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Travel

Tim Roxborogh’s Travel Bugs: Dreaming of holidays in Kerala, India

I can still remember the first time I learned about Kerala in India, the subcontinent’s southernmost state. It was also the exact moment I knew I had to plan a way to get there: the year was 2013, it was late at night, sitting in a taxi outside my apartment, with my driver proudly showing me photos of his home country on his iPad.

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I’d mentioned during the ride how much I wanted to get to India and he told me that when I did, it was non-negotiable that I see Kerala. “It’s God’s own country”, he said while flicking through photographs of a place I’d until that point known virtually nothing about. He sold me.

One year later, in 2014, I was there, and three years after that, in 2017, I was back again. By the time of that second trip to Kerala I was engaged to be married, but being there solo, it hit me not only how much I loved it, but how much it was a place I’d have to show Aimee, my future wife.

It’s cliche to say India is beguiling, just as it’s cliche to describe it as an assault on the senses. Both are true, but in Kerala you have the perfect Indian introduction. This is a state that prides itself on its standard of living, its religious diversity, the fact it has both the highest life expectancy and the highest literacy rate in India, its treatment of women, its incredible cuisine, and the not-insignificant reality it’s widely hailed as being several notches less manic than the rest of the country.

But beyond that, Kerala is a lush slice of greenery with scenery as beautiful as anywhere in India. Whether it’s centuries-old churches in Fort Kochi or world-class tiger reserves like Periyar National Park; whether it’s languid days cruising glorious backwaters in an old rice boat or indulging in eco-resort luxury in one of the 10 most biodiverse regions in the world, the Western Ghats, Kerala will get a hold on you.

Three years since my last visit, I’m now married to Aimee and we have a daughter, Riley. I can’t wait to take them both there so I can show them the place I’m dreaming of.

Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB’s Weekend Collective and blogs at roxboroghreport.com

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Travel

Cruise: Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruises extend suspension of voyages amid covid-19

Most people have put their holiday plans on hold due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Cruise voyages have been suspended and flights have been cancelled, leading to an influx of refunds. But while cruise customers were hoping for their future voyage plans to remain intact, their holiday dreams may have just been dashed.

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Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruises both announced today that they will be extending their voyage suspensions.

Norwegian Cruises said the extension now includes voyages embarking between April 12 and May 10 2020 for its three cruise brands.

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The move is to help contribute to the global efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The extension includes voyages for Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd said that covid-19 is still having a “significant impact on communities” across the globe.

He said: “With COVID-19 continuing to have a significant impact on communities throughout the world, we are extending our temporary suspension of cruise voyages across our three brands through May 10.

While we understand this disruption may inconvenience our loyal guests and valued travel partners, we are committed first and foremost to protecting the safety, security and well-being of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit.

“We appreciate their continued understanding as we navigate through these unprecedented times and do our part to help global efforts to contain this pandemic.”

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Guests who are currently booked on voyages with embarkation dates between March 13 and May 10 2020 on Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises have been asked to contact their travel agent or the cruise line for more information.

Royal Caribbean said that the move was to provide “peace of mind in guest travel planning”.

They said they are now extending its ‘Cruise with Confidence’ cancellation policy to September 1 2020.

The updated policy will allow customers to plan flexibly and cancel their voyages up to 48 hours prior to sailing for any reason.

However, guests will not receive a cash refund but credit instead which is usable on any future sailing of choice in 2020 or 2021.

Company chairman and CEO Richard Fain said: “Guests are reacting positively to our Cruise with Confidence policy.

“Because it enables them to make informed decisions and to better manage complicated travel plans during this unprecedented time of uncertainty.”

“We want our guests to feel they can safely keep their existing cruise bookings or schedule new sailings.

“Because this policy gives them more freedom and flexibility.”

The extension applies to both new and existing cruise bookings.

The policy applies to all cruises with sailing dates on or before September 1, 2020, and applies to the company’s global brands.

Royal Caribbean Cruises is a renowned global cruise company that controls and operates four brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea Cruises.

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Cruises

Globus cancels travel until July

Globus, one of the world’s largest tour operators and the
parent of river cruise line Avalon Waterways, has cancelled all tours, cruises
and vacation packages through June 30 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While many travel companies earlier this month suspended
operations through April, they have increasingly over the past few weeks pushed
back expected restart dates through at least the end of May.

President Trump on Sunday extended until the end of April
his call for Americans to stay home and practice social distancing. Many
countries have closed their borders indefinitely.

Click for links to travel companies’ schedule changes and
cancellation, refund and commission policies.

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Travel

Watch Virgin Australia’s musical farewell to last international service

In a musical showstopper, Virgin Australia’s ground staff have bid farewell to the final scheduled international service as the airline halts operations today.

Through the words of pop power balladeers Journey, ground crew at Brisbane International Airport sang “Don’t stop believin'” as flight VA153 to Auckland set off for the last time.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic Virgin Australia has grounded all international flights as of today until at least June 14.

To mark the final flight, for now, Virgin Australia crew filmed themselves performing a choreographed dance of waves and aeroplane wings on the tarmac and quiet departure halls of the Australian airport.

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Travel

easyJet grounds entire fleet of aircraft over coronavirus after 650 rescue flights

The airline announced this morning in a shock move that amid the coronavirus pandemic, they will ground their fleet of aircraft. easyJet said in a statement: “As a result of the unprecedented travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the implementation of national lockdowns across many European countries, easyJet has, today, fully grounded its entire fleet of aircraft.

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“Over recent days easyJet has been helping to repatriate customers, having operated more than 650 rescue flights to date, returning home more than 45,000 customers.

“The last of these rescue flights were operated on Sunday March 29.

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“We will continue to work with Government bodies to operate additional rescue flights as requested.

“At this stage there can be no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.

“We will continuously evaluate the situation based on regulations and demand, and will update the market when we have a view.”

The airline said they have repatriated 45,000 Britons from around the world due to the coronavirus.

easyJet brought the last flight in yesterday and have done 650 rescue flights, according to Sky News.

If the Government wants them as a charter flight to bring more Britons home, they will reportedly be available.

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But the commercial sector of their business has closed for good now.

The company has worked with Unite the union to agree to two-month furlough arrangements for cabin crew.

This means that crew will be paid 80 percent of their average pay through the Government job retention scheme.

More to follow…

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Cruises

How Travel Agents Are Coping With COVID-19, Preparing for Recovery

In anticipation of the economic recovery that’s bound to follow once the COVID-19 health crisis abates, Development Counsellors International (DCI)—a leading travel and economic development marketing firm—looked to travel advisors to discover the ways in which they’re coping, and how marketing organizations might best help agents to prepare and position themselves well for the industry’s rebound.

A group of 457 travel advisors, 73 percent of whom hailed from the United States and 27 percent from Canada, participated in a March 2020 survey to provide some insight into the challenges agents currently face, and what their present needs and future expectations might be.

Current Climate

Amid the onslaught of travel notices and restrictions, border closures, and transportation shutdowns that have occurred over the past several weeks, travel advisors been kept busy—perhaps even more so than usual.

79 percent of advisors reported that they now spend the majority of their working hours rescheduling client bookings, and 71 percent of advisors reported spending much of their time providing their clients with reassurance, relevant up-to-date information, and clarification on new restrictions or policies.

A staggering 90 percent of respondents reported seeing cancellations of existing bookings and 82 percent have seen a decline in future 2020 bookings. While some share of clients may cancel entirely, 64 percent of advisors have also seen clients looking to postpone and reschedule their travel plans.

53 percent of those surveyed said they’ve seen a decline in interest in 2021 trips, though it’s impossible at the moment to make accurate predictions about such far-reaching effects of the coronavirus on travel.

Despite the pervasive air of uncertainty affecting everyone at present, North American travel advisors’ outlook for the near future seems optimistic, as evidenced by their reported anticipation of returning to business mostly-as-usual within the next few months.

Maintaining Momentum

Although at present they’re largely focused on mitigating fallout from the coronavirus epidemic, travel advisors are also apparently readying themselves for the time when travel resumes its normal pace.

The research showed that agents are demonstrating a marked interest in pursuing professional development opportunities, such as specialist courses and webinars. 38 percent reported that they’re actively engaging in these types of continuing education during the slowdown.

Since trade shows and FAM trips are all on hold, advisors are finding their own ways of staying updated on the products and destinations they sell; which is why DCI suggests that DMOs and operators ought to keep their websites and online marketing materials continuously refreshed, so that agents can be set to start selling once travel resumes.

Future Forecast

The data clearly shows that the majority of travel advisors are eager to get back to business as usual and attend events, at least in their home markets. Nearly one-third of respondents said they anticipate participating in destination sales events within their home markets as early as May 2020, with that number jumping to almost 60 percent who expect that it will happen by June.

In terms of taking a FAM trip, advisors seemed slightly more hesitant. For domestic trips, 26 percent of advisors mostly said they’d be willing to take a FAM trip within the U.S. by June, 18 percent by May. It will take a bit longer for them to reestablish enough confidence to volunteer for international FAMs, with a majority of respondents indicating that September is the earliest they’d consider traveling outside the U.S. Yet, more than 30 percent still said they would contemplate doing so by May or June.

For more information, visit aboutdci.com.

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Travel

Covid 19 coronavirus: the best travel stories of the week

This week, the nation went into lockdown in a fight to save lives and stop the spread of covid-19.

The world can feel like a glum and gloomy place as we all take shelter in our homes and watch the ever increasing numbers of positive coronavirus test results announced.

But each day, there are some little gems that pop up, that might have got missed in the major news updates.

Each Friday over the next four weeks, the Herald Travel team is going to bring you a selection of some of the happier coronavirus-related travel stories, to help break up the doomsday vibes.

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Travel

Covid 19 coronavirus: The Kiwi stuck in the middle of the Pacific

When I flew to the Marshall Islands on February 28, the only disease anyone was interested in was the measles. The check-in person in Honolulu needed to see my vaccination proof, as did the air-steward before I boarded the plane, and finally, I showed it one more time going through customs on arrival.

I had travelled from New Zealand to the Marshall Islands to join friends on their yacht. The plan was for a month of diving, kiting and exploring. Then I would fly back home on March 25.

The plan started out fine, and by March 4, we were anchored on an uninhabited atoll at least 24-hours’ sail away from the nearest cellphone tower or internet connection. We had a satellite phone on board for emergencies, but other than that, the outside world was out of reach. When we signed off from the world, the travel restrictions and lock downs in the news were really only for China, and toilet paper was still being purchased in an orderly fashion.

A friend had suggested I write a travel article about my trip and so I was keeping a diary. The first few days of it read like any tropical holiday. “I saw my first seahorse!” “What is this fish I just shot and can we eat it?” “B*%* sunburn!!!!”

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Travel

Meghan Markle: Inside $75k-a-night New York hotel room where Duchess had her baby shower

Located in the prestigious Upper East Side of Manhattan, The Mark Hotel is a stunning, star-studded location that has seen its fair share of celebrities. But the best room in the entire place is not a room at all but a stunning 12,000-square-foot penthouse with views of New York’s skyline. Priced at a mouthwatering $75,000 (£63,000) per night, the suite is not only New York’s most expensive hotel room but it has hosted the likes of ex-Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, actress Katie Holmes and The Duchess of Sussex herself. Meghan’s extravagant baby shower was planned by no other than tennis champion Serena Williams and included a night in the top notch suite.

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So, what does $75,000-a-night get you on the corner of Madison Avenue?

The Mark Hotel calls the suite an “oasis in the sky” which has its own private lift that takes guests up to the 16th floor to access the famous penthouse suite.

The lift leads to the foyer which has for doors leading to different parts of the 12,000-square-foot penthouse.

Just before entering the lounge area, there is a seating room with a grand piano which leads to one of the most incredible aspects of the suite.

The lounge is an airy room with a plethora of windows, a billiard table, multiple seating areas and a 26-foot-tall cathedral ceiling.

The penthouse suite also includes a library which has a cozy seating area that is perfect for taking some timeout away from the busy city.

Opposite the bookshelves is one of the suite’s four fireplaces which were designed to make the space feel more homely than hotel-like.

The owner of The Mark Hotel Izak Senbahar told Fortune: “Our guests live truly global lives and also truly understand and expect rarified luxury and real comfort so we wanted to create a majestic space within the hotel that is the pinnacle of luxury in terms of design and amenities but also feels more like a majestic residence than a hotel suite.”

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Through the library, there is a a formal dining room that seats up to 24 people at a time.

Each room and most the furniture in the luxury penthouse was designed by French interior designer Jacques Grange who also designed the dining table.

The kitchen in the suite is surprisingly quite basic but there’s a reason for that.

Guests who stay in the penthouse also have access to in-room dining which includes caviar and can either book a private mixologist for $3,000 (£2526) to $5,000 (£4211) or book a 10-course dining experience with Michelin-star chef Jean-Georges for upwards of $10,000 (£8423).

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Up the stairs, is a beautiful conservatory which offers an exclusive view of the New York City skyline.

The room has sofas, armchairs, a fireplace, a wet bar and access to a 2,500 square-foot terrace with views that overlook Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During the winter months, guests can also enjoy the ice rink which is installed especially for guests.

The whole suite has a muted, neutral colour scheme and consists of five bedrooms which can house 15 guests.

The master bedroom has a floating fire place, an office area and a huge king size bed.

But one of the most amazing aspects of the suite is the master bathroom which has a large, walk-in shower on the left as you walk in, two sinks, a bidet and a deep soaking bath tub that has a window so you can look out onto New York while you relax.

The Mark also sells a bathrobe for $3,400 (£2863) if you want to dry off and relax in complete luxury.

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Travel

Japan’s tourist loss is these creatures’ gain as deer roam Nara

Tours are canceled. Restaurants are empty. And centuries-old temples are quieter than usual in the ancient capital city of Japan, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

All of Nara is suffering with its UNESCO World Heritage Site listed temples shuttered as Japan fights the virus.

All except the deer. The daily life of the town’s ‘treasured animal remains virtually unchanged.

While most deer stay within the boundaries of their grassy park, some wander off to gift shops and restaurants across the street from the park. The deer have the right of way, and drivers honor it.

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