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Cruises

Travel Leaders Network cancels 2020 conference

Travel Leaders Network has
canceled its 2020 EDGE conference.

The conference was originally
going to be held June 6-9 at the Universal Orlando Resort.

The network plans to host its
EDGE 2021 conference in May at the same venue.

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How Suppliers Are Preparing for the Travel Comeback

In preparation for the recovery of the travel industry once the coronavirus is surpassed, suppliers are debuting an array of incentives and special offers to help agents jumpstart their sales.

“What we have really been seeing from suppliers is their flexibility with policies, and adding incentives to get clients to go for future travel credits instead of canceling everything outright for a refund,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise. “For example, many large suppliers are offering vouchers for 125 percent of the trip cost for future travel. Cruise lines are also doing the same with incentivizing additional onboard credits.”

She noted that she is also “seeing extended ‘travel dates’ offered by suppliers. Many are now offering December 2021 as the expiration for future travel credits. This is huge,” she said. “Incentivizing these future travel credits for clients not only helps them with extra perks, but it also protects our commission. It really is a win-win all around.”

“The ‘battle cry’ of all cruise lines is under the generic umbrella of ‘Cruising With Confidence,’” said James Ferguson of Travel Edge, adding that in some cases lines are 50 percent off the cruise fare for the second guest.”

Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel added: “Vendors are also providing webinars and online training about products to recommend once the pandemic subsides.”

Here is a handful of supplier offers that have been recently unveiled:

Playa Hotels & Resorts introduced a “Once-In-A-Lifetime-Savings” plan, which provides access to the company’s lowest-ever rates with a 100 percent refund cancellation window.

Vacationers who canceled stays at the Curacao Marriott Beach due to the coronavirus can rebook with such perks as $100 food-and-beverage credits and complimentary cancellations up to 24 hours before arrival.

As reported, Regency Seven Seas Cruises debuted “Regent Reassurance” for trips scheduled now through September 30, 2020. Travelers who have paid in full have the option to cancel up to 48 hours prior to sailing and receive a 100 percent future cruise credit, which can be applied to any new booking within one year on any future Regent voyage sailing between now and December 31, 2022.

AmaWaterways unveiled “Travel Waiver Plus, which provides cancellations for any reason and includes future cruise credits covering cancellation penalties.

Crystal implemented a temporary cancellation policy that enables guests to cancel up to seven days prior to sailing, along with 100 percent future cruise credit on its ocean, river, yacht and expedition sailings.

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CDC Issues New Guidelines for Cruise Lines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines for cruise lines in the time of coronavirus (COVID-19), recommending that cruise travelers with no or mild symptoms disembark as quickly and safely as possible at U.S. ports of entry.

As of April 4, CDC says that cruise lines must be responsible for transporting passengers directly to their homes via chartered or private transportation as commercial flights and public transportation can’t be used.

For disembarking cruise ship passengers who feel well, CDC recommends requesting a face mask or cloth face covering from their cruise line and keeping their face covered from the time they leave their cabin to the time they arrive home. “To the extent possible, do not remove the face covering until you get to your final destination,” CDC said.

“CDC realizes that it might be confusing for travelers when recommendations change during the COVID-19 pandemic response. The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and globally is constantly changing. We will continue to evaluate and update our recommendations for returning cruise ship travelers as the situation evolves,” the agency said.

According to CDC, cruise lines are responsible for transporting all ill or infected patients and communicating with the CDC Quarantine Station along with state and local health departments as well as arranging chartered or private transportation that can be properly sanitized for disembarking travelers.

Cruise companies are also advised to provide procedural/surgical masks, cloth face coverings or non-medical masks such as a bandanna to all passengers and crew and have them wear it during disembarkation; transport to and during flights and during ground transportation to their final destination.

“This will, unfortunately, result in further delays in disembarkation and onward travel for many guests as we work through this complex, challenging and unfortunate situation,” Princess Cruises said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We express continued gratitude to our guests for their patience and understanding as we work to adapt to these new requirements.”

Cruise lines around the world have extended temporary suspensions of operations into May amid unprecedented travel restrictions and slumping demand. Nonetheless, some unfortunate passengers remain stranded at sea as local governments turn them away.

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When and How Will Cruising Return?

While the entire travel industry has ground to a halt from the coronavirus pandemic, the cruise industry was hit especially hard as multiple ships were turned away from ports while passengers and crew fell ill and even died.

“COVID-19 has been a PR disaster for the cruise industry,” said Ben Cordwell, a travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

How does the cruise industry recover and regain its momentum?

“Since the cruise industry pivoted from passenger shipping to leisure cruising in the 1970s, cruise lines have not faced a full-scale halt of operations like they face today due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Robert J. Kwortnik, an associate professor at Cornell University’s Hotel School, who studies tourism with a focus on the leisure cruise industry. “This situation truly is unprecedented, which means the response to it will have to be unprecedented as well.”

First, the cruise companies need to secure the finances needed to keep the core operations running – which they’re already doing. Kwortnik said they also need to prepare logistically for re-crewing ships when they are ready to resume sailing, especially with travel restrictions and severely reduced numbers of flights.

They’ll also have to figure out how to weed out sick passengers and disembark ill and healthy guests if the need ever arises again, he said. It likely will mean more detailed health forms before boarding and thermal scans to check temperatures.

“Stronger or different health screenings may become the new normal for the cruise industry, much like the more involved TSA screenings implemented after the 9/11 tragedy in the United States,” Kwortnik said.

Flexible cancellation policies also may be required so people don’t lose all they paid if they cancel at the last minute due to illness. “Reducing, and ideally eliminating, the possibility of sick passengers getting on a cruise ship will require both more vigilance at the port and the removal of disincentives for ill travelers to show up at the port in the first place,” he said.

But the biggest challenge likely will be convincing people to take a cruise. Steeply discounted fares will help, at least with avid cruisers eager to return to the seas. But many travelers will need to be convinced that ships are disinfected and clean.

“Veteran cruisers know how seriously cruise lines take onboard cleaning and hand-washing to minimize the threat of norovirus. But coronavirus is very different,” Kwortnik said. “Moreover, the important new-to-cruise segment doesn’t have experience with the extraordinary sanitation measures used by cruise lines to minimize the threat of illness spreading onboard. While it’s reasonable for the cruise lines to be reluctant to discuss a common objection to cruising — the fear of getting sick — it may now be necessary to move the question of health/sanitation more front and center as part of a public awareness campaign, especially for travel agents and the new-to-cruise market.”

In fact, Crystal Cruises released a video by President and CEO Tom Wolber, in which he said the luxury line enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols for ships, terminals and vehicles transporting guests. Carnival Cruise Line also detailed its more rigorous cleaning standards on its website.

When cruising does resume, travel advisors will be essential in helping the cruise industry recover, just as they were in building the industry since the 1970s.

“Travel agents may never have been more important to the cruise industry than now. Agents will be key sources of information for cruise education as the cruise lines make operational changes to protect passenger safety, and of course for information about cruises sailing again, itinerary changes, reservation and cancelation changes, etc.,” Kwortnik said. “Communicating and incentivizing the travel trade will be vital to the industry’s reemergence. Travel agents are trusted by their clients, and this trust will be critical as travelers decide if and when it’s safe to cruise for the first time or to cruise again.

“Cruising is an outstanding vacation value, and the industry will come out of this pandemic stronger and all the more focused on guest safety and security,” Kwortnik said. “There’s no reason travel agents shouldn’t be confident to continue selling cruises to their clients and to recommend cruises for customers who have never sailed before.”

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Fort Lauderdale mayor underlines that Holland America needs a Zaandam plan

Florida officials have been debating whether two Holland
America Line ships — one with passengers that have tested positive for Covid-19 — should be allowed to dock at Port
Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. 

One of the most vocal has been Dean Trantalis, the mayor of
Fort Lauderdale, who has gone on Twitter and television to voice concerns that
the 1,243 guests and 1,247 crew members on the Zaandam and Rotterdam would
descend upon a city that already has its own Covid-19 cases.  In an interview with Travel Weekly on Tuesday, Trantalis
said he was frustrated that no plan was in place to receive the ships, which
were on track to arrive in Fort Lauderdale from South America as early as Wednesday.

Port Everglades said Holland America is working on a plan to
be submitted to the Port Everglades Unified Command for review. The ships will
not be allowed into U.S. waters until the plan is approved.

As of March 30, four passengers who had been on the Zaandam
had died. Another 76 guests and 117 crew members have influenza-like symptoms.
Eight have tested positive for Covid-19, according to a letter from Holland
America president Orlando Ashford on Monday. 

“It was my concern that the cruise ship company was going to
let these people out on their own and go back home or wherever they’re going to
go to without any requirement that they either be quarantined or that they be
treated medically, which would put our population here at great risk,” he said.
 

Trantalis said he had gone to the Broward County Commission
meeting on Tuesday and that no plan had yet been agreed upon to treat sick
passengers and quarantine healthy ones. Broward County oversees Port
Everglades, which is in Fort Lauderdale. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he does not think the ships
should be allowed in Florida, which has about 6,700 cases of coronavirus. 

“We think it’s a mistake to be putting people into South
Florida right now given what we are dealing with,” he said during a press
conference on Monday. “So we would like to have medical personnel simply
dispatched to that ship and the cruise lines can hopefully arrange for that,
tend to folks who need medical attention.” 

The matter has caught the attention of the White House. 

Trantalis said that he had received a phone call from a
staff member at the White House who told him to be “rest assured” that they
were working on a plan but could not publicly talk about it. The White House
did not respond to an email request for comment, but President Trump talked
about the ships during his Tuesday press conference.

When asked about the Holland America situation, he brought
up the Diamond Princess, which in February had a coronavirus outbreak with
3,711 onboard and was eventually allowed to dock at the Japanese port of
Yokohama and remain in quarantine. 

“People turned those ships away. There was a ship, as you
know in a certain part of Asia, and from port to port, no one would take it but
in the meantime you have people dying on the ship or at least very sick but
they’re dying on the ship,” Trump said. 

Turning to the Zaandam and Rotterdam, Trump said he planned to
speak to DeSantis.

“I’m going to do what’s right not only for us but for
humanity,” the president said. “These are two big ships and they have a lot of very sick
people. I’ll be speaking to the governor.” 

The Zaandam had been on a South American voyage that
originated in Argentina on March 7. It was supposed to end on March 21 in Chile
but got turned away from ports where it had originally had permission to dock.
The last time passengers have been off the ship is March 14.

The Holland America ships have not been the only ones that
have had to search for ports that would take them in after passengers and crew
members tested positive for coronavirus. 

The Grand Princess sailed off the coast of San Francisco for
days with 21 cases of coronavirus before finally being able to dock March 9 in
the Port of Oakland. More than 100 people ended up testing positive for the
virus and two passengers later died.

Once the ship docked, a plan was in place to get treatment
for the sick people and take healthy ones to nearby military bases for a 14-day
quarantine. 

Trantalis said he would welcome the ships if a similar
strategy were taken. 

“We have military bases here. We have hospitals here. We
have the ability to accommodate those folks but no one is talking about that,”
he said. “That’s the proper protocol and that’s the answer to the situation.”

Trantalis said he’s not worried that the opposition from so
many Florida officials to the ships docking in Fort Lauderdale will cause a
rift with the cruise industry. Port Everglades is one of the most active ports
for commercial cruise ships, bringing tourists and their dollars to the city.
Trantalis said he knows how important the industry is to the city. 

“We’re here to embrace the travelers. We appreciate the
travelers who come here. We thank them for making Fort Lauderdale their
destination,” he said. “People from all over the country, all over the world
see Fort Lauderdale as a place to come and visit and have a good time. But
under these circumstances we’re living in different times right now and we have
to be very careful how we respect not just the passenger but also the people
who live in our community and to ensure that we don’t put anyone at further
risk than they are already.”

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Some hotels use crowdfunding to help furloughed employees

With a staggering number of service workers laid off or
furloughed, some hotels have turned to
crowdfunding to help them. 

Gofundme has seen a major surge in activity during the Covid-19 crisis. The company said coronavirus-related
campaigns on the site jumped 60%, from 22,000 to 35,000 campaigns, between
March 20 and March 24.

Lifestyle hospitality group SBE launched a Gofundme
on March 20, with founder and CEO Sam Nazarian kicking off the campaign with a
$65,000 contribution and the company promising to match every additional dollar
donated. 

Proceeds from SBE’s Gofundme will be used to create care
packages for employees in Los Angeles and Miami. Packages are to include nonperishable
food items, household essentials and a $50 gift card. SBE said it “aims to make
these packages available every week as long as possible.”

To date, SBE had raised approximately $113,400 of its
$250,000 goal.

The majority of SBE’s restaurants and entertainment venues in
North America are temporarily closed and several of its Miami-area hotels are,
too (Delano South Beach, SLS South Beach, Shore Club, SLS LUX Brickell and Hyde
Midtown). The SLS Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas is also shuttered.

Boutique hotel brand The Standard launched The Standard
Stands Together Relief Fund on Gofundme on March 22, with proceeds to “benefit and support team members who have lost
their jobs due to the effect of Covid-19.” The Standard recently closed its New
York, Miami and London hotels.

“Our employees, like many others in the service industry,
tend to live paycheck to paycheck,” said Standard Hotels CEO Amar Lalvani in a
letter. “Most are hourly, often relying on tips. Many are immigrants without
family infrastructure here. Few have savings. Most will not be able to pay rent
next month. Without relief, many will leave our cities in a few months
altogether.”

As of March 31, The Standard had raised around $110,400 of
its $200,000 goal.

Boutique chainlet Ace Hotel Group launched the Ace Family
Fund,
achieving nearly $22,000 of its $500,000 goal since launching March 22. 

The company said it has temporarily suspended operations at hotels
in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, London and Palm Springs, Calif. 

New York-based LTH Hospitality, which operates the Vine and
L’Amico restaurants at the Kimpton Hotel Eventi, has established an Employee
Relief Fund on Gofundme.
The hotel and both restaurants have closed. 

Similarly, Washington D.C.-based chef Colin Clark has rolled
out a Gofundme
to support furloughed employees at his Via Sophia and Earth N Eats restaurants.
Via Sophia is in D.C.’s Hamilton Hotel. 

“People who work in restaurants almost universally lack the ‘work-life
balance’ thing,” said Clark in a statement. “Whether by choice or necessity,
and usually it’s at least a little of both, we live to work, and nothing is
more brutal than a slow shift or a slow month or being stuck at home.”

According to Pam Loprest, a senior fellow and labor
economist for the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, the
proliferation of employee relief funds indicates that many service workers live
“so close to the edge.”

“A very large percentage of hospitality workers are lower-wage
workers,” said Loprest. “It’s commendable that employers are trying to help
their employees, but it’s also evidence that so many people, even in what was a
good economy, have no fallback. We talk about businesses not having any profit
margins, but a lot of families don’t have any margins at all.”

David Madland, a senior fellow and a senior adviser to the
American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress, echoed Loprest’s
concerns, calling the state of hospitality workforce “precarious.”

“There’s research [from the Federal Reserve] that shows that
about 40% of Americans would have trouble coming up with just $400 in an
emergency,” said Madland. “On the one hand, it is heartwarming that companies
are actively trying to help their employees in times of need. On the other
hand, however, this is shocking, and [shows that] the conditions for workers in
many industries, especially the service sector and travel industry, are totally
inadequate.”

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Over a Dozen Cruises Still Stranded at Sea

Since March 13, all cruise operations from U.S. ports have been suspended in a decision made responding to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, this left nearly 20 ships stranded at sea struggling to find a safe port.

In a statement to CNN, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) confirmed that about 5.4 percent of its fleet was still at sea.

Several of the stranded ships are currently carrying passengers. Zaandam of Holland America Line was denied by several ports after confirming that 73 guests and 116 crew members were experiencing influenza-like symptoms.

Healthy guests were transferred to the Rotterdam, and both ships are currently making their way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where they are expected to dock on March 30. Holland America Line has confirmed four deaths aboard Zaandam.

A majority of the ships are experiencing less panicked voyages than Zaandam, however, as many of them have had no reported cases of coronavirus.

These include Arcadia of P&O Cruises UK, Coral Princess and Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2 of Cunard, MSC Magnifica of MSC Cruises, Celebrity Eclipse of Celebrity Cruises and Columbus and Vasco de Gama of Cruise & Maritime Voyages.

The ships are all currently en route to different ports that have permitted them to dock.

Some ships that are still at sea were at least able to evacuate their passengers before setting sail once again. These include Costa Magica and Costa Favolosa of Costa Cruises, Azura of P&O Cruise UK and Hanseatic Nature and Europa of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Several crew members aboard Costa Magica and Costa Favolosa have tested positive for coronavirus.

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Four passengers die on the Zaandam

Holland America said that four “older” passengers have died
on the Zaandam, as the ship continues sailing to Fort Lauderdale. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are
doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” Holland
America said in a statement.

A two-week South American cruise that departed Argentina on
March 7 has turned into an ordeal, with ill passengers aboard and South
American ports refusing to let the Zaandam dock.

On Thursday, several patients with respiratory symptoms were
tested for Covid-19 after the tests were delivered by another ship, the
Rotterdam. Two of them tested positive. 

The Zaandam is now off the coast of Panama, transferring
healthy guests to the Rotterdam. Health screenings are being conducted before guests
are transferred, and priority is being given to passengers in inside cabins and
guests over age 70. Once aboard Rotterdam, all
guests are to stay in their staterooms until disembarkation. 

Holland America says 53 guests and 85 crew members have
reported to the Zaandam’s medical center with influenza-like symptoms. The
Zaandam has 1,243 guests and 586 crew members onboard. 

The Zaandam rendezvoused with the Rotterdam at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday. Panamanian officials gave them permission to transfer medical
supplies and medical staff. 

On March 22, when several guests reported to the medical
center with flu-like symptoms, all guests were quarantined to their staterooms.
On Thursday, all guests and crew members were given face masks. 

No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas,
Chile. 

Other ports in Chile and Peru did not allow the ship to
disembark, though the ship was able to refuel in Valparaiso, Chile, and pick up
provisions.  

The ship is trying to get approval from Panamanian
authorities to transit the Panama Canal for a sailing to Fort Lauderdale. The ship is due to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, but does not have permission to disembark.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, there are 305 American aboard the Zaandam. 

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Hilton Increases Layoffs, Halts Dividend Payments and Stock Buybacks

With global travel at a near-standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hilton Worldwide has announced the enactment of some dramatic actions “to significantly reduce expenses and preserve liquidity,” which will impact both its workforce and investors, in order to preserve the core of its business until the crisis passes.

With all-but-essential travel paused around the world, Hilton said that its “operations have been suspended across many managed and franchised hotels, and those hotels that remain open have reduced services for guests because of decreased occupancy levels.” On March 10, the company had already issued a statement withdrawing its formerly released 2020 financial outlook in view of the novel coronavirus’ cascading economic effects.

The major hotel operator said in a statement on March 26 that it will now be eliminating all non-essential expenses, including capital expenditures, halting share buyback and suspending payment of investor dividends for the time being. Other policies being implemented at the corporate level include:

—Hilton President and CEO, Chris Nassetta, will forgo his salary for the rest of 2020

—Hilton’s Executive Committee will take a 50-percent pay cut while the crisis continues

—Many of Hilton’s corporate Team Members will be furloughed for up to 90 days or be given reduced schedules, beginning April 4, 2020.

—Furloughed corporate Team Members will retain their health benefits and will also be eligible for unemployment benefits during this time

—Corporate Team Members who are not furloughed will have their pay cut by up to 20 percent for the duration of the crisis

“While difficult to make, these decisions will allow the company to weather the current crisis and emerge in the best position to welcome back its team members and guests when it is safe again to travel,” Hilton wrote.

Hilton is partnering with leading companies including @Albertsons, @Amazon, @CVSPharmacy and @Walgreens to connect our Team Members whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19 with hundreds of thousands of immediate opportunities. Learn more: https://t.co/yiEjqCaZm0 pic.twitter.com/2F0OqrcdUS

During this challenging period, Hilton is, however, actively working to provide its furloughed workforce with alternative options for employment during this tough period, working with over 30 leading companies such as Albertsons, Amazon, CVS, Walgreens, Lidl and Sunrise Senior Living to offer direct access to temporary jobs via the Hilton Workforce Resource Center. These companies are among those currently coping with a spike in demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hilton has also activated its Team Member Assistance Fund to aid its staff members who may have suffered directly, or have family who’ve suffered directly from the coronavirus. The company is also contributing to the cause by rerouting food from its hotels to local pantries, providing housing for first responders and healthcare workers, and, through the Hilton Effect Foundation, supporting several outside organizations that are working to fighting the spread of COVID-19 and aiding affected communities.

For more information, visit Hilton.com.

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Ensemble to Reduce Workforce During COVID-19 Crisis

Ensemble Travel Group said it will reduce its workforce temporarily by approximately 50 percent in the U.S. and Canada, as a result of “the complete disruption to the travel industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“This is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions a CEO has to make,” said David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group.

“While Ensemble is a solid company, there is just no way to minimize the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on our industry in such a short period of time. Our employees are an integral part of our business, but the reality of the moment is that life as we knew it is on pause, with travel being one of the hardest-hit economic sectors. Our hope and intention are that this is a temporary situation while the world stays home to flatten the curve and that as life returns to normal in the next few months, our company will be able to quickly resume regular operations.”

“We know this is an incredibly stressful time for everyone,” Harris added. “Of course, we hope that everyone heeds the advice of the professionals and stays safe and healthy. At the same time, I know we all look towards brighter days for our industry and our company and hope that these difficult but necessary measures will help position us to recover as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Ensemble Travel Group is a member-owned organization of about 850 independent travel agencies in the U.S. and Canada; it expanded into Australia and New Zealand in 2014. The organization’s U.S. office is in New York City; Canadian offices are in Toronto and Montréal; the Australia/New Zealand office is in Sydney.

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