Categories
Travel

Travel firms to trust for your post-lockdown holiday

Titans that came up trumps in a crisis: Travel firms to trust for your post-lockdown holiday

  • Trailfinders tops the list for service and strong finances, writes Neil Simpson   
  • Kuoni is singled out by researchers at Which? for a fair-play refund policy
  • Smaller firms such as Inn Travel and Leger Holidays have also won praise 

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at an important holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: travel firms to trust for your next holiday.

Look ahead to 2021 and you’ll find a series of amazing holiday deals already appearing. Trailfinders is offering savings of more than £1,500 per couple on seven-night wellness holidays in St Lucia – stays in an all-inclusive five-star hotel with complimentary spa treatments each day and dinner in a choice of five restaurants every night now costs £2,699pp.

Turn to Kuoni and you can find flights and ten-night self-drive tours through Florida to take in the Art Deco buildings of Miami, the shabby chic of Key West and Fort Lauderdale’s sandy beaches from £1,695pp. Alternatively, get away from it all on a 12-night tour of remote lodges and safari hotels in Namibia, on offer from Exodus from £3,199pp, including flights.

Putting on the style: The iconic Art Deco buildings of Miami can be seen on a Florida self-drive tour

But is it wise to book 2021 trips while the travel industry is in the midst of a storm over slow refunds on many of this year’s breaks?

No one can say where we may be next summer. But it is already clear which companies have treated their customers best throughout the coronavirus crisis to date.

Heading our hall of fame is Trailfinders (trailfinders.com), which tops the list for service and strong finances. While most rivals are offering customers only vouchers for cancelled holidays, it continues to offer refunds on demand. It has also won fans for its ‘virtual appointments’, with staff connected to their usual research and reservation systems from home.

Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk) is singled out by researchers at Which? for a fair-play refund policy, while Exodus (exodus.co.uk) has won plaudits for its flexible deposits plan. This means customers booking now can switch to any other holiday for free up to ten weeks before departure.

Solo traveller firm Friendship Travel (friendshiptravel.com) also has a good record for flexibility and refunds. Premier Inn (premierinn.com) gets a mention for recrediting cards quickly, while Caribbean specialist Sandals (sandals.co.uk) is on the list for helping pioneer discounts to NHS workers booking for next summer.

It’s equally important to know your tour firm won’t abandon you if things go wrong while you’re away. Experts in the Travel Counsellors group (travelcounsellors.co.uk) went to extraordinary lengths to repatriate clients when borders began to close in March.

Rare treat: Spot leopards on a bargain safari tour of Namibia

One Norfolk-based counsellor started organising emergency paperwork at 4am while tracking a series of back-up flights to get one couple home from Vietnam and another from the South Pacific.

Staff at Titan Travel (titantravel.co.uk) did similarly sterling work, including putting customers in Australia on a non-stop flight from Darwin to the UK when the original route via Singapore was cancelled.

And while those who booked travel through international firms such as Expedia say they were left hanging on phone lines for hours when the first wave of flight cancellations hit, clients of smaller, UK-based firms had no such problems. Holidaymakers with Inn Travel (inntravel.co.uk), Newmarket Holidays (newmarketholidays.co.uk) and Leger Holidays (leger.co.uk) have all won praise. Leger, for example, instantly moved this year’s cancelled bookings for the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria to the rescheduled 2022 dates while honouring 2020 prices.

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Cruises

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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Categories
Cruises

Pandemic a setback for Epic Universe

Construction has halted on Universal
Orlando Resort’s fourth theme park, Epic Universe, because of the coronavirus
pandemic, said parent company Comcast Corp, on Thursday.

Speaking on Comcast’s Q1 earnings call, CEO Brian Roberts
said construction has also been delayed at Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios
Japan in Osaka. Expected to open this summer, Super Nintendo World is likely to
open “a few months” later, Roberts said. However, its new theme park in Beijing
is expected to open on schedule next spring.

Orlando’s Epic Universe was originally expected to open in 2023.

All of Universal’s theme parks have been closed due to the
coronavirus pandemic.

“But there is no doubt that our theme parks will reopen, and
when they do, I believe we’ll benefit from strong, pent-up demand,” Roberts
said. “We love these businesses. They have been one of our fastest growing for
the last 10 years. They are extremely profitable, historically resilient and
enjoy high barriers to entry.”

In the first quarter, theme park revenue was down 31.9% to
$869 million, Comcast reported. 

According to CFO Michael Cavanagh, the park in Japan was
already experiencing some softness prior to its closure related to Covid-19 on
Feb. 29. The Universal Hollywood Resort closed March 14, followed by Universal Orlando
on March 16.

“At this point, all of our theme parks are closed and we do
not know when they will reopen,” Cavanagh said.

If the parks remain closed for the entirety of the second
quarter, it will result in a $500 million loss before before interest, taxes,
depreciation and amortization.

Asked by an analyst what capacity the parks would have to
reach attendance-wise to break even, Cavanagh said typically 50%. But even with
lower attendance, the company would be in better shape than if they were
closed.

Universal will not push attendance when the parks do reopen,
he said, because safety will be a priority.

“Our talented parks team is taking the right near-term steps
to control costs while remaining laser-focused on putting in place the
appropriate protocols, technology and infrastructure so that when we do reopen,
our parks are safe and feel that way to consumers,” he said.

The CEO said he was “heartened” by what the company is
seeing in China, where another theme park, Universal Studios Beijing, is under
construction, slated to open in May 2021.

Going into the Chinese New Year when the coronavirus’ spread
started to heighten in China, there were 12,000 construction workers working on
the park, Roberts said. That quickly went to zero, but today there are more
than 15,000 construction workers on the site.

“I’m pleased to announce we expect to be open on time and on
budget in 2021,” he said. “Beijing may be different, but perhaps it shows the
arc of this crisis.”

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Categories
Transport

Airlines under pressure for refund policies

U.S. airlines are facing intense congressional and legal
pressure for their handling of refunds during the Covid-19 crisis. 

On Friday, 10 Democratic senators — spearheaded by Edward
Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and
Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — released findings from an inquiry they made this month into
airline refund policies. 

In response to questions from the senators, all 11 mainline
U.S. airlines (American, Delta, United, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Hawaiian,
Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country) said they will provide refunds
after they cancel a flight, an option required under U.S. law. 

However, only the discount carriers Spirit and Allegiant
said they have implemented a policy allowing for travelers to receive refunds
if the customer initiates a cancellation. In addition, Hawaiian said that if it
cancels a flight after a customer’s decision to cancel, vouchers can be converted
into refunds. The other carriers will issue only vouchers when customers cancel.

“Unfortunately, these travel vouchers do the public little
good in this time of emergency, when Americans need money now to pay for basic
necessities such as food, housing, and medical care,” the senators said. 

Only Spirit and JetBlue answered the senators’ question
about how much they have issued in travel credits since the Covid-19 outbreak.
Spirit said it issued $270 million in credit between March 1 and April 10,
while JetBlue said that during the first few weeks of March it was issuing
approximately $20 million in travel credit per day. 

The senators extrapolated JetBlue’s answer to develop an
estimate that U.S. carriers are holding more than $10 billion in customer cash
in the form of credits.

American Airlines told senators that more than 90% of
customers whose flights have been canceled have opted for refunds. 

Also on Friday, Delta became the latest carrier to be hit
with a class action over refunds. United and Southwest have been sued, too.

The plaintiff in the Delta case, Maryland resident Elliott
Daniels, alleges that he spent $3,090 for roundtrip tickets between Washington
Dulles and Cairo with a departure date of April 1. When Delta canceled that
flight on March 11, Daniels agreed to reschedule for a day earlier. But when
that March 31 flight was canceled as well, he requested a refund. Delta, the
suit alleges, said no. 

In an email, Delta spokeswoman Elizabeth Wolf said that
Daniels requested a refund on April 15, just two days before filing suit. Delta
has since expedited Daniels’ refund process and has issued his refund. 

“Doing right by our customers through refunds and rebookings
has been — and will continue to be — a key focus as we manage through this
unprecedented global pandemic,” Wolf said. 

Under U.S. law, when airlines cancel a flight, they are
required to give refunds when customers request one. That rule was reinforced
by a Transportation Department enforcement order on April 3, which the
department said it issued in response to a surge in consumer complaints about
airline refund practices during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Airlines have canceled most of their April and May
schedules.

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Categories
Destinations

Wynn Resorts CEO Calls for Nevada’s Reopening

After Nevada had extended its closure of casinos and other nonessential businesses until April 30, many business owners hoped that the coronavirus pandemic would subside enough for business to resume in May. While health experts don’t believe this will be the case, the CEO of Wynn Resorts is tired of waiting.

On Sunday, Wynn CEO Matt Maddox published an opinion piece to The Nevada Independent, urging governor Stephen Sisolak to reopen the state in May in order to boost its struggling economy. According to Maddox, Nevada will “likely be one of the hardest-hit states in the nation.”

As CNN notes, Wynn Resorts was one of the first resorts to close in Las Vegas, sending over 15,000 employees home with pay for 60 days of work. Maddox notes that the cost of the closure and the company’s decision to pay both full and part-time employees, including money for estimated tips, is $3 million per day or $180 million for two months.

While Maddox commends Sisolak for “making the difficult decision and taking early action in the fight against COVID-19,” he claims that Nevada’s economy “is in a freefall” and proposes a plan to gradually reopen the state.

Maddox’s plan, which he calls an incremental reopening, includes enforced social distancing, wearing masks, increasing testing and monitoring data.

“If we incrementally reopen, we might have to pull back if a spike in cases occurs that jeopardizes our healthcare system capacity,” Maddox states. “However, the only way to cross this river is one stone at a time, and we need to put our feet in the water before it is too late.”

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Categories
Holiday

Top tips for responsible travel in a post-virus world – A Luxury Travel Blog

When we emerge from the COVID-19 lockdowns and start to travel again, it is important to do so in a responsible way. We have already seen the positive environmental effects of the virus: fish visible in Venice’s canals, air quality improvements in major cities, much less waste… not to mention the sharp fall in CO₂ emissions.

When we do travel again, by doing so responsibly, we can help these positive trends continue – perhaps this virus will, ironically, save our planet.

Here are the seven best practices you can follow:

7. Understand local customs and culture of your intended destination

Be in the know. Research the local culture and customs before going to the place. Learn how to behave, dress, and interact with the locals. RESPECT can bridge cultural differences and allow you to connect meaningfully with people.

Taking pictures is good but it is advisable to ask permission first, as it may be a “no-no” to some cultures. Always ask before entering an area of cultural significance. Practice saying “thank you”, “please”, “can I” – it is more pleasing to the ears and will endear you with the locals, no matter how bad your pronunciation!

6. Choose eco-luxury accommodation

For responsible travel, choosing to stay in eco-conscious hotels or lodges is an effective way to minimise the negative effects associated with travel.

Sadly there is a lot of “Green-washing” with hotels jumping on the bandwagon that are not as green or sustainable as they claim. You can do your own research, or book through a tour operator that has vetted the eco-luxury properties that they feature and recommend.

5. Offset your carbon footprint

Flying is frequently a feature of travelling and sadly airlines are a major contributor to CO2 emissions. You can offset these emissions – your tour operator can often do it for you.

Some airlines sell carbon credits when you buy an air ticket, they give you the option to buy carbon credits or to donate to carbon-offsetting organizations.

4. Reduce waste

Be intentional in choosing accommodations with effective waste management solutions. This helps reduce the environmental impact of the tourism industry.

As a traveler, you should be mindful not to add to the waste problem of the planet by improperly disposing of your rubbish. Bring along your own reusable water bottles, cups and straws to eliminate the need for disposable ones and reduce your own waste levels.

There are certain countries that ban the use of plastic bags and containers so bringing your own reusable bags is suggested to avoid the need for plastic bags when shopping.

Watch this video from National Geographic on how to avoid single-use plastics when traveling.

3. Conserve water

Especially in locations facing water shortages (there aren’t many places in the developing world that aren’t!) choose to stay at those eco-luxury hotels with sustainable water practices, such as rainwater harvesting systems and proper greywater and blackwater treatment methods. You too can help in water conservation by using water responsibly. As simple as turning off the water while you washing your face or brushing your teeth can make a great contribution to water conservation efforts.

2. Go local

This includes buying local produce, locally made souvenirs, and using local guides. It also means dining at restaurants that source their food locally (low food miles) – a good travel advisor can assist with recommendations. I also recommend using local guides, who are experts and you will appreciate their “local knowledge”.

1. Give back

Through volunteering, supporting conservation projects, assisting wildlife, building a home, helping at a soup kitchen, teaching or renovating a school, there are many ways you can help and leave a legacy. Giving back can deeply enrich your own experience, and leave your chosen destination better off. Even small things and gestures can go a long way.

You can be the change

Responsible travel can be done. These are just a few simple things you can do to make a positive impact while traveling. When we begin travelling again, doing so responsibly is all the more important. Do a small part to help so that your children and your children’s children will still enjoy the same clean air you breathe, the clear water you drink and the great experiences that you have.

Christopher Hill is Founder and CEO at Hands Up Holidays. Hands Up Holidays is an award-winning travel company specialising in tailor-made luxury family trips that combine sightseeing with hands-on service projects.

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Categories
Cruises

Applications open for Paycheck Protection Program

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has released the
application for the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the $2 trillion
Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act.

The application can be found on the Treasury Department’s
website.  The department has also issued more
information on the program for borrowers and lenders.

The program, funded with $349 billion, was designed for
small businesses to keep workers employed, according to the Small Business
Administration. The maximum loan amount is $10 million, and loan forgiveness is
possible if the funds are used for payroll costs and other business expenses.

The Paycheck Protection Program is one of several options
small businesses (under 500 employees) have for relief under the Cares Act.

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Categories
Travel

Lockdown searches by Brits for January 2021 trips to Spain up 1,626%

Planning already for the end of lockdown: UK searches Spanish holidays up 1600% – with departure dates in January 2021

  • Travel searches for trips from the UK to France in January 2021 are up by 409%
  • Research for trips to Italy also frenzied, with searches up by 385% for that month 
  • Searches for trips to Germany, however, are below average for January 2021

British travellers are in lockdown, but they are clearly dreaming of – and researching – their next holiday.

And where will that be? Spain, by the looks of it.

Analysts have revealed that travel searches for trips from the UK to Spain with a departure date in January 2021 are up year-over-year by 1,626 per cent.

Analysts have revealed that travel searches from the UK to Spain with a departure date in January 2021 are up year-over-year by 1,626 per cent

The number-crunching comes courtesy of digital travel marketing solutions firm Sojern, which presented a range of findings in a blog post.

It says that travel searches for holidays from the UK to France in January 2021 also show an early increase – of 409 per cent year-over-year – and that lots of Britons will also be heading to Italy, according to the data, which shows ‘a significant above-average year-over-year increase of 385 per cent’.

Searches for trips to Germany, however, are below average for the same month, based on data from March 30.

Sojern says: ‘Whilst actual travel bookings are a stronger sign of consumer confidence, many consumers will search out of general interest, to check for availability and pricing and travel inspiration for their favourite destinations.

‘The departure date of January 2021 is extremely far out and we usually only see a small percentage of early searches looking at regional travel this far in advance.

‘We are, however, seeing an increase in early searches due to the current situation. Therefore, these numbers, although significant in terms of increases, are very early signs of travel intent.’

Majorca, pictured, could be one of the Spanish destinations that sees a huge wave of visitors next year

The firm stresses that it will ‘take some time for the industry to recover and for consumer confidence to return’.

As a result, it expects recovery to ‘start domestically, with travellers opting to travel closer to home’.

It adds that ‘this is certainly the case for European countries’ including France, Italy and the UK, which ‘all show a very early indication of year-over-year increases in domestic travel searches for January 2021’ – 17 per cent, 103 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. 

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Categories
Transport

Delta Extends Waivers for Another Month

Delta Air Lines on Saturday said it will waive change fees for another month, extending the period until the end of May of this year.

Passengers will be able to change, cancel or re-book flights without a charge, including international flights.

According to the airline, if you’re traveling to the same destination, you can also change your plans without a fare difference for travel beginning by May 31. For travel from June 1-Dec. 31, the fare difference will apply.

If you’re uncertain about your travel dates or destination, we recommend canceling your ticket and receiving a credit with the same value to use on a future date.

Delta is also extending any ticket for travel in March or April that is set to expire before June 30, 2020, to permit travel until December 31, 2020. You can rebook and fly with these tickets until the end of this year.

Fares in all cabins are capped to and from all destinations throughout the U.S. and Canada through April 30.

American Airlines also extended its waivers through May; other airlines are likely to follow.

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