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Cruises

Lean On Me: Travel Advisors Have Trusted Sources for Latest Coronavirus Facts

Update: March 9, 2020 at 7:45 a.m. ET

As travel agents continue to field questions about coronavirus and its impact on the travel industry, American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) CEO Zane Kerby released a statement on the importance of educating clients:

Our message, summarized – every traveler and company has their individualized risk tolerance – that is tested in times such as this. Your role is to provide expert advice, point consumers to unbiased resources to weigh in their decision, and to provide maximum support to individuals and businesses regardless of what travel decision is made.

In your role as a trusted travel advisor, it’s important that your clients hear your voice directly as they sort through the deluge of information. In the coming weeks, we will provide regular updates on the latest information – but for now, see some selected resources below.

At a time of uncertainty and fear associated with the coronavirus outbreak, travel advisors and agents are looking for transparent advice from the most-trusted organizations.

Several travel agency-focused companies have shared statements, tips and advice on how to address the viral infection and its impact on the industry with clients.

AAA Travel said the best advice for advisors to give clients is to avoid hitting the road if they feel ill or have been told by a doctor to avoid travel due to a medical condition. The CDC shared details about who is most susceptible to the coronavirus.

The organization also said travelers considering taking a cruise in the coming months should be aware of the Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) new screening policies and the enhanced illness screenings recently implemented by companies.

“Research is important to any traveler ahead of a trip. It’s no different with the coronavirus,” AAA Travel senior vice president Paula Twidale said in a statement. “Become familiar with the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, consult your healthcare professional, talk to your travel provider about waiver policies and chat with a travel agent about travel insurance possibilities before making any decision.”

The Travel Leaders Group also stepped up to provide agents feedback on how to address coronavirus with clients. First and foremost, the group said to make sure travelers do not panic since misleading information can be shared too often.

In addition, Travel Leaders officials said advisors should remain as updated on the outbreak as possible to be able to answer the questions from clients about the impact on cruise lines, airlines and tour operators serving top destinations.

The group recommends clients purchase travel insurance for an additional layer of protection when hitting the road domestically or internationally.

“Our goal is to ensure that travelers have the facts when making travel decisions,” Travel Leaders Group President John Lovell said in a statement. “At the same time, we don’t want our travelers to avoid vacations or business trips because of misinformation. Our travel advisors are advocates and destinations experts who can offer tips, advice and insights. We encourage you to reach out to them when planning your travel.”

At Virtuoso, the luxury and experiential travel network has been monitoring the impact of coronavirus and consulting with its travel agency members and preferred partners.

The overall message: “Keep Calm and Travel On.”

Virtuoso officials said now is the most critical time for travelers to have an advisor to guide them through the process. At the end of the day, travel agents are the number one advocate for their clients.

The network has consulted with its 22,000 affiliated travel advisors worldwide to get their insights into what travelers should know as they assess their options, including trip changes and contingency plans.

“It’s important to give my clients all of the facts about their trip, their destination, and the policies of their travel supplier,” Virtuoso agency executive Amanda Klimak said in a statement. “I then help them make a decision about travel based on the facts. I also recommend they speak to their personal physician to discuss the risks based on their medical history. Then I let them know I’m here to help, no matter what they decide.”

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Travel

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers amid coronavirus fears



Slide 1 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 2 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 3 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.
Slide 4 of 4: An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

Harsh new United policy change irks fliers

An eery quiet at San Francisco International Airport at 6:30 am on Monday morning, March 9.

“This should be illegal.  United is now saying if you buy a ticket but United changes it, as long as they can get you there within 25 hours of the original time it is no longer refundable.  That’s disgraceful. Contract law should shoot that down,” said frequent traveler S.H. in an email over the weekend.

What’s he talking about? Well, over the weekend, United quietly made a big change to its refund policy in light of the cuts it has been forced to make due to plummeting demand amid coronavirus fears.

Previously, if United changed, canceled or rescheduled a flight and it was unable to move passengers to another flight to their final destination within two hours of the original flight, it would offer them a full refund.

The new policy enacted over the weekend states that United will now only offer a credit for a future flight (no refund) if it can get passengers to their final destination within 2-25 hours of the originally scheduled arrival time. It will only offer a refund if it can’t find another flight within  the new 25 hour window.

So what does that mean in real terms? Let’s say you are holding a reservation to fly from San Francisco to New York-Newark departing at 8 a.m. next Wednesday. Then United makes a change to its schedule, eliminating that 8 a.m. flight. It switches you to an 11 p.m. redeye flight 15 hours later instead. If you choose not to take that flight, United will no longer give you your money back… it will only offer you a credit to use on a future flight within 15 months.

A United spokesperson told SFGATE: “We’ve made reductions to our international and domestic schedules and know many customers are impacted as a result.  Our goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption and right now, more than 90 percent of impacted customers are being put on a flight that is within 2 hours of their original booking. For any rebooking that goes beyond two hours, those customers can change for free or cancel altogether, and use the value of that ticket toward future travel up to 15 months from their original ticket issue date.”

United put schedule changes into effect this weekend after announcing last week it would cut its flying by up to 20 percent internationally and 11 percent domestically. Many other non-U.S. carriers have made similar cuts, but so far United is the only U.S. carrier to announce broad flight reductions.

Since it appears United imposed this onerous new refund rule as a result of coronavirus-related cuts, I asked if it would be rescinded when the crisis passes, but the spokesperson stated that she would not speculate on that.

You can read United’s refund policy here.

News of United’s new policy broke over the weekend, setting the travel blogosphere ablaze with comments about what appears to be an ill-timed move.

Brian Sumers, a writer for travel industry news website Skift, who broke the news on Twitter wrote: “How much does United want to conserve cash? Before Saturday, after a schedule change of more than two hours, United happily would refund you. The new policy is 25 hours.”

Matthew Klint, who writes the popular Live and Let’s Fly blog and tracks United closely was blunt: “That is just wrong. It is disgusting. We don’t contract for a particular aircraft or a particular seat number, but we certainly contract to travel on a particular date and time. This schedule change gives United broad power to disrupt your travel plans without recourse. United plans to apply this policy retroactively to previously booked tickets…an even shadier move.”

Over at The Cranky Flier, editor Brett Snyder was a bit more conciliatory, stating, “United created a model and realized money was going to fly out the door with this schedule change. The airline then had to try to figure out how to prevent bloodshed in this very uncertain time. Is this solution as good for customers as the old policy? No, definitely not. But the reality is that it is a mostly fair solution considering the circumstances.”

Read all recent TravelSkills posts here

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Travel

Coronavirus in Spain: Should tourists cancel Madrid holidays? FCO travel warning

Coronavirus has swept the globe, with Spain becoming the latest country to see a rapid growth in infection. In the last 24 hours, the number of sufferers has doubled, hitting 1,050 at the time of writing.

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The country has also reported 26 fatalities as a result of COVID-19.

Two of the most impacted regions are Madrid and the Basque country, where acute concentrations of the virus have been detected.

Between Sunday and Monday alone, Madrid saw an influx of around 200 cases.

Those with holiday plans in Spain, particularly in the infected regions, are now being warned to stay up to date with the developing situation.

Many travellers may now be concerned about whether it is safe to visit the region.

READ MORE:Spain travel advice: Is it safe to travel to Spain? 

The FCO has not yet told Britons to avoid travel to Madrid or the wider country but does offer advice to those with plans.

A statement on its website reads: “There is an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in China, but cases have been confirmed in other countries, including Spain.

“You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the authorities.”

The Spanish Health Ministry gathered for an emergency meeting at noon today to discuss how it would tackle the epidemic.

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According to Bloomberg, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “We want the plan to be efficient and adjusted to the magnitude of the problem.

“The existing information suggests that in our country the crisis will have a negative impact, just as it will in the international arena.”

Those who purchased a travel insurance policy at the time of booking their travel plans should be protected against any sudden changes to travel recommendations.

Should the FCO advise against all travel to the region, travel insurance policies will offer momentary protection against cancelled plans.

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However, this only works if you bought your travel insurance before any advisories are put in place.

“Most travel insurance policies will cover you if the FCO has told you not to travel to a country,” said Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.

Martin added: “The sooner you’re travelling, it’s easy to look at the level of contamination in the country and what their health care is.”

Many airlines, including British Airways, are also offering flexibility for passengers who make bookings amid the coronavirus panic.

They are allowing passengers to cancel or reschedule for no additional charge between certain dates while the virus rages on.

One of Spain’s largest tourists spots, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, saw an outbreak at a popular hotel.

The disease was initially discovered at the hotel after an Italian doctor tested positive for COVID-19.

It was later revealed that his wife, too, was suffering from the sickness.

A British tourist who was in the hospital with the virus has since been discharged after twice testing negative for the virus.

Meanwhile, the group of Italians currently remain isolated in hospital.

Hotel guests were also placed into a temporary quarantine where they would be routinely checked for the virus.

The FCO adds: “The Spanish authorities are dealing with confirmed cases of coronavirus in the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife. If you’re in this hotel, you should follow the advice of the local authorities.”

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Transport

Southwest Airlines Upgrades Aircraft Cleaning Program

As a result of concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Southwest Airlines has announced upgrades to its aircraft cleaning program.

Launched on March 4, Southwest’s enhanced cleaning procedures include the use of an EPA-approved, hospital-grade disinfectant utilized by the carrier’s aircraft appearance technicians to sanitize the passenger cabin, lavatories and flight deck.

Southwest’s entire fleet of aircraft also features HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter systems—similar to those used in hospitals—which remove airborne particles onboard each plane.

The airline’s cleaning program was designed to protect customers and employees with support from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Officials from Southwest said the program includes more than six labor hours of cleaning every night for the carrier’s fleet of planes. The airline also provided in-depth information about how the cleaning process works on the company’s blog.

In response to the ongoing questions regarding the coronavirus, Airlines for America (A4A) launched a new website to serve as a resource for air travelers, government agencies, Congress and the general public.

While the travel industry remains optimistic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said last week airlines could lose as much as $113 billion in revenue as a result of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

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Destinations

Aberdeen is the ideal arty city break destination

Aberdeen has always had plenty to offer: charming architecture, leafy historic quarters, interesting museums (most of them free), and even its own sandy beach. 

But with the opening of a £333m event and exhibition complex, and the launch of several arty grassroots initiatives, it has suddenly gained a lot more to shout about. And there’s never been a better time to book a long weekend to see it all.

Start your trip at Aberdeen Art Gallery, which recently reopened after a four-year closure, having been ingeniously renovated by Hoskins Architects and Studioarc. The building is a sprawling neo-classical structure erected between the 1880s and 1920s, and a recent extension has dramatically expanded display spaces – meaning there’s three times more art on display than before – and added two sweeping terraces.

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Inside, you’ll find an eclectic and fascinating collection of works by Scottish artists such as Henry Raeburn, and James Cromar Watt, as well as pieces of international renown by the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, and Claude Monet. 

I particularly liked the rooms dedicated to the sea (very apt for this windswept maritime city), and the one featuring artists’ responses to war. A bonus feature is the fantastic view of Aberdeen, a rarity in a city with no rooftop terraces. 

Next, feast your eyes on the city’s more informal art scene: eye-catching paintings and murals splashed on doorways and walls across town. The former was part of the Painted Doors initiative, founded in 2016, while the latter was a result of the Nuart Street Festival, which launched in 2017. 

Initially founded in Stavanger, Norway, in 2003 by Leeds-born Martyn Reed, Nuart has become the longest running annual street art festival in the world. Since its arrival in Aberdeen, it has brought dozens of internationally acclaimed artists to the city’s streets to create murals and installations. 

“The festival created a buzz for Aberdeen that was beyond anything I’ve experienced before,” says Jon Reid, an Aberdeen-based artist and Nuart tour guide. 

“Thousands of people came on walking tours and shared photos of the work on social media. Some people said to me it was the best thing to happen in Aberdeen since the Tall Ships visited in the early Nineties, which says a lot about how people have felt about the city in the past.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a street art fan, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the provocative, occasionally contentious, and often awe-inspiring works, which come in refreshingly small and large sizes. Look out for colourful LEGO infills in broken walls, created by German artist Jan Vormann, and the little grey-suited figurines by Spanish artist Isaac Cordal that are dotted all over town. 

One of the most powerful murals for me was a pair of women pushing each other away by Argentinian artist Hyuro. Despite the feud, they remain joined together by their blouses – it’s said to represent the difficult England-Scotland relationship. I also loved the haunting image by German duo Herakut of a Scottish girl extending an arm to people fleeing war, and two sinking blue, white, and black oil tankers by Polish artists M-City.

“That one sends a powerful message given the climate emergency and is a reminder that the festival is not all about pretty pictures,” says Reid. 

The oil and gas industry has done a lot for the city and created lots of opportunities, but works like these make it clear that Aberdonians are keen to change the image of their city.  

Culture aside, the city offers the tempting opportunity to take a break by the sea. The working harbour is teeming with fishing boats, and offshore vessels and mud tanks used by the oil and gas industry. But push past them and you’ll find the historic and charming village of Footdee (pronounced ‘fittie’) on the eastern end of the city. 

The former fishing village was designed by John Smith, the same architect behind Balmoral Castle, with rows of picturesque cottages looking on to communal squares. Nearby, there’s a sandy beach from which surfers valiantly brave the North Sea. Bring a thick wetsuit if you want to partake. 

Beyond the city walls, Aberdeenshire is home to castles, golf courses and whisky distilleries aplenty. There’s even more art to discover, too. If you haven’t had your fill in the city, make for the Fife Arms in the Highlands village of Braemar. Opened only a year ago by artist collector duo Iwan and Manuela Wirth, it’s housed in a building by the same architect who designed the Aberdeen Art Gallery, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie. Dotted around the 19th-century complex are 16,000 antiques, collectable items and artworks, including Freud, Picasso and one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s captivating village scenes. It’s all rather enthralling, and, given the setting, quite unexpected.

But that’s perhaps the essence of Aberdeen – unexpected.

Upcoming festivals

Nuart: April-October 2020

Free walking tours are a great way to see the latest Nuart artworks and to find out the stories and ideas behind them. Tours run at 1pm every Saturday from April until the end of September, with extra days offered closer to the festival. But you can also be your own tour guide with this handy online map.

Look Again: June 2020

Look Again is a visual art and design celebration that sees students, emerging creatives and established professionals present new work in public spaces and venues around town.

Sound Scotland: October 2020

Sound Scotland is a festival of new music in North East Scotland.

True North: September 2020

True North is a festival of contemporary music in venues across Aberdeen.

Travel essentials

Where to stay

Sandman Signature Hotel is a somewhat sprawling but stylish and well-appointed hotel. 

Brewdog Kennels is the quirky mini-hotels arm of the Scottish craft beer empire. Choose between a studio or one-bedroom apartment above the Castlegate Brewdog bar. 

After a multi-million pound three-year redevelopment, the Fife Arms has reopened with 46 individually decorated rooms and is chic, eclectic and fun with well-mannered and super hospitable staff.​

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Categories
Destinations

The Fives Oceanfront Puerto Morelos to open July 1

The Fives Hotels & Residences has announced that its third property, The Fives Oceanfront Puerto Morelos, will open July 1.

The beachfront resort, just 15 minutes from Cancun, will feature 94 suites in one-, two- or three-bedroom configurations, all with smart TVs, floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies. Rooms range from 646 square feet to more than 5,900 square feet, and some have hot tubs or private pools.

The property will have two infinity pools: one on the rooftop deck and the other overlooking the sea. The Fives Oceanfront will also be the first resort to debut the RoMarley Beach House by Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley. Here, guests will be able to lounge in a private Bali bed or sun lounger, or dine at the restaurant.

A full-service spa will include three treatment cabins, as well as a pre-treatment relaxation area with a garden for meditation, sauna, cold and hot jacuzzis, and more. Dining options will include oceanfront restaurants and casual options, in addition to a Mediterranean concept and the RoMarley Beach House.

The Fives Oceanfront will be offering All Senses Inclusive rates starting at $205 per person per night.

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Destinations

Food for Soul partners with Palace Resorts for Refettorio Merida

Food for the Soul, a nonprofit organization designed to fight food waste and build community resilience, has partnered with Foundation Palace, Palace Resorts’ philanthropic institution. Together, the organizations will open the first North American Refettorio on March 25 in Merida. 

The Refettorio will offer a daily lunchtime food service to members of the community by transforming surplus ingredients into meals. The elevated community kitchen will be brightly colored, festive, and welcoming, located inside the Casa Santa Luisa, a historic, colonial house belonging to a local philanthropist who was an advocate for social conscience. The walls will be decorated with artwork from the artist Bosco Sodi, who celebrates Mexican culture in his work.

From Monday to Friday the Refettorio, a team of local volunteers will serve three-course lunches to guests in need from the community, including the homeless and isolated members. 

Food for Soul’s Refettorios were thought up by Chef Massimo Bottura in 2015, with projects already open in Milan, Rio de Janeiro, Modena, Bologna, London, Paris and Naples.

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Cruises

State Dept. Advisory Recommends Americans Avoid Cruises

In a potentially damaging move for the cruise industry, the U.S. State Dept. on Sunday issued an advisory recommending Americans not travel by cruise ship due to “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”

The advisory came just a day after Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the U.S. response team to the virus, met with cruise line executives and members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The meeting concluded with an agreement to development more stringent boarding procedures, temperature screenings at embarkation and additional onboard medical personnel.

But a day later, the State Dept. posted the advisory.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship. CDC notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment,” the State Dept. said.

Calling it “a fluid situation,” the advisory noted that the Centers For Disease Control recommended that “older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.”

The advisory is not a ban on taking a cruise nor a cease and desist to cruise lines to stop operating their routes. But the State Dept. also made it very clear that despite the government’s previous intervention of evacuating Americans from quarantined cruise ships, “repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”

According to CLIA, cruising is a $53 billion industry just in the U.S. alone, making the decision by the State Dept. a potential financial landmine.

The industry appears to be evaluating the decision before making any response; as of Monday morning, there have been few statements reacting to the advisory.

TravelPulse’s sister publication, Travel Weekly, did receive an email from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. corporate reputation manager Jonathon Fishman on Sunday night saying: “We are staying focused on development of an aggressive, responsive plan as agreed to during the meeting with Vice President Pence that goes beyond the already significantly enhanced protocols in place, which we believe are a model for others.”

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Categories
Travel

Advantage launches Keep Calm Travel On consumer ad campaign

Advantage Travel Partnership has launched a new proactive consumer social media campaign, #KeepCalmTravelOn, to encourage travellers to continue taking trips during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The new consumer targeted Instagram account will post advice and travel deals, images and videos, to demonstrate that the public can still travel to the majority of destinations by following Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice.

“We are asking our friends across the industry to join us in our new campaign by sharing with us their recent travel images or videos using the #KeepCalmTravelOn hashtag.

“Global Travel Group, Travel Gossip and CLIA have committed to collaborate and we are also speaking to other industry colleagues.

“We hope to show through the sharing of positive and exciting imagery, alongside advice and amazing travel deals, that exploration of the world can still be enjoyed,” commented Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership.

“Covid-19 presents a rare and difficult situation for the travel industry but we believe that through collaboration with members, suppliers, partners, travel industry professionals and media friends we can visually show there are still lots of ways to safely travel and enjoy many destinations throughout the world.”

Advantage Travel Partnership is the largest independent travel agent partnership in the UK.

Advantage leisure and business travel agents who are part of the group are each independently owned, but as a collective they produce over £4.5 billion of travel sales each year.

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