revised act would be used to generate funds for the USVI’s Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) while also helping to jumpstart the economy when the coronavirus is suppressed.

It’s a move that travel agents and advisors have mixed feelings on, but many still see how it would be able to boost tourism if it passes.

“Honestly, the USVI [and other] Caribbean Islands would all benefit from legalizing weed. People are on vacation. They are there to relax. Drinking and weed are the go-to drugs,” said Katie Kapel of Mode Travel Agency. “I am not saying I necessarily agree with that, but that is the reality of legalizing marijuana. I mean, what country wouldn’t benefit from that from a travel and tourism standpoint?”

Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations called the USVI news “all good to me,” adding that it would invariably help travel advisors make more sales while also putting a halt to “arresting people who are pretty much harmless.”

James Berglie of Be All Inclusive had a more tempered view. “I think overall our society is becoming more accepting of pot,” he said. “I don’t think it really has a big impact on where people choose to vacation, though. As we all know, in any destination just about any drug is fully available to those who will make it a priority to find them if they really want them.”

Sarah Kline of Time for Travel was more enthusiastic about the news. “I think legalizing marijuana in the USVI would be an enormous boost to that region. I live in Maryland where basically pot is legal and we have many clients ask about destinations that allow pot,” she said. “I’ve arranged trips for clients to Colorado and Alaska based on pot tourism. Jamaica is our No. 1 destination and for many, being able to buy and consume pot there is the big draw.”

In 2015, Jamaica approved a marijuana decriminalization law. Possession of two ounces or less is no longer considered an offense for which a person can be arrested, charged and tried in court.

Meanwhile, under the revised U.S. Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Act, adult-use permits of $25 would be required, and adult-use permit holders would not be permitted to grow cannabis.

Medical Cannabis Dispensaries would be allowed to sell no more than seven grams of medical cannabis, three grams of medical cannabis concentrate or 500 milligrams of medical cannabis products per day to non-residents.

For residents, the requirements would be one ounce of medical cannabis, 10 grams of medical cannabis concentrate or 2,000 milligrams of medical cannabis products.

“Consideration of this proposed bill is exigent given that the principal benefit of the revenues derived from [it] are directed to assisting the stoppage of the hemorrhaging of the GERS,” Bryan said, noting that 75 percent of the funds would be distributed GERS.

“It is also important that we utilize the present time while we are putting our economy back together in readiness for the post-COVID pandemic environment, to put this revenue mechanism in place,” he said.

All things considered, destinations that have legalized or decimalized cannabis are developing lucrative revenue streams from marijuana tourism—a case in point being Colorado.

For agents and advisors, the burgeoning marijuana tourism industry is a viable way in which to increase their revenues as well.

Arguably, it’s a win-win for travel advisors and destinations alike.

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Transport

More Help on the Way for US Airlines

U.S. airlines, shell-shocked by the global effects of the coronavirus that has cut travel demand by 90 percent, received some good news on Saturday.

The U.S. Treasury Department has released $9.5 billion in additional monies earmarked for the grants associated with the Payroll Support Program as part of the CARES Act stimulus program signed into law in March.

The package called for $25 billion in grants for payroll assistance and $25 billion in loans for the airlines.

So far, according to Reuters News Service, the government has distributed monies to 10 major domestic airlines and 83 smaller carriers.

Airlines receiving more than $100 million from the grant portion of the stimulus must repay 30 percent in low-interest loans over 10 years and issue warrants to the government equal to 10 percent of the loan amount.

All airlines had to guarantee they would not cut pay or furlough employees until at least Sept. 30 as one of the conditions of the grant money.

Reuters noted that the four largest domestic airlines – American, Delta, Southwest and United – are receiving $19.2 billion of the $25 billion in grants, with payments spread out through July.

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Categories
Cruises

STR reports Q1 stats for US hotels

The coronavirus outbreak continues to spell negative results
for the U.S. hotel industry. First-quarter numbers were down for all three key
performance metrics, according to STR. 

Year-over-year occupancy for the three-month period ending March
31 declined 15.9%, to 51.8%. Average daily rate dropped 4%, to $123.76. Revenue
per available room declined 19.3%, to $64.14.

The absolute occupancy level was the lowest for the industry
since the financial crisis in the first quarter of 2009. The year-over-year
decline in the metric was the worst for any quarter that STR has recorded.

Among the top 25 markets, San Francisco/San Mateo reported
the steepest decline in occupancy (down 24.9%), which resulted in the largest
decline in RevPAR (down 29.9%).

For the week ending April 18, things were considerably
worse. Compared with the week ending April 20, 2019, occupancy fell 64.4%, to
23.4%. ADR dropped 42.2%, to $74.53. RevPAR was down 79.4%, to $17.43. 

“Absolute occupancy and ADR were actually up slightly from
the previous week, but it is important to state that this is not any type of
early recovery sign,” said STR senior vice president of lodging insights Jan
Freitag. “Rather, more demand can be attributed to frontline workers. A perfect
example, the most notable occupancy level (33.3%) came in the New York City
market, which has welcomed an influx of workers from the medical community.”
___

Source: Business Travel News

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Categories
Cruises

Almost 80 Percent of US Hotel Rooms Sit Empty Because of COVID-19

According to new data released today by hospitality analytics company STR, and as reported by CNN, less than 22 percent of U.S. hotel rooms were occupied during the week between March 29 and April 4, 2020, representing a 68-percent drop in comparison to the same week in 2019.

The average daily rate (ADR) also decreased nearly 42 percent to $76.51 and revenue per available room (RevPAR) dropped by just under 82 percent to $16.50 when compared to the same period last year.

A continued downward trend indicates that things could continue to worsen for the hotel industry in the coming weeks. “Data worsened a bit from last week, and certain patterns were extended around occupancy,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights.

Compared with the week prior, “Economy hotels continued to run the highest occupancy, while interstate and suburban properties once again posted the top occupancy rates among location types,” Freitag said. “This shows there are still pockets of demand while more than 75 percent of the rooms around the country are empty.”

Some markets, however, are faring worse than others. The island of Oahu, Hawaii, is suffering the most drastic decrease in occupancy, down almost 91 percent from last year and with only seven percent of its hotel rooms in use during the sample week. That’s the only single-digit occupancy level to be recorded among all U.S. markets.

In the same week, hotel occupancy levels in New York City had fallen more than 79 percent from last year to just over 18 percent; and Seattle, Washington, saw its occupancy drop by 73 percent to under 20 percent.

At this point, the effects of this pandemic are palpable, and market conditions continue to prove volatile and virtually unpredictable.

With many hotels having either completely shut down their operations or functioning with skeleton crews, CNN lately reported on opinions from industry experts that many hotels simply won’t survive the unprecedented downturn.

An Oxford Economics study also forecasted that 44 percent of hotel employees across every state stand to lose their jobs because of the pandemic, with many already having been laid off or furloughed until the crisis abates.

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Categories
Travel

What Will US Travel Look Like After COVID-19?

Industry leaders are presaging that the face of the travel industry, as well as the ways in which people choose to travel, will be forever changed once we’ve reached the other side of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Opinions and forecasts cite several, sometimes disparate, sentiments believed to be brewing among the public while people remain confined to their homes under self-isolation orders.

Unsurprisingly, safety and a solid sense of security are assumed to be top-of-mind as travelers begin to venture out into the world again, post-coronavirus.

Some suppose that travelers may “test the water” cautiously, while others predict that, coming out of this lengthy isolation, people’s desire to shake off cabin fever will spur them to spring for more adventurous bucket-list-type getaways.

The prevailing opinion among the travel industry leaders we surveyed is that, initially, Americans will opt for experiences closer-to-home, concentrating on getting out-of-doors, seeking off-the-beaten-path locations, avoiding modes of mass transportation and traveling with small groups of trusted companions.

“We’re already beginning to see new trends take shape. For example, travelers will be wary of public transportation and plane travel, choosing to drive via their own cars to explore nearby destinations,” said Lisa Burns, Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council. “We also predict there will be a larger emphasis on outdoor, open-air attractions and destinations as social distancing phases out slowly.”

Dan Yates, Managing Director of Pitchup.com agreed, “Even if the government gives the green light before summer, many will be reticent to travel and will choose remote, domestic locations like campgrounds over densely populated areas, certainly avoiding transport hubs like international airports.” Yates pointed out, “We also anticipate an increased interest in low-cost travel given the economic impact Coronavirus has inflicted on so many.”

Mary Quinn Ramer, President of VisitLEX, echoed the expectation, “We anticipate many travelers will still play it relatively safe by traveling in smaller groups and choosing closer-to-home, more familiar domestic travel after restrictions are lifted.” She said, “Following this long period of social distancing, we’ll find many people revisiting the places and experiences that fill them with joy.”

Phil Hospod, owner of Rhode Island’s The Wayfinder Hotel, also believes people will largely stick to traveling via private automobile, saying, “We expect to see families, friends, and couples jumping into their cars and hitting the open road. We also predict we’ll see more travelers choosing convenient, nostalgic vacation destinations.”

Despite these near-term trend forecasts, Ramer also predicts that people will be also eager to set things in motion for trips in the farther-off future.

“After being cooped up, people will start to put plans in place for destinations that have always been on their bucket list,” she said, “and they may even be more apt to try adventure-filled experiences with their renewed sense of freedom.”

Those who do travel internationally are expected to take steps to avoid crowds, opting for off-the-beaten-path locales and also booking during shoulder season.

Tomohiro Murakami and Mika White, Founders of Tourism Exchange Japan, said that they expect Japan-bound travelers to seek out smaller, lesser-known prefectures, rather than spending the majority of their stays in over-populated cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

Reflecting upon the effects that our collective, pent-up wanderlust is having on society in lockdown, Paul McGowan, Founder of Study Hotels, said, “Above all, we must remember that travel is an antidote to all this: providing positive, aspirational feelings in the wake of our current confinement.”

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Categories
Cruises

Viking big splash US with Mississippi river ship

Viking’s long-awaited entry into the domestic river cruise
market will bring not only a new player but also a whole new type of sailing experience.

To be built in Louisiana and set to launch in August 2022,
the Viking Mississippi is the company’s first U.S. river ship and will be the
largest ship plying its storied namesake.

The ship is more like a small ocean vessel than a
traditional river ship. Viking said the Mississippi will have 193 staterooms,
all outside-facing, that can accommodate 386 guests. That’s about double the
capacity of the modern riverboat series of ships introduced in 2018 by American
Cruise Lines, which also sails four traditional paddlewheelers.

The look of Viking’s first U.S. ship

The Viking Mississippi will have 193 all-outside staterooms.
The Viking Mississippi will have 193 all-outside staterooms.
The Aquavit Terrace.
The Bow will be an outdoor seating area at the front of the ship.
Deluxe Veranda accommodations.
The Explorers' Lounge will have floor-to-ceiling windows.
The bedroom in the Explorer Suite.
The Explorer Suite's living room.
The Viking Mississippi's pool deck.
Sitting area and balcony in a Terrace Suite.
A Penthouse Junior Suite on the Viking Mississippi.
The Viking Mississippi will sail between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minn.
Entry to the main restaurant on the Viking Mississippi.

The only other domestic river company, the American Queen
Steamboat Co., sails only paddlewheelers.

The Viking Mississippi will have some of the largest
staterooms in the industry, with seven cabin categories ranging from 268 to
1,024 square feet, all with private balconies, Viking said.

While much larger than its European river ships, which are
limited by bridge heights and narrow locks, Viking said the Viking Mississippi
features the same “clean Scandinavian design as well as public spaces that are
familiar to guests but that have been reimagined for Mississippi River voyages.”

Because of its larger size, it also includes some features
of Viking’s ocean ships, including an Explorers’ Lounge with floor-to-ceiling
windows that open to the Bow, an outdoor seating area at the front of the ship.

Other amenities include an infinity plunge pool, indoor and
outdoor dining options on the sun deck, a “living room” and main dining area on
the first deck and a promenade deck on the lower level that will enable guests
to walk the entire perimeter of the ship, Viking said.

Viking has been quietly working to enter the U.S. domestic
market for years. It had been scheduled to unveil the product to a VIP audience
on April 7 in New Orleans, but like most travel, that was canceled due to the
Covid-19 outbreak. The company instead released a video announcement from its
chairman, Torstein Hagen.

“At a time when many of us are at home, looking for
inspiration to travel in the future, I am pleased to introduce a new, modern
way to explore this great river,” Hagen said. “Our guests are curious
travelers, and they continue to tell us that the Mississippi is the river they
most want to sail with us. The Mississippi River is closer to home for many of
our guests, and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s
history, commerce and culture.”

American Cruise Lines CEO Charles B. Robertson and American
Queen Steamboat Co. CEO John Waggoner have each said there is plenty of room
for a new player on U.S. rivers, which in recent years have seen booming
demand.

“Each player brings something different to the table,”
Robertson said. “[Viking is] introducing a 400-passenger ship more than two
years from now. I expect to be adding four more ships before then. … I like
the smaller boats for everything we do.”

Hagen noted in his video announcement that Viking’s ships
would be nothing like a traditional paddlewheeler. 

“There was a little ding there,” Roberson said. “We love our
paddlewheelers. It’s just one more element in that product diversity. They
offer a different experience, and people still love them.”

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Travel

Occupancies at US Hotels Are at an All Time Low


With the COVID-19 pandemic effectively halting tourism around the world, hotels are facing a rough year with extraordinarily low occupancy rates. In the U.S. specifically, STR and Tourism Economics predict that RevPAR will drop 50.6 percent this year.

a close up of a person: Concierge service desk at a hotel

STR had originally expected occupancy to only drop 0.3 percent before the United States declared a nationwide emergency. Supply and demand had been expected to increase by 2 percent.

Now, according to Travel Weekly, occupancy is expected to fall by 42.6 percent to 37.9 percent while supply and demand may drop 14.9 percent and 51.2 percent, respectively.

GALLERY: 5 ways virtual travel can alleviate anxiety 

Slide 1 of 6: These are indeed crazy times as COVID-19 continues to shake the very foundation of our world. Travel as we know it is at a hiatus. Joyously anticipated vacations have been canceled, and even future trips are up in the air. There’s no doubt these are indeed uncertain and stressful times as many of us are now sheltering in place in order to ride out the pandemic. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but also an opportunity. This too shall pass. Even the darkest days won’t last forever. Travel is a vital aspect of life that connects our past, present and future. It’s a continuum of our journey on this planet. And now, as travel is temporarily restricted, it is the perfect time to practice, employ and enjoy virtual travel to feed our souls. Here are some great ways to do that.
Slide 2 of 6: Networks like the Travel Channel feature a variety of documentaries, reality and practical shows related to travel around the United States and abroad. Additionally, there are a number of travel shows you can stream from home.  From African animal safaris and foodie adventures to ghost hunting, paranormal experiences and off-the-beaten-path journeys, these fascinating shows have always been an inspiration to travelers. They take us to destinations unknown and motivate us to reach out and discover new places. They not only encourage us to get out there and explore our big, beautiful world, but in these days of physical isolation, they provide the perfect escape. They are safe, but also fun, entertaining, ridiculous and sometimes off-the-wall. And with so many genres out there, everybody can find their favorites.
Slide 3 of 6: Reading a good book is like taking a journey. And today, it’s not even necessary to physically visit a bookstore, since we can order travel guide reference books and even fictional travel books online. The best part is that we can research the reviews, ratings and ‘look inside’ features before we hit that ‘buy’ button.  Amazon Prime members for example with a Kindle can read travel books for free. For those of us who still love to hold the written words in our hands, there’s a host of books to choose from. Readers can zero in on a city, country or region, journey through every continent on the globe or learn about the best U.S. road trips or how to discover the destinations of a lifetime.
Slide 4 of 6: There’s nothing better than believing that life will once again get back to normal, and it will. This includes travel. I don’t know how many times family and friends have said, “We need to sit down and plan that trip but we’re just so busy.” Well, now is the perfect time to do just that. Planning travel is a perfect distraction from all the mayhem around us. Instead of doing the same old, same old, this is a chance to regroup, rethink and re-evaluate. What are some of the places you’ve always wanted to visit? Life is a gift, and the world is a treasure trove filled with exotic places, fascinating cultures and unexperienced delights. Forget those routine trips to familiar destinations. Now it’s time to up your game. If you’ve been dreaming of that trip of a lifetime, this is your opportunity to start looking and planning for it. If nothing else, it provides travelers a sense of hope and a way to exert some control in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty. And when things settle down, it will be your time to make that dream trip a reality.

Slide 5 of 6: Rather than the typical recent travel posts we’re used to seeing daily on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, this is the perfect time to highlight destinations that we as travelers have loved and memories we’ve cherished. Sharing not only makes us feel good re-living those moments, but it is also a source of inspiration to others who may not have had those experiences or traveled to that destination. Those posts may, in turn, inspire us.
Slide 6 of 6: Nothing relieves anxiety and promotes family bonding like playing a game together. There are hosts of travel trivia games on the market (and perhaps even some already in your closet) that can entertain and inspire homebound adventures. For the little ones, Candy Land is a great example of fantasy travel. Ticket to Ride provides amazing cross-country train adventures across the vast divides of a host of nations and continents. It’s also a geographic learning experience while sowing the seeds for future travel destinations. Just last year, while playing the game, our grandchildren selected Paris as their next wish-list destination. Ancient philosopher Rumi once said, “Travel brings power and love back to your life.” In these anxious times, it’s important to tap into any of the powers that we can. So, ask yourself this: Where am I headed once the COVID-19 crisis is over?

Stressful Times

These are indeed crazy times as COVID-19 continues to shake the very foundation of our world.

Travel as we know it is at a hiatus. Joyously anticipated vacations have been canceled, and even future trips are up in the air. There’s no doubt these are indeed uncertain and stressful times as many of us are now sheltering in place in order to ride out the pandemic. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but also an opportunity.

This too shall pass. Even the darkest days won’t last forever. Travel is a vital aspect of life that connects our past, present and future. It’s a continuum of our journey on this planet. And now, as travel is temporarily restricted, it is the perfect time to practice, employ and enjoy virtual travel to feed our souls.

Here are some great ways to do that.

Watch Travel Shows

Networks like the Travel Channel feature a variety of documentaries, reality and practical shows related to travel around the United States and abroad. Additionally, there are a number of travel shows you can stream from home. 

From African animal safaris and foodie adventures to ghost hunting, paranormal experiences and off-the-beaten-path journeys, these fascinating shows have always been an inspiration to travelers. They take us to destinations unknown and motivate us to reach out and discover new places.

They not only encourage us to get out there and explore our big, beautiful world, but in these days of physical isolation, they provide the perfect escape. They are safe, but also fun, entertaining, ridiculous and sometimes off-the-wall. And with so many genres out there, everybody can find their favorites.

Order Travel Books

Reading a good book is like taking a journey. And today, it’s not even necessary to physically visit a bookstore, since we can order travel guide reference books and even fictional travel books online. The best part is that we can research the reviews, ratings and ‘look inside’ features before we hit that ‘buy’ button. 

Amazon Prime members for example with a Kindle can read travel books for free. For those of us who still love to hold the written words in our hands, there’s a host of books to choose from. Readers can zero in on a city, country or region, journey through every continent on the globe or learn about the best U.S. road trips or how to discover the destinations of a lifetime.

Plan Future Travel

There’s nothing better than believing that life will once again get back to normal, and it will. This includes travel. I don’t know how many times family and friends have said, “We need to sit down and plan that trip but we’re just so busy.”

Well, now is the perfect time to do just that. Planning travel is a perfect distraction from all the mayhem around us. Instead of doing the same old, same old, this is a chance to regroup, rethink and re-evaluate. What are some of the places you’ve always wanted to visit?

Life is a gift, and the world is a treasure trove filled with exotic places, fascinating cultures and unexperienced delights. Forget those routine trips to familiar destinations. Now it’s time to up your game.

If you’ve been dreaming of that trip of a lifetime, this is your opportunity to start looking and planning for it. If nothing else, it provides travelers a sense of hope and a way to exert some control in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty. And when things settle down, it will be your time to make that dream trip a reality.

Share Favorite Travel Memories on Social Media

Rather than the typical recent travel posts we’re used to seeing daily on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, this is the perfect time to highlight destinations that we as travelers have loved and memories we’ve cherished.

Sharing not only makes us feel good re-living those moments, but it is also a source of inspiration to others who may not have had those experiences or traveled to that destination. Those posts may, in turn, inspire us.

Play Travel Games

Nothing relieves anxiety and promotes family bonding like playing a game together. There are hosts of travel trivia games on the market (and perhaps even some already in your closet) that can entertain and inspire homebound adventures.

For the little ones, Candy Land is a great example of fantasy travel. Ticket to Ride provides amazing cross-country train adventures across the vast divides of a host of nations and continents. It’s also a geographic learning experience while sowing the seeds for future travel destinations. Just last year, while playing the game, our grandchildren selected Paris as their next wish-list destination.

Ancient philosopher Rumi once said, “Travel brings power and love back to your life.”

In these anxious times, it’s important to tap into any of the powers that we can. So, ask yourself this: Where am I headed once the COVID-19 crisis is over?

“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.”

While STR saw the steepest U.S. RevPAR decline in 30 years the week of March 21, Tourism Economics remains optimistic that the hotel industry will see a quick rebound once the pandemic is over. The president of Tourism Economics, Adam Sacks, predicts “the market to begin to regain its footing this summer.”

STR and Tourism Economics expect that U.S. hotel RevPAR will increase 63.1 percent in 2021, with occupancy increasing 57.3 percent to 59.7 percent and supply and demand increasing by 15.6 percent and 81.8 percent respectively.

WATCH: Health care system preps for using stadiums, hotels (provided by CBS Minnesota)


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    A 60-second virtual vacation in the Bahamas
    Find out why this stunning archipelago is a diver's paradise.

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    Man documents ‘eerie’ journey from Chicago to Las Vegas
    The United State’s 3rd busiest airport was empty and sin city a ghost town. Veuer’s Tony Spitz has the details.

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    How to decide if you’ll be traveling this summer
    A lot of people are re-evaluating their summer travel plans. Veuer’s Natasha Abellard has the story.

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Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Travel

US and Canada Close Border to Help Stem Coronavirus' Spread

Adding to already-severe travel restrictions in place on international travel, spurred by the global COVID-19 outbreak, President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cooperatively announced in separate press conferences held this morning that all non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada border will be suspended.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.
Dreamliner, Air Tahiti Nui

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Hawaii Governor David Ige and wife Dawn.

Hawaii Asks Mainlanders to Postpone Travel Plans Amid Coronavirus

Brightline train in South Florida

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MS Fram, Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten Suspends Operations

There was no indication as to when that ban might be lifted, as the fast-moving threat of the novel coronavirus continues to defy predictions.

President Trump had disclosed in an earlier tweet, ““We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected.”

Shutdown of non-essential travel means that both nations’ residents will no longer be permitted to cross the border for purposes of recreation and tourism, as part of a pragmatic approach for limiting communities’ potential exposure to the virus. Trudeau emphasized that “essential travel will continue”, which includes, he said, crossings needed to perform, “essential work and for other urgent reasons.”

Read more about the COVID-19 emergency response package here: https://t.co/u46UZe2x6E

Addressing a media audience, Trudeau also affirmed, “Our governments recognize that we preserve supply chains between both countries. These supply chains ensure that food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border. Supply chains including trucking will not be affected by this new measure.”

Just yesterday (March 17, 2020), the European Union likewise announced the closure of its external borders to non-citizens in an increasing effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Source: Read Full Article

Categories
Travel

Are US airlines offering status extensions for customers impacted by coronavirus?



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The last few weeks have been fraught with uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe. Travelers have shared myriad concerns with TPG, wondering if they should proceed with their travel plans, if award availability has improved or decreased in recent weeks, and asking if their trips are eligible for travel insurance protection. Brands across the travel industry have issued waivers offering no-fee cancellations and trip credits, from airlines to hotels to cruise lines.

Elite travelers have also begun to feel the impact of canceled business travel as the stock market fluctuates at its wildest instability since the financial downturn over a decade ago. Major trade shows, conferences and corporate events are canceled. Airlines are curtailing or eliminating routes outright, and preventative quarantines are impacting cruise ships, museums, cities, states and even entire countries.

As a result, business travelers have begun asking TPG, “What can we expect from airlines regarding our ability to maintain elite status?”

a close up of a flower: One of many direct messages to Brian Kelly from a concerned TPG reader.

Here’s what the airlines have to say

We know that some customers’ travel plans are changing due to COVID-19, which is causing some SkyMiles members to worry about earning miles, qualifying for status or completing a promotion,” a Delta spokesperson told TPG. “While this is an evolving situation, members can rest assured that we’ve got their back.”

American Airlines and Southwest had similar sentiments to share, with spokespeople from each company telling TPG that they are aware of their customer’s concerns, and will communicate directly with their elite travelers as the situation progresses.

Here’s what the experts say

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) anticipates that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt across the airline industry for a long time to come.

Airline share prices have dropped by nearly 25% — significantly more than during the SARS outbreak of 2003. Industry analysts believe the commercial aviation industry will take a global revenue loss of between $63 billion and $113 billion, according to an updated IATA report published on March 5. A previous analysis published two weeks prior on Feb. 25 had approximated the loss at just $29.3 billion, based on insights gleaned from when the outbreak was primarily confined to China and its associated markets.

New York-based Cowen, a research firm focused on business insights and analytics, does not believe that airlines will make a decision on extending elite status this early on in the year. 

“Given how many companies have asked their employees not to travel or have banned travel altogether, we expect the airlines do nothing in the short term” about extending elite status qualifications, said Helane Becker, Cowen’s senior research analyst covering airlines and air-related industries.

“You are asking about a decision that does not have to be made until later in the year,” Becker told TPG. “The key question is duration. If this virus and ban on travel lasts until the fourth quarter of 2020, for example, then we expect the airlines will waive requirements and let everyone keep their 2020 status for 2021. If this is short lived — say one month or six weeks — then there might be enough time for people to continue to earn their status. In our view, it comes down to duration.”

But airline industry analyst Robert W. Mann, Jr. takes a slightly more customer-centric viewpoint on the matter. “Given [that] many airlines extend elite status for life events, this [pandemic] may be viewed as comparable,” Mann told The Points Guy. “Airlines need the continuing loyalty of their most important few customers, even if events occur that interrupt travel plans or propensity. Loyalty ought to be a two-way street.”

Mann’s insights regarding customer loyalty are as important as they are hard-earned: Mann previously served as an executive at American Airlines, Pan Am and TWA, where he either designed or directed each airline’s loyalty program. Today, he consults airlines on industry trends and insights. 

Airline consultant Mark Ross-Smith cautions against comparing the airline and hotel industries, pointing out that the two businesses are run very differently despite falling under the mutual category of travel. As such, Ross-Smith, who previously headed up the loyalty program for Malaysia Airlines, believes the approach to the question of status extension should be handled with different considerations as well.

“Choosing the wrong approach based on the program structure type can be costly,” Ross-Smith recently stated on his site, Travel Data Daily. “Or put more bluntly – gifting or to extend elite status to the wrong customer at the wrong time will have disastrous consequences for airlines on forward bookings and future ticket revenue.”

In other words, airlines that already are hurting from lost revenue will only worsen the issue by extending unnecessary benefits in this time of crisis.

Ross-Smith sums up the issue by saying that there is no blanket “right” or “wrong” answer. Rather, each airline will have to evaluate its individual business strategy to determine the right move at the right time.  “There are two certainties, no matter the path,” Ross-Smith said: A percentage of a brand’s customer base will stop spending with that airline, while another percentage of that customer base will continue spending with the airline.

“Knowing which percentage and which segments of the database will swing more business your way, and which segments will spend less is the key to steering a successful elite status extension program in times of crisis,” Ross-Smith concluded in his analysis.

Still, business is never just about the numbers. “Airlines should not underestimate the PR damage they will suffer if they do not show some flexibility,” said Henry Harteveldt, president and industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “Our 2019 US traveler research shows that only 22% of U.S. airline passengers are loyal to at least one airline. If airlines don’t show some willingness to compromise on elite re-qualification, they risk seeing that number sink even more.”

That being said, Harteveldt shares Becker’s opinion that it’s too early in the year to tell what airlines will — or should — do. “If the virus starts to abate in May or June, it leaves passengers about half a year to re-qualify,” Harteveldt told TPG. “But if the virus remains a threat, and if organizations continue to restrict business travel past July, I believe airlines will have to re-examine re-qualification criteria – unless an airline intentionally wants to thin certain elite-tier ranks.”

Bottom line

As of yet, none of the major U.S. carriers are offering elite status concessions as of yet. But we’re not even a quarter of the way through 2020 at this point in time, and there are many months ahead for travelers to beef up their mileage count for the year.

Spring is coming, and respiratory diseases like the coronavirus and common flu tend to die down with the advent of warmer weather. Hopefully that’s true for COVID-19 as well. If that happens, it’s very likely that both business and personal travel will pick back up again, and elite travelers no doubt will find plenty of sale fares and opportunities to use their travel credits toward building up status for 2021.

“With fewer airlines today than when 9/11 or SARS [occurred], two events that had massive impact on air travel, frequent fliers need to remember that airlines don’t have to be as flexible or generous as they may have been in the past,” travel industry analyst Harteveldt told TPG. “But all it will take is for one of the ‘core four’ airlines — American, Delta, Southwest, and United — to relax elite-tier re-qualification criteria, and the others will likely follow in order to remain competitive.”

Featured photo by Zach Griff for The Points Guy.

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