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Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines Suspends Service Through 2020 Season

Victory Cruise Lines is canceling all voyages for the remainder of 2020 due to “prolonged governmental restrictions and uncertainties of future travel through Canadian waters” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company said it will focus on the 2021 season, which includes the debut of the Ocean Victory in Alaska and new itineraries on the Great Lakes, Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Southeastern U.S.

“The decision to suspend service for 2020 was a difficult and disappointing choice but necessary in response to uncertainties of Canadian travel in the coming months,” said John Waggoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company. “In anticipation of operating, we have taken this time to implement cutting-edge health and safety protocols. We will now focus on our exciting new itineraries planned for 2021, including the Ocean Victory in Alaska.”

In 2021, Victory will roll out new itineraries including the 12- and 13-day Alaska expedition cruises on the upcoming Ocean Victory between Vancouver, B.C., and Sitka, Alaska.

The Victory I and Victory II will also return with refreshed routes, including a 12-day Southeastern U.S. cruise that sails roundtrip to Amelia Island, Fla. (Fernandina Beach). Early booking discounts up to $1,400 per stateroom are now available for 2021 cruises.

In the coming weeks, Victory will announce plans for new winter itineraries for both the Victory I and Victory II, so guests with future cruise credits will have more choices.

For guests booked to sail on the Victory I or Victory II in 2020, no action is necessary at this time. The company’s customer service team will reach out directly to guests and travel agents to answer questions and advise on available options, which include the opportunity to rebook on a later date, a 125 percent cruise credit or a full refund.

The 125 percent cruise credit can be used toward any Victory itinerary, including the Alaska expedition cruises. All full refunds will be processed within 90 days.

For more details on Victory’s current policies, click here.

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Nexion Unveils Tools to Help Agents Thrive Post COVID-19

Nexion Travel Group is fortifying its agent members with a portfolio of programs and tools designed help them thrive once coronavirus travel restrictions are lifted.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to a truly unprecedented time. Our members, like all travel advisors, are bravely navigating through these difficult waters,” said Nexion Travel Group President Jackie Friedman. “As their host agency, Nexion Travel Group has been working hard to creatively think of ways we can support them in developing their business, sharpening their skills and continuing to be a trusted travel advisor to their clients.”

For starters, Nexion is offering a Back to Basics webinar series, featuring subject matter experts to help agents tackle such subjects as marketing.

The host agency’s business development and education team created Chaos to Control, a virtual learning series designed to help advisors see their way through pandemic and subsequent recovery.

Nexion is also offering Chime-in Chat, biweekly Zoom meetings with the host agency’s top executives, enabling travel advisors to hear their candid thoughts on the current travel climate and to answers their questions and listen to their concerns.

As part of the former Travel Leaders Group, which has changed its name to Internova, Nexion has also offered its financial assistance webinars to members, featuring expert information on new legislation and programs like the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program, and much more.

“Until we can get back to travel, we are committed to helping our members use this time to their best advantage,” Friedman said. “It is not only our duty to do that, it is our privilege. As these travel advisors continue to work hard for their clients with cancellations and refunds for booked trips, we are standing beside them, ready to help support them and make sure that when this pandemic is over, their travel agencies are ready to thrive.”

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Xcaret Park and Hotel Xcaret Mexico to Reopen on June 15

Grupo Xcaret plans to reopen Xcaret Park and Hotel Xcaret Mexico on June 15 in the first phase of its reopening, while implementing over 1,300 specific health and safety measures.

Developed in accordance with national and international organizations, 360 Xafety is Grupo Xcaret’s manual on how they will proceed with the phased reopening of the properties to ensure the well-being of employees, guests, visitors and suppliers who frequent the properties.

“People are at the center of Grupo Xcaret’s business model, and safeguarding their safety is one of the main pillars that support our enhanced safety reopening protocols. We are aware of the challenges that the tourism industry faces in regaining travelers trust and believe that the first step is being completely transparent about the measures we are taking to protect them,” said Miguel Quintana, CEO of Grupo Xcaret, in a statement. “To this end, our open-access protocols will be available on our website, not only for potential visitors but for other tourism providers that can use them as guidelines in creating or adapting their own,” he added.

Grupo Xcaret serves as a member of the Board of Affiliates of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and on a specialized task force compiled by the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAAPA) who’s purpose is to help build reopening guidelines.

And because safety and sustainability are of such importance to the group, all cleaning and disinfecting products are not only biodegradable, but they also meet the criteria set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some protocols guests will notice upon their return to the properties are:

—Occupancy will be limited to 50 percent capacity at Xcaret Park, Hotel Xcaret Mexico and transportation services.

—Noninvasive temperatures checks.

—Use of face masks encouraged for all resort guests and visitors.

—Sanitization of high contact surfaces.

—Cleaning of guest rooms twice a day.

—Transforming all self-service buffet stations into assisted food places.

The next phase of Grupo Xcaret’s reopening is expected to be July 1 with the reintroduction of its other parks and tours. The organization is closely following government regulations and recommendations.

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AHLA Believes Hotel Industry is on 'Brink of Collapse'

The American Hotels & Lodging Association (AHLA) is calling directly upon the U.S. Congress to prioritize financial assistance for hotel workers and small businesses in the next wave of COVID-19 economic relief legislation. Business Travel News cited the AHLA as having referred to the hotel industry as currently being on the “brink of collapse”.

“The hospitality industry is in a fight for survival,” said AHLA president and CEO, Chip Rogers. “We are grateful to the leadership of both parties during one of the most difficult health and economic challenges we have faced. We are urging Congress to do even more to help the hotel industry so that our small hotel operators can keep the lights on, and retain and rehire employees.”

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed that the hospitality and leisure industry is the hardest-hit sector of the U.S. economy by far, with 7.7 million jobs lost in April alone. That’s more job losses than those sustained by the construction, manufacturing, retail, education, and health services sectors combined, said AHLA’s letter to Congress, dated May 20, 2020.

Along with its letter, the AHLA provided its recommended ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ plan, calling for action on several key points, including:

—Expanding the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) from the ‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’.

—Providing tax credits for certain expenditures, especially in light of enhanced sanitation measures and the provision of personal protective equipment by hotels in order to continue operating.

—Offering employees tax credits or direct tuition assistance for continuing education, in light of furloughs and job losses resulting from the pandemic.

—Extending the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through December 31, 2020, and expanding the scope and flexibility of PPP loans.

—Extending federal loan maturity from two years to a minimum of five years.

—Extending the re-hiring deadline to December 31, 2020, for loan forgiveness purposes.


—Providing hotels that reopen and adhere to proper public health guidance protection under a limited ‘safe harbor’ provision, applicable to guests and employees, from exposure liability related to COVID-19.

—Creation of a ‘Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities (CMBS) Market Relief Fund’ to keep hotels in cash-flow crisis from defaulting on their mortgages.

—Creation of a ‘Federal Pandemic Risk Insurance Program’ to protect operators against future pandemic outbreaks and associated losses.

—Incentivizing travel through increased testing to reassure the public; set federally-imposed per-diem rates for the fiscal year 2021-22, based upon 2019 data; reinstate entertainment, food and beverage-related tax deductions as business expenses; and create a temporary Travel Tax Credit, similar in purpose to the homebuyer tax credit applied following the 2008 housing crisis.

AHLA hopes that such concessions would enable the hospitality industry to survive the devastation that’s been dealt out by the COVID-19 crisis, whose impact the organization called “worse than the Great Depression”. Thus far, experts say, the pandemic has caused the industry nine times the damage it suffered in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 2020 is forecast to become the single worst year on record in terms of hotel occupancy, and predictions indicate that the sector won’t bounce back to its 2019 levels until at least 2022.

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Silversea Prepares for Delivery of New Galapagos Vessel

Silversea Cruises confirmed it will take delivery of its new Silver Origin expedition ship, although its inaugural voyage has been delayed until at least Aug. 22.

But in an extraordinary series of maneuvers, construction continued during the coronavirus lockdown, and the ship successfully completed sea trials in late April.

During a May 19 conference call with travel media, Chief Marketing Officer Barbara Muckermann also shared positive news on the number of clients who are rebooking their canceled cruises for later in 2020 or 2021.

She said many customers age 61 to 80 – Baby Boomers are Silversea’s primary clientele – are rebooking their voyages using the future cruise credits. Muckermann said these are the “real travelers” who are ready to get back out there.

Interestingly, Silversea’s luxury expedition trips are hot sellers for 2021, she said, with the Galapagos Islands being the top booked destination now, followed by Antarctica.

Bookings will spike once the ships start sailing with passengers again, predicted Mark Conroy, Managing Director-the Americas. “Once people see ships moving and we’re back in business, we’ll see a jump,” he said. “When there’s an effective treatment or vaccine, business will spike up as quickly as it went down.”

The executives also expressed concern for travel advisor partners, pointing out that commissions are being paid on canceled bookings and the new one if rebooked. The luxury line also extended its relaxed cancellation polices through Dec. 31, 2020.

Silversea’s ships are still sailing, working to repatriate crew members to the Philippines and Europe. The crews are being treated like “internal guests,” dining in the restaurants, participating in organized activities and keeping in touch with full internet access, said Damien O’Connor, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations.

Meanwhile, the 100-guest Silver Origin, which is purpose-built for the Galapagos Islands, was under construction at the De Hoop Shipyard in Lobith, a relatively isolated corner of the Netherlands.

The country implemented a national lockdown on March 15, but about 200 workers – mainly skilled carpenters – continued to work, many staying in an on-site residential facility that reduced capacity.

The Dutch health authority imposed rigorous protocols while the shipyard instituted additional procedures, including daily temperature checks, enhanced cleaning procedures, strict social distancing and a one-way system throughout the ship.

Silver Origin’s November float-out was delayed a month due to low water levels on the Waal River. Then, after heavy rains in January and February, the river rose so high that the ship was prevented from passing beneath the 12 bridges that separate the shipyard from the North Sea where the seas trials would take place. Finally, it made safe passage to Rotterdam on March 26, more than a month late.

The sea trials took place April 27-29. The travel ban kept sub-contractors from reaching the ship, so Silver Origin’s sea trials included a world-first: the dynamic positioning system – which lets the ship stay in place without dropping anchor – was remotely tuned and calibrated by a third party in St. Petersburg, Russia, over 1,100 miles away. A fast internet connection was set up on board to enable near-instant communication between both parties and, using a headset and a camera, an operative from St. Petersburg completed maneuvering tests. The ship’s captain acted as his lookout onboard.

“This was the first time such an operation has been completed remotely during a sea trial,” said Fre Drenth, the director of De Hoop Shipyard. “The tuning was successful and took no longer than usual. It demonstrates that it is possible to tune dynamic positioning systems remotely. It could potentially save a lot of travelling time for engineers in the future. I am enormously proud of my team for their work.”

Now, the ship is being outfitted although deliveries of furniture, fixtures and artworks have been delayed.

“We are so grateful to the professionals at the De Hoop shipyard,” Silversea President and CEO Roberto Martinoli said. “In the face of such adversity, their efforts were extraordinary and represent the resilience of European industry. Silver Origin looks magnificent. Our pioneering new ship represents the dawning of a new age of travel in the Galapagos Islands, and we look forward to welcoming guests aboard when the time is right.”

Meanwhile, Silversea’s other newbuild, the 596-passenger Silver Moon, was delayed when the Fincantieri shipyard in Ancona, Italy, closed March 16. Its inaugural season has been delayed at least until Oct. 2. Work resumed when the shipyard partially reopened April 20; it is expected to fully reopen at the end of May.

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Amtrak Debuts Kids’ Pages on Website

Amtrak has introduced a new wrinkle to its website designed specifically for kids.

On Monday, the Amtrak Activity Center debuted to provide children in grades kindergarten through fifth with educational and train-related activities and to assist those learning from home.

Now kids will be able to pass the time with a variety of fun things to do.

And it’s not just for riding on a train.

The site can be accessed any time from anywhere on Amtrak.com. It is designed to teach children about the railroad and geography while inspiring future travel, through the following activities:

—Geography Junction: Travel to national parks and historic landmarks

—Find your differences: Train your eagle eye and find the picture differences

—Crosswords: Put on your conductor’s hat and play games and puzzles

—Coloring: Stop by and add some color to the pages

New activities and categories, such as railroad safety and Amtrak sustainability facts and initiatives, will be added every few weeks.

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Royal Caribbean To Eliminate Buffets on Post-Coronavirus Cruises

Royal Caribbean announced during a conference call that health and safety changes being planned for a post-coronavirus cruise industry include eliminating traditional buffet offerings.

According to CruiseCritic.com, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley revealed during a virtual call with the cruise line’s senior vice president Vicki Freed that buffets will have to be at least temporarily removed from ships to avoid any concerns about the spread of illnesses.

“I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet, that’s how I see it,” Bayley said. “We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability, it won’t be a classical buffet.”

“It will be something more akin to a restaurant,” Bayley continued.

The likely removal of buffets from dining areas is just the latest in a long line of health and safety changes being made to ensure the cruise line will be able to sail when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its no-sail order.

Royal Caribbean is also working with the CDC on enhanced measures to protect the health, safety and security of guests, crew and the communities visited when operations resume.

Last month, the cruise line filed a patent application for its own branded version of a face mask to protect passengers and employees. Dubbed Seaface, the plan is for the safety devices to be implemented on all of the company’s ships.

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Hotels Continue to Give Back

As the hotel industry continues to struggle with the havoc wreaked upon it by the coronavirus, many properties are involved in charitable initiatives to help bolster their local communities.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the latest endeavors unveiled by hotels and resorts.

Massachusetts’ Nantucket Hotel & Resort, which was deemed an essential service company and remains open, is serving 200 meals a week to the Boys and Girls Club in partnership with the ReMain Nantucket, a nonprofit organization.

At the request of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the resort has also made room available to patients who have been discharged are still not well enough to re-enter the community.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas donated a variety of items, valued at $500,000, to such local organizations as Three Square, The Just One Project and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. The property has also donated upward of 104,000 pounds of food and beverages to the Las Vegas community.

The Ranch Malibu in Malibu, Calif., is harvesting and producing food baskets from its organic garden for its staff and the surrounding community. It has also scheduled individual visits for staff and their families to take advantage of the pool area, hike the property, and more.

The Lotte New York Palace is taking part in the Fanatics’ ALL IN Challenge –a digital fundraiser created to feed those in need – and is donating package for a four-night stay in the hotel’s three-floor Champagne Suite.

The package includes dinner for four with an in-suite champagne tasting; an in-suite magic show from the in-house magician, Steve Cohen from Chamber Magic; spa treatments; and VIP airport transfers. The money raised will be distributed to Feeding America, Meals On Wheels, World Central Kitchen and No Kid Hungry.

AHC Hospitality, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based hotel management group, has teamed up with Amway to create The Groove, a four-week a virtual dance competition designed to raise money for Michigan’s health workers and to cultivate a sense of community for the local population.

Amway will donate $10 to the West Michigan Hero Fund for each uploaded dance. The winner of the competition, which ends on May 30, will receive $10,000.

AHC Hospitality’s portfolio includes Amway Grand Plaza, JW Marriott and Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Rapids; Peter Island Resort & Spa in the British Virgin Islands; and The Waterfront Inn in Sumter County, Florida.

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UNICO 20 87 Shares Enhanced Cleanliness and Sanitation Protocols

WHY IT RATES: This resort, located in Riviera Maya, is hoping to provide comfort and peace of mind to both travelers and its staff once the property opens again. —Codie Liermann, Associate Editor

The health, safety and wellbeing of all guests, partners and staff have always been and will continue to be number one priority at UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya. We continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 global situation and follow the guidelines and recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local and national health authorities to ensure a clean and safe environment for everyone.

Internationally recognized regulations and standards of guest and employee sanitation have always been strictly enforced at our property. With that said, in light of the recent global pandemic, we have developed a comprehensive, enhanced cleanliness and sanitation plan that consists of added precautionary measures throughout all aspects of the guest and team member experience.

Each department has its own set of procedures that are implemented to keep our guests’ and employees’ health and wellbeing top of mind, while providing a S.A.F.E. (safe and friendly environment) experience to our guests.

Below you will find a summary of our enhanced protocols:

1. Guest & Employee Health: Antibacterial hand-sanitizing stations will be placed throughout all areas of the hotel, with additional signage throughout back-of-house and guest areas reminding everyone of important health and hygiene protocols such as handwashing and physical distancing. Physical contact will be minimized as much as possible, and we will continue to provide an onsite 24/7 doctor to provide medical assistance as needed.

2. Employee Protocols: All of our staff have received thorough training on our enhanced protocols, in addition to training on identifying any flu or virus-like symptoms and following a firm procedure on reporting to a medical official. Staff will also continue to receive training on global standards of sanitation set forth by third parties such as Ecolab and NSF. In addition to ongoing training, employees will be closely monitored for any symptoms (including a temperature reading) on a daily basis and will be required to wear the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) based on their roles and responsibilities.

3. Cleaning Protocols and Sanitation: We use cleaning products such as Ecolab and standards that meet EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines and are approved for use and effective against viruses, bacteria and other airborne and bloodborne pathogens. We have increased the frequency of deep-cleaning and disinfecting all common areas, public spaces and guest rooms (in addition to back of house areas) with an emphasis on high-contact surfaces such as front desk check-in counters, elevators and elevator buttons, door handles, public bathrooms, room keys and locks, ATMs, handrails, tables, gym equipment, dining surfaces, seating areas, pool chairs and more.

4. Physical Distancing: Guests and employees are instructed to practice physical distancing by standing six feet away from other groups who are not traveling with them; this includes while standing in lines, waiting for elevators (including limited capacity), or walking throughout the hotel. Additionally, furniture placement throughout all common areas and back-of-house has been rearranged to allow for increased spacing, including redesigned layouts for meetings and events.

5. Guest Experience: Every step of the guest journey has its own set of defined protocols that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of our guests and employees, while maintaining the level of service that you have come to expect. This includes our in-house transfer company, luggage disinfection, non-invasive temperature readings via a thermal camera, a pristine check-in process, strictly enforced hygiene practices and physical distancing throughout the spa, salon, fitness center, pool and beach areas and more.

6. F&B: We will continue to reinforce our internationally recognized methods of identifying and managing food safety related risk, including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), and adhering to strict global brand standards in addition to third-party standards such as NSF. Select services such as buffet have been eliminated, while in-room dining will now be contactless.

You may visit our website to review the full enhanced cleanliness and sanitation protocols. Should you have any questions or require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at 1-855-212-4192.

SOURCE: UNICO 20 87 press release.

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Uncertainty about borders puts travel companies off balance

As countries around the world begin easing their Covid-19 shutdowns, the big question on the minds of consumers and travel companies is how and when countries will reopen their borders.

In recent weeks, answers have begun to emerge as to the how, which will likely include everything from mandatory health checks to masks and hypervigilant cleaning protocols.

Countries have set benchmarks for phased societal reopenings, and groups including the World Travel and Tourism Council, the European Travel Commission and the U.S. Travel Association have begun compiling post-pandemic guidelines and best practices for the industry. But noticeably absent are any realistic answers as to when these might be implemented.

“We’re going to listen to the experts,” said U.S. Travel president Roger Dow during a call last week announcing voluntary industry guidelines. “When the experts say it’s safe, when the numbers are right, we will travel.”

The many unknowns have left travel companies issuing a string of seemingly random and constantly changing forecasts about when they might resume operations.

“The bottom line is we just don’t know,” said Nigel Hack, who owns the luxury travel planning company Madrid & Beyond, which specializes in Spain and Portugal. 

Portugal is one of the least-impacted countries and is widely expected to be among the first to reopen. But Hack said that “there is so much conjecture and speculation. I think ultimately we all have to wait for governments to make those decisions, and we have to abide by those decisions.”

Globally, experts agree domestic travel is expected to resume first, followed by regional travel, then more widespread international trips. 

In the U.S., hotels in national parks and domestic river cruise operators are set to reopen in June. Some cruise lines have also set June sailing dates.

For the most part, however, the majority of international operators have pushed back their start dates to July. But some are reexamining the reality of that.

On May 6, AmaWaterways said it was pushing its European river cruise season start to Aug. 1, and other companies said they, too, were reevaluating.

Intrepid Travel last week suspended all of its departures until the end of September, perhaps the strongest sign of travel companies’ uncertainty that border reopenings will be widespread in time for summer.

“The truth is that no one knows,” said James Thornton, CEO of the Intrepid Group. “Even if you’ve got connections with governments and you’re getting the best advice, the reality is that no one is really sure.”

With the summer travel season fast approaching, the lack of uniform policies across Europe’s borders makes it especially hard for tour operators and cruise lines to make anything other than guesses about when they might resume operations.

“Our biggest concern right now is the lack of coordination,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director and CEO of the European Travel Commission, which has called for strong public-private collaboration and a coordinated, regional response rather than country-by-country approaches.

The uncertainty is what prompted AmaWaterways to again delay its start. Avalon Waterways, part of the Globus family of brands, said it was also reevaluating dates.

“European river cruise operators are hoping to start as early as late June, but the question will be if North Americans will be able to travel to Europe, and 95% of our guests are from the USA or Canada,” said Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways.

“The start of the season will also depend on each country,” he said. “Portugal and the Douro might open earlier than Spain, but many of our Douro cruises have pre- or post-cruise extensions into Spain.”

Ocean cruise lines also face the border-to-border uncertainties, in Europe and around the globe.

“If you can’t cross borders, it’s hard to run a cruise,” said Mark Conroy, Silversea Cruises managing director of the Americas. 

The challenge is not just knowing when destinations will reopen their borders but when customers will be able to travel without restrictions, such as quarantines on arrival and return.

At Intrepid, Thornton said some of their most popular trips are to places such as Vietnam, which has managed to stem the spread of the virus. But most of its trips are made up of groups of travelers from different countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., which are two of the hardest-hit countries in the world, and Australia and New Zealand, which have seen some of the lowest rates of spread. That means clients’ ability to travel will vary.

“For us to make those trips be able to work and work properly, you need unrestricted movement, and I just don’t see that happening until at least later this year,” Thornton said.

In the meantime, he said, Intrepid is focused on developing shorter local products in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. to give its core customers options when domestic travel resumes.

News editor Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.

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