Marriott CEO Issues Update for Customers Amid COVID-19

Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson has issued a new update on the company’s ongoing efforts in the community in the time of coronavirus (COVID-19) as well as new details regarding its room cancellation policy and changes to Marriott Bonvoy status and points expiration dates.

“For guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, we will allow full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020. Please note that any changes to existing reservations will be subject to availability and any rate differences,” said Sorenson.

“For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between March 13 and June 30, 2020, we will allow the reservation to be changed or canceled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date.”

Marriott is also finding ways to assist healthcare workers and others on the frontlines amid the pandemic.

“With support from our credit card partners, American Express and JPMorgan Chase, Marriott has committed to provide $10 million worth of hotel stays for healthcare professionals leading the fight against COVID-19 in the United States,” added Sorenson. “The initiative, called Rooms for Responders, will provide free rooms in some of the areas most impacted including New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. and Newark, New Jersey.”

Sorenson also updated Marriott Bonvoy members on changes to their status and points expiration dates.

“We want you to be able to enjoy the status that you earned in 2019. With that in mind, the status you earned in 2019 will be extended to February 2022,” he said. “To provide you ample time to redeem points, the expiration of points will be paused until February 2021. At that time, your points will only expire if your account has been inactive for at least 24 months.”

Members can also donate their points to COVID-19 relief organizations such as the American Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UNICEF and World Central Kitchen via Marriott Bonvoy’s Giving Platform.

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Master Luxury Travel With TravelPulse's Virtual Expo

Booking luxury travel clients is more important than ever for travel agents looking to secure their highest commissions in the time of coronavirus (COVID-19).


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Why Every Travel Advisor Should Become an ASTA Member

Whether new to the industry, looking to expand expertise or aiming to put newfound downtime to good use, TravelPulse’s Luxury Expo is a fantastic way to develop proficiency to help grow your business.

Right now, agents can register for this month’s expo—which is scheduled for April 29-30 from 2-5 p.m. ET.

Participants will not only learn invaluable luxury sales skills but also be informed about what’s to come so they can start fast in a post-COVID-19 landscape.

Agents will learn from successful luxury travel agents as well as travel suppliers and industry experts who will showcase the latest and greatest high-end vacation options in addition to the best ways to optimize market efforts.

Following the informative panel discussions and interviews, users will also have the ability to reaffirm their new knowledge by virtually walking through the trade show floors to access the tools they need to successfully sell luxury travel.

Click here to register today.

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Polar Latitudes getting third ship

Antarctica specialist Polar Latitudes is adding a third ship
to its fleet for the 2021-22 season.

The 164-passenger Seaventure will feature a sauna, fitness
center and heated saltwater pool. All cabins will include flat-screen TVs,
temperature controls and complimentary minibars, while staterooms and suites on
the top two decks will have private balconies.

The ship, previously called the Bremen, formerly sailed for
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

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AmaWaterways’ Rudi Schreiner Optimistic About River Cruising’s Rebound

AmaWaterways President and Co-Founder Rudi Schreiner is optimistic that the river cruise industry will rebound once the coronavirus outbreak dissipates.

“Once everything is over people often forget quickly,” he told TravelPulse. “There will be pent-up demand, but the question now is when does it start up again?”

AmaWaterways has suspended river cruise operations until May 31 but is protecting travel agent commissions on canceled departures and paying 10 percent again when the agents’ clients rebook using future cruise credits (valued at 115 percent of the initial payments). That commitment is valued, especially since this is one of the direst situations in memory for travel.

“This is for sure one of the most severe situations we’ve ever had,” Schreiner said. “It is worse than 9/11 and worse than some of the terrorist attacks.”

For river cruising, this situation is worse than 9/11 because that attack occurred in September when most of the river cruise season was over – not at the beginning of the season like it is now.

“So, 9/11 was huge but didn’t affect European river cruising as strongly,” he said. “The most intense time for us personally was the first two weeks of March this year. Ships were ready, crews were onboard, provisions were ready” and then the virus spread across parts of Europe. The season was suspended.

“Once that was done, you at least had a clear picture ahead of you,” Schreiner said.

That doesn’t mean work is over for the time being. Schreiner is working out of his home in Westlake Village, Calif., and “right now we are busy on daily conference calls with the management team, individual calls with departments and so on. It’s very busy, and it’s getting organized, sorting through the whole thing. If we don’t cruise this entire season, we’ll make it through.”

That’s because Schreiner said AmaWaterways’ 25 ships are all paid off and funding in place will carry the company through.

“My worst-case scenario over the last 6-7 years, when our fleet became bigger, was because of such extreme low water we cannot cruise for a season,” he said. “In 2018, we had low water through the whole season. If it would get to an extreme level and we couldn’t cruise for a season, that’s why I always wanted to be as debt-free as possible. For many, many years, every penny we made went back into the company and our last 12 ships were completely paid in cash. Now everything is paid off.”

The company also is focused on its staff members. “We’re trying to maintain pretty much all our staff in our offices in Calabasas (Calif.), Dallas, Basel (Switzerland), and London,” Schreiner said. But European nations often operate differently. In Switzerland, for example, the government wants people to continue working and will pay 80 percent of the workers’ salaries, he explained.

When river cruise does rebound, it likely won’t get the same kind of fear that ocean companies are likely to face – such as being quarantined or turned away from countries. River ships are always close to land and don’t sail in international waters, so can’t be turned away from a country.

“On the river, you’re always within a country, you’re not coming from international waters,” he said. “It’s a different environment. Small-ship cruising will continue, and expedition cruising will continue. Ocean cruising may take longer, but I think it will also come back.”

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How the Hotel Industry Will Bounce Back After COVID-19

The resiliency of the hotel industry will help it rebound as the effects of the coronavirus ebb, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics firm.

“It is imperative that hotels across the globe remember how they have overcome a range of past crises, such as natural disasters, the SARS outbreak and acts of terrorism when thinking through their strategies to handle the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ralph Hollister, a travel and tourism analyst for GlobalData. “As the impact of COVID-19 lessens and demand increases, it is crucial that hotels act in a proactive manner by effectively managing room rates and marketing offers to maximize revenues.”

He added, “Hotels that are the fastest to drop their room rates and who provide the heaviest discounts will often be the last ones to recover when demand eventually returns. Many hotels will not be able to return to their normal rates instantly after demand for travel returns.”

In the view of Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Planning, it depends on how deep the discounts are and how many properties are offering them.

“The public is expecting discounts so they will be drawn to the properties offering [them], provided they are in an [properties with] acceptable levels of comfort and service,” she said. “That said, those who discount may take longer to recoup their lost income and it might be difficult to stay afloat. We also need to keep in mind that a good portion of the traveling public may also be hurting financially, so travelers may need these discounts to even consider traveling.

Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel noted that in the past, hotels were the fastest at dramatically dropping rates subsequently had issues in obtaining new bookings when demand increased and rates were raised significantly.

“Travelers saw that and selected hotels that did not appear to have substantial price increases when demand increased,” she said. “A number of hotels lowered prices a bit and then simply raised rates as demand increased. There was not a substantial decrease or increase,” she said.

Meanwhile, Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler believes that hotel rates will need to be adjusted going forward, and in all likelihood, increase based on supply and demand.

“Some hotels may offer initial discounts to lure the first wave of travelers, but that’s likely not financially sustainable after such devastating losses over the period that the travel restrictions will last,” she said.

Travel advisors, meanwhile, were mixed on how and when the hotel industry will make a recovery.

“If this ends relatively soon (like before summer), then I think people will trickle back into travel in the summer and many will keep their reservations for fall,” Lukovic said. “That said, we have an election coming up, and historically, from my perspective, the uncertainty an election brings keeps people home near those months.”

Said Chau, “Some travelers will have very itchy feet and want to leave home as soon as possible, while others may be more cautious in the beginning and/or will not have the same financial means to travel as they did before the crisis.”

For her part, Schoeder is of the opinion that the hotel industry will indeed be one of the first travel segments to bounce back. “I think we will see hotels offering very attractive promotions that will not damage their brand to get people booking again,” she said.

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Ten cruise ships still at sea

Most of the world’s cruise ships are idle because of the
Covid-19 pandemic, but 10 vessels carrying about 8,000 passengers were still at
sea on Wednesday.

Some of the ships were on world cruises that started at the
beginning of January. Some have ill passengers aboard. The challenge is to get passengers home when many ports are closed.

“This has been a complex process with teams of people
working day and night to coordinate a safe and orderly return to port for
passengers and crew and cruise lines working under the direction of governments
and health authorities at every step,” said Anne Madison, a spokesperson for cruise
trade group CLIA. 

Holland America Line’s Zaandam has gotten the most media attention
because of its arduous journey and because four passengers have died on the
ship. 

The Zaandam departed on March 7 from Argentina and is now
cruising toward Florida, awaiting permission to disembark. The ship is
accompanied by the Rotterdam, which met up with the Zaandam off the coast of
Panama to deliver supplies.

The Zaandam’s voyage had been scheduled to end on March 21
in Chile, but it was turned away by South American ports. Holland America said 97 guests and 136 crew have presented
with influenza-like symptoms since March 22. A few have tested positive for
Covid-19. 

Guests have not left the ship since March 14 and have been confined to their staterooms since March 22.
___

Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess and Pacific Princess are
still sailing. Coral Princess has 1,023 guests onboard and Pacific Princess has
115, Princess Cruises said.

As of Tuesday, the medical center onboard Coral Princess was
reporting a higher-than-normal number of people with influenza-like symptoms.
Many have tested positive for regular influenza but to be cautious, all guests are
quarantined in their staterooms. All meals are being delivered by room service.
Crew members are remaining in their staterooms when they are not working.

The Coral Princess went to Bridgetown, Barbados, for a
service call on Tuesday but guests and crew were not permitted to go ashore.
The ship is scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on April 4. 

The Pacific Princess made a service call to Melbourne,
Australia, to refuel and pick up provisions. No guests or crew were allowed to
disembark. The 115 guests on board did not meet IATA’s fitness standards for
air travel or were not able to fly because of medical conditions not related to
coronavirus, Princess said. The ship is now sailing back to Los Angeles, which
is approximately a 21-day journey. 

The MSC Magnifica made a call at Fremantle, Australia,
earlier this week and has now resumed its journey back to Europe. Prior to the coronavirus
outbreak, the ship had called at Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is on its way to Southampton, England.
Most guests disembarked the ship in Fremantle, Australia, on March 14 and 15.
The ship made a technical stop in Durban, South Africa, on March 31. The Queen
Mary 2 will soon be sailing again and has 264 guests aboard, a Cunard spokeswoman
said. 

P&O Cruises has one ship still at sea — the Arcadia
with 1,404 guests onboard. The Arcadia is returning to England and is expected to
arrive on schedule on April 12. 

“Social distancing measures are being rigorously enforced on
board,” said Michele Andjel, vice president of public relations for P&O
Cruises and Carnival U.K.

Other ships trying to make port, according to
CruiseMapper.com, are the Costa Deliziosa, the Astor (owned by Germany-based
Premicon) Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ Columbus and the expedition ship Greg
Mortimer.

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Tourists Stranded in Israel Share Their Stories

WHY IT RATES: One of Israel’s leading tour operators reveals how some stranded tourists are navigating the COVID-19 crisis far from home. —Patrick Clarke, TravelPulse Senior Writer

Many people dream of visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the ancient fortress of Masada at least once in their lifetime.

Travelers who planned their trips to Israel in March 2020 put in hours of research finding a reputable tour company, picking out the chef restaurants they would dine at in Tel Aviv and dreaming about floating on their backs in the salty Dead Sea waters. It wasn’t long before their trip went awry.

Tourist Israel, one of Israel’s leading tour operators, touched base with tourists currently stuck in Israel to see how they’re faring during these difficult times.

Lukas, a traveler from Switzerland, had planned to spend three months traveling and volunteering in Israel. Within a month of his arrival, the Coronavirus broke out and the desert community where he was staying closed their doors. For the last few weeks, he’s been bunking with another volunteer in her apartment, weighing out his options. At the moment, there are no flights back to Switzerland. He worries that he will soon face financial struggles.

Many countries have closed their borders and shut down their airports. At the moment, only one flight is still operating out of Ben Gurion Airport to the United States on United Airlines. Flights to other parts of the world are few and far in between.

Tourists who have been traveling in Israel for an extended period of time are frantically trying to get extensions on their visas. Those who had just begun their trip at the start of the restrictions are now eagerly trying to find a way out.

Tourist Israel also spoke with an older couple from Ecuador who recently came to visit their daughter and see their grandson. They are currently stuck in Israel after Ecuador closed its borders and isn’t even allowing its citizens to return home.

While they were able to receive special permission from the embassy to re-enter the closed country, their airline could not book them a new flight until the beginning of May, and even that, they fear, may be canceled. They are disappointed not to have received a humanitarian ticket from their country, and they just want to go home.

Israel is recognized for staying loyal to citizens regardless of the cost and continues to be there for them during this difficult time, recently rescuing Israeli travelers in Peru, India and Africa who were unable to get home due to closed borders and airport shutdowns. There are also plans to rescue additional Israelis stuck across Asia.

However, not all countries are acting in the same manner, and thousands of people are still trapped in Israel, hoping and praying to find a way home.

SOURCE: Tourist Israel press release.

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WiT Virtual Examines COVID-19 Through the Lens of Investors

As travel grinds to a halt due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Web in Travel’s “Unity in Crisis” series has gone virtual, lanching online events that will generate insightful discussion and debate by diving into timely topics impacting the industry.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.
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Disney Executives Take Major Pay Cuts

PHOTO: Holland America Line

Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford on Response to…

PHOTO: Holland America Line

Florida Gov. Says Coronavirus-Stricken Zaandam Cruise Ship Can…

White passenger airplane in the sky.

Despite Bailout Provisions, Airline Workers Getting Hours and…

The upcoming episode, Through The Lens of Investors, will air Wednesday, April 1 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. SGT (Tuesday, March 31 from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET)

The hour-long event will be moderated by WiT Founder Yeoh Siew Hoon and feature a trio of investors—Hian Goh, Co-founder and Partner, Openspace Ventures; Timothy Hughes, Vice President, Corporate Development, Agoda and Kuo-Yi Lim, Managing Partner, Monk’s Hill Ventures—who will share their unique perspectives on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

With travel and tourism industry-related stocks taking a huge hit in recent weeks, this week’s WiT Virtual will focus on a number of key questions, including how investors in Asia currently view the impact; how they are advising their portfolio companies to weather it and the responsibility of investors at this moment in time.

Click here to register for Through The Lens of Investors.

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Coronavirus cruise: British lives at risk on stranded ship – governments ‘turned backs’

Cruise ship Zaandam, of Holland American Line, has been turned away by several countries so far amid coronavirus concerns and fears mount that the vessel will continue to be rejected. Zaandam is currently travelling towards Florida, USA although it’s not known for certain whether the cruise ship will be able to dock. On Monday, governor Ron DeSantis said passengers cannot be “dumped” in his state, in the latest cruise news.

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There are hundreds of British, American and Australian holidaymakers on the liner.

However, DeSantis as dismissed those onboard Zaandam as mostly “foreigners,” when speaking to Fox News.

The ship was previously rejected by several Latin American countries.

Four people have died on the ship so far and eight people have tested positive for coronavirus.

What’s more, around 200 people are unwell with flu-like symptoms.

Many of the Zaandam passengers are elderly.

President of Holland America Line, Orlando Ashford, has now called for ports to show “compassion and grace” to Zaandam and its sister ship Rotterdam.

“Holland America Line is working tirelessly to find medical help and safe passage home for the 1,243 guests and 1,247 crew stranded at sea on our two ships, Zaandam and Rotterdam,” he said in a statement.

“They are among the 9,000-plus passengers still remaining on about a dozen other cruise ships worldwide.

“These are unfortunate souls unwittingly caught up in the fast-changing health, policy and border restrictions that have rapidly swept the globe.”

Ashford continued: “Nations are justifiably focused on the COVID-19 crisis unfolding before them.

“But they’ve turned their backs on thousands of people left floating at sea.

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“Are these reactions based on facts from experts like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or fuelled by irrational fear? What happened to compassion and help thy neighbour?

He added: “We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome. The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam leaving her to fend for herself.

“As a result, Zaandam was forced to take proactive measures, rendezvousing with sister ship Rotterdam to replenish much-needed supplies and protect the health of the guests and crew who aren’t ill.”

The cruise line President explained: “We made the unprecedented decision to transfer to Rotterdam those guests we could quickly and safely move to alleviate Zaandam crew workload immediately and to get as many guests as possible into rooms with windows and verandahs.

“Following CDC protocols, we screened guests prior to transfer and all wore protective face masks.

“To ensure everyone’s well-being, we did not move guests who needed further screening or those likely to need ongoing support by the medical team to Rotterdam. Guests on both ships continue to self-isolate in their staterooms.

“Reducing the guest count on Zaandam helps available staff better serve those remaining on board. No guests who have been ill or symptomatic were moved, nor were their close contacts.

“And no Zaandam crew moved to Rotterdam. Zaandam received additional medical supplies including COVID-19 tests, face masks for guests and personal protective equipment for crew, as well as medical staff. This will help, but patients will need to get home for additional medical care.”

Ashford concluded: “The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our common humanity. To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human values.” 

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How the CARE Act Can Provide Relief to Travel Advisors

Last week, Congress passed a massive stimulus bill known as The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In it is relief for struggling travel advisors but, as these bills usually are, the language is dense and hard to decipher—so ASTA has stepped in to outline the benefits.

One of the clearest parts of the bill was the $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees reserved for the airlines and “ticket agents,” but there are many ways in which travel advisors can get financial relief from the bill.

“Most members will access relief through the Small Business Administration program,” ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby told advisors on the webinar.

One of the major benefits of the CARES Act is that it opens access to unemployment benefits to independent contractors and the self-employed.

Workers on 1099 are not usually eligible for unemployment because they don’t pay into state unemployment programs; however, the CARES Act recognizes that this global pandemic has created an unprecedented need for relief. Self-employed people’s incomes have been decimated by this crisis, and now they will be able to have access to these benefits.

“Through the end of the year, ICs who meet the stated criteria can receive benefits through their state unemployment program to essentially the same extent that they would have if they were W2 employees,” said Peter Lobasso, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at ASTA.

The IC only needs to certify that he or she has been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and, but for that, would have been able to be available to work as usual.

“I believe that this requirement will be very loosely interpreted,” said Lobasso.

The amount of the benefit will be determined by each state’s computation system, but it will definitely be based on the IC’s net income for the last tax year. In addition, the IC will be eligible to receive an additional $600 available even if the worker was previously earning less than that.

The benefit will run through the end of the year, and those needing access should contact their state unemployment agency.

New Loans

Companies with more than 500 employees have access to $454 billion in loans and loan guarantees to support eligible U.S. businesses that have not received adequate relief from other available loan programs. This is in addition to the $25 billion that is earmarked for the airlines and travel agencies.

Applicants for these loans must establish that alternative financing is not reasonably available.

The terms are up to five years; interest is at prevailing market rates prior to COVID-19, and there is no loan forgiveness. The Treasury Department will be publishing application procedures and minimum requirements within 10 days of bill enactment.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans

There are special SBA loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Businesses don’t need to have employees to qualify, so independent contractors and self-employed people qualify for these SBA loans.

Loans provide up to $2 million and are designed to provide working capital for regular business expenses such as rent, payroll, utilities, etc.

The interest rate on these loans is 3.75 percent, and the maximum term is 30 years. There is no collateral or personal guarantee needed, and there is a one-year deferment on the first payment.

As of March 13, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have been declared disaster areas for SBA purposes.

The SBA says that the best way to apply is online, which will be the fastest way to get approval.

Small Business Interruption Loans

This is a new program that loans up to $10 million to U.S. businesses that fall under the SBA size standards ($22 million in annual revenue or with 500 or fewer employees). Independent contractors and the self-employed are also eligible for these loans. These guidelines are less restrictive than they were previously, and these loans no longer require collateral or guaranty.

The portion of these loans that covers payroll, mortgage, rent or utility expenses from February 15 to June 30 may be eligible for loan forgiveness in whole or in part.

There is a less rigorous application process for these loans, and they have fixed low-interest rates and terms of up to 10 years.

Airline Economic Stabilization Loans

There is $25 billion set aside for Airline Economic Stabilization Loans. These are available through the Treasury Department for “ticket agents” and other related aviation industries. The Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of Transportation allocate these funds, and ASTA will work with these departments to implement the provision.

ASTA said that this portion of the relief package is probably going to take the most time to sort through because it is done in consultation with so many outside partners.

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