Ultimate Travel Resource Covering (Covid-19, Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.)
For Those Stressed Out By Covid-19, Hotel Spas Say They Have The Answer. Ultimate Travel Resource Covering (Covid-19, Business, Personal, Cruise, Flying, Etc.)
They are rolling out services that purport to cater to customers’ mental health and well-being. Anybody care for a Mindplace Manicure?
Will Campbell, 41, has battled anxiety since he was 7 years old. Now vice president of operations for a digital media company, he says he has found two effective ways to manage his mental health: He meditates regularly, and he carves out plenty of time for pampering and self-care.
So when he heard about the Mindplace Manicure at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort last spring, he was intrigued.
“Any reason to get me to a spa, I’m in,” Mr. Campbell says. “When I read about this one, it sounded super intense, but also like something that was going to benefit me in my mind.”
Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our mental health. More than 42% of people surveyed by the Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up 11% from 2019.
This has not gone unnoticed by the global hospitality sector, which sees the potential for dollars in all that distress. As travel restarts and Americans return to hotels and resorts, an increasing number of spas are rolling out new features and programs to attend to customers’ mental health and emotional well-being.
Miraval Resorts & Spas, which has properties in Arizona, Texas and Massachusetts, worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to produce videos for its patrons that use soundscapes and scenery to induce relaxation.
The Rose spa at the Joseph hotel in Nashville, Tenn., which opened in August 2020 at the height of the pandemic, offers something called the Kundalini back treatment—in which “ancient marma therapy and warm herbal poultices are massaged into the back of the body, while sound healing and chakra balancing lift away tension.”
Hong Kong-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, for its part, has a new wellness program at its U.S. properties dubbed “Journey to Resilience,” aimed at helping guests put the negative emotions of 2020 behind them for good.
“We’re all forever changed by our experience with Covid, and I think we will never again take our personal health for granted,” says Laura Coburn, director of serenity at the recently opened spa and healing center at the Inns of Aurora, in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
“It’s really hard for some people to give themselves permission to carve out time just for healing, or for feeling their emotions,” says Ms. Coburn, who adds that she is working with a certified mental-health counselor to create a program for guests.
A clinical psychologist helped Carmel Valley Ranch on California’s Monterey Peninsula develop a program using horses in which, the resort’s website promises, prospective guests will “learn methods for growing your awareness and improving your physical and emotional well-being.”
“The program was in some ways absolutely influenced and sped along by the impact of the pandemic,” says Robert G. Magnelli, developer of the Equine Experiences program. “After the year we’ve all had, filled for many with anxiety, fearfulness, trauma and depression, the experience seems especially fitting for our guests.”
The spa at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, meanwhile, offers “sound healing,” a treatment it describes as helping guests “achieve a restorative, peaceful state.” At the company’s New York Downtown property, resident healer and hypnotist Nicole Hernandez, who was hired in December, says guests have sought her guidance with issues ranging from lockdown-fueled marriage troubles to phobias with wearing masks.
Some resorts are offering mental-health help not just to their guests, but to their own employees.
Before it rolls out new packaged stays at its so-called Wellbeing Sanctuaries, Singapore-based Banyan Tree, which operates dozens of hotels and spas world-wide, this fall is offering the product to its employees. “We said, ‘How are we going to deliver well-being for our guests if our associates are not well?’” says Woon Hoe Lee, executive director of well-being.
In addition to “ocean breath meditation,” sleep-enhancing rituals and customized dining menus, Sanctuary Stays offer a 64-point wellness assessment and treatment, heavily focusing on stress management and emotional resilience.
At the Marriott in Orlando, Mr. Campbell found his opportunity to book a Mindplace Manicure in late July. Once there, he says, he sat at a traditional manicure table, wearing sanitized headphones and virtual-reality goggles. As the technician buffed his nails and trimmed his cuticles, trance-like music filled his ears and synchronized colored lights flashed before his eyes.
“I was fully immersed in the sound and the light. I shut off completely,” Mr. Campbell says. “It was exactly what I needed to step away from my computer, do this immersive experience and come back with a fresh, relaxed take on everything.”
Where Our Readers Went When Travel Opened Back Up—and What It Was Like
Readers say they felt new appreciation for the freedom to be out in the country and world, and to reconnect with friends and family.
After many months of pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions, where did people choose to go when they were able to start traveling again? Who did they see? And what was it like to be out in the world again?
We asked Journal readers to tell us about their experiences. Here’s a sampling.
Our family of four adapted quite easily to Covid-19, despite 14 months of lockdown. Without the social distractions of school, our two teenage daughters thrived with remote Zoom learning, taking a heavy workload of college and high-school classes. But Covid-19 spanned two “grueling” Minnesota winters. By the end of a Minnesota winter, every resident’s thoughts dwell on fleeing the state.
In May, we joined a stampede out of Minnesota, following a thunderous herd of friends to Las Vegas and Zion National Park. We rewarded our daughters for their hard work and impressive grades with their own penthouse-like room at the Four Seasons hotel. Every teenage girl wants to be spoiled. Las Vegas and the Four Seasons pampered them to ruin.
Like a spring thaw, the scenic drive to Zion dispelled every thought of harsh winter, leaving just joy. It turned into fairyland magic as we crossed into southern Utah, through meandering strata of rust-colored sandstone formations of the eroded Colorado Plateau. The park seemed surreal even by Disney/Universal Studio standards. We returned home, happy and willing to endure Covid-19 and another Minnesota winter.
Thomas Fix, Stillwater, Minn.
I had been fully vaccinated since March and my mom was about to get her second Covid-19 shot in late April, so we decided to visit Holland, Mich., for the Tulip Time Festival in early May. We’d thought about visiting for years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take advantage of our recent vaccinations while also keeping some control by driving. We hit traffic in Illinois, which felt hilarious. Newly vaccinated, we felt like we were the first humans venturing out into the world again. Clearly, we were not.
We did feel a sense of freedom being able to route our trip as we pleased, stopping at Warren Dunes State Park, grabbing hot dogs and ice cream at a shop outside the entrance before heading in. We had reviewed hotels and Airbnb s and opted for a Holiday Inn Express outside of downtown.
The hotel asked guests to wear masks in common areas, the pool required reserved times, and the breakfast buffet was served to you from behind a counter. We had done a bit of homework on how the hotel amenities were functioning in the age of Covid, so this all felt extremely normal. It was well-run, we never felt inconvenienced, and always felt very safe.
That feeling of normalcy shifted when we first reached downtown Holland for Tulip Time. As we took in the vast outdoor gardens, unmasked, among a throng of fellow tourists, I felt an overwhelming strangeness. A very typical occurrence just a year before was now an oddity.
However, that strangeness found itself paired with an overwhelming joy. We had made it. We were on the other side. We were safe, we were together, and now the only concern we had was should we eat a normal lunch or dine on ice cream and mochas like delinquents? I think everyone in the crowd felt the same simple contentedness that comes from being out with your community.
In the following days, we visited other parks along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore and moseyed home exactly when we felt like it. Shortly after we began driving, we spotted a roadside sign for a Big Boy restaurant, a chain I knew about, but had never been to. We quickly steered to the off-ramp, our appetite for adventure still in peak form. At just 10:30 in the morning, we couldn’t help but to order milkshakes in celebration of our discovery. They tasted like hope.
Samantha Longshore, Milwaukee
We traveled from San Francisco to New York. I wanted to see friends in New York City, and I was traveling with people who were going to New York for the first time. But the primary reason was seeing my dad’s sister who is in her 90s and lives upstate.
I arrived too late for my flight to be worried about the airport, but I worried about Covid on the plane, especially when I had to take off my mask to eat or drink.
Once I arrived, it was really thrilling to walk the High Line and explore New York City since this was the first real vacation I had since going to Catalina Island with my girlfriend in March 2020 right before the pandemic. It was a combination of worry and excitement almost the whole trip—the Statue of Liberty and Times Square were great, but both those areas were also very crowded.
One of the highlights of the whole trip was kayaking in Lake George near Silver Bay. It was beautiful and serene and I was far enough away from my cousins in their separate boats that I was able to enjoy it without worrying about the coronavirus. I was content and relaxed.
It was quite a whirlwind trip, but it was great because of the adventures with my girlfriend and her boys and reconnecting with friends and relatives. I do, however, think it was a little risky because of the Delta variant.
John Robinson, Pinole, Calif.
I traveled to an organic mountain farm in Costa Rica near the beach town of Sámara and lived there for a month. I chose it because it was remote (still being safety-minded) and, after 16 months of fear and stress inside the four walls of my apartment, it felt like such a luxury to take joy in the magnificence of nature and fresh air.
The trip exceeded my expectations—apart from the sheer beauty, it was wonderful to be meeting people from around the world again. My Airbnb hosts were so delightful and taught me so much about the region, and the eponymous owner of the bakery food truck in town, Sweeties by Celia, makes the best chocolate truffle cake! Not to mention I could have awakened to that view and the sounds of howler monkeys every day for the rest of my life.
Emma Baker, Chicago
In late June my youngest son and I took our first trip to Nashville to visit my oldest son and his wife. We flew from LaGuardia Airport. It was jumping and the security line was chaotic, but we navigated the chaos and boarded the plane, which was booked solid and left on time.
The passengers were excited, and you could feel the buzz on the plane. As Nashville now seems to be a party destination city, I could sense that most passengers were ready to “go.” The majority seemed to be in their 20s and 30s and on their way to long-delayed reunions and of course—what Nashville is known for—bachelorette parties.
The city was clearly open for business, and coming from New York after a very long year, I got the impression that Covid was either officially over or it just never occurred in Nashville. We attended two music venues and enjoyed the shows, which appeared to be sold out. On Sunday morning I attended Catholic Mass and I was impressed with the number of people in the congregation, not to mention the music, which was knockout! After all it was Nashville!
On our way back, the crowd on the plane was subdued, no doubt a result of the busiest weekend most passengers had experienced in a long time. A young man seated to my left called his dad right before takeoff. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation.
He thanked his dad for a fabulous weekend, he told him how much he enjoyed his company, how much he had missed him and, most important, how much he loved him. He also told him how wonderful it was to see him again and how he couldn’t wait to get back together, possibly in New York City. I had those same exact feelings for my son and his wife whom we had just visited.
I sat in my seat and realized how disconnected we had all become over the past year and a half. Disconnected from loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, church, even sports teams. In today’s world we have the most advanced technology at our fingertips: FaceTime, direct messages, instant photos, you name it.
I asked myself, is there anything better than having the ability to board a plane, travel a thousand miles in 2½ hours and to be able to hug someone you haven’t seen in a year and a half or maybe longer? The answer was obvious to me—nope! It was fabulous to “hit the road” again, I knew it would be. Next stop?
Jerry Dolan, Brooklyn, N.Y.
We are just completing a 60-day Western states road trip including Joshua Tree, the Olympic Peninsula, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. It’s all been outdoor activities, mainly hiking. Our trip has been fantastic. We skirted the heat and the fires. Bless Mother Nature! It made us feel joyful following our Covid quarantine.
The biggest surprise of getting out on the open road again was simply the potential of the unexpected. Most days something delightful popped up, totally unplanned. From a parade down Main Street in the tiny town of Afton, Wyo., to the almost frightening geologic rock formations at Dinosaur National Monument, we were uplifted by the people and the beauty of our great nation. Every day thrilled us.
In the Covid era, you are chained to the news cycle. Your big plan each day is simply going out to do basic things. You worry about the smallest stuff.
Once we were traveling, the days were defined differently. Mornings are sunrises, fresh air, excitement about what will happen, suspense over whether we will find the trailhead, anticipation of the vista just over the next rise.
To experience this emotional range and physical hard work is to be unchained. In juxtaposition to the uncertainty and fear we felt from Covid, travel has freed us both mentally and physically.
Jim Hahn and Randy Stone, Scottsdale, Ariz.
We went to Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas in March. It was an amazing trip with my husband and two teenagers. As a physician, I was looking for a warm destination with low Covid numbers as I had been vaccinated but my family had not. A beach and some private excursions were all we needed. The beaches were like none we had ever been to before—the sand was almost silky and the water was the clearest turquoise.
There isn’t much on the island, no fancy restaurants, but the local food on the beaches was delightful. We ate conch fritters daily. The grocery store had a limited selection of fruits and vegetables so you have to be creative. We took a 15-minute water-taxi ride to Stocking Island to have lunch at Chat ’N’ Chill. The ceviche conch salad was delicious as were their frozen drinks. We rented a car to explore the island.
The Tropic of Cancer runs through Little Exuma. It is off the beaten path so there was literally no one on the beach. There is a little bar at the entrance with a line marking the Tropic, and it’s a cool photo op. The water was simply pristine and as clear as a swimming pool.
And of course, a visit to the Exumas wouldn’t be complete without swimming with the pigs. It was totally worth it!
Amanda Messina, Rye, N.Y.
Our family just came back from a week in Brazil, where we took our kids to visit their grandparents. Having not seen them in two years, and with one of their grandfathers turning 100 in a few months, we figured now was the best time. We postponed this trip as much as we could, given the high number of cases in Brazil. But we knew if we did not travel now, then we’d most likely have to wait another year before everyone’s schedules aligned again.
It was a bit daunting, both the prospect of the trip and getting tested 72 hours before each flight. Covid testing in the U.S. went well, with results from a local pharmacy coming in on time, but in Brazil we used a self-administered test which required someone guiding us via video call. We were in locations with poor internet and at times the wait to join a call was over an hour and a half. Luckily, we realized the option for a video call in Spanish was much faster, and we were quickly able to complete our individual tests.
It also surprised us that in Brazil people seemed to be taking the pandemic much more seriously than in the U.S. Everyone was masked, even outdoors while walking the dog. It seemed a bit excessive, but at least cases seemed to be declining while vaccinations were ramping up.
During the pandemic we could only talk to my dad on the phone. As he is hard of hearing, these conversations don’t last long and are never satisfying. It was just a great feeling to be able to be with him for a few days, to be able to hug, to touch him, and to better communicate without constraints. It is one thing to tell him that the kids are growing, and another for him to see them personally. It was also fun for the whole family to play dominoes with him. He is very competitive and still has a very sharp mind for the game!
I am hoping the pandemic situation gets better and that we can go back to see him during spring break next year, when he turns 100.
Augusto Morais, College Station, Texas
Given the crowds at the airport and on planes, higher costs, and the uncertainties of arriving where and when scheduled, I opted for a 12-hour drive.
My destination was only special because I visited my husband in Iowa, and we hadn’t seen each other since October 2019. We’ve lived in two different states for years and, until Covid, have always been able to visit several times a year.
It was freeing to travel again, especially by car as it turned out. Leaving on my own schedule (4:30 a.m.), listening to whatever I wanted to (first two Harry Potter books read by Jim Dale), eating what I’d prepared at home, and taking whatever I wanted with me (including a TV set).
In a car you can see where you’re going and you have reserved seating, lots of leg room, and no chance of being bumped from the plane.
Sights along the interstate highways were educational and entertaining. It was fun to speculate that California cars were moving out of the state; that cars from more Eastern or Southern states were moving west. There were RVs of all sizes—from single-person sleepers to house-size motor homes towing cars, motorcycles, bikes, ATVs. Trucks carrying all kinds of freight, like cattle, mail, food, siding, mysterious loads and my favorites—those shining white blades for industrial windmills that are over 100 feet long.
My car will now be my preferred method of travel, unless I’m going overseas.
Laura Andrews, Littleton, Colo.
We just returned from a week in Rome, traveling with my family and some friends, a group of eight, from age 19 to 52, all of us vaccinated. We found the city fully open with very light crowds. We wore masks while shopping indoors. Other than that, there was not much talk about the virus. Delta did not seem to be impacting Rome. Locals were ecstatic about seeing an American family enjoying the Eternal City. Travel was easy. I have been telling all my friends—right now is a great time to visit Italy.
The trip was originally planned for March of last year as a spring break trip for my son James and two friends. It was their senior year in high school. We kept the dream alive and rescheduled as soon as Italy opened up to visitors from the States. The pandemic affected our trip in a way we didn’t anticipate: We felt a stronger sense of common humanity. Traveling to Rome was an opportunity to see the pandemic as a shared experience around the world.
Patrick Cox, Branson, Mo.
My husband and I went to Maine in June. I chose it because Maine had high vaccination rates, and we could do most activities outdoors. It was a great trip! We felt safe with the rules enforced there. Places we visited had a good energy but weren’t too crowded. It felt so good to be back around people and the energy of a busy restaurant, for example, without being scared that they could make me or someone I love sick.
I understood the risks and didn’t feel so much pressure to have everything planned out. I found I could actually enjoy discovery and adventure again without fear.
The trip was exactly what we needed to “forget” about the pandemic and all the anxiety that goes with it. Now we’re back to it, though, with the concern about Delta breakthrough infections.
Carmen Pippenger, Indianapolis
I hadn’t seen my parents in almost two years because of the pandemic. My constant fear had been that I would be the one to transmit the disease to them. “I feel fine, but what if I am asymptomatic?” I would constantly think. So I waited for the promised vaccine, and waited some more until I finally felt safe enough to see them.
The trip was long, from the deserts of Nevada to the woods of Virginia. Here I was, finally fully immune, or so I thought. I should have felt confident, free to embrace them. But each new headline seemed to chirp about a new variant, each worse than the last, and how even the vaccinated could still spread the virus.
So here I was, on a trip where I thought I could finally feel safe and less paranoid, but it was not so. Instead of boarding the return flight with a sense of gratification, I left with fear, thinking I might have exposed them to the virus.
Matthew Horne, Mesquite, Nev.
In June, I took a beach getaway to Maine with my college friend. Our goal was sun, lobster and relaxation. We stayed in a beautiful cottage right on the water, and ate lobster every day! It was not too crowded as it was early in the season. The beach was perfect, and I woke every morning to capture the sunrise. Everyone we met went out of their way to make us welcome.
The trip brought so much pure joy. To be able to celebrate our (well-earned) retirements, finally, and at a favorite location of mine, reuniting and sharing till the wee hours of the morning. It made me feel young again. The freedom of travel—to get in a car and go somewhere beautiful—is something that I will not take for granted ever again. I am so grateful to be vaccinated and healthy, and to be an American.
The only bad part of my trip was having to come home!
Lorraine Ziek, South Kortright, N.Y.
We took a family road trip during the third week of July 2021. We traveled to St Augustine, Fla., and spent the week visiting indoor and outdoor attractions as well as spending time on the beach. Being fully vaccinated, we felt no stress over the crowds and enjoyed dining indoors at several establishments. The biggest disappointment was the continued lack of staffing in restaurants leading to long waits and often subpar service.
The trip was special because our son, David, 23, had recently graduated from Tennessee Tech University and our daughter, Hannah, 20, was able to join us as well while on summer break. She attends TTU also. As parents of adult kids, my wife, Karen, and I know that opportunities for the four of us to travel as a family will be harder to come by in the future. So, we made it an old-fashioned road trip.
We enjoyed local eateries like the Donut Experiment where you select the filling, topping and glaze for each doughnut. My daughter studies housing and design and enjoyed the architecture of St. Augustine, especially Flagler College’s rotunda and Tiffany stained-glass windows.
My son, who majored in marketing, is the beach bum of the family, and we enjoyed several afternoons on St. Augustine beach and watching sailboats on the Matanzas River.
In addition to eating a lot of great seafood, we also enjoyed a bunch of lighthearted tourist diversions like miniature golf, a visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, museums from serious to pirate-themed, and just hanging out in our rental cottage.
We were blessed to have the time to take a summer road trip this year. But we didn’t view it as a “break out from the pandemic.” We have worked in an office, traveled, shopped, worshiped, attended classes in person and online, and hosted family celebrations of birthdays, holidays and graduations throughout the pandemic.
We followed reasonable precautions including masks where required, hand sanitizer and staying out of strangers’ personal space, but otherwise we tried to continue with life. Like everyone else, we have lost friends to the pandemic. Maybe the pandemic made the days a little longer and the year a little shorter, but there was still plenty of opportunity for joy and family fun.
This trip was taken a couple of weeks before the Delta variant surge began. So, emotionally, the trip felt like a return to normal. We hoped it was the start of a time when we no longer worried about who we would offend by wearing a mask or not wearing a mask or any number of other triggers that pandemic stress has created.
As it turns out, we weren’t out of the woods yet. While that doesn’t change our perspective on the fun we had on our trip, it reminds us that we will need to continue to extend an extra measure of patience and grace as we work through the balance of the pandemic.
Traveling reminded us that some things don’t change: Twizzlers and Mountain Dew are the preferred road-trip vices, driving through Atlanta is still awful, and family time is the best time.
Adam Bernhardt, Cookeville, Tenn.
I was afraid of bringing Covid right to my mom’s door. We mutually decided it was worth the risk. I went alone and spent five days with her. Honestly, it was difficult. She struggles with COPD and emphysema.
I was really scared because the airlines were filling flights to capacity. Enforced masking in airports and for the entire flight was crucial to my decision to go. While waiting to disembark I noticed the man who sat in front of me was wearing his mask below his nose. I said something, loudly (but politely!), and he fixed it. A woman in a gorgeous burqa sitting across the aisle looked at me and said, “Good job!
That made my day! Between Covid fear and worrying about my mom, some things were made clear to me about the rest of my life and how I want it to go.
Meredith Phillips, East Hartford, Conn.
My group of eight college friends decided to rent an Airbnb for the entire month of December 2020. We decided on Charleston, S.C., because it was not a popular holiday destination and it had warm beaches.
We found a large house to rent to work from home during the first half of the month, visiting local attractions and coffee shops. Most of us took days off during the second half and went on mini-trips from Charleston and relaxed together.
It ended up being one of the best vacations. Covid made me realize that this type of extended, lazy trip is much more fun than the usually hurried vacations where you try to cram in as much as possible in the limited days off you have.
If there’s one thing I’d like to keep post-pandemic, it would be the option to work from home for an extended time during the holiday season and spend quality time with loved ones.
Aravind Anantha, Raleigh, N.C.
‘Forever Changed’: CEOs Are Dooming Business Travel — Maybe For Good
A Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.
Business travel as we’ve known it is a thing of the past. From Pfizer Inc., Michelin and LG Electronics Inc. to HSBC Holdings Plc, Hershey Co., Invesco Ltd. and Deutsche Bank AG, businesses around the world are signaling that innovative new communications tools are making many pre-pandemic-era trips history.
Take Akzo Nobel NV, Europe’s biggest paint maker, for instance. At its Amsterdam headquarters, Chief Executive Officer Thierry Vanlancker has spent the past year watching his manufacturing head, David Prinselaar, flap his arms, madly gesticulate and seemingly talk to himself while “visiting” 124 plants by directing staff with high-definition augmented-reality headgear on factory floors.
A task that meant crisscrossing the globe in a plane before is now done in a fraction of the time — and with no jet lag. For Vanlancker, there’s no going back.
“Trips to drum up business could drop by a third, and internal meetings by even more,” he said in an interview. “It’s a good thing for our wallets and helps our sustainability targets. Our customers have had a year of training, so it’s not a social no-no anymore to just reach out by video… There’s an enormous efficiency element.”
A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia shows that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. A majority of the respondents cutting travel budgets see reductions of between 20% and 40%, with about two in three slashing both internal and external in-person meetings.
The ease and efficiency of virtual software, cost savings and lower carbon emissions were the primary reasons cited for the cutbacks. According to the Global Business Travel Association, spending on corporate trips could slide to as low as $1.24 trillion by 2024 from a pre-pandemic peak in 2019 of $1.43 trillion.
Business travel has “forever changed,” Greg Hayes, CEO of jet-engine maker Raytheon Technologies Corp., said in a Bloomberg Radio interview in July. About 30% of normal commercial air traffic is corporate-related but only half of that is likely mandatory, he said. While the market may eventually recover, sophisticated communication technologies have “really changed our thinking in terms of productivity,” Hayes said.
Having saved billions from slashed travel budgets during the pandemic with only a marginal impact on operations, companies, banks, consulting firms and government offices will be hard pressed to explain why they’d return to their old ways.
Kit Kat chocolate-bar maker Hershey said the pandemic showed that online meetings were a more efficient use of time and financial resources. Companies like Pfizer are grappling with questions about what one accomplishes with a trip that can’t be done virtually, Tina Quattlebaum, its director of global travel operations, said at the GBTA Mid-Year Virtual Summit in July.
“We don’t think business travel will ever return to 2019 levels,” said Will Hawkley, the global head of travel and leisure at KPMG LLP. “Corporates are looking at their bottom-line, their environmental commitments, the demand from employees for more flexible working and thinking: Why do I have to bring that back?”
That’s a blow to the airline and hospitality industries — already among the biggest casualties of the pandemic. Business travelers, who buy premium-class or more-expensive refundable tickets, rang in as much as three-quarters of airlines’ pre-pandemic profits while accounting for only 12% of seats, according to PwC.
The hotels sector, which draws about two-thirds of its revenue from business travelers, could see a dip of as much as 18% by 2022 as virtual meetings replace 27% of corporate travel volumes, a Morgan Stanley study shows.
The world’s biggest airlines collectively lost a whopping $126 billion in 2020 and are set to lose another $48 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association, their lobby.
As they wrestle with those losses and the huge debts racked up after coronavirus punctured a decades-long boom in travel, the last thing airlines need is corporate customers cutting back. Carriers like Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, with thousands of staff and overhead to support, depend on business travelers returning.
“The effect of this structural decrease in business travel will be enormous for the industry, and especially for the airlines that are the most exposed to this category of traveler,” said Pascal Fabre, managing director in Paris for AlixPartners, a consulting firm.
Airlines are trying to stay optimistic. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said about 80% of the carrier’s large corporate clients have indicated that as much as 90% of their pre-Covid business travel will eventually return.
“I don’t expect we’re going to see a degradation in the aggregate of business demand over time,” he said in an interview. “The more people are connected in person, the more opportunities are created. I don’t see this being a significant body-blow to the industry as prognosticated by some.”
Traveling thousands of miles to meet with customers to discuss key issues across a table or over a meal made business sense before the pandemic and that hasn’t changed, said Warren East, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, which makes aircraft engines.
“Covid-19 has definitely taught people that some of the mad regular dashes across the Atlantic hither and thither aren’t necessary,” he said, speaking at a net-zero event on June 17. “But when you peel back beyond that superficial analysis, you realize people were doing it because they thought it delivered real benefit to them.”
There may also be competitive pressures to keep flying, Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith said in an interview. “I hear many of our corporate customers saying that the day they lose an account because they weren’t somewhere face-to-face will immediately bring them back to the way operations were before.”
Airlines are banking on a recovery sparked by pent-up demand after about 18 months when executives couldn’t visit customers — hopes that are being dented by the spread of the delta variant. Even if there is an initial burst of activity, it will start to stabilize and the structural change to business travel will become evident by around 2024, according to Fabre.
“In the past, it was seen as a good thing to go to the other side of the world to shake someone’s hand, but not anymore,” Augustin de Romanet, the CEO of Aeroports de Paris, which operates dozens of airports around the world, said in an interview. “Many things that have been done by conference call during the pandemic will stay that way, especially when it comes to far-flung countries. This will be for costs and the environment as well as people’s wellbeing.”
Company executives travel for many reasons — from business development and customer support to trade shows, conferences and meetings with local staff. Trips for intra-company activities will likely bear the brunt of the cuts “because client relationships aren’t at stake,” said AlixPartners’ Fabre.
“We have learned how to work, develop products, sign contracts without traveling,” he said.
Deutsche Bank’s global head of Investment Banking Coverage and Advisory, Drew Goldman, said that while the bank’s client-related business travel will return to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels, trips for internal meetings will probably be a shadow of what they were before — at 25% to 30%.
“We will probably review our travel budget,” Societe Generale SA CEO Frederic Oudea said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “People will be very happy to shake hands again, but probably for really the important situations.”
Volkswagen AG is making employees jump through hoops before they can fly. Internal booking software steers them toward alternatives to flying, the most carbon-intensive form of travel.
They’re also asked to justify why they can’t conduct the business online. At French defense and tech giant Thales, “trips will be for longer and probably less frequent in order to optimize costs, environmental impact and wellbeing,” said CEO Patrice Caine.
In Singapore, United Overseas Bank Ltd., Southeast Asia’s third-biggest bank, plans to cut its travel budget by as much as 50%, and will limit trips to cases “where face-to-face interaction is essential,” said Dean Tong, head of group human resources.
On New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos.’s second-quarter earnings call, CEO Dan Glaser said, “companies, not just Marsh McLennan, will travel with more purpose and will be more thoughtful about traveling.”
Sophisticated technologies are enabling companies to do things they never imagined doing remotely. At French tire maker Michelin, new tools are already eclipsing the automatic reflex to make a trip, CEO Florent Menegaux said in an interview. The company recently used a drone for a virtual visit of its Campo Grande plant in Brazil by the top manufacturing brass in France.
“We start machines remotely, have used drones to visit factories and train people from home,” Menegaux said. “We will continue to travel because human bonds are absolutely necessary to our activity, but we will most certainly have an overall reduction of about 20% to 30% in our travel costs.”
Royal Dutch Shell Plc has created online control rooms with interactive 3D simulations of oil platforms and plants, giving engineers virtual access from home. In Troy, Michigan, Kevin Clark, the CEO of Aptiv Plc, a former car parts unit of General Motors Co., is using drones and Oculus augmented-reality headsets to show customers the performance and manufacturing run rates of plants in Mexico, Hungary, or China.
“We won’t travel as much,” Clark said. “I think it’ll be more when we have to travel people will travel, versus, it’s nice to travel.”
For most companies, cost savings will be the primary driver to scale back, but carbon-footprint worries and employee wellbeing are not far behind, Fabre said.
Businesses globally are under pressure from investors and regulators to shrink their CO2 emissions. The European Commission rolled out an ambitious climate plan in July to force all industries to shift away from fossil fuels.
Aviation has long been a target even though it accounts for only about 2.4% of global human-induced CO2 emissions. That’s because the sector was growing rapidly before the pandemic and has other negative effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
“Companies have acknowledged that reducing the level of flights is one way of reducing climate change,” said Andrew Murphy, aviation director at advocacy group Transport & Environment. “For the next 10 years, the best way to reduce emissions from aviation is to fly less.”
Airlines are providing companies tools to blunt the impact of CO2 emissions with carbon offsets and refreshing fleets with newer, more efficient planes. But with the tons of carbon dioxide they spew, airlines can’t do much to show that flying is a sustainable way to get around. Hydrogen-fueled planes and electric commercial jetliners are decades away, and alternative aviation fuel isn’t widely available and jacks up ticket prices.
Carriers may have to modify aircraft configurations to cut business class seats and add more premium economy places. Premium economy costs less to operate than business class and takes up less space.
Air France, for instance, is developing its so-called leisure-business category for passengers who buy premium-class tickets for holiday travel, according to Steven Zaat, the group’s CFO. Thirty-two Air France 777s are fitted with “quick change” systems that allow the airline to reduce the size of its business-class cabin.
The airline is still confident about a rebound in business travel, but “we can always reconfigure our planes if necessary,” Zaat said in a Bloomberg TV interview.
While airlines grapple with the possibility of fewer business customers, some of those clients are happy not to be zipping around the world all the time.
“A nice side effect of fewer long-haul business trips is less stress for the people who fly,” Hans-Ingo Biehl, the head of VDR, the German Business Travel Association, said in an interview. A study by the Baylor College of Medicine found frequent fliers have the same cancer risk as obese people. Also, companies have found that jet lag hurts productivity.
“There are a lot of myths and fantasy about travel, but it’s really very tiring,” said Michelin CEO Menegaux. “We should do it only when it’s absolutely necessary. I travel a lot and I can tell you it’s physically grueling and takes a heavy toll.”
Travel Agencies Are Having A Moment Amid Covid-19 Chaos
A business that lost ground to do-it-yourself online travel booking is back with the added complications of cancellations, border restrictions and testing requirements.
Zoom, ring lights, stationary bikes and food delivery. To the list of products and services that found new life because of the pandemic, you can add travel advisers.
Travel has grown difficult thanks to virus-related complexity, uncertainty, cancellations, delays, border restrictions and testing requirements. As a result, many travelers booking a beach getaway or other trips are turning to professionals to help them with plans. Travel advisers—don’t call them travel agents anymore—are cool again.
“With the pandemic, our credibility and our necessity have gone off the charts, and I think we’re now advocates,” says Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, a New York-based leisure and corporate travel agency that is a unit of Frosch International Travel. “Travel is possible. It’s just difficult.”
Do-it-yourself booking and declining commissions paid by airlines shrank travel agencies beginning in the 1990s. Survivors mostly booked cruises and elaborate trips for clients interested in luxury accommodations, plus the big business of corporate travel managers.
The industry has proven resilient, and now it’s hot. Travelers are itching to go somewhere after many sat grounded for a year or more. And they have myriad questions about what you have to do to travel internationally and how you can protect yourself against disappointment, delay and financial loss. More of them have turned to travel advisers.
A survey of leisure travelers conducted for the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals resorts this spring found roughly 17% of travelers are likely to use a travel adviser for the first time when the pandemic is over.
In the online survey of 410 travelers, 44% said they’re more likely to use a travel adviser. About 27% already did use advisers, so the difference is the first-time opportunity for advisers. (The survey’s margin of error was 4.8%.)
Avi Gilburt, a stock-market technical analyst and adviser in Maryland, had started looking for a travel adviser before the pandemic, but the crisis pushed him into the first-timer category. He and his wife were traveling more, and all the planning was becoming too much for him to handle.
“Covid was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he says.
Mr. Gilburt and his wife have continued to travel through the pandemic. That’s required a lot of changes and adjustments—Handled By Travel Adviser Angela Musso of Valerie Wilson Travel.
Using a travel adviser means you probably aren’t going to get the cheapest prices, Mr. Gilburt says, but the reduced hassle has justified the added cost.
And in some ways, advisers can save money. One cancellation involved a $10,000 nonrefundable booking at a five-star Caribbean hotel. Ms. Musso used her connections to get Mr. Gilburt a refund.
Travel advisers say their job has become more complex. They must track constantly changing border restrictions. They must sort through Covid-19 restrictions on insurance policies. They must have a Plan B for elaborate events like destination weddings or family reunions if Plan A becomes impractical because of a viral outbreak somewhere. Plan C may be necessary, too.
Just last week the governor of Hawaii tried to wave off vacationers and curtail nonessential trips because the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus was making enough people sick to approach the islands’ limited hospital capacity.
“Here we go again,” says Nancy Scorby of Scorby Travel & Cruise in St. Charles, Ill. Hawaii was one destination she had been successfully selling. Now it likely means a new wave of cancellations and rebookings.
Like many businesses, travel agencies suffered mightily during the pandemic. Advisers worked first to get customers who were stranded abroad home in the chaos of the shutdown in March 2020. Then they took up the fight for clients to get refunds and usable credits for canceled trips. Vacations got rebooked and rebooked again.
With little new revenue coming in and even some refunded fees going out, Marc Casto, president of leisure in the Americas for Flight Centre Travel Group, says he had to make significant layoffs. Now, he’s aggressively rehiring. Earlier this year, vaccination led to a surge of travel bookings.
“April was off-the-charts busy,” says Mr. Casto, based in Montvale, N.J., and also board chairman of ASTA. Many were new customers worried about all the risks and unknowns. In addition, there’s uncertainty about what’s actually open at various destinations for restaurants, museums, events and attractions, plus how to safely navigate ground transportation.
“Whenever there is complexity, whenever there is uncertainty, whenever there is mystery of rules, there is even more benefit from service,” Mr. Casto says.
ASTA held its annual convention in Chicago a week ago and attracted 550 travel advisers, more than the 470 who showed up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2019. At each gathering, the number of representatives from airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour companies, rental car agencies and travel insurance providers outnumbered the actual agents.
The mood, participants say, was euphoric—not only excitement about reconnecting in person, but also energized by the industry’s sudden renaissance. There was even an education session for new travel advisers—people who joined the profession during the pandemic when few were traveling.
“I think the appreciation for the job has changed,” says Zane Kerby, ASTA’s chief executive.
One big question facing travel advisers: What do they now need to charge clients to earn profits when each trip requires more time to design, book and track?
Some agencies charged fees to clients; others relied solely on commissions. Now more training is required for agents. And if trips must be rebooked, advisers may end up spending hours and hours on hold with airlines, property-rental firms and others.
“For a $40 service fee, that’s not great math,” Mr. Kerby says.
Kareem George, who runs a three-person agency called Culture Traveler in Franklin, Mich., now offers an annual retainer or $2,500 in addition to a fee structure ranging from $100 to $500 per trip. He says more than 40% of his current clients are new to travel advisers as a result of the pandemic.
Services perhaps offered only to the best clients now may be mandatory, like restaurant reservations or local transportation arrangements.
“Consumers really get it more than ever,” he says. “Now is really an opportunity for those not charging fees previously to introduce fees.”
Intel For Travel In 2021
Travel Advisers Say They’ve Added New Strategies And Procedures To Planning Trips. Here Are Some Suggestions:
1) Stay in one country. No more touring across regions in multiple countries. You need to minimize border crossings and the testing requirements that come with that.
2) Know where and when you’ll go for your required Covid-19 test to re-enter the U.S. The test must meet certain requirements. Know how you’ll get to the test site, if you have to go somewhere, and how long the results will take.
3) Pay more attention to on-the-ground issues. Will you need dinner reservations? What are local mask requirements? What’s open and what’s restricted? How will you get around if you are worried about buses and subways?
4) Walk into an airport interview office if you need to renew your Global Entry but can’t get an appointment with Customs and Border Protection. Often officers can fit you in because of no-shows and schedule mix-ups.
Covid Travel Is Still A Disaster. It Doesn’t Need To Be
Draconian restrictions on international movement are failing to deliver benefits that warrant the costs.
The surreal nature of international travel in the Covid era was beamed live around the world last weekend. In the opening minutes of a soccer match in Sao Paolo between Brazil and Argentina, play ground to a halt when public-health officials walked onto the field to remove several Argentine athletes over an apparent breach of a 14-day quarantine (mandatory for travel via the U.K.). The game never resumed.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, travel restrictions are still tripping up regular families and firms, not just footballers. A U.S. ban on most travelers from two dozen European countries, instituted by Donald Trump in March of last year, remains in place despite a change of president and the fact that a higher proportion of people in the European Union and U.K. are fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents returning home from places including the U.S. and France must spend 21 days in hotel quarantine even if they’re vaccinated, and the city bars entry to most other people. Australia’s borders are closed, with most international travel banned.
Obviously, caution is warranted around the delta variant. But the lack of pragmatism around international travel is striking. Although many governments have eased restrictions on movement at home, since recognizing the evidence that vaccines protect against severe forms of Covid, travel curbs appear to be preserved in cement.
A July report by the World Tourism Organization found that there had been no “significant” changes in curbs since Nov. 2020. For every bit of good news — Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates recently eased travel restrictions — there’s a snap-back, such as the EU’s re-imposition of curbs on American travelers after a summer reprieve.
This merits urgent attention. There are emotional and economic costs to restricting travel. Most visible is the tourism industry, which suffered its worst year on record in 2020 — losses may hit $2.4 trillion this year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Less visible are all the lives and careers that have been put on hold until travel resumes, from full-time workers and seasonal staff to international students with big future potential. One chief executive officer recently quit his post after tiring of transatlantic travel restrictions.
The benefits, meanwhile, are hard to spot. Consider the treatment of travelers from France, who are not allowed into the U.S. and who had to be quarantined upon arrival in the U.K. until recently, even if they were vaccinated. Today they still have to book a Covid test two days after arrival.
All this to what end? The U.S. and U.K. are currently reporting around 500 new daily cases per million people, about twice that of France. Paris is deemed the most open city out of 40 destinations tracked by Bloomberg. Even New Zealand, with its high border control and location thousands of miles from anywhere, concedes that, even with vaccines, infections will rise when its borders reopen due to variants like delta.
One alternative to travel bans and ineffectual rules would be to better differentiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. As of June, only 17% of all travel destinations worldwide specifically mentioned vaccinated passengers in their travel policy, according to the World Tourism Organization. Research from airline lobby group IATA also finds that two-fifths of EU states aren’t allowing in vaccinated travelers from countries deemed safe outside the bloc.
For all the caveats on transmission and waning vaccine effectiveness, there should be more openness to the vaccinated. Of course, this would mean that rich countries need to push harder to expand supply and production of vaccines in the developing world. Otherwise those without access will be unfairly punished.
The World Health Organization should also harmonize competing definitions of “full vaccination” to reduce confusion as countries roll out booster shots and third doses. More broadly, politicians need to start talking about travel as an opportunity, not just a risk. Wanting to avoid giving privileged holidaymakers license to spread disease is perhaps justified; denying vaccinated families, students and workers a chance at normality isn’t.
No relaxation of curbs is risk-free. But this has to be balanced against the progress we’ve made so far in managing Covid — and the reward of improving mobility. At this stage of the pandemic, with the tools at our disposal, a shift looks worth it.
Cruises Are Back: Here’s What You Need To Know About Safety Before You Climb Aboard
Major cruise lines are setting sail once more and trying to make a squeaky-clean break from the past. We offer the latest guidance from health experts and look at the big changes onboard and onshore.
AFTER ALMOST 18 dormant months in the age of Covid 19, cruise lines are increasingly beginning to sail again. American Cruise Line launched from Florida in March. Crystal Cruises resumed operations, with two vessels sailing in the Bahamas, in July. The Norwegian Jade is cruising the Greek Isles, with many Americans on board.
At the end of August, Oceania Cruises’ Marina set sail from Copenhagen, and its sister ship, the Riviera, is scheduled to travel from Istanbul to Trieste in October. The 2022 itineraries on Viking Ocean Cruises are almost fully booked. Clearly there is demand, and passengers are willing to climb aboard. The question is: Is it safe to cruise now?
Are Cruise Ships Safe?
Public perception that the answer is yes significantly increased in recent months according to a July survey by the travel marketing firm MMGY Global. And grim images of giant virus-riddled boats marooned off shore had been fading—at least until August when coronavirus infections were identified aboard the Carnival Vista cruise ship sailing out of Galveston, Texas. (A 77-year-old passenger, treated onboard and then evacuated to an Oklahoma hospital, later died. The ship was able to prevent further spread of the virus.)
“The cruise model does give you a chance to control the environment more than other sectors of hospitality,” said Rubén Rodríguez, president of MSC Cruises USA, who notes the low incidence of Covid since sailings resumed.
According to Bermello Ajamil & Partners, an architecture firm with a maritime focus, only 27 positive Covid-19 cases have been identified among the estimated 1.6 million passengers who have sailed in 2021. (The firm compiles its data from cruise line press releases and industry news outlets, among other sources.)
Covid-19 cases among crew members are harder to track, but Mark Ittel, senior vice president of ports and maritime at Bermello Ajamil & Partners, said that the cruise lines’ new safety protocols appear to be working.
After Covid outbreaks were reported on dozens of cruise ships in February 2020 and March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no-sail” order, banning most passenger vessels from sailing in U.S. waters. The order was lifted in October, replaced with a set of rules that ships had to comply with before they were allowed to resume their voyages.
Even with these precautions in place, CDC officials say cruising is not a zero-risk activity and that non-vaccinated people should avoid all cruises, including river cruises, world-wide. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people should get tested before boarding and that anyone with a serious illness or an increased risk of serious illness should not cruise at all.
The agency has also established a color-coding system that tracks ships sailing in U.S. waters, operating under health and safety protocols that align with the agency’s standards.
“There are clear risks involved in cruising,” said Dr. Lucy E. Wilson, senior adviser to the University for Public Health and Pandemic Response at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “The risk is stratified by vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. The unvaccinated are clearly at higher risk of contracting and then spreading the virus.
That’s true in general and it’s true on a cruise ship.” Dr. Wilson—who noted that what we know today can change tomorrow—also pointed out that with the Delta variant being the predominant strain circulating in the U.S., even vaccinated people remain at risk for contracting and spreading the virus, though they’re generally less likely to become seriously ill.
“It’s risk-benefit tolerance,” said Kelly Gebo, MD MPH and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “For some people, going to the gym is important for their mental health. So they are willing to take the risk.” Consider your own circumstances (age, general health, doctor’s advice, vaccination status, etc.) and weigh those against what you’ll gain from, say, four days and five nights of floating around turquoise waters.
Even in the before times, cruise ships were subject to biannual CDC inspections. Now, under strict pandemic scrutiny from the CDC, the industry is even more highly regulated—from below-deck waste management systems to guest-facing food service protocols—and required to make regular health and safety reports.
It’s had time to identify vulnerabilities, overhaul internal weaknesses, retrain staff, arm itself against new eventualities and form advisory boards (such as Healthy Sail Panel, a group organized by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings that includes a former Secretary of Health and Human Services and a former commissioner of the FDA). Some cruise lines undertook all-volunteer test cruises to put all the upgrades and protocols through their paces.
“Since this very difficult time, we’ve had an opportunity to demonstrate that ships are extremely safe,” said Roberto Martinoli, president and chief executive officer of Silversea Cruises. “We have hospitals on board, very well trained personnel, and we need to produce reports of anything that happens on board [which] helps to make it efficient.
The virus exists. We cannot deny it. Because of the nature of the virus, it might happen that someone [infected] might arrive at the ship. But it will not get out of control. We can stop it at the beginning.”
For those ready to book a stateroom, here are some of the changes to cruise life and the health-and-safety measures to expect, from gangway to shining sea.
How Crowded Are The Ships?
As they gradually resume sailing, most cruises are operating at reduced capacity to give people more room in common spaces like bars and theaters on board and to work within local guidelines in port. For now, MSC Cruises has capped ships pursuing European itineraries at 70% capacity and those sailing the Americas at 50%, which means a maximum of 2,250 passengers aboard MSC Meraviglia, the 4,500-passenger vessel that started sailing from Miami last month.
And Metropolitan Touring, which operates small expedition journeys in the Galápagos Islands sold through luxury companies like Tauck and Abercrombie & Kent, reduced capacity on its ships by 25% to allow dining room distancing and to better manage guest-to-guide ratio.
Taking into account vaccination rates among passengers and mask-wearing protocols, density matters more than the size of the boat, according to Dr. Gebo of Johns Hopkins University. And consider the nature of activities. “Outside is generally fine,” she said. But you’re facing higher risks in a gym with lots of people. And “a three-day party at sea with gambling, dancing and drinking is different than going whale-watching.”
Do I Need to Be Vaccinated?
Some cruise lines—including Silversea and Viking, which is operating its full fleet of six ocean ships and 45 of its 78 river boats—require all passengers to be fully vaccinated, as do some countries, such as the Bahamas. “We made the decision early on,” said Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen. “I don’t want to make it a political issue,” he added, saying the issue is “the safety of our staff and passengers.”
Others suggest full vaccination and put restrictions on unvaccinated passengers. MSC, for example, has vaccinated-only pools, and Atlas Ocean Voyages, a new deluxe adult-only line, warns that, depending on the regulations of the countries visited, unvaccinated guests may be subject to additional testing and restricted from independent shoreside activities.
Most companies have implemented a battery of safeguards (and so much print and digital paperwork that it can be worth engaging a travel adviser to help): pre-screening; PCR testing before, during and after the cruise (some boats now have their own labs onboard); face masks during embarkation and disembarkation and when indoors (except in your cabin, or seated in a bar or restaurant); and tracking and tracing measures just in case.
How Well Ventilated are the Ships?
An open bar, state-of-the-art water toys, and a Fancy Chef Steakhouse are all well and good. But now onboard amenities also include hospital-grade disinfectants, new fresh-air ventilation systems and robots that clean at night using UV light.
Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Princess and Virgin Voyages are using AtmosAir’s bipolar ionization technology for their HVAC systems, which, according to the manufacturer, generates positively and negatively charged ions to reduce contaminants and pollutants in the air. A video on the AtmosAir website claims that the system “restores inside air to what you find on a mountain top.”
Silversea has installed medical grade air filters (MERV 13 or HPA) to supply fresh air to all areas every hour. Across the cruise lines, sales of interior cabins are down, and some lines, such as MSC, use them as isolation rooms, if needed; Viking has none, and all its ocean ship staterooms have a balcony.
What Other Onboard Changes Should I Expect?
Recent cruisers recommend packing your patience along with your sunscreen. “I felt better and safer on board than at the airport, on the airplane or in the hotel,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content officer at Cruise Media, a publishing and consulting company, who sailed with Viking and with Silversea this past summer.
“There is more space, more al fresco dining, new protocols like spit tests [a Covid-19 saliva test] and I had no concern about ventilation. But you have to be flexible.”
Some things, like getting aboard, might take a little longer. You may not be able to enter the dining room without washing your hands. Food service generally no longer features passed hors d’oeuvres or self-serve buffets, and you’ll see Plexi-glass popping up here and there. You might have to reserve spa or gym time in advance. And when it comes to the pool, expect crowd control.
What About Shore Excursions?
Cruise lines can exert a high degree of control aboard ship, but passengers face a lot of variables in port and on land. Ecuador, for example, requires masks to be worn at all times while visiting the blue-footed boobies on their uninhabited rocks in the Pacific.
MSC Cruises sells what the company calls “Social Bubble Shore Excursions” to isolate its passengers and protect local environments. (On MSC’s first Covid-era cruise in August 2020, a family left the group in Capri and were not allowed back onboard. Other guests cheered.)
Before the pandemic, several companies including Disney, MSC and Holland America began buying up private islands in the Caribbean to use for their exclusive shore excursions, which in the Covid age let the lines extend the bubble they can create on board. Otherwise, it’s important to know where you’re going. “When going from a largely vaccinated vessel to a general public area,” said Dr. Wilson, “there are widely variant virus levels and controls.
You’re getting off, the crew is getting off, exposure is elevated. Covid-19 has showed us it is a moving target.”
Biden’s Sweeping Vaccine Mandate Stops Short of Domestic Flyers
Among the major measures President Joe Biden announced this week to get more Americans vaccinated, one high-profile move was missing: requiring vaccines or negative tests to get on an airplane.
Countries including France, Italy and Canada have imposed requirements, or will, for domestic travel as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus and its emerging variants. Vaccine and testing requirements have taken hold widely for international flights, and the U.S. is weighing further restrictions on visitors, including a vaccine requirement for all foreign nationals.
But, at home, the U.S. still only requires a mask for domestic flights, despite calls from some health experts to raise the bar and require proof of vaccines or a negative test. Biden stopped short of tightening the rules when he unveiled a new series of vaccine mandates on Thursday that will affect millions of federal and health care workers, as well as a vaccine-or-testing requirement for any business with 100 or more staff.
Instead, the administration doubled fines for people who refuse to wear masks on planes. Biden has walked a fine line to avoid triggering more backlash at home, where public health measures and restrictions have become political lightning rods. A top aide signaled Friday that the administration isn’t interested in mandates aimed at consumers.
“Workplaces are a very efficient and effective way to ensure that people get vaccinated,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Friday, when asked if they’ve ruled out a flight requirement. But, he added, “We’re not taking any measures off the table.”
Air travel into the U.S. from some countries remains restricted — including a ban on entry of most non-Americans who have visited parts of Europe recently. All travelers into the U.S. need to show a recent negative test, regardless of vaccination status.
But other countries restrict domestic travel, too. Italy and France require proof of vaccine, a recent negative test or recovery from a virus for domestic flights and long-distance trains, while Canada has said it will require vaccinations for all air travel by the end of October.
In the U.S., however, there’s been little appetite for vaccine requirements for Americans arriving internationally, or any traveler domestically, and airline chief executives have warned of headaches — though carriers regularly handle vaccine screening for international travel.
Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, has urged the administration to require vaccinations for domestic air and train travel, instead of just requiring masks. “A travel requirement is low-hanging fruit,” she said in an email. “If you want the privilege of traveling, you need to get vaccinated.”
Airlines have pushed against any such measure, which could sap consumer demand — or act as an incentive for people who’ve held off until now. United Airlines Holdings Inc. CEO Scott Kirby told MSNBC last month that it would be “logistically impractical to do domestically,” but said it would be up to government to direct it.
Cumbersome For Airlines
“Even if we decided that was something we wanted to do, that would be incredibly cumbersome to do inside the United States,” American Airlines Group Inc. CEO Doug Parker told the New York Times. International flights have sufficient layover times and checkpoints to administer the measure, but “it wouldn’t be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system,” he said.
He said he doubted whether airline safety would be enhanced by a vaccine requirement. “Requiring vaccinations to travel and not requiring vaccinations to do anything else around the country isn’t something we’re looking to do,” Parker said.
Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Ed Bastian told WNYW-TV in New York in August that “the logistical challenge of getting vaccination paperwork and understanding exemptions, and who could travel and who wouldn’t, I think would cause a massive crimp on the operations.”
Airlines for America, an industry group, said in a statement that carriers have implemented several safety measures already, and that rising vaccination rates overall are another layer of protection. Its statement declined to specifically say if it supported or opposed a vaccine mandate.
Choice of Airlines
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said transmission on airplanes is rare — though risks persist, including in airports — but that it’s important for airlines to go as far as possible. He’s started flying United more because they have announced they will require employee vaccinations.
“I think I would also favor airlines in which all passengers were vaccinated or tested,” he said in an email.
EU Travel Recommendations: What U.S. Travelers Need To Know
Many countries are in no hurry to close to U.S. travelers just yet.
The European Union’s new recommendation to halt nonessential travel from the U.S. due to the rise of Covid-19 cases stateside could create fresh virus-related travel uncertainty.
The Aug. 30 announcement suggested that vaccinated travelers would still be permitted into EU member countries, though it is up to each nation to set its own restrictions. Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s ambassador to the U.S., said on Twitter that the recommendation means only essential travelers and vaccinated people from the U.S. would be allowed into the bloc.
Many European countries appear to be in no hurry to close the door to American tourists, with major tourist destinations Spain and Greece saying on Aug. 31 that they would stay open for American visitors for the coming weeks at least. Other countries, including France, said they have no immediate plans to change their rules for travel from the U.S. Italy and the Netherlands, however, have recently changed entry requirements for U.S. travelers.
The EU travel list is reviewed every two weeks and isn’t binding for member states, though it has generally set the pattern for who can visit the 27-country bloc. The EU had previously decided in June to add the U.S. to its “safe list.”
Should countries tighten entry rules, the European recommendation could thwart some Americans’ fall and winter trip plans, adding more challenges to an already complex year for international travel—one marked by passport delays, changing vaccination and testing requirements and myriad rules for booking at various destinations.
Here’s what we know so far about what the EU recommendation means for travelers.
Is The EU Open To U.S. citizens?
Citing the spread of Covid-19 cases stateside, EU countries voted to remove the U.S. from a “safe list” of countries for nonessential travel, meaning vacations and recreational trips. The EU reviews its travel list every two weeks.
Pressure to remove the U.S. from the travel list has also risen because Washington has maintained a ban on Europeans’ nonessential travel to the U.S.
Under EU rules, the bloc is supposed to consider removing from the safe list any country with more than 75 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous 14 days. The authority can take other factors into account when making its decision, including whether the third country has opened up to EU citizens.
The U.S. infection rate rose above 75 per 100,000 earlier in the summer, but EU member states agreed not to respond immediately.
Member states have become frustrated in recent weeks over the U.S.’s refusal to drop restrictions on EU travelers.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the EU wouldn’t allow the lack of reciprocity to “drag on for weeks.”
The European Union said it has hit its target of fully vaccinating 70% of adults against Covid-19 by the end of summer, though rates among countries vary. The World Health Organization has warned that the pace of vaccinations in the continent appears to be faltering, and that less vaccinated parts of Europe are at risk of fresh outbreaks and new restrictions to stop the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus.
Does This Mean I Can’t Travel To Europe?
For now, many countries are allowing U.S. visitors, though some are adding new entry requirements.
Spain, for example, had some of the least restrictive rules for U.S. tourists this summer, previously requiring no proof of vaccination or negative tests for Americans before entering the country.
But beginning Sept. 6, U.S. travelers will be allowed to enter Spain only if they first present a QR code generated through the Spain Travel Health portal. In addition, U.S. tourists must also show proof of vaccination if they are traveling for a nonessential purpose, such as tourism. Children under 12 are exempt from these requirements if traveling with vaccinated adults.
Unvaccinated travelers from the U.S. won’t be permitted to enter France for nonessential purposes starting Sunday, Sept. 12. Those who are able to provide a “compelling” reason for travel will need a negative Covid test, and must isolate for seven days upon arrival. Vaccinated U.S. tourists can still vacation in the country.
Italy also now requires fully vaccinated Americans to provide a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival. In addition to showing a negative test, unvaccinated travelers must also quarantine for five days upon arrival and then be tested again.
As of Sept. 4, unvaccinated Americans also can’t travel to the Netherlands for nonessential purposes, such as vacations. Vaccinated travelers will need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival but might be able to shorten the quarantine period by getting tested on the fifth day. Travelers must also show proof of a negative Covid-19 test as of Sept. 6.
Unvaccinated Americans are now prohibited from traveling to Denmark unless they have a “worthy purpose” for entry as defined by the Danish government, which might include being a student, an au pair or an attendee of a documented business meeting. Fully vaccinated Americans are allowed to enter for any reason, including tourism.
Other countries have decided to temporarily stop tourism from the U.S. Sweden implemented a ban on nonessential travel from the U.S., effective Sept. 6, including by vaccinated vacationers. The country said it is considering exempting fully vaccinated residents of certain countries from the entry restriction.
Some countries are proceeding as they have been for the past few months. A Greek official said the country will continue to welcome U.S. visitors for the rest of the tourism season, while maintaining monitoring at Greece’s borders.
Will My Airline Refund My Flight If I Can’t Travel?
Many carriers have eliminated change fees on domestic and international flights. As of Monday afternoon, airlines said they would continue to monitor the situation but provided few specifics.
“We continue to evaluate our travel waivers and policies based on market conditions and current travel restrictions that are in place,” said Andrea Koos, a spokeswoman for American Airlines.
United Airlines also said it would keep customers informed of any changes to their travel plans. “We’ll continue to monitor how member states respond to this new guidance,” said spokeswoman Nicole Carriere.
Delta Air Lines said customers can use an interactive map on its website to review changing requirements. Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the airline, also noted that if a flight is canceled for any reason—whether domestic or international—customers are entitled to a refund.
Will my travel insurance cover my trip if the country I’m visiting isn’t open to visitors?
Most standard trip-cancellation policies won’t cover this type of situation, says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a policy-comparison site. “The border shutdown is one of the big holes still in the coverage terms of most standard travel-insurance policies,” he says.
Mr. Sandberg said that, in the beginning of the pandemic, some travelers were able to receive refunds from airlines and hotels when borders closed. “Of course, that still is dependent on the travel supplier, the hotel or the airline, and what their policies are,” he says.
Travelers who have “cancel for any reason” coverage will find themselves in a better position to get money back.
This coverage is often sold as a supplemental policy and will allow you to receive reimbursement for your prepaid and nonrefundable trip costs. It can cost up to about 60% of your base insurance plan and will typically reimburse about 75% of your trip cost.
“So you’re not going to get 100% back,” Mr. Sandberg says. “That ‘cancel for any reason’ feature does give you the best protection against a border closing or government shutdown.”
What Else Should I Keep In Mind?
U.S. travelers have faced many complications traveling abroad this summer. The time frame to receive a passport is far longer than it was pre-pandemic, with standard passport applications taking up to 18 weeks and expedited applications taking up to 12 weeks.
Additionally, many attractions across the EU, including museums, are requiring reservations this year to head off large gatherings.
What Travel Investors Need To Know
Negative commentary from airline companies hardly means all near-term travel is doomed.
We all wanted 2021 to be different, but it is bringing a lot more of the same. That doesn’t mean travel investors need to universally pump the brakes.
Ahead of an investor conference on Thursday, a handful of major airlines warned in regulatory filings that their third quarter may not look as rosy as hoped. United Airlines noted a deceleration in customer bookings for travel demand, while Southwest Airlines reported a continued softness in bookings—even in leisure—and elevated trip cancellations.
American Airlines similarly said that, after a strong July, it saw a softness in near-term bookings in August and an increase in near-term cancellations. All three suggested the Delta variant is having a dampening effect on business.
Investors have to some degree been ahead of this curve, but there is room for a sharper turn. It may not be that all travel has been put on hold, but rather that, as the Delta variant continues to spread, consumers are simply more wary of where they go and how they get there.
On its earnings call last month, Walt Disney Co. said theme park reservations at its domestic parks remained strong, noting overall park reservations were above levels it reported in its fiscal third quarter ending July 3. As of Friday morning, reservations were no longer available for the next three Saturdays at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, according to Disney’s online reservation system.
That is only one data point, but it is suggestive of continued demand for trips that consumers may have put on hold last year. A recent U.S. survey from Jefferies showed that, of those who haven’t yet traveled this year, roughly 30% say they planned to travel in the second half of the year. The survey also showed that most survey respondents plan to take the same number or more trips this year than they took in 2019, regardless of vaccination status.
It is unlikely that everyone who holds a weekend Disneyland reservation this month lives in or around Disneyland’s hometown of Anaheim, Calif. But, given general airline commentary on Thursday, it is likely many ticket holders live within driving distance.
That could be good news for companies offering drive-to lodging such as Airbnb, whose shares are up roughly 15% since the end of July. It may also benefit Expedia Group, which owns Vrbo. While Expedia’s shares are up nearly 50% over the past year, they fell 10% in the month of August. Spooking investors might be that lodging was 70% of the online travel agent’s revenue in 2019, growing to 78% in 2020, as air travel cratered.
But all hope isn’t lost. On Thursday, Marriott International Chief Executive Tony Capuano said at an investor conference that, although there was a slight decline in revenue per available room in August from July, there has been some stabilization this month.
He also noted two business travel trends that should benefit the lodging sector overall. Because travel today is more onerous, often requiring vaccination, proof of that vaccination and some added risk, Mr. Capuano said he is seeing workers extending business trips to get more enjoyment for the effort. That also may mean more so-called bleisure travel, he said, which blends business and leisure trips.
Marriott’s stock traded up following Mr. Capuano’s remarks on Thursday, but there may be other companies better positioned to take advantage of the bleisure trend right now. Fresh data from hotel analytics firm STR show that as a four-week moving average for the period ended Sept. 4, occupancy rates for interstate, small town and suburban hotels were near or above where they were in the comparable period of 2019. Meanwhile, urban, resort and airport hotels continue to lag behind on a relative basis.
That bodes well for drive-to home stay demand, but also for roadside lodging companies. Choice Hotels International, for example, has said more than half of its domestic locations are within one mile of a highway exit and 90% of them are in suburban, small town or interstate locations.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, whose brands include Super 8, Days Inn and Travelodge, also stands to benefit. Occupancy rates for economy-class and midscale hotels were recently above levels seen in the comparable period of 2019, while more expensive hotel options lagged behind, STR’s data show.
For travel investors, it may just be about picking the right ride.
Travel And Covid-19 Testing: What To Know If You’re Flying Or Taking A Cruise
Some at-home tests are permitted, but leave yourself plenty of time to test before your trip.
More travel destinations are now requiring travelers to present negative Covid-19 tests for entry, even those who are fully vaccinated. The changes are adding fresh complexity to an already-confounding time for travel.
Travelers are struggling to both keep up with changing test guidelines and find acceptable tests that will provide results by the time they need to fly.
After the European Union removed the U.S. from its “safe” list of countries, some member nations began imposing new rules for travelers. Italy, for example, now requires fully vaccinated travelers to submit a negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival in the country.
And beginning Sept. 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require fully vaccinated cruise passengers to submit proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within two days of boarding a ship. Previously, fully vaccinated passengers had to provide negative test results within three days of boarding.
“Things change daily,” says Susan Peavey, owner of Susan Peavey Travel Inc. in Marshfield, Mass. Travelers have to understand each country’s rules and regulations, she says, and in some cases additional requirements at destinations, such as resorts that are now requiring proof of vaccination.
Finding the correct tests within the allowed time frame is proving challenging for many. In some areas of the country, Covid-19 tests are harder to come by, and acceptable at-home tests can be costly.
If you’ve got a trip coming up, here’s the latest advice on which tests you’ll need to fly or join a cruise—and how to find them.
Determine Which Covid-19 Test You Need
Travel advisers say travelers are seeking out at-home tests, but are often unsure which ones are acceptable. The Abbott BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card home test, for example, is a rapid antigen test that is widely accepted by many cruise lines and airlines because it includes the supervision of a telemedicine professional.
The professional will watch you take the Covid-19 test, and you will receive a validated result through an app. The tests can cost $150 for a pack of six.
There is great demand for at-home self-tests, but many of those tests don’t meet CDC testing requirements for international travel because they don’t include supervision from a telehealth professional.
The type of test you can take also depends on your vaccination status. Many cruise lines will accept antigen tests for fully vaccinated travelers, but unvaccinated travelers, including children under 12, must submit PCR tests.
Nucleic acid amplification tests, which include PCR tests, are also widely accepted and available at pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens.
Robin Katz, a travel adviser who owns a Cruise Planners franchise in Miami, says she recommends travelers take both a PCR test and a rapid antigen test if time allows. PCR tests are widely accepted, she says, but the results can take longer to arrive, so having a rapid antigen test can also be helpful in time-sensitive situations, she says.
Some countries, such as Canada and Anguilla, don’t accept antigen tests. Travelers will need to look closely at each country’s specific requirements.
Give Yourself Plenty Of Time To Get A Test
Randy Mewes, a mechanic for a John Deere dealership, lives in rural Nebraska, about an hour’s drive southeast from Lincoln. He knew he needed to get a Covid-19 test before departing on a Carnival cruise to Alaska last month, but says the chain pharmacies nearest to him were in Lincoln. He hoped to find a more convenient option, while making sure he got his results in time.
Mr. Mewes, who is fully vaccinated, went to a nearby retirement home in Adams, Neb., where he knew staff members were tested weekly. He was able to get a rapid antigen test and get his negative results the day before he boarded the cruise.
Travel agents suggest doing a broad search for testing locations if local pharmacies are booked up. Ms. Katz notes that Zoo Miami, for example, offers PCR tests.
Because of the tightened timing for tests, some cruise lines are offering passengers options. Royal Caribbean International now sells at-home test kits, which can be ordered online and cost $69.99 for a pack of two and $99.99 for a pack of three.
Carnival previously said it would look into providing rapid testing at departure ports, but later said the “logistics of making this service widely available to a large number of guests doesn’t make this a viable option.”
The cruise line now suggests customers order an at-home test or make an appointment at a pharmacy or Quest Diagnostics location.
Disney Cruise Line will require all passengers to take a rapid PCR test at the terminal before boarding starting Sept. 13, regardless of vaccination status. The test is provided free of charge, the cruise line said.
Plan Ahead To Save On Testing Fees
If you plan ahead, you can also save on testing costs. Last month, Cortney Buckelew, who works as an operations manager, scheduled antigen tests at a private walk-in clinic near her home in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., before her Royal Caribbean cruise, which left Saturday. The tests would cost $100 each for her and her husband. The couple found a county testing site and got free rapid antigen tests, saving them $200.
Travelers must also provide a negative test to re-enter the U.S. by air; those tests must be taken no more than three days before boarding a plane home. Consult the U.S. Embassy website for the country you are visiting; they have information about the average cost of PCR and antigen tests locally. In Italy, for example, antigen tests cost about $25 and PCR tests cost about $75, according to the U.S. Embassy there.
Some hotels in the Caribbean are offering testing on-site, says Ms. Peavey, or can recommend nearby testing sites. It can be more difficult to find a test in Europe, she says, in part because travelers need to ensure they are taking the correct type of test and will receive results in time.
Some pharmacies offer walk-in Covid-19 testing, but Ms. Peavey recommends ordering at-home tests before you depart, and taking them under the supervision of a telehealth professional within three days of your return. Many airlines have links to purchase these tests on their websites.
Some airports offer rapid testing in terminals pre-departure. United Airlines, for example, has rapid testing available at many U.S. airports through a partnership with XpresCheck. Tests can cost $200 each.
Print Out Your Test Results
Many airlines will allow you to upload vaccination records and negative test results to an app. Having a hard copy on hand can help, too. Ms. Katz says she cautions clients against relying only on digital copies in case they lose Internet access or cell service when their results are being checked.
Mr. Mewes also recommends keeping the paper copies with you. When he was waiting to board the cruise in Seattle, he realized the paper that showed his negative test result was in his luggage, which had been taken away to be loaded onto the ship. He chased down the luggage cart, and got the result back in time. “Keep everything together, and it’ll save you a lot of heartache,” he says.
Get Tested—Even If You Don’t Have To
Not every international destination requires a negative test for entry, but many travel advisers say they tell their clients to take a test regardless. “If you can do it [easily], why not,” says Jerry Lang, president of House of Travel, which is based in Aventura, Fla. “The rule might change when you’re flying.”
It is also helpful to know your Covid-19 status before traveling. Because negative tests are required to return to the U.S., you don’t want to find out you are positive after you have departed, and need to pay for time spent in quarantine accommodations, says Ms. Peavey: “The worst surprise is to test positive and have to stay in a destination.”
If You Haven’t Booked Holiday Travel Yet, You’re Already Late
There are still ways to guarantee a sunny, tropical vacation. Here’s how.
Christmas is only 102 days away. And if 2021 hasn’t quite been the year most people hoped for, with no end of the pandemic in sight yet, it seems Americans are ready to bank on a big consolation prize: an epic holiday vacation.
“All day long, we’re booking Caribbean and Mexico, Caribbean and Mexico,” says Barkley Hickox, partner at the luxury travel advisory Local Foreigner, about the current flood of yearend requests. “The demand is huge,” echoes Paul Tumpowsky, founder of digital travel agency Skylark.
It’s also full of anomalies.
This year, Americans feel hemmed into fewer options than usual. Skiing in Europe—or visiting holiday markets there—feels too risky, says Tumpowsky, adding that clients are sick of having their trips canceled and rescheduled. Even if domestic travel is the only surefire bet, there’s no guarantee of December snowfall in the ski resorts or of warm-enough weather for swimming anywhere north of Florida.
“One of my board members—who in the past has made a holiday tradition of, say, spending $250,000 for a trip to Vietnam—this year, his plan is Miami,” Tumpowsky says.
“When people ask us about a safe bet for holiday travel,” says Hickox, “they’re not asking about Covid-19 policies.” Instead, she says, a “safe bet” translates to reliability: knowing the weather will be good and that border policies are unlikely to change. Hence, Mexico and the Caribbean, whose economies rely heavily on the winter tourism season.
Throughout the region, resorts are commanding astronomical prices for what’s left of their limited inventory. At the Mandarin Oriental Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, rooms over the Christmas-to-New Year’s period are running at $4,050 a night and up—more than four times the rack rates in November.
A garden-view, entry level room at the Four Seasons Ocean Club in Nassau, the Bahamas, which usually fetches around $1,000 per night, is commanding $2,500 over the holiday period. (The cost doubles if you want views of the water).
A relative deal, the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman, on the island’s Seven Mile beach, is asking $1,719 for its somewhat old-school rooms. If you were to stay just one week earlier, you’d save $700 per night.
With few rooms remaining at all of them, it’s clear that people are willing to pony up, even if it’s for lack of better options.
“Costa Rica is as far south as you can realistically go,” says Tumpowsky, citing a mix of weather and border restrictions. “If you can convince yourself to go somewhere domestic, like Sea Island [in Georgia] or Palmetto Bluff [in South Carolina], it’s going to be stupid expensive—and cold.”
Leigh Rowan, whose consultancy Savanti Travel serves ultra-high-net-worth travelers in the Bay Area, adds one more limitation: “Hawaii is already full,” he says. “I mean full, full, full, full, full.”
For travelers hell bent on giving the festive season its due, that means a lot of considerations that wouldn’t apply in a “normal” year. Here’s how to navigate holiday travel planning if you—like so many others—are still unsure as to what travel will look like in three months.
Cast A Wide Net
The reality is that this year, booking holiday trips in September is already too late. “Labor day is usually the defining moment for a lot of people, when they look at the remaining options and hit the trigger,” says Rowan. “But private villas and homes in popular destinations were all gone by May or June this year. Anything with four to eight bedrooms—all gone.”
The consensus is that travelers looking now have to be flexible, either about what type of accommodation they’re booking or where they’re going. Or both.
“People who pushed deposits from 2020 to 2021 have been locked in for a year, and others planned early because they didn’t want to get stuck with nothing,” explains Tumpowsky. “For everyone else, it means you have to look more broadly than you’re accustomed to. You can’t just insist on going to Barbados or on getting a particular category of room.”
Don’t plan on island hopping, either, says Hickox. Many hotels have longer minimum stay commitments during the holidays—typically seven nights. Plus, crossing various borders exposes itineraries to greater risk of countrywide shutdowns, testing complications, and additional annoyances.
If you’re willing to think about an exotic destination such as French Polynesia, many hotels impose stricter cancellation requirements over the holidays, so a booking can only be rescheduled—not refunded—if it’s forfeited within 60 days of scheduled arrival. (Deposits may be taken as early as 90 days out.)
That’s a big window during which things can change. An alternative is to seek out such exceptions as the St. Regis Bora Bora, which offers no-charge, 14-day cancellations even through festive season, when a weeklong booking in an overwater bungalow runs roughly $20,000.
And consider both classic destinations and next-great-places, say the agents. “St. Barth is going to be over the top—it’s just going to be a zoo, as crazy as it’s ever been,” predicts Tumpowsky, based on early demand.
Rowan says his clients, who “are sick of Cabo at this point in the pandemic (they’ve been so many times),” are looking to less-conventional destinations in Mexico, including Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Todos Santos, and La Paz.
Those who’ve been shut out of the best hotels in Costa Rica, he adds, are considering Colombia, Panama, and Nicaragua. The issue, he says, is that with some less-developed destinations, “there may be less inventory. Sometimes it’s just three great hotels—and guess what, they’re probably all full, too.”
Knowledge Is Power
Before making any deposits, familiarize yourself with the terms of the reservation. If you’re expected to pay 60% of your accommodation cost up front, are you comfortable parking that sum of money with your chosen hotel? The answer may depend on whether you’re going there to join a crew for a New Year’s party or it’s a destination you’ll be happy to return to.
Try to investigate the destination’s contingency plans, too. At this point in the pandemic, says Hickox, there are historical precedents for how destinations have handled outbreaks: Anguilla has been quick to tighten the rules, for example, whereas such places as the Dominican Republic have been reluctant to do so. “The biggest concern we have is: Are these places going to be ready?” says Tumpowsky. “What will the rules be?”
You can also look to the airlines for good clues. “St. Kitts has connectivity problems with the Northeast because the island can’t figure out a plan to handle outbreaks,” Tumpowsky says. “Airlines want to understand what it would take to close down—what demand is going to look like—so hazier forecasts make airlines less willing to drop in a daily flight from New York vs. requiring a connection in Miami.”
Be prepared for a medical evacuation, if you should come to need one—especially if you’re heading to an island with limited hospital beds. There’s still a pandemic raging, after all. Companies such as Covac Global sell policies that cost around $800 for a two-week trip, guaranteeing that you’ll be repatriated with no questions asked should you register positive on a Covid-19 test while on vacation.
You’ll also need a separate travel insurance policy to protect your investment. “Cancel-for-any-reason policies generally ensure that you get 75% of your deposit back,” advises Rowan. “We’re recommending it to everyone.” (This tool by SquareMouth makes it easy to comparison shop for policies.)
Or Wait Until The Very Last Minute
Don’t expect last-minute deals this year; there won’t be enough open inventory for any luxury resort to justify lowering its prices. But you may find increased flexibility if you’re prepared to wait and see, particularly when it comes to those minimum-stay requirements. It’s a beneficial approach for the cash-rich and time-poor.
Position yourself to take advantage of last-minute cancellations. “People will still feel uncomfortable at the last minute, someone will get sick, and hotels won’t tell the person who tested positive for Covid to come down, anyway,” says Tumpowsky.
“But in order to be first in line for cancellations,” he adds, “you need an adviser.”
The best way to leverage that advantage is to know exactly what you want. A family of five that compromised on their Christmas vacation by booking a two-bedroom suite instead of the three-bedroom villa can have their adviser monitor the accommodation they preferred for cancellations. “We’re good at being at the front of the line if there’s a very specific thing you’re after,” Tumpowsky explains.
“My best advice for someone who’s just starting to plan is that flexibility is key,” adds Hickox. “Take everything as it goes. You’ll have a good experience if you can just roll with the punches.”
When Hawaii Asked Tourists To Postpone, Many Listened, And That’s Created New Stresses
With trips getting delayed until 2022, hospitality workers face reduced hours and wages
Many tourists heeded the calls of Hawaii’s governor to put off trips to the islands. Now, locals are wondering what the coming months will bring.
Since Gov. David Ige asked tourists and residents to “reduce travel to Hawaii to essential business activities only” nearly four weeks ago, preliminary data published by the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism shows passenger counts for the most recent week are down about 30% compared with the week leading up to the Aug. 23 announcement.
Hawaii’s biggest industry now finds itself again delicately balancing public health and employment concerns. Mr. Ige has called for travelers to postpone any trips through the end of October. Those still hoping to visit Hawaii at year’s end are watching closely.
“It’s a marked slowdown for Hawaii,” says Kristi Emo, owner of Your Dream Escapes Travel, based in Fresno, Calif.
Hotels are seeing cancellations every day, and future bookings are slowing, says Mufi Hannemann, the former mayor of Honolulu and current president and chief executive of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. While hotel occupancy averaged between 75% and 80% over the summer, it has now dropped below 50%, he says.
Mr. Hannemann says this year’s drop is steeper than the traditional post-Labor Day decline. Some properties are reporting under 40% occupancy, he says. Typically, shoulder season occupancy is between 60% and 70%, he says.
Mr. Hannemann says he hopes state authorities revisit how long to discourage the flow of visitors. He fears travelers might cancel or postpone November or December bookings if the original announcement to postpone trips through the end of October, as the governor suggested, stays in place. “Those were looked upon as strong months for us to kick off winter-season travel,” he says.
Hawaii’s Covid-19 cases have declined in September, while hospitalizations remain relatively flat. The state has averaged about 587 new cases a day over the past week, a decline from about 895 new cases a day two weeks prior, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Covid-19 infection rates in Hawaii are primarily due to community transmission, Janice Okubo, communications director for the Hawaii Department of Health, said in an email. In late August, officials also pointed to residents flying to hot spot areas and bringing the virus back to Hawaii.
Certain counties have implemented new restrictions for visitors and locals alike. On Monday, Oahu began its Safe Access Oahu program, which requires people to show proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test taken within 48 hours to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor establishments.
Maui implemented similar measures on Wednesday. The county is also further limiting capacity on commercial tours to better promote social distancing.
Hawaii’s hospitality workers have felt the pain of a Covid-19 slowdown before. A 2020 rule that required travelers to quarantine essentially shut down the state’s tourism industry. It had a 14.1% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July 2020, which fell to 7.3% in July 2021, the same month Hawaii saw visitation near pre-pandemic levels.
Bryant de Venecia, a communications organizer for Unite Here Local 5, a union that represents hospitality workers, says many are seeing reduced hours or have found that they are now on call rather than regularly scheduled.
Mr. de Venecia says many hotels aren’t doing daily room cleanings, which leaves fewer shifts open to workers, and some departments, such as valet or food and banquet, aren’t open yet.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Ige didn’t return requests for comment. The Hawaii governor said on a live stream with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday there wouldn’t be another shutdown in the state because of the high vaccination rate.
Some locals have accepted the slowdown and new restrictions as a practical measure. In recent weeks, some Hawaiians have taken to social media, including the Maui Bound Facebook group, to discourage travelers from visiting now.
Travel advisers like Ms. Emo say some clients, especially those without trip insurance, are still traveling to the islands. But they have seen other clients postpone their trips until 2022 in the hopes that case numbers improve.
Rachel Costa, 35 years old, and her husband initially planned to travel to Hawaii from Portland, Ore., in May 2020. The couple received refunds for their bookings at the time, and, after they were vaccinated this spring, decided to rebook for September.
Ms. Costa says she watched hospitalizations rise in the state over the summer and ultimately decided to call off the trip after the governor’s announcement. “If we were to go hiking and I hurt my ankle or something, that would be more pressure on a hospital system that’s really overtaxed,” she says.
Ms. Costa says they lost about $1,500 on a nonrefundable condo booking, and that she sympathizes with hard-hit small-business owners. The couple now plans to travel next May. “We tried to do our best to reschedule rather than cancel,” she says.
U.K. Eases Tests For Vaccinated Arrivals In Boost To Travel
The U.K. government eased coronavirus testing requirements for fully vaccinated people arriving in England, removing a significant barrier to travel and boosting airlines and tourism firms.
Those with two doses flying from nations that aren’t high risk will be exempt from a pre-departure test, while screening after arrival will be downgraded to quicker and cheaper lateral-flow tests, according to a statement Friday.
A so-called traffic-light system used to categorize countries will be replaced, with a single “red list” for places where infection rates are high and simplified measures for the rest of the world, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced months of pressure to water down border curbs blamed for a muted recovery in travel demand. Industry bosses have said that PCR tests required for arrivals even from less-risky locations have acted as a brake on bookings because of the complexity of arranging them and costs that could double the price of a family holiday.
The removal of pre-departure tests and the traffic-light simplification will be introduced on Oct. 4, with lateral-flow tests from later in the month, the Department for Transport said.
Airline stocks had gained in anticipation of the U.K. easing curbs, with Ryanair Holdings Plc and British Airways owner IAG SA both advancing 9% in the past two days and EasyJet Plc up 11%. The DfT announcement came after markets had closed.
International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh called the measures “a move in the right direction” but said PCR testing should be ended immediately. “If it’s the right thing to do, let’s get on with it.”
EasyJet Chief Executive Officer Johan Lundgren said that while the changes will make flying easier, there’s no need for any screening of vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries. Visiting Britain will remain “less affordable for all” after the European Union scrapped such testing in July, he said.
People without two vaccine shots who return from a non-red list country will still be required to take a pre-departure test, plus PCR tests on day two and day eight after arrival, and to self-isolate for 10 days, as the government pushes its inoculation program.
The U.K. reopened to non-essential travel in May. Fully vaccinated Britons arriving from most countries were allowed to skip self-isolation from July, a privilege later extended to citizens from the U.S. and European Union.
At the same time, testing remained mandatory for all nations, while a cycle of three-weekly updates meant people faced unexpected costs if places they were due to visit went from green to amber, or hotel quarantine at a cost of 2,285 pounds ($3,153) if they turned red.
Alongside the easing of rules, the number of red-list countries will cut by eight from Wednesday, the DfT said. The tourist destinations of Turkey and the Maldives are among places opening up, alongside Egypt, Oman, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
The government also extended isolation-free entry to people vaccinated in more then 17 countries and territories including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Korea.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. CEO Shai Weiss said the government should also recognize the vaccination status of people who had the jab in India and Hong Kong, and that the red list should focus purely on “variants of concern” and therefore omit countries such as South Africa.
Swiss Tighten Rules For Unvaccinated Travelers To Halt Case Rise
Switzerland is toughening the rules for unvaccinated travelers after returning holidaymakers over the summer drove a rise in Covid-19 infections.
Those who aren’t inoculated or haven’t recovered from the virus will need to present a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival as of Sept. 20, the government said. They will then need to get another test after four to seven days.
The country, which has stood out among European neighbors for its generally more laissez-faire approach to the pandemic, this week began requiring Covid certificates to enter restaurants, cinemas and fitness centers. The move stoked some public ire, particularly among the political right, with protests in the capital of Bern in recent days.
Still, the expanded use of the certificate, which attests that the holder has been jabbed, tested or has recovered from the virus, also increased demand for vaccinations. Just 61% of the Swiss public has had at least one shot, a rate well below the 77% in neighboring France and 67% in Germany.
Covid certificates will now also be available to people who have been inoculated outside of Switzerland with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, the government said on Friday.
Its new travel rules also stipulate that everyone arriving in the country fills out a passenger locater form, permitting authorities to conduct spot checks.
Drug authority Swissmedic said earlier this week it had received applications from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. for booster shots. Switzerland is currently negotiating with Johnson & Johnson to buy a “small amount” of vaccines for those who on medical grounds cannot be inoculated with an mRNA product, a spokeswoman for the Federal Office of Public Health said.
Abu Dhabi Ends Covid Testing For Entry From Within UAE
Abu Dhabi has abolished a requirement for visitors coming from other parts of the United Arab Emirates to show a negative Covid-19 test.
The changes, effective from Sunday, come after the Covid-19 infection rate in the UAE capital fell to 0.2% of total tests, the UAE’s official news agency reported, citing a decision by the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee.
Abu Dhabi already restricts entry to public venues including malls and beaches to people who are vaccinated or have tested negative for coronavirus under a green pass system.
The Covid testing requirements had largely affected people commuting between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for work.
“The committee will continue to monitor events and urges all citizens, residents and visitors to continue adhering to precautionary measures,” the statement said.
Abu Dhabi is also abolishing a requirement for the use of wristbands to monitor compliance during during home quarantine, according to a later statement by the same body posted on WAM.
U.K. Holiday Bookings Soar As Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Ease
Travel companies are set for the busiest weekend of the year as holiday bookings surged following the U.K. government’s announcement Friday that it would ease travel curbs for the fully vaccinated.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the current traffic light system of red, amber and green countries would be scrapped for England from Oct. 4 and replaced by a simplified red list of countries with high infection rates.
“Even though the changes were announced late on Friday, bookings surged, making it one of the busiest days of the year,” David Child, spokesperson for online travel company Thomas Cook Group PLC, said in a phone interview. “We’re looking at this weekend being the busiest of the year so far.”
Airline stocks had already climbed in anticipation of the U.K. easing restrictions, with Ryanair Holdings Plc and British Airways owner IAG SA both rising around 9% in recent days and EasyJet Plc up 11%.
Alan French, U.K. Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Cook, predicts a rush to book last-minute and October half-term deals, with reservations for next month up more than 200% compared to August.
From Oct. 4, fully vaccinated travelers arriving in England from a non-red designated country will not need a pre-departure screening. Later in October, the restrictions will be eased further with the option for the ‘Day 2’ PCR to be replaced by a cheaper lateral flow test.
The number of red-list countries will also be cut by eight from Wednesday. Holiday hotspots including Turkey and the Maldives are among destinations opening up, alongside Egypt, Oman, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Sri Lanka.
“We would now welcome the government working with other countries and international bodies to align vaccination certification and travel rules so that our customers can start looking ahead to holidays around the world – especially the U.S.,” French said in a statement Friday.
Tourist Season’s Extended But Don’t Let Your Guard Down
The U.K. has relaxed its ‘traffic light’ travel list of countries but surveys show a lot of nervousness about the risks.
It’s not too late for that holiday to Ibiza after all.
After another lost summer for the British travel industry, the U.K. government on Friday announced a shake-up of the rules for England.
From early next month, the much-maligned classification of red, amber and green destinations, with its differing levels of restrictions, will be ditched. That “traffic light” system will be replaced with a simple list of red countries to which people should not travel.
If they do venture into that zone, they must quarantine in a hotel. Later this week, tourists will be able to visit Turkey and the Maldives without the need for quarantine.
With the relaxation of rules, travelers with two vaccine doses and flying from nations that aren’t high risk will be exempt from a pre-departure test. From the end of October, screening on arrival will be downgraded to a cheaper lateral flow test instead of a more expensive PCR. People without a double jab must continue to test and will have to self-isolate at home.
It’s good news for the hard hit travel industry. According to TUI AG, the world’s largest package tour operator, and EasyJet Plc, the patchwork of rules had held back holiday bookings in the usually busy English market. Thomas Cook, now reborn as an online business, is seeing September bookings keeping pace with August.
It would usually expect them to be down at least 30-40%. October half-term sales have also spiked 200% from August. That offers some hope that the traditional summer season will be extended. But airlines and tour operators won’t get back the sales they’ve lost in the busiest months of July and August.
The new system should remove some of the previous confusion, while a less onerous testing regime should cut costs. It is not just holidaymakers who have suffered, but workers, students and those separated from family.
The changes, however, don’t open up travel completely, leaving some uncertainty for consumers. For example, it doesn’t remove the possibility of a destination deemed safe being moved to the don’t travel list if cases surge. That may still get in the way of customers booking trips for next summer.
One of the problems with the traffic lights was just how easily restrictions could be ratcheted up at short notice. This was most pronounced in the case of Portugal, which badly damaged sentiment. But it’s hard to see how curbs on movement could be completely eradicated.
While data show that the number of vaccinated people testing positive for coronavirus when returning to the U.K. is very low, relaxing the restrictions isn’t without risk.
There needs to be a mechanism whereby countries’ status can be quickly changed if cases spike in a particular region or a new variant of concern emerges. The government is keeping data from all countries under review, and will look again at the arrangements for international travel early next year.
It is reassuring that fully vaccinated people who test positive in a lateral flow test will be offered a free PCR test, which can be screened for variants. They’d have to self-isolate in that case.
Research from YouGov shows that more than half of the U.K. adults it surveyed thought there should still be some curbs on travel.
Hold The Sangria
More than half of British adults thought there should be some form of restriction on overseas travel.
In a separate poll, almost half thought fully vaccinated people returning or arriving from non-red list countries should take both a pre-departure and a post-arrival Covid test.
Vaccinations weren’t available a year ago. But lawmakers will have memories of last autumn, when cases began to rise. That coincided with many holiday-makers returning from trips.
The government is walking a tightrope between saving a devastated industry and preventing more virus flare-ups. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning of face mask mandates, and work-from-home guidance if the outbreak worsens over the winter, there must to be enough wiggle room to rein in all that sun and sangria if circumstances dictate.
U.S. To Open Air Travel To Most Vaccinated Foreigners
The U.S. will soon allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19 — while adding a testing requirement for unvaccinated Americans and barring entry for foreigners who haven’t gotten shots.
The measures announced Monday by the White House mark the most sweeping change to U.S. travel policies in months, and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people — who will see restrictions relaxed — and the unvaccinated. The new rules will replace existing bans on foreigners’ travel to the U.S. from certain regions, including Europe.
While the move will open the U.S. to millions of vaccinated people and was celebrated by the airline industry, the White House cast the measure as a crackdown, pointing to stricter testing rules and a new contact tracing regime. The new policy will take effect in “early November,” according to the White House, though the precise date isn’t yet clear.
“We know vaccines are effective, including against the delta variant, and vaccines are the best line of defense against Covid, so this vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday.
The new rules will replace the current system, which includes outright bans on entry for most foreigners who’ve been in certain regions — including the U.K., European Schengen area, China, India, South Africa and Brazil — within the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status.
“We will protect Americans here at home and enhance the safety of international travel,” Zients said.
Attention now shifts to what vaccines will be recognized under the policy change, which saw U.S. airline shares pare pre-market losses Monday.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on the new regulations, officials told Bloomberg News the agency currently considers people fully vaccinated when they have received the full course of a shot listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.
A number of vaccines have been approved by the WHO, including those from AstraZeneca Plc and Chinese developers Sinopharm Group and Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
In Europe, shares of IAG SA, parent of trans-Atlantic specialist British Airways, jumped about 11%, the most in 10 months. There were gains of 5.3% at Air France-KLM and 5.5% at Deutsche Lufthansa AG.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the North Atlantic corridor connecting the U.S. and Europe was the single most profitable part of the global aviation market, filled with premium travelers paying top dollar for first- and business-class seats.
The European Union’s top industry official welcomed the policy change. “A logical decision given the success of our EU vaccination campaign,” said Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton in a tweet. He said he’d be meeting with Zients Monday “to continue fighting the pandemic.”
British Airways Chief Executive Officer Sean Doyle called the U.S. move an “historic moment” and said customers could now book with confidence, while his Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. counterpart Shai Weiss said the industry had cleared a “major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale.”
“We welcome the Biden administration’s science-based approach to begin lifting the restrictions on travel to the U.S. that were put into place at the start of the pandemic,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to welcoming more customers back to easy, seamless international trips for business, for leisure, and to reconnect with family and friends.”
“We are very happy about it and we are looking forward to the additional bookings that will come because of it,” JetBlue Airways Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes said in an interview. “It’s great that families can reconnect for Thanksgiving and the holidays.”
President Joe Biden’s announcement comes ahead of a planned virtual vaccine summit he’ll host this Wednesday, where he will push for more global donations in a bid to head off criticism of U.S. hoarding, and a decision to proceed with booster shots despite the WHO urging rich countries to hold off for now.
Under the new system, vaccinated travelers will show proof as they board a plane and will still need a pre-flight Covid-19 test, within three days of departure. They’ll also need to provide a phone number and email to go into a contact-tracing system that does not yet exist.
A White House official said it’s not yet clear if the U.S. will maintain the current testing rules, which allow virtually any authorized test, or require a more-accurate type of test, which tend to take longer and cost more. The vaccine requirement applies to adults, a person familiar with the plan said.
Unvaccinated American travelers will need to test within one day of departure, and Zients said they will be “required” to test again on arrival, though an official said they would have to prove that they have bought a test to be taken after they arrive. It wasn’t immediately clear how, or if, the U.S. would seek to verify the results of the second test.
Besides which vaccines it will ultimately recognize, other key details of the new system remain unclear, including whether the U.S. will insist on two doses in all cases, including for people who’ve previously been infected with the virus. It’s also not clear what exemptions will be allowed. The White House did not immediately publish details of the new policy.
The CDC will direct airlines to collect contact tracing information from all partners. There’s no change to domestic travel rules, Zients said.
The announcement came at a time of diplomatic tensions with France, a key European ally, which was enraged by a surprise deal between Australia, the U.K. and U.S. that led to the scrapping of Australia’s purchase of French submarines. The airline change is an olive branch to Europe, where leaders for months had urged Washington to ease its restrictions.
There’s no change to the policy as of yet along land borders, Zients said, and the ongoing land border closure will be getting another monthly extension to Oct. 21, he said. That suggests that, as of November, vaccinated Canadians and Mexicans will be free to fly to the U.S., but that a ban on crossing the border by land for leisure trips will remain in place.
Throughout the pandemic, carriers on both sides of the Atlantic have lobbied forcefully for a relaxation of travel curbs that have been in place since March 2020. While Britain and the EU lifted restrictions on visiting Americans this summer, the U.S. held off from any reciprocal loosening amid a rise in Covid-19 cases. U.S. infections have been leveling off, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain high.
The policy change in Washington comes after Britain indicated it would ease testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals, and simplify its system for regulating travel from different countries. European countries in particular have complained that the U.S. maintained travel restrictions on their vaccinated citizens even after they began allowing entry to vaccinated Americans.
Google Is Now Helping Travelers Go Green
The search giant’s new tools for finding sustainable hotels is one of several ways consumers can cut through all the industry greenwashing.
A Booking.com global survey released in June laid bare the new expectations of travelers: Some 83% of 29,000 respondents said they found sustainable travel to be vital, with 61% noting that the pandemic has increased their interest in traveling sustainably.
Half added that finding a hotel with actual eco credibility isn’t easy—and they’re right. Hotels that take sustainability seriously don’t often shout it from the rooftops, while others tout themselves as green just for offering an option to skip daily laundering of linen.
The most significant new tool comes courtesy of Google. Starting on Sept. 22, it will label hotels as “Eco-Certified” in global search results, with a leaf-shaped icon next to the hotel’s name. Clicking on the “About” tab will detail the property’s specific sustainability practices, such as having water use audited by an independent organization or using energy from carbon-free sources.
The new feature relies on 29 certification programs to do the hard work of establishing a hotel’s green credibility; the property must have an array of sustainability measures audited by third-party experts. It’ll be up to hotel staff, rather than the search engine, to update hotel listings, using the free Google My Business Profile.
The move is intended to offer travelers more transparency against greenwashing, which runs rampant in the hospitality industry. It also responds to increased search volume around eco-travel buzz words. The term “green hotel,” for instance, has quadrupled in search volume since March 2020, according to Google Trends.
“We’ve worked in close collaboration with hotels to learn more about how they’re approaching sustainability and how to best represent these different approaches within our product,” says Richard Holden, Google’s VP of product management.
“Standardization will be key in getting consumers to understand, trust, and take action based on the sustainability information we provide.”
The New Green Standards
EarthCheck is among the strictest of the eco credentials Google will recognize. Created in 2000 by Australia’s Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC), the benchmarking system is constantly updated according to the latest research. It already works with 550 hotels globally, including the Langham Hospitality Group, which has cut its energy and carbon intensity by one-third since joining the program in 2011.
This month, Belmond, a brand owned by LVMH, announced it would begin the EarthCheck certification process for not only all of its 34 hotels but also its restaurants, cruise ships, and trains.
This means that guests staying at Belmond’s properties in Peru can look forward not only to gourmet dining in partnership with the farmers of the Huama community, but also to a lighter-footprint journey to Machu Picchu aboard the brand’s iconic Hiram Bingham train.
Other notable certifications Google will recognize include Green Key, LEED, Green Seal, and Green Globe—all of which have been around for decades—as well as such relative newcomers as the Green Growth 2050 Standard, which since 2015 has been measuring hotels and resorts across 200 sustainability-related metrics.
Green Growth has a seal of approval from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), which provides accreditation for certification bodies. Some programs have only a handful of hotels under their umbrella; stumbling upon them without Google’s help would be challenging at best.
What Google won’t show are programs with only self-reported environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data such as investment firm CGI Merchant Group’s new Conscious Certified Hotels program, which donates 1% of room night revenue at select Hilton hotels to local organizations.
Such internal sustainability initiatives as Iberostar Hotels & Resorts’ Wave of Change program, which is working toward various goals that include being waste-free by 2025 and carbon-neutral by 2030, also won’t count toward getting an “eco certified” check.
Other Ways to Find Sustainable Hotels
Not all hotels that do good work are accredited, though, partially because of cost—the fee for a bronze Green Seal certification for hotels with fewer than 75 rooms starts at $1,500 annually, for example—and because some schemes are overly focused on a single aspect of greening such as energy efficiency, thus skipping over hotels that concentrate on pro-social endeavors such as promoting ethical wildlife experiences or investing heavily in their communities.
“Hotels are realizing they need a label,” says Hans Pfister, co-founder and president of the Cayuga Collection, a group of sustainable lodges that were among the first to earn certifications from the famously eco-conscious government in Costa Rica. “But there’s a difference between putting a certification on your website and actually walking the walk.”
Instead of spending hours on the paperwork necessary to maintain certifications, Pfister felt energy could be better directed toward new initiatives that enrich local communities and the guest experience. A stay at his private island resort Isla Palenque in Panama could include foraging through 400 acres of protected rainforest for wild ingredients with a local guide or learning traditional fishing techniques preserved by the fishermen of Boca Chica.
A handful of new tools beyond Google can help make it easier to find and book hotels with strong social and environmental values such as Pfister’s.
Other directories include Green Pearls, which curates and scores its members across such areas as their cultural commitment and authentic guest experiences.helps travelers filter for hotels based on such sustainability practices as “fair food,” “waste control,” and “clean energy,” and
So far, 319 tourism companies, organizations, and individuals have united for Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, a coalition whose members commit to developing action plans to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2030. Hotel groups including Banyan Tree, Accor, and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts have joined Expedia Group and Unesco in the expansion of the Unesco Sustainable Travel Pledge, which encourages signees to eliminate single-use plastics and support local economies and cultures.
Prince Harry has rallied some of the biggest travel brands—including Booking.com, Skyscanner, Tripadvisor, and Visa—to form a think tank on sustainable initiatives called Travalyst, which Google is also joining.
As part of the group, the search titan will help develop a standardized way to calculate carbon emissions for air travel and align its new hotel features with Travalyst’s criteria for sustainable accommodations. With the pre-pandemic tourism industry accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2018 study, there’s plenty of pressure to get on the bandwagon.
“It stands to reason that in the context of Covid, people are taking more time to consider what they value in terms of travel and how that impacts the world at large,” says Google’s Holden. “As the travel industry recovers, hotels that can demonstrate a meaningful commitment to sustainability will be well-positioned to meet this growing interest from consumers.”
South Africa Court Rules Race-Based Tourism Fund Criteria Unlawful
South Africa’s appeals court ruled the Department of Tourism’s focus on only Black businesses for payouts to help the industry overcome the coronavirus pandemic is unlawful.
The Bloemfontein-based court said the minister of tourism committed an error and is not legally obliged to allocate funds based on Black economic empowerment requirements.
Labor union Solidarity and civil-rights group AfriForum, which often speak out against the government’s race-based redistribution policies and land reform plans aimed at reducing the dominance of White ownership, earlier successfully applied for a freeze on the Tourism Equity Fund because it only focused on Black businesses.
The 1.2 billion rand ($81.2 million), which was set up by the government to assist the industry, was particularly hard hit during the Covid-19 pandemic as border closures and travel restrictions prevent the usual flow of holidaymakers from Europe and elsewhere.
Paris Airports Need More Than U.S. Reopening To Recover Traffic
The reopening of transatlantic flights to the U.S. is “great news” for Paris, but it won’t bring air traffic back to where it was before the pandemic, according to the operator of the city’s airports.
Paris serves as a hub to connect various continents, and “as long as Asia is closed, notably China,” all incoming traffic to Paris that normally goes to China from Africa, Latin America or North America is being slowed down, Aeroports de Paris Chief Executive Officer Augustin de Romanet said during a media event at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Wednesday.
“As long as this stickiness exists, we fear we may not return to 2019 levels of traffic,” he said.
Romanet said he still expects pre-pandemic traffic to return between 2025 and 2027. For this year, he predicts between 30% and 40% of 2019 levels. ADP will most likely deploy more staff for the expected increase in passengers once flights to the U.S. resume to minimize waiting times, he said.
U.S. authorities said on Monday they will allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The new rules are due to start in early November.
There are signs that pent-up demand for travel is helping drive retail sales at airports, even without Asian travelers. Sales at LVMH’s Moet Hennessy duty free store have increased by “double digits” from 2019, CEO Philippe Schaus said at the same event, citing purchases from U.S. visitors and others.
Schaus expects performance at “Les Caves Particulieres” (Private Cellars), located in Charles de Gaulle’s terminal 2E, will “boom” even more once visitors from China are back.
“The desire to travel hasn’t abated; the desire to spend on luxury products while traveling hasn’t abated,” Schaus said.
6 Fall Getaways For Art Lovers, According To Art World Insiders
Plus an extraordinary immersive museum in Japan well worth the wait.
TO THE DELIGHT OF art lovers around the country, this autumn promises to be much livelier than last, with scores more museums fully open and long-delayed exhibits finally unfurled. But as coronavirus cases tick back up and restrictions tighten in some cities, elbowing your way through a crowded gallery at one of the country’s major art institutions appeals far less than it used to.
The solution? Seek out a less popular art venue with its own cachet. Better still, make it a pilgrimage and build a trip around the venture. After so many months deprived of both art and travel, what finer way to celebrate their return? For trip inspiration, we asked five art-world notables to share the collections and house-museums worth traveling for.
Fondation Claude Monet | Giverny, France
The house and gardens in the countryside of Normandy where the artist lived and painted for 43 years
“I spent a summer in Giverny and I actually really enjoyed the Monet house and gardens. It sounds like a small thing but the kitchen is intact and it’s blue. I love the farmers market [in Giverny] and the hills that you can hike up or you can ride a bike and go drink some cider. Giverny really sticks in my mind” — Rainer Judd, president of the Judd Foundation
Judd Foundation | Marfa, Texas
The site, also referred to as La Mansana de Chinati or the Block, comprises 21 buildings, including Judd’s former home and studios.
The Chinati Foundation | Marfa, Texas
A contemporary art museum, situated on 340 acres, founded by Mr. Judd at a former military base. He repurposed the buildings for the permanent installation of large-scale works by him as well as other artists.
“I learned so much more about Donald Judd’s work and his life—and what it’s done for that community. His work is often made like a status symbol when it’s shown. But when we saw it in Marfa, you understood what it was all about, that it was about space—and the fact that he was a hoarder as well. He had to be strict with himself so he didn’t end up with tons of junk. He had to create order in his life continuously and I am very similar.” —Tracey Emin, Artist
Museo en los Cerros | Tilcara, Argentina
A photography museum built by Argentine photographer Lucio Boschi in 2012. Note: Argentina is expected to open to Americans as of Nov. 1
“It’s in the middle of these beautiful stark, pink mountains and it takes several hours to get there by bus from Salta. It’s really quite special.” —Karole P. B. Vail, director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection | Venice, Italy
An 18th-century palazzo, the former home of one of the 20th century’s most famous modern art patrons
“That place is magic and somewhere I will long to go back to again and again. It’s a domestic experience, like being a ghost traveling through that house, seeing the pet cemetery outside and photos of her living there and the work. You can feel her still there. When you can go on a day when there aren’t many people, you feel like you’ve broken into the house and you’re sneaking around while she’s gone shopping for more art. It’s a very unique way of experiencing a collector’s house.”—Russell Tovey, co-host of the ’Talk Art’ podcast
Clyfford Still Museum | Denver
Opened in 2011 to house more than 3,000 works by one of the pioneers of the Abstract Expressionist movement
“In Still’s will, he left a prize and Denver won a prize to build the museum. I love the idea that it’s in Denver and not one of the big cities.”—Robert Diament, gallerist, co-host of the podcast ‘Talk Art’
teamLab Borderless | Tokyo
A 107,000-square-foot digital art museum opened in 2018 by the art collective teamLab. Note: Currently, American tourists are still prohibited from visiting Japan due to Covid travel restrictions.
“It’s incredible….There’s like a hundred or something artists who go in there and they build rooms. Everyone is anonymous. They just love to do it because they love to participate in the art and the culture and the experience. That gives me a lot more like…the feels, you know? It makes me feel more connected to the pieces for some reason. Because it’s not about money. It’s about, how do we evoke feelings in people?” —Steve Aoki, DJ, record producer and art collector
Casa Luis Barragán | Mexico City
The former residence of the acclaimed architect, built in 1948 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004
“In Mexico City, besides the city itself, the various Luis Barragán projects, including his own house, are absolutely worth looking at and spending some time in. Everybody assumes they know how to live and what houses should look like and what chairs should look like and how their day should be organized. And it’s just really good to find alternatives to that and question whether you’re actually doing it in a way that is best for you.” —Flavin Judd, artistic director of the Judd Foundation
Carnival Loses $2.8 Billion But Sees Solid 2022 Bookings
Carnival Corp. lost $2.8 billion in the third quarter, but shares rose Friday after the cruise line operator said bookings for the second half of next year are running ahead of 2019 levels.
Cruising investors are looking for any glimmer of hope for an industry that has been battered by the pandemic.
Still, the short-term outlook remains grim. Carnival said the rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases from the delta variant hurt sales this summer. Rivals Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line saw the same thing. New reported virus cases are trending slightly lower now.
Carnival said the average ship was only 59% full in August, but that was an improvement from 39% in June, and voyages generated enough revenue to cover cash costs.
“We reported a significant loss, so we haven’t recovered yet, obviously, but as we look ahead we see brighter days,” CEO Arnold Donald said in an interview. “If things continue to trend the way they are (with COVID-19 cases), we should see positive cash flow as we get our fleet sailing broadly again.”
While there were fewer passengers, they spent 20% more on board than before the pandemic, the company said. Donald said there could be several explanations.
“People haven’t been able to cruise — maybe not even travel – for a while, so they are in a mood to spend more because they haven’t had a chance to in a while,” he said.
Carnival, which is headquartered in Miami but incorporated in Panama, said that after write-downs its adjusted loss was $1.99 billion in the third quarter, which ended Aug. 31.
Eight of Carnival’s nine cruise lines including Carnival, Princess and Holland America have resumed sailing with reduced schedules. The company said it expects more than half of its fleet to be operating by the end of October and the full fleet by next summer.
The cruise industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The big three cruise companies are incorporated outside the U.S., and they did not receive the same kind of federal relief that was granted to airlines. With revenue at rock-bottom levels, the companies have borrowed billions to avoid sinking.
Carnival shares rose 3% to close at $25.44.
How I Quit And Started a Company: Steve Silberberg, Fitpacking
The owner of an outdoor guiding service traded his computer programming gig to lead excursions 13 weeks a year.
Steve Silberberg is living the backpacker’s dream. He gets paid to take hikers of all fitness levels on one- to two-week trips in some of the most stunning landscapes of the U.S. national parks through his Hull, Massachusetts-based business, Fitpacking. Silberberg, 60, credits his 16-year-old company’s survival to rookie confidence. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, for sure this is going to be a success. Who wouldn’t want to go backpacking all week?’”
Here’s How He Made The Leap:
Old Job: Programmer. “I was writing code at an investment firm for 17 years. There was a time when I loved programming, but as with most things, it got hard to remain passionate about it.”
‘Ah-ha’ Moment: “I’d just turned 40, and didn’t see myself sitting in a cubicle for the rest of my life. I wondered if there was a way to get out into the wilderness and pursue my true passion. Whenever I backpacked, I’d come back and my clothes fit better and I felt better.”
Transition Time: Three years dreaming, one year transitioning. “My company was very kind to me, and allowed me to work for nine months finishing up projects on a part-time basis until I went full-time into my venture.”
Financial Trajectory: “It took two to three years before any reasonable amount of funds started coming in.” In the meantime, he took coding jobs in the winter during the off season for hiking in the U.S. “The business didn’t stop just because I had a 9-to-5, so it was like working two jobs.”
Staffing Up: Silberberg took a slow and steady approach to hiring. “It took a few years to get people to participate in a new venture. But the third year I started hiring part-time guides.” He now has 10 guides, plus his “right hand” coworker in Orlando who runs the company during the trips Silberberg is on, as well as part-timers who handle logistics like hotel booking and park permitting.
The Challenge: Wearing all the hats. Silberberg easily launched a website and built databases. “Then came the tricky stuff like marketing and dealing with customers and accounting. While none were completely foreign to me, I noticed that I did not have quite the same acumen.”
New Job vs. Old Job: “I used to sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, and now I sit at a desk in front of a computer all day,” he says with a laugh. “But I just got back from two weeks guiding in Yellowstone, and next month I’ll wake up in the bottom of Grand Canyon.” He guides 13 weeks a year, and is pivoting toward wilderness experiences that might be lost with global warming.
Pro Tip: “Make sure that your heart’s in your company, and that you really like to do it.”
The Resurgence Of The Travel Agent
Waves of infections, changing protocols, and postponed flights are merely a handful of realities folks face while traveling during the pandemic. Even during “normal” times, travel isn’t always straightforward, and with a plethora of moving parts, every vacation brings risk. But those risks have multiplied with Covid, and trip planning has become more complicated.
Enter the travel agent—or, as they’re more often called these days, the travel advisor. They’re organizers, destination experts, and a 24-hour concierge who can tailor a trip, replan, reschedule, and even keep a momentous holiday from crumbling to pieces.
“Whether it’s a flight cancellation, problems at a hotel, or unexpected illness, a travel professional can quickly jump in and assess the situation and then navigate all the roadblocks to find a solution,” says David Harris, CEO of North America-headquartered Ensemble Travel Group, and, previously, a second-generation travel agency owner. “That has never been more apparent than during the pandemic.”
While travel portals such as Tripadvisor, Booking.com, and Expedia Group have exploded in the past decade—with many people taking the lead to plan their own vacations—websites and apps can’t replace an individual offering personalized advice or curating a bespoke experience. And jetsetters are in agreement. In 2021, in particular, travel agencies are in the middle of a boom.
“After enduring the most brutal year in the 20-plus since I started the business, I’ve seen a staggering rebound in the last six months,” says Casey Halloran, co-founder, and CEO of Costa Rican Luxury Vacations, a company designing high-end, custom trips to Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. “Now that traveling has new barriers, ever-changing rules, and mild anxiety attached, agents are able to add even more value to travelers.”
Halloran explains that specific to pandemic travel, advisors assist with gathering the destination’s Covid statistics, info on entry and exit requirements and local regulations, not to mention protocols at hotels, advice on travel insurance, and contingency plans for worst-case scenarios.
“As all these factors are in flux, it’s the job of a great agent to be constantly on top of it, filtering the noise and informing the customer,” he adds. A reputable travel agent should help their clients “understand risks, mitigating those as best we can, and helping them feel comfortable to responsibly travel again.”
An Expanding Role
Travel agents are far from new. U.K.-based Cox & Kings opened as the first travel agency in 1758, followed by the Abreu Agency in Porto, Portugal, in 1840. Meanwhile, London’s Thomas Cook showed on the scene a year later, and Brownell Travel launched in the U.S. in 1887. Pioneers aside, the travel advisor’s role has undeniably expanded over the past several decades.
“Twenty years ago, travel agents were ‘order takers’ who primarily booked what clients told them,” says Brian Tan, CEO and co-founder of Zicasso, a luxury travel company in Mountain View, Calif., that matches travelers with top travel advisors. “Today, successful travel agents have deep knowledge of a destination and a Rolodex of local contacts and can customize travel experiences based on a client’s special interests and needs. We call them ‘travel specialists.’”
In the age of a global health crisis, folks who have not worked with travel advisors before are turning to the pros for trip planning and custom itineraries. According to Tan, Zicasso has seen an increased demand in the wake of Covid for travel experts and the services they provide.
Likewise, Virtuoso, one of the leading travel consortiums globally with over 1,200 agency locations in more than 50 countries, saw a 50% increase in consumers looking to hire travel advisors through its network since January. Meanwhile, other numbers are on the rise, too.
Third-quarter bookings are up over the first two quarters of 2021, and clients are purchasing both domestic and international trips through travel agents. For travel abroad especially, advisors offer peace of mind and a deeper level of security.
“In the current travel environment, more than ever, travelers are concerned with their safety when traveling overseas,” says Andrew Williams, a Houston -based travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group, a Virtuoso member. “Avoiding the spread of the pandemic, changing environmental hazards, escalations in crime, and other general tensions have added numerous complications to navigating the travel landscape. Now, travelers want to be more supported by someone they can trust in a world where things are more complex.”
Beyond the additional security and convenience that comes with hiring a travel agent, there are other advantages, too. “We often have access to exclusive perks or experiences through our global networks of suppliers and friends,” Williams says.
Navigating A New Normal
With vaccinations underway, travel as an industry is on an upswing, which is another reason travel agents are in high demand. Margot Kong, a San Francisco-based luxury travel curator with Travel Experts, a network of independent travel advisors and a Virtuoso affiliate, says she believes there’s been a surge recently because a lot of the world has not entirely reopened, or they’ve opened with restrictions.
“You now have a lot more people competing for fewer hotel rooms, fewer tour guides, and fewer airplane seats,” Kong says. As a result, vacation planning isn’t as straightforward as it once was, and organizing a holiday could take three times longer as folks scour the internet and comb through scores of flight, hotel, and tour options. Then there’s the possibility of trip disruptions, which are more common in this day and age.
“Having a travel advisor take on that burden is very appealing to a lot of people,” she adds. “If things do go wrong and a country shuts down, a hotel closes, or a trip or cruise has to be canceled, the travel advisor is better equipped to help get that refund or future travel credit, advocating on the client’s behalf.”
What’s It Like To Visit Dubai Now? Covid Comfort As Expo Arrives
From strict mask and vaccine policies to easygoing dining rules, the city aims for meticulous convenience as the vast Expo 2020 Dubai finally opens in October.
The buzz around lunch time in Dubai’s financial center paints a clear picture of how the city’s dealing with the coronavirus pandemic: Business people are back in full swing, many restaurants have to be booked in advance, and luxury sports cars swarm the entrances of the area’s five-star hotels. It’s a far cry from last year’s empty parking lots and deserted office spaces.
If there is such a thing as pre-pandemic normalcy in 2021, Dubai is keen to display it. International tourism resumed more than a year ago, and the city has relatively lenient rules to combat the spread of Covid-19. That’s thanks to the fact that the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, is one of the world’s most vaccinated nations. According to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, around 75% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Now, it is opening up to millions of visitors for the World Expo, which will take place in the outskirts of the city from Oct. 1 through March 31. The exhibition was delayed for a year due to the pandemic; Dubai anticipates it to attract 25 million visits, both virtually and in person.
The number is less eye-popping considering the scale of the Expo. The site is as large as 600 hundred football stadiums, filled with architectural spectacles from around 190 countries. The UAE’s is designed by Santiago Calatrava and will be shaped like a falcon in flight; the Canadian pavilion is a towering ring made of wood lattice with a “360 degree theater” at its center; and the Netherlands has built a cone-shaped vertical farm.
To avoid inciting a super spreader event, visitors will be required to adhere to the similar rules that apply when entering the country: they can either show vaccine cards or negative PCR tests taken within 72 hours. (When crossing the border, the vaccinated set must also provide a negative result, and stricter provisions apply to those coming from certain countries, including tests that are only valid for 48 hours and a requirement to quarantine until a second swab, taken at the airport, comes back clean.)
The hope is that Dubai can maintain its good track record—the entire UAE is currently registering below 500 new infections a day—even if the Expo crowds are as astronomical as the city hopes. The show, after all, is just one way Dubai is doubling down on tourism. Its easygoing public health measures and low case counts are also luring business travelers, convention goers, and leisure vacationers.
After recording nearly 17 million international arrivals in 2019, Dubai expects that 27 million people will pass through the city in 2021—a goal it’s still far from reaching, with roughly 3 million visitors in the first seven months of the year—and more than 50 million in 2022.
The Dining Scene
Dubai’s dining scene held up remarkably well during the pandemic. Aside from a 24/7 lockdown in April 2020, the city’s culinary hot spots have largely kept their doors open, albeit with social distancing and mask mandates. Many fine dining restaurants also entered the delivery game, offering visitors eight-course meals via motorbike.
These days, vaccine cards are only required if you’re sitting at a bar, and the government has capped restaurant tables to parties of 10. Officials have been known to impose heavy fines on establishments that break the rules, so enforcement has been reliable across the board.
Those rules, however, are subject to periodic changes, as they are everywhere. The latest updates allow restaurants and cafes to open until 3:00 a.m.—the time they usually closed pre-coronavirus—and reduce the social distance requirement to 1.5 meters from 2.
As Dubai emerges from its steamy summer months, beachside gems like folly by Nick & Scott and Tasca are becoming increasingly pleasant. The latter is the first international opening for Michelin-star chef Jose Avillez, with seating around the Mandarin Oriental hotel’s breezy sixth-floor pool, views of the Burj Khalifa, and a menu of gorgeously plated Portuguese tapas (get the prawn ceviche, served inside hollowed limes).
Amazonico, in Dubai’s swanky financial center, features a multi-level outdoor terrace resembling a jungle—a fitting backdrop for dishes like that take inspiration from the Peruvian Amazon and Japanese Nikkei cuisine (think Hamachi tiradito with passion fruit).
A new reason to venture indoors: Puerto 99, a convivial Mexican restaurant on Dubai’s newest man-made island, Bluewaters. Trying not to dance along to its Mariachi performances is guaranteed to be a losing battle.
Culture Makes A Comeback
Tourism is making a big restart in Dubai, which translates to a lot of options along the spectrum of Covid-cautiousness.
If you’re still Covid-wary: A saunter through the residential district of Karama allows visitors a chance to see the fusion of old and new Dubai, with mural-lined streets and old school coffee shops.
In the evening, a stroll along the Canal Boardwalk from Business Bay to Jumeirah provides breathtaking views of the city skyline with significantly less foot traffic than Downtown Dubai. Plenty of tour companies offer night cruises and desert drives—two more relaxing ways to take in the surrounding sights without ever stepping foot indoors.
If you need a gentle reentry: Al Fahidi Historical District gives first-timers a taste of Old Dubai; its alleys showcase the stone and palm wood architecture that existed here long before skyscrapers took over.
Both in souks across the district and markets across Dubai Creek, visitors can haggle for gold, spices, and rugs—expect a mix of both shops and open-air stalls, and avoid the midday rush if you’re crowd conscious.
The feeling is decidedly more modern along Alserkal Avenue—the place to be for art galleries and trendy coffee shops. You could spend most of a day exploring this hotbed of contemporary culture, with stops at Cinema Akil for outdoor indie movie viewings and A4 Space, a sustainability-oriented concept shop and community hangout.
If you want to pretend the pandemic never happened: Bla Bla, the spacious beach club in Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Residence, has been attracting hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) to its weekend parties, with themed rooms, DJs, and live bands. Masks are virtually out of sight here, though staff keep an eye on rowdy dancing.
And of course there’s Expo Dubai, a multi-billion dollar project literally intended to “bring the world together.” Opening day, on October 1, it will become one of the largest in-person events since the pandemic began, with curious onlookers pouring into hundreds of pavilions representing the themes of sustainability, mobility, and opportunity.
It promises to be a spectacle. The Egyptian pavilion will have original antique Pharaoh statues, while the “mobility district” will let visitors try out autonomous vehicles and see what aviation engineers are working on for the next generation of planes.
How To Get Around
For most of the year, Dubai isn’t much of a walkable city, thanks to temperatures that climb to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).
But whether it’s a bus, taxi, metro, or your car, the government has made sure passengers and drivers adhere to strict rules. Taxis and ride-hailing services require everyone in a vehicle to wear a mask—and a maximum of three people are allowed per ride.
The once-common plexiglass-like barriers in taxis have mostly disappeared; most vehicles now follow a simple mask mandate. Sanitizing products are also present in all public transportation vehicles.
On the metro, it’s business as usual—if anything, it’s growing, as service will extend to the outskirts of the city on October 1, to help visitors get to the Expo site. Getting there from the Dubai Marina station takes around 15 minutes.
Download the Dubai’s Roads & Transportation Authority (RTA) app if you plan to take the metro. It lets you add money to the cards that you tap into each station, minimizing contact points along the way.
The Lingering Covid Etiquette
Wear a mask. Around the city, you’ll find everybody wearing one in all public spaces both inside and outside, including shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants. (There are exceptions for eating, drinking, and outdoor exercise.) Fines for not adhering to the mask-wearing rule can reach thousands of dollars—and to avoid confusion, public places are required to provide signals showing where you need to wear your mask.
Almost two years into the pandemic, people either opt for a fist bump or greet each other verbally. Everyone can agree that human contact in Dubai, for now, is probably a thing of the past.
Airlines Add Winter Flights Between U.S., Europe In Sign Of Hope
Airlines are cautiously adding capacity between the U.S. and Europe over winter, as carriers try to capitalize on looser travel restrictions without over-stretching during the seasonally slower months.
The number of flights from Western Europe to North America is poised to jump by 7.5% between late October and early November, when the U.S. ban lifts on visits from most European countries, based on data from BloombergNEF. Traffic will then head for a peak in late December.
While European carriers have built up forward schedules throughout the coronavirus pandemic, only to consolidate when demand fails to materialize, “we’ve seen far fewer cancellations in recent weeks,” said David Doherty, a BloombergNEF analyst. That “shows that airlines are increasingly confident about load factors.”
Colder countries such as the U.K. and Germany are set to capture the lion’s share of any winter bump, as airlines pare back summer schedules between the U.S. and warmer nations.
U.S. capacity to the U.K. is set to surge 79% between September and December based on current schedules, according to flight tracker OAG. For Germany, the increase is 21%, while seats offered for Spain and Italy decline. OAG expects some of the flights to the U.K. and Germany to be cut as airlines adjust their schedules.
Last week’s decision by the U.S. to allow in vaccinated visitors — ending a ban on most European travelers since March 2020 — sent airline stocks soaring.
The restrictions have hit big European network carriers like Deutsche Lufthansa AG and British Airways especially hard, as they are more dependent on the North Atlantic corridor — the most lucrative corner of the global airline market. U.S. counterparts like United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. have vast domestic operations that held up better during the pandemic.
Lufthansa said Tuesday that demand on some routes to the U.S. had reached pre-crisis levels, with sales of premium seats on flights to New York and Florida exceeding 2019 levels. The German airline group, which owns the former national carriers of Switzerland, Austria and Belgium, said it stands ready to increase capacity at short notice.
British Airways, whose route from London Heathrow to New York’s John F. Kennedy International generated in excess of $1 billion in annual revenue before the pandemic, reported a jump in searches after the U.S. move but hasn’t commented on sales.
European booking horizons remain short, with demand focused on leisure destinations and strengthening in December, said Hugh Aitken, vice president of flights at Skyscanner.net, which tracks airline demand.
“According to our analysis, New York sees the most demand, followed by the likes of Miami and other leisure destinations such as Orlando, Los Angeles and San Francisco,” he said.
Winter is likely to remain challenging for airlines, said John Grant, chief analyst at OAG. While carriers typically alter capacity in increments of 10%, demand may not move so much at one time. This leaves carriers guessing.
“On one hand, you need to demonstrate to your shareholders that you’re gearing up to generate cash,” he said. “At the same time, you don’t want to add too much capacity that you miss out on profitable flying.”
The Best And Worst Places To Be As We Learn To Live With Delta
Delta has redefined how we live with the virus, with places that stayed resilient amid the variant’s onslaught providing a new model for how the world emerges from the pandemic.
In September, European nations dominate the top rungs of Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking for a third month, and we have a new No. 1—Ireland has taken pole position from Norway after steadily climbing the ranks from the start of 2021, when it had the worst outbreak in the world.
It pulled off the startling turnaround with a strategy used Europe-wide. Even as the peak summer travel season unfolded alongside delta’s spread, Ireland and places like Spain, the Netherlands and Finland held down serious illness and deaths through pioneering moves to largely limit quarantine-free entry to immunized people.
Bestowing more domestic freedoms on the inoculated helped boost vaccination levels to some of the highest in the world—over 90% of Ireland’s adult population has received two shots—while allowing social activity to resume safely.
In contrast, delta left the U.S. reeling. The world’s biggest economy dropped three spots to No. 28 in September as unfettered normalization, regardless of vaccination status, drove a surge in cases and deaths. Inoculation has hit a wall, with places that started shots later than the U.S. now overtaking it.
The Covid Resilience Ranking is a monthly snapshot of where the virus is being handled the most effectively with the least social and economic upheaval.
Compiled using 12 data indicators that span virus containment, the quality of healthcare, vaccination coverage, overall mortality and progress toward restarting travel and easing border curbs, the Ranking captures which of the world’s biggest 53 economies are responding best—and worst—to the same once-in-a-generation threat.
Southeast Asian economies continue to populate the Ranking’s bottom rungs in September, with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines the last five. While the region’s outbreak may have peaked, their export-reliant economies are still struggling from the hit.
Once the gold standard for virus containment, the Asia-Pacific is faltering in the era of vaccination. Not only are their strict measures less effective in the face of delta, former top rankers in the region are also grappling with how to reopen after such a long period of isolationist border curbs.
No. 1 at the Ranking’s inception last November, New Zealand fell nine spots from August to No. 38. A delta incursion after months virus-free has left the country in varying degrees of lockdown, still seeking to stamp out infections as it strives to boost vaccination levels.
Singapore, which is trying to pivot from a Covid Zero approach to a vaccine-led reopening, fell 11 rungs as an unsettling surge in cases saw some restrictions reimposed.
What’s increasingly apparent is that the pandemic is far from over—for some more than others.
Called “a shame on all humanity” by World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, vaccine inequality persists, confining developing economies to the bottom half of the Ranking.
With so many countries barely inoculated, the risk of another destructive variant emerging has never been higher, just as rich nations grapple with waning immunity from the first round of shots.
Will booster campaigns by the richest nations worsen vaccine inequality? Can Europe remain resilient as cold weather, the virus’s optimal conditions, descends? Might Asia claw back ground as inoculation progresses?
Big Shifts Upward In September:
* Spain jumped eight places to No. 2 as its infection rate fell to the lowest level in more than a year.
* Denmark moved up six spots into the top five as high vaccination coverage enables it to lift restrictions while its outbreak is contained.
* Canada advanced 14 rungs, while the U.K. climbed six places to No. 16 after both nations eased travel curbs for fully vaccinated people.
* Bangladesh edged up five notches as the country recorded its lowest number of daily deaths in nearly four months and schools reopened after being shut for more than 500 days.
* South Africa’s waning wave and the easing of restrictions to revive its economy boosted it six spots, to No. 40.
* The United Arab Emirates and Mexico rose nine and seven places respectively, as domestic restrictions became less stringent amid falling cases and deaths.
* Singapore and New Zealand dropped 11 and nine spots respectively, as Covid resurgences saw both nations grapple with the tough transition from zero tolerance for the virus to vaccinated reopening.
* Norway’s marked fall from No. 1 in August to No. 10 this month was due to its travel restrictions, which are stricter than European peers. It only accepts travelers with the EU’s vaccine certification—in effect barring entry to most people who live outside of Europe—while other economies in the region allow visitors vaccinated anywhere with a shot recognized by EU regulators. Norway has, however, announced a roadmap to phase out these rules over time.
* Romania plunged 10 spots to No. 27 as positive test rates, infections and deaths surged. The country has the second-lowest vaccination level in the EU.
* Germany and Austria both saw cases reach a peak in September, while Italy reimposed restrictions in Sicily as Covid hospitalizations grew. All three dropped eight rungs.
* Nigeria, which has the worst inoculation rate on the Ranking, fell seven spots as a delta-fueled wave continued to course through one of Africa’s most important economies, hindering recovery.
* Vaccination vanguard Israel slipped five spots to No. 41 as an uptick in cases raised questions about the immunity provided by the earliest inoculations. The nation reimposed some curbs and started to dole out booster shots.
To capture which of the 53 economies are nailing reopening—an aspect of pandemic management that’s become key—we zero in on their progress on vaccination, the severity of the lockdowns and restrictions in place, plus two metrics tracking travel that were introduced in June. They form a gauge that assesses how far each place is from pre-Covid levels of normalcy.
Despite this focus on reopening, indicators that have always been part of the Resilience Ranking remain, with all 12 data points equally weighted. The Covid Status tab includes two death-related indicators: the case-fatality rate over the past three months and a measure of overall mortality through the whole pandemic.
This means the U.S. having the highest recorded death toll globally still contributes to its current score.
New No. 1 Ireland rose three places from August thanks to one of the world’s best vaccination rates, projections for a rapid economic rebound and the government’s decision this month to loosen both domestic restrictions as well as travel quarantine rules. Meanwhile, weekly Covid fatalities hover in the double digits.
Still, the country has been burnt on reopening before, easing curbs prematurely late last year which triggered a surge in cases. Ireland—and Europe’s—continued success will depend on widespread vaccination severing the link between easing curbs and virus spread.
Overall, European economies score the highest on the Vaccinated Travel Routes indicator as they’ve moved the quickest to allow quarantine-free entry for inoculated visitors.
Economies that have largely kept their borders open throughout the pandemic, like Egypt and Mexico, also score highly, though travelers from these countries may be barred from entry elsewhere given their persistent outbreaks and lower vaccination rates.
Parts of the Asia-Pacific that relied on eliminating Covid and keeping it out—meaning their overall mortality rates are vastly lower—score poorly on reopening. The lower risk of being infected initially damped demand for vaccines in some places, until delta got in through strict border curbs, prompting places like New Zealand and Australia to speed up their rollouts.
Despite fully inoculating more than one billion people, China’s international borders remain effectively closed. Small virus flareups have caused localized travel restrictions, but the country still scores well on Flight Capacity because of its large internal market.
The numbers provided by aviation data specialist OAG do reward larger economies where domestic flights have made up for the absence of global travel. Conversely, small, travel-reliant economies like Hong Kong and Singapore, which don’t have local aviation markets, score among the worst.
The Two-Track Pandemic
Vaccination is where places like Europe—and until recently, the U.S.—are making up for their missteps in containing Covid. Their positions in the Ranking improved in early summer as investment in research and a focus on fast rollouts proved pivotal, though the U.S. has since lost substantial ground as hesitation stalls inoculation.
Operation Warp Speed saw some $18 billion plowed into developing some of the most effective Covid vaccines now being administered around the world.
Economies that moved early to secure and roll out shots have the advantage of being mostly inoculated with mRNA vaccines, which appear to not just prevent a person from developing Covid, but lower their chances of contracting and transmitting it as well.
But with most shots proving somewhat less effective against delta and evidence emerging that immunity wanes six months after inoculation, vaccination leaders like Israel are seeing record surges again and are moving the fastest on boosters.
In places where the majority are inoculated, the link between infection numbers and deaths is weakening, and policy makers are reframing the way they view Covid cases.
“The vaccines will help us keep the pandemic under control, but we need to continue to live with the virus, just as we live with other infectious diseases,” said Bent Høie, Norway’s health and care services minister. “It is impossible to fully eradicate the risk.”
Still, most of the developing world is yet to even start inoculating in a meaningful way, with countries lacking the purchasing power to forge deals that could push them higher up the queue. Covax, the WHO-backed effort to help poorer nations procure doses, started distributing shots at the end of February but is facing a supply shortfall that’s seen many places run out of vaccines entirely.
The WHO has called for a temporary moratorium on booster shots to help shift supplies to developing countries.
In September, President Joe Biden called on other rich countries to help vastly expand the production and availability of Covid vaccines and treatments, promising another 500 million doses to nearly double the U.S.’s pledge.
After hoarding supplies in the first half of the year, the U.S. has donated more vaccines than any other country, according to UNICEF data. China, while only donating 69 million doses, has exported some 884 million of its homegrown shots via mostly bilateral deals with places like Brazil, Indonesia and Chile.
While merely a snapshot in time amid a fast-moving crisis, Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking has helped crystallize some longer-term lessons from the pandemic.
A constant of the consistently high-ranked economies has been a widespread degree of government trust and societal compliance.
New Zealand—a stalwart of the top three before the arrival of delta sent it into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns—emphasized communication from the start, with a four-level alert system that gives citizens a clear picture of how and why the authorities will act as an outbreak evolves.
Investment in public health infrastructure also matters. Undervalued in many places before 2020, systems for contact tracing, effective testing and health education bolstered the countries that have performed consistently well in the Ranking, helping socialize hand-washing and the wearing of face masks. This was key to avoiding economically crippling lockdowns in the first year, before vaccines were available.
Though wealthy nations that bet on vaccination are now seeing that strategy pay off, their failure to check the coronavirus leaves a deep scar, with nearly 690,000 people dead from Covid in the U.S. and some survivors grappling with debilitating after-effects. It also meant the world missed out on an opportunity to eliminate the virus.
The arrival of vaccines, including those built on the unprecedented mRNA technology, has been a silver lining, and highlighted the importance of funding healthcare research and development.
Norway is one of the only places of the 53 to have combined success in the initial stage of the pandemic with reopening. It’s consistently been in the top 15, first relying on social cohesion for people to comply with social distancing measures, and implementing strict border restrictions. Later, it procured a sizable supply of vaccines early with the EU. And now it’s cautiously opening up.
Our Covid Resilience Ranking provides a snapshot of how the pandemic is playing out in 53 major economies right now. By layering in metrics on reopening and the revival of global travel from mid-2021, we also give a window into how these economies’ fortunes may shift in the future as places exit the pandemic at different speeds.
It’s not a final verdict—it never could be, given the imperfections in virus and vaccine data and the fast pace of this crisis. Circumstance and pure luck also play a role, but are hard to quantify.
Beyond delta, new variants of concern are also a threat: scientists fear mutations that can overcome existing shots and drive a new phase of the pandemic.
Still, having endured more than a year and half of fighting Covid-19, governments and populations now have a better understanding of the pathogen and how to mitigate the damage it inflicts.
Experts say the next six months will be key, with risks high as the weather cools in the U.S. and Europe and schools resume.
“Winter in the northern hemisphere will be the real next big test to see how effective high levels of vaccination have been,” said Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University Medical School in Canberra.
As the data shifts, the Ranking will change too—we’ll continue to update the picture every month, as it evolves.
In Costa Rica, A Family Vacation That Rivals The Kardashians’—Only Much Cheaper
Seeking adventure in solitude, two families book an entire rainforest lodge for themselves and spend a week ziplining, jumping into rapids and boating through eerie mangroves. ‘Even the teens were impressed.’
MY FAMILY IS not part of the private-jet crowd. We are not even resort people. And we certainly are not the take-over-an-entire-hotel sort of snobs. Quite the opposite, really. Last summer, at the height of the pandemic, we rented an RV along with our frequent traveling companions—my first “mommy” friend and her brood—and pitched tents across upstate New York.
I knew this summer, with my oldest heading to college, would likely be our last time to travel together, so we let the two clans’ kids decide where to venture for this final hurrah. It was unanimous: Costa Rica.
But how? We weren’t yet comfortable sleeping in hotels with strangers. We didn’t want the hassle of navigating treacherous roads to reach Airbnbs. We needed six teens to be entertained without devices, to have freedom to do their own thing, to hole up in an unfussy retreat where they couldn’t get into much trouble. Did such a place exist?
Miraculously, an email about a new lodge appeared in my inbox this spring, one that fulfilled all our needs: Cielo Lodge, in Golfito, Costa Rica. I wrote the owner and asked if all six villas would be available the third week of August, and like an omen from the travel gods, it was.
(We only needed four of the villas but wanted to be assured that other guests wouldn’t book the other two). For one week and $21,600—including all activities, meals and transfers—the entire resort could be ours.
We aren’t the only ones seeking adventure in solitude during this pandemic. The superrich and the super famous have always taken over resorts, always at great cost. But since Covid-19 hit and intrepid types began traveling again, booking out an entire hotel seemed worth the price even for mere mortals.
Rent-a-Resort.com focuses on Europe and offers properties that can accommodate up to 28 guests for as little as 2,000 euros per night. Requests for total buyouts, from Maine to Mexico, are inundating travel agents. “About 92-94% of our bookings are resort buyouts,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Embark Beyond travel agency in New York City. Mr. Ezon said that his company has arranged for several buyouts in the coming months, including at Hotel Jerome in Aspen and Nizuc Resort in Mexico.
Americans Nicole and Keith Goldstein decided to relocate from Silicon Valley to Costa Rica seven years ago. Soon after, they bought a 380-acre mountain parcel overlooking the Pacific’s Golfo Dulce and set about constructing a lodge. Besides the open-air main building, it includes six wood-and-glass bungalows (each has a king-size bed and a full-size sofa bed) that are far enough apart that you’d never hear your son’s music or walk past someone taking an outdoor shower.
Nicole and I conferred over WhatsApp (no cell service there), and she put together an itinerary that satisfied everyone’s desires: zip-lining, deep-sea fishing, waterfall hiking, whale-watching, surfing.
Because it was “Green Season” (the tourism board’s term for rainy season), she suggested we beat the rains, arising daily at 5:30 a.m. to coffee and baked goods delivered to our rooms, followed by breakfast at 7 a.m., then an activity from 8 a.m. until about 2 p.m., when the skies inevitably released their levees across the rainforest.
Nicole also helped us order the right antigen tests for our return to America. (Tests are required to enter the U.S., but not to enter Costa Rica, though you do need to fill out a health questionnaire. Unvaccinated visitors need proof of insurance.)
Finally, Nicole suggested our two families charter a plane from San Jose to sidestep the tight connecting flight. (It cost $300 more total than nine seats on the commercial flight.) So there we were: the Kardashians, with our own plane, our own resort and our own staff. Maybe we are private jet people after all.
Our first adventure the day after we arrived was an exceedingly long hike requiring the fording of half a dozen river tributaries. Our guide, Fernando—secured by Catalina, Cielo’s general manager—led us around snakes and spiders and muddy paths to a natural water park. He attached a rope to a carabiner slung from a tree, and one by one we climbed up the rocks, swung across a waterfall, and dropped into the chilly rapids.
Even the jaded teens were impressed. Back at the lodge for a lunch of seared shrimp and fresh vegetables, everyone was giddy, if exhausted. After, without complaint, we all read our books and quietly played cards.
Every day was different, if equally exciting. We’d journey down the unpaved switchback to the main road in Golfito, then make our way to whatever Nicole had planned. One day, we zipped over the rainforest canopy to a dozen platforms, some 150 feet high. Another morning, we boated out to view humpback whales and dolphins, then returned through the eerie mangroves.
The men spent one long day out at sea seeking tuna, bringing back a haul so big, Chef Cesar prepared sashimi and sesame-seared steaks for dinner. I stayed behind with the women for massages.
The next day, Catalina’s son Daniel, a resident naturalist, joined us on a trip to the beach town of Pavones, where the world’s second-longest left-hand wave breaks. He and surfer Harley Rios ensured that any of us who actually got on a board caught a wave.
We had plenty of escapades at the lodge too. Daniel pointed out a coati, a resident sloth and an annoyance of monkeys who daily plucked their morning berries from a melastoma tree beside the lodge. I felt guilty denying Daniel sometimes; he offered nightly “Frog Walks” to spy on animals but we were too knackered most evenings.
On my son’s midweek birthday, the staff had planned a surprise party for lunch, which included a piñata and dancing to Flo Rida. No guest was around to tell us to turn down the music. Nor could they complain about kids at the bar (not that they drank); it was ours, and ours alone.
Not everything was perfect. The switchback to the resort sucked up a bumpy 25 minutes each way. The pool wasn’t heated, and thus mostly unused.
The Turkish towels in the villas never dried. It rained a lot, making the lodge floor dangerously slippery. We probably did too many outings.
But I don’t think that’s what any of us recall. In fact, as our private plane pulled into the landing strip, the six kids approached the parents with a plea: Can we do this again next summer? (Standard room rates from $440 per person; for a resort buyout, from about $21,600, including activities, meals and transfers; cielolodge.com)
An Iceland Vacation Home With Front Row Seats To A Rare Sight: Greenery
Tina Dico and Helgi Jonsson’s property above Lake Thingvallavatn has views of an extinct volcano, the top of the country’s second-largest glacier and something less common: lush, green surroundings.
With its waterfalls and glaciers, Iceland offers views that are hard to beat. But Tina Dico and Helgi Jonsson managed to do just that with their new vacation home, built on a lot where the view is made even more spectacular by a rare bit of greenery.
Less than an hour’s drive from the couple’s main house in greater Reykjavik, their half-acre property above Thingvallavatn, one of Iceland’s largest lakes, has a clear sight of Skjaldbreidur, a 3,500-foot mountain formed by an extinct volcano, and, just beyond, the top of the Langjökull ice cap, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. But what sealed the deal was a number of spruce, pine and birch trees.
“When you’re used to having no trees around, which is pretty much how it is here in Iceland, this place is like walking into a green haven,” says Ms. Dico, a 43-year-old, Denmark-born singer and songwriter.
Ms. Dico, who performs under the name Tina Dickow in her native country, and her husband, a 41-year-old Icelandic musician and painter, bought the property in 2013, not long after she relocated to the subarctic island. They paid $226,800 for the property, which came with a 500-square-foot, A-frame house dating to the 1970s.
Ready to take advantage of recent zoning laws allowing larger buildings, they decided to replace the structure with a 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom home that has one full bathroom and a second-story sleeping loft. It also features a deep bathtub in the main living area that converts into a daybed. The couple share the house with their three children: Emil, 9, Jósefína, 7, and Theodór, 4.
The couple worked with KRADS, an architecture studio with partners in Reykjavik and Copenhagen, but, aided by their families, they ended up building a large part of the house themselves. They estimate they saved up to $156,400 by doing everything from applying the facade’s Siberian larch cladding to putting up their own doors.
Construction started in 2015, and the home was completed in summer 2020.
Iceland, with its rapidly decreasing glaciers and rising sea levels, is on the front lines of climate change, and there is no bigger story for the country, says Mr. Jonsson.
The Langjökull ice cap, whose peak is visible from the family living room, is getting smaller, like so many of Iceland’s glaciers. Mr. Jonsson compares it to the current state of a glacier in southeast Iceland, where he took childhood hikes. “It used to take 10 minutes to get to the edge of that glacier,” he says. “Now it takes an hour.”
Issues related to sustainability and the project’s carbon footprint were on the couple’s minds when they planned the house.
Instead of just tearing down the original A-frame, which was in good condition, the couple gave it away. It is now being used as a guesthouse by the father of one of their contractors, who had it lifted by crane and then transported by flatbed truck.
They also opted for an environmentally friendly sod roof, which, says their architect, KRADS founding partner Kristján Eggertsson, is more expensive to build. The packed soil, he says, “filters impurities out of the rain water before it returns to the ground.”
The house is close enough to their main home—a 5,000-square-foot four-bedroom equipped with a recording studio—for a quick day trip, but offers a radical change of scenery.
In the summer, lush moss adds to the area’s otherworldly greenness. “But it’s even more amazing in the wintertime,” says Ms. Dico, when there is more snow than in the coastal region where they live.
The icy country roads and deep snow can make it difficult to get to, she says, but the family doesn’t hesitate to make the trip to enjoy atmospheric nesting.
When the children are older, Ms. Dico says, she plans to take advantage of their access to Skjaldbreidur—which she calls “the old volcano across the lake”—and take up cross-country skiing and winter hiking.
For now, “We do a lot of sleighing and drinking hot cocoa, while enjoying the view, the peace and the fireplace,” she says.
This fall, the couple is recording an album—their first since building the vacation house—and they are taking stock of how it may affect their creativity. Ms. Dico says the drive to the house goes through a typically treeless stretch of landscape, which she likens to being on the moon, then ends at what she describes as the home’s fairy-tale setting. “It’s all just incredibly inspiring,” she says.
Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Environmentally Sustainable Adventures
Hurtigruten has been around since 1893, when it operated as a local transportation operator sailing up and down the Norwegian coast, which it still does today. After a challenging 2020 in which international travel all but ground to a halt, the company has resumed treating adventure travelers to unique small-ship and land-based adventures from pole to pole and everywhere in between: Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway are some of its most popular destinations.
Next year, in an attempt to further cement its status as a global leader in expedition cruises, Hurtigruten is debuting its first cruises to Africa and the Galápagos Islands.
“After a very challenging year for the entire travel industry, we are thrilled to finally return to cruising. We see a huge pent-up demand for adventure travel, and much more to come still,” says Asta Lassesen, CEO of Hurtigruten Expeditions. “We always strive to design itineraries where our guests will experience as much as possible, with minimal footprint and impact on the environment and the wildlife.”
The company traces its roots back to a golden age of polar exploration, and there’s a sense of adventure and curiosity embedded in its DNA. With just a few clicks on Hurtigruten’s website, customers book their place to join fellow explorers on adventures to more than 30 countries and 250 destinations.
Unlike highly structured cruise experiences, Hurtigruten Expeditions tells its passengers to expect the unexpected, as itineraries are not set in stone, allowing for the flexibility to adapt to challenging elements and seize new exploration opportunities as they arise. Hurtigruten leaves the well-trodden highlights and iconic cities to other operators, instead exploring remote communities and hidden vistas few get to see, with exotic wildlife encounters a regular occurence.
Hurtigruten Expeditions’ fleet of seven custom built ships—which range from small and agile vessels to the world’s first battery-hybrid powered cruise ship—offer comfortable cabins, luxurious suites, and stylish interiors made from natural materials. On board, a veteran expedition team of experts with varied backgrounds is on hand to keep passengers safe and share interesting stories and anecdotes.
There’s a science center with an abundance of advanced professional equipment on each ship, and a variety of green technologies enables passengers to explore more sustainably. All of the vessels are modern, ice-class ships suitable for polar sailing, with the ability to explore locations bigger ships can’t reach. Energy-efficient engines use liquified natural gas and biogas, a renewable fossil-free fuel produced from organic waste.
“We offer our guests a unique expedition experience delivered in a premium setting onboard our small ships with exclusively Scandinavian design, state-of-the-art Science Centers, and our industry-leading Citizen Science programs,” Lassesen says.
Adventurers of all stripes are drawn to Hurtigruten’s Antarctica expeditions, during which they have the opportunity to go ashore and on small rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) to discover wildlife and frozen landscapes ranging from snowy mountains and jagged peaks to icebergs and glaciers.
The company has been sailing the planet’s coldest waters for more than 20 years, educating passengers on Antarctica’s history and science through lectures and hands-on projects. Hybrid-electric ships are used, and Hurtigruten ensures it has the lowest possible CO2 footprint of all Antarctic expedition cruise operators.
Despite the challenges posed by Earth’s coldest, driest, highest, and most remote continent, Hurtigruten makes it easy for travelers to see some of the most inspiring animals on the planet in their frozen desert home. Depending on when one visits, sightings may include whales feeding, seal pups playing, penguins mating, or penguin chicks hatching.
Prices differ from destination to destination and from itinerary to itinerary. Rates for 2021-22 start at US$7,805 per person for the 12-day “Highlights of Antarctica” cruise and top out at US$64,581 per person for the “Pole to Pole Adventure,” which spans 11 countries and lasts 93 days.
While Hurtigruten offers expedition cruises year-round, the Antarctica season runs from November-March, with capacity capped at 500 guests for each cruise.
For the standard “Highlights of Antarctica” cruise, passengers board the MS Roald Amundsen —the world’s first hybrid and battery-powered ship, which debuted in 2019—in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas. As the vessel sails south into the Drake Passage, the cruise experience enters expedition mode, allowing sea ice and local weather to determine the agenda on any given day.
There are more than 20 landing spots available along the Antarctic Peninsula, and most cruises take place during austral summer when temperatures are milder and the days stretch longer.
January cruises usually include viewing colonies of thousands of penguins with their chicks, while March cruises are generally best for seeing whales. The expedition team takes passengers ice-cruising and on landings to get even closer to the incredible scenery. Optional activities include kayaking among icebergs and frigid polar plunges.
What’s The Good
For decades, Hurtigruten’s captains, crew, and returning guests have witnessed firsthand the impact of climate change on vulnerable polar areas. Sustainability is at the heart of the brand’s identity, and steps are continually being taken to minimize the impacts of its operations.
“For Hurtigruten, it’s a combination of a number of sustainability initiatives that stand out rather than a simple focus on just one thing,” Lassesen says. “We want to continue to be top of the class and sail completely emission-free in the future. Sailing slower is of course the easiest way to save fuel, but sustainability is so much more than just cutting emissions, although we are working towards operating our ships with biofuel from organic waste and battery power.”
Passengers can’t help but notice the company’s commitment to the environment. In 2018, Hurtigruten became the first cruise operator to remove all single-use plastic onboard, which saves 32 metric tons of plastic every year.
The Hurtigruten Foundation, which passengers support via onboard activities and donations, focuses its efforts around three main pillars: conserving the world’s polar bear population; fighting against marine and plastic pollution; and running local and global projects in the areas Hurtigruten explores.
“We will naturally continue to push the boundaries for innovation within sustainability constantly and hold both ourselves and our partners accountable rather than just throw it around as a buzzword as a lot of industry players do,” Lassesen says. “We also work closely with the communities, be it in Greenland or Alaska, or Norway, to ensure we support them in the best way possible.”
In light of guest demand for more warm-water destinations, 2022 is expected to be a landmark year in Hurtigruten’s history, with the launch of cruises to the Galápagos Islands and West Africa. The latter option will explore the west coast of Africa and its unique archipelagos: the Bissagos Islands and Cape Verde.
“We know our guests want to explore many different parts of the globe, and our ambition is to offer the world’s most exciting destinations that can best be explored by our small ships,” Lassesen says.
Lassesen is leading the company into the future, with an eye towards new horizons.
“We are aiming for growth both in terms of having more ships, and visiting more areas,” Lassesen says. “Up until now we have been focused around polar areas. That is mainly because we haven’t had the capacity to expand to new areas. Now we have more capacity, and we have the opportunity to look for new areas.”
Carnival Cruise Passengers Are Partying Harder On Board
Carnival Corp. cruises appear to be getting boozier in the pandemic era.
Passengers are spending proportionally more on alcohol, gambling, spa treatments and other onboard purchases, executives said on the company’s latest earnings call. That’s bolstered Carnival’s nonticket revenue per guest even as voyages and capacity remain limited due to the coronavirus.
Onboard revenue has been a source of growth for cruise lines for several years, but the pandemic era has seen that spending increase in importance. Investors will be watching to see if the jump in that business is sustainable.
Carnival, whose namesake line has been marketed as the “Fun Ships,” attributes the increase in part to bundled packages like drink plans that are purchased when trips are booked. Many passengers are also flush with credits accumulated from canceled cruises during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the industry was completely sidelined for more than a year.
The packages, including ones for internet access, allow guests to be more free spending once they get on board, Chief Financial Officer David Bernstein said on a Sept. 24 earnings call.
“When the people get onboard, they really have a fresh wallet,” he said. “It does incentivize more onboard spend in total.”
San Juan, Puerto Rico—500 Years Old And Going Strong
Vaccinated travelers from the mainland U.S. are allowed entry into Puerto Rico without any testing requirements. Unvaccinated travelers must receive a negative test within 72 hours of arrival to the island. Hotels and restaurants have the same requirements—meaning unvaccinated travelers staying on the island for more than a few days will need to continue having tests within 72 hours of each property’s check-in or restaurant visit.
All travelers must complete a pre-travel declaration form, and will receive a QR code required for leaving the airport. Up-to-date guidelines and a link to the form are available on Puerto Rico’s Travel Safe website.
San Juan is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Americas, and this year marks the 500th anniversary of its official establishment in 1521. The rugged centuries-old castles and fortifications that remain standing in and around Old San Juan are proof that this locale has long been coveted, fought over, and claimed.
With the advent of accessible, leisure air travel, Puerto Rico’s capital became one of the early idyllic getaways from the mainland U.S., boasting a burgeoning hotel scene, with American-centric recreational opportunities including beaches, casinos, and nightclubs. In more recent years, San Juan has undergone a revival that’s truer to the island and its people.
Authentic dishes and flavors from Puerto Rico are highlighted rather than bypassed. Local chefs, entrepreneurs, and artists are celebrated both at home and abroad. Historical tours may touch upon the good and the bad of European and American influence.
As this grand dame of the Americas moves into its sixth century of existence, in some ways, it’s finally being given the opportunity to come into its own.
When the Caribe Hilton debuted in 1949, it was the first Hilton property located outside the continental U.S., and it quickly became a destination for Hollywood stars and celebrities. Its real star turn came a few years later, in 1954, when Ramón “Monchito” Marrero is credited with creating the piña colada at the Caribe’s Beachcomber Bar. Following a 15-month closure and US$150 million renovation project in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the Caribe Hilton reopened in the spring of 2019.
It’s located in Puerta de Tierra, which is sandwiched between Old San Juan and Condado, and while all beaches in Puerto Rico are open to the public, the Caribe’s unique positioning leaves it ensconced and secluded within a small bay. The property is directly adjacent to the ruins of the Fortín de San Gerónimo del Boquerón, a fort constructed in 1609.
The Condado Vanderbilt was the first of its kind when it opened in 1919, and is positioned on a pristine stretch of sand on its namesake beach. The resort enjoyed a glorious heyday, but was shuttered in the 1990s. Now it’s made a return in full five-star splendor, with its famous, old-world style approach to dedicated service being integrated with modern amenities.
Two 11-story towers boast a combined 120 suites and 200 guest rooms, while outdoors, a large main pool deck features a lively and convivial scene, contrasting with a sleek, smaller adults-only pool lounge that looks down on the beach below. The Spa at Condado Vanderbilt has become a sought after destination for hotel guests and other visitors to the city alike.
The Fairmont El San Juan, dating to 1958 and located in Isla Verde, the resort is ideally situated to take you from the airport to toes-in-the-sand in five minutes or less. In addition to its standard rooms and suites, the Fairmont also offers both pool- and ocean-front villas.
A multi-story fitness center is adjacent to the property’s family-friendly pool, while its bustling main pool area offers guests the option of reserving full-service cabanas. The hotel is home to half a dozen bars and restaurants, and its beach offers ample seaside lounging and access to water sports.
EAT & DRINK
The name Jose Enrique has become synonymous with Puerto Rican cuisine, and both the chef and his eponymous restaurant continue delivering creative takes on the island’s classics. In La Placita, Santaella from chef Jose Santaella focuses on what he calls Puerto Rican nouvelle cuisine, with standout shareable dishes such as goat cheese quesadillas, along with daily croquetas and empanadillas, and entrees from both the land and the sea.
Step across the street to find one of San Juan’s standout cocktail bars, Jungle Bird, known for its tiki and tropical drinks. The bar is a project from the co-owners of La Factoría, Roberto Berdecia and Leslie Cofresí. La Factoría, meanwhile, is properly touted as one of the world’s best bars, a multi-concept space in Old San Juan excelling not only with inventive drinks but also with all-out revelry and hospitality.
Ocean Lab Brewery is Puerto Rico’s leading craft brewery, though a visit to its home place offers much more than beer. It’s part of an immersive, beautiful beach club and event venue which often hosts musical performances. At 1919 Restaurant, executive chef Juan José Cueva delivers an elegant four-course tasting menu with several tiers of wine pairings, highlighting local purveyors and ingredients.
At Caña, chef Juliana Gonzalez also works to highlight Puerto Rican culinary traditions with inspired, modern riffs on the island’s classics. Visit Piñones to take part in chinchorreo, sampling local specialties from an array of food stands specializing in hearty, often-fried and hand-held dishes. For a more modern take on the concept, check out Lote 23, a collection of food stalls in Santurce.
Devote an afternoon to exploring Old San Juan. The charming district is home to cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and a smorgasbord of architectural styles and historical sites. Stop at La Fortaleza, the Plaza de Armas and Plaza Colon, and the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal, for starters, or simply weave around the district and allow yourself to get lost.
Take a trip to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the United States, for hiking, waterfall treks, and all-around immersion into an incredibly rich and biodiverse ecosystem. Consider an excursion to the Laguna Grande Nature Reserve in Fajardo, where you can hit the water for a nighttime bioluminescent kayaking experience. Accessible from San Juan, it’s one of several areas across Puerto Rico where bioluminescence can be witnessed, with single-celled dinoflagellates, a type of plankton, responding to movement by firing off a bluish light.
Global Airline CEOs Gather Amid Cloudy Business Travel Outlook
Top airline executives from around the world will assemble next week for their first face-to-face gathering in more than two years even as a long-anticipated rebound in global corporate travel remains a distant prospect.
The International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting, which was held virtually in 2020, will open on Sunday in Boston. Airline leaders are intent on showing up for in-person elbow bumps to demonstrate it’s safe to fly for business again. It’s part of an effort to revive a highly profitable segment of the industry beset by uncertainty over shifting return-to-office plans.
“We believe that it is vital to do all we can to meet as an industry face-to-face,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s former director general, said earlier this year in an announcement postponing the event to October from June. “Doing so will affirm that airlines can safely connect the world, demonstrate our industry’s resilience, and confirm the inestimable value of in-person meetings.”
U.S. airlines will be well represented, with CEOs from American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. joining JetBlue Airways Corp.’s Robin Hayes, who is chairman of IATA’s board of governors this year.
Many European executives also will attend, including Luis Gallego, CEO of British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, Carsten Spohr of Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Pieter Elbers of KLM. Boeing Co. and Airbus SE officials are scheduled as speakers.
Passenger traffic has begun to creep back for transatlantic routes since the U.S. said Sept. 20 it will lift travel restrictions on visitors from the U.K., Europe and some other countries starting in November. Forecasts vary for when demand will return fully to pre-pandemic levels. Some expect a transpacific recovery could come as late as 2025, a year or more behind a transatlantic one.
While the executives flocking to Boston aim to signal business travel is starting to normalize, the number of attendees at the Oct. 3-5 event is expected to be about one-third fewer than in 2019, mainly due to tight travel restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. Chairman Patrick Healy is among those who won’t show up, nor will the CEOs of Japan’s two largest carriers.
IATA, which represents almost 300 airlines accounting for 82% of global air traffic, is expected to update its forecast of industry red ink at the conference. In April, the trade group estimated carriers worldwide will lose about $48 billion in 2021 on top of the $126 billion loss posted last year at the height of the pandemic.
North Atlantic corporate travel traditionally has been a cash cow for the three largest U.S. airlines and their revenue-sharing European alliance partners. Together, they control close to 75% of aircraft seats in the transatlantic market, which accounts for the bulk of their most profitable routes. For now, airlines will keep capacity tight and cater to less-lucrative vacationers.
“Leisure is going to lead the recovery on the international side and then comes corporate,” said Conor Cunningham, an MKM Partners analyst.
Traffic from the U.S. accounted for about 16% of passenger revenue for European carriers in 2019, the largest share, according to a Sept. 24 report from IATA. Some 31% of revenue for U.S. carriers was earned from European travelers that year.
In the second quarter of 2021, the most recent data available, passenger revenue from transatlantic routes was 66% below the same period in 2019 for European airlines, and lagged by 49% for North American carriers.
Delta Variant Delays
Airlines were dealt a blow as many U.S. employers delayed return-to-office plans to late this year or early 2022 amid the spread of the delta variant of Covid-19. Wells Fargo & Co. now plans to start bringing workers back on Jan. 10. BlackRock Inc., Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. also have delayed return-to-office plans.
“The regular business travel we think of as travel for meetings and sales development and working together — all of that won’t come back in force until people are regularly in their offices in force” on both sides of the Atlantic, said Samuel Engel, head of the aviation group at consultant ICF.
U.S. carriers now plan to reduce international schedules 35% in October, 28% in November and 18% in December from two years ago, according to a Sept. 26 report from Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Linenberg. Non-U.S. airlines are taking deeper cuts.
A September poll by the Global Business Travel Association of some of its members found 77% had canceled or suspended international business travel, according to Suzanne Neufang, GBTA’s chief executive officer. Among them, 18% plan to restart travel in the next one to three months.
The group believes global corporate travel will begin to pick up in early 2022 absent another Covid-19 variant and assuming continued growth in vaccination rates.
“You never know for sure with Covid, but it feels like we are back on the road to recovery,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a Sept. 29 Bloomberg Television interview.
Overall transatlantic bookings jumped at United after the planned U.S. border opening was announced, and in the past week were higher than at the same time in 2019, Kirby said. The same boost occurred at Air France-KLM, Chief Executive Officer Ben Smith said recently.
“When we talk to our biggest accounts, they are telling us they need to make their first trips to see customers and colleagues,” Smith said. “The question is whether this will be sustainable.”
Australia To End Travel Ban In Pivot To Living With Covid-19
Fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents will be able to leave and return without seeking permission.
Australia plans to start reopening its international border in November, ending one of the world’s strictest pandemic-era travel bans as authorities pivot from trying to suppress Covid-19 to living with it.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said travel restrictions would be dropped for fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents, who would be able to leave and return to the country without seeking permission as is required now. They will also be allowed to quarantine at home for seven days, while current rules require returning travelers to pay thousands of dollars to quarantine at government-run hotels or camps for two weeks.
Travel restrictions for international students, skilled migrants and eventually tourists would be eased later. Mr. Morrison said that could happen next year, possibly sooner, for some of those groups.
“The time has come to give Australians their lives back,” Mr. Morrison said.
Australia has largely closed its border to tourists and banned its citizens from leaving for the past 18 months, though people who needed to travel urgently for personal or work reasons could apply for an exemption.
The government also capped how many citizens could return, given limited capacity in its hotel-quarantine system, making it difficult for some expatriates to get home. An experiment with a travel bubble with New Zealand has been frequently disrupted by Covid-19 outbreaks.
Mr. Morrison said that easing the border closure is in line with the country’s four-stage Covid-19 exit strategy, which the leaders of Australian states agreed to earlier in the year. The plan calls for the resumption of international travel to begin in the third stage, when 80% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
Mr. Morrison said that nearly 80% of the adult population has received one vaccine dose and that 55% have received two. The 80% fully vaccinated threshold is expected to be reached next month, triggering the restart of international travel, he said.
Unvaccinated Australians would still be subject to restrictions even when the 80% threshold is reached, including being required to quarantine in government hotels and a cap on how many are allowed back into the country.
Travel restrictions might ease sooner in some parts of the country than others, based on the pace of vaccination and whether state leaders feel comfortable opening their borders.
The leaders of Queensland and Western Australia states, where there is little community transmission of the virus, have indicated they might wait longer to allow unrestricted travel until even more people can be vaccinated.
Health experts credited the strict border closures with helping to prevent the spread of the virus early in the pandemic. But border closures haven’t been able to fully stop the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus. Delta outbreaks over the past few months have infected tens of thousands of Australians and killed dozens.
Australia’s two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and its capital, Canberra, are battling outbreaks and are locked down to buy time for more people to get vaccinated.
Australia’s vaccine rollout got off to a slow start because of supply-chain issues and concerns about rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, which unlike others could be manufactured in Australia. But the rollout has gained pace in recent weeks after Australia got extra doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine from countries such as Poland, Singapore and the U.K.
Australia’s travel ban led to billions of dollars in losses at its airlines, including major carrier Qantas Airways Ltd , while the country’s No. 2 carrier, Virgin Australia, filed for the equivalent of bankruptcy last year. Thousands of airline employees are still furloughed. The ban also ravaged Australia’s tourist sector, a major industry in some parts of the country.
The border reopening is coming sooner than expected. Qantas had been selling international tickets for mid-December, assuming that border restrictions wouldn’t ease until then. On Friday, the airline said it would bring forward the restart of flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles to Nov. 14.
“This faster restart is fantastic news,“ Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said. ”It also means we can get more of our people back to work, sooner.”
Others said more should be done to jump-start the travel sector. The International Air Transport Association, an airline group, said the need to quarantine, even at home, should be removed for vaccinated travelers who test negative before departure for Australia. Many analysts say it could be years before international travel to Australia reaches pre-pandemic levels.
“International travel recovery will be muted and restrained when quarantine remains,” said Philip Goh, IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific. “A number of major states—the U.S., Canada, European states—have lifted quarantine requirements for international arrivals. Australia needs to work toward a similar approach.”
Holiday-Travel Bookings Are Growing Tight, Driving Up Prices
Advisers recommend flexibility as reservations pile up for Thanksgiving, Christmas getaways.
A rush of people booking holiday travel is driving up prices and lowering inventory, with advisers recommending Americans who have been holding out to make plans soon.
Some travel advisers say they started receiving holiday inquiries months ago, as people eager to take destination vacations near year’s end booked trips they could look forward to. Others said they started fielding a flood of requests for both Thanksgiving and Christmas travel in recent weeks.
Prices and bookings are already moving in an echo of the broader global supply-chain issues affecting consumers. Thanksgiving week bookings are now 35.5% higher than at the same point in 2019, according to Jamie Lane, vice president of research at analytics firm AirDNA. For Christmas, the average nightly rate is now $599, compared with $332 in 2019, according to data from short-term rental-property management platform Guesty.
Advisers say those who haven’t yet made a reservation will need to be flexible about the days they travel and even their destinations.
“If they’re still looking at holiday travel, they need to hop on it, like, yesterday,” says Christine Hardenberger, owner of Modern Travel Professionals, based in Fredericksburg, Va.
Although demand is high, travel advisers say availability will likely continue to fluctuate. Some destinations might see increased demand because of foreign nationals being allowed to travel to the U.S. with proof of vaccination.
Despite the increase, travelers continue to watch Covid-19 cases. Some clients who booked holiday travel months ago have canceled their trips over the summer when Covid-19 cases were rising, travel advisers say. Others say clients have held off until recent weeks, with some awaiting news on the availability of vaccines for children.
One driver of the surging demand is that some travelers who skipped out on holiday trips last year are putting a priority on family gatherings. Many travelers are planning multigenerational family trips, says Margi Arnold, owner of Creative Travel Adventures LLC in Denver. Her clients have planned trips to warm-weather destinations such as Mexico or the Caribbean, or to ski destinations.
Spots in Mexico—Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum—are top destinations for both Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, according to data from Expedia.com. Vail, Colo., Panama City Beach, Fla., and the Steamboat Springs, Colo., area are destinations that have increased most in search volume compared with 2019 for domestic Christmas travel, according to data from the travel app Hopper.
Ms. Hardenberger has had some clients book trips to Mexico, in part because there are no vaccine or testing requirements for entry. Other clients have been drawn to Caribbean islands such as Turks and Caicos and Antigua, which require proof of vaccination, because they feel more comfortable traveling to locations with stricter protocols.
More travelers plan to fly this Thanksgiving compared with last year, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Americans avoid Thanksgiving travel. Domestic airline tickets booked from the beginning of the year through Sept. 29 for Thanksgiving week travel are up 51% from 2020 levels. They are down 36% from 2019 levels. Both figures are according to Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets sold by travel agencies.
Travelers looking to book flights to see family and friends around Christmas should lock in airfare before the end of October, says Adit Damodaran, economist at Hopper. Mr. Damodaran says there were good deals on airfare for the Christmas holiday in mid-September, and prices haven’t risen dramatically since.
Those who plan to drive to their destination should book rental cars now. Rental-car fleets have experienced shortages for months, which will continue into the holiday season. “Be prepared for limited availability, especially during the holiday period, and high prices, prices that perhaps never has been experienced before,” says Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group, a car-rental consulting firm.
One other suggestion comes from Ms. Arnold in Denver, who recommends simplifying holiday travel whenever possible. She suggests choosing one destination rather than multiple.
“It’ll be more stress-free,” she says.
American Airlines, Alaska, JetBlue Orders Workers To Get Covid-19 Vaccinations
Airlines say employees must be vaccinated under new federal rules for government contractors
More airlines are telling employees they’ll have to get Covid-19 vaccinations as carriers move to comply with new rules for companies that do business with the federal government.
American Airlines Group Inc., Alaska Air Group Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp. announced new vaccine requirements Friday, citing requirements they will have to meet due to their government contracts.
Unlike other large employers—whose workers will have the option of undergoing regular testing instead of being vaccinated under planned government rules—employees of government contractors will be required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 under an executive order signed last month by President Biden and additional White House guidance last week.
All three carriers said they would be treated as federal contractors and therefore subject to the stricter requirements.
“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines,” American Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom told employees in a memo Friday.
The executives acknowledged that the federal mandate may be difficult for unvaccinated employees. However, the executives wrote, “we will comply.”
Airlines have so far taken different approaches to employee vaccination, using a combination of incentives and punitive measures to encourage workers to get the shots. But the carriers have come under growing pressure from officials to ensure that all their workers are vaccinated.
American didn’t specify a deadline for employees to get vaccinated. Both Alaska and JetBlue told workers Friday that it could be as soon as Dec. 8, the date when the White House has said covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated.
“With the possible federal deadline for vaccination just before the December peak season, it’s important that you schedule your shots now so that you will be able to continue working,” JetBlue told employees in a memo. “At the end of the day, complying with the federal mandate is not a choice.”
Airlines do significant business with the federal government. They transport federal employees for work travel, have contracts with the Defense Department, and many participate in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. For instance, carriers were called on in August to help evacuate refugees fleeing Afghanistan.
American said the requirement will apply to all its U.S. employees and some international crew members. The carriers said the only exceptions will be for employees with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs.
United Airlines Holdings Inc. had already announced a strict policy in August ahead of the federal mandate, requiring that all employees be vaccinated or face termination. When the airline’s deadline arrived this week, the vast majority of its employees had complied.
Initially, just 593 of the airline’s 67,000 U.S. employees refused the vaccines, a number that later fell to 320 as the carrier began the termination process, United said Thursday. Another 2,000 employees sought exemptions for religious or medical reasons, the airline has said.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients spoke with the CEOs of American as well as Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. this week about the vaccine requirements, according to company officials and people familiar with the matter. The calls were earlier reported by Reuters.
Southwest and Delta haven’t said they would require all employees to be vaccinated.
A Delta spokesman said Friday the airline is continuing to evaluate the administration’s plan. Delta said its new policies have boosted vaccination rates to 84%. The airline said in August that it would require unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly testing, and starting in November it will charge them an extra $200 a month for their company health insurance.
Southwest said it continues to strongly encourage employees to be vaccinated. Last month it said it would offer roughly two days of pay to those who have been vaccinated or get the shots by Nov. 15.
In letters to government officials last week, the unions that represent pilots at American and Southwest warned of potential disruptions during the holiday travel season if pilots aren’t given the option to be tested regularly instead of getting vaccinated. American’s pilots union has estimated that over 4,000 of the airline’s 14,000 pilots are unvaccinated.
In a message to members Friday night, American’s pilots union said it is “neither anti-vaccine nor anti-mandate, but we insist on a path forward that takes into consideration our pilots’ needs and concerns while promoting a safe and healthy workforce.” The Allied Pilots Association added it believes the company must negotiate how to implement a vaccine mandate.
The union that represents pilots at United told members Thursday that just a handful of pilots—in the “low single digits”—faced termination because they hadn’t been vaccinated, while 330 had asked for an exemption.
The Best New Cocktail Destinations Around The World
The pandemic hasn’t been kind to cocktail bars and the aficionados who frequent them. But as the world’s leading destinations open back up to visitors, there’s a raft of hotly anticipated bars and lounges eager to serve next-level libations, with a side of top-notch hospitality that makes customers order a second round.
Here’s a look at some of the newest notable bars and lounges to pop up on the international cocktail circuit. Some had their launches stunted or delayed due to the global pandemic, and each is navigating its way through ever-changing health and safety protocols.
Led by the internationally known mixologists Simone Caporale and Marc Álvarez, Sips is looking to disrupt Barcelona’s cocktail scene with an ambitious approach that blends the artistry of classic cocktails with the latest technology and trends. A masticator machine is used to mix aromas and ingredients with surprising results—an espresso martini features “coffee air” whipped with frankincense—and vessels designed by glass artists for each cocktail. Defying the limits of a conventional cocktail experience, Caporale and Álvarez chose not to incorporate a physical bar as a central element, eliminating barriers between guests and the bartenders.
Two of the most decorated bartenders in the Netherlands, Tess Posthumus and Timo Janse, have opened their second Amsterdam venue, Dutch Courage, focused on genever (traditional Dutch gin), offering more than 150 different bottles and an extensive range of genever-based cocktails.
One of Paris’ hottest new drinking dens can be found near the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, hidden behind a secret door in the newly refurbished Hotel Barrière Le Fouquet’s . Le Marta Paris offers a sexy atmosphere for delicious designer drinks. Le Rooftop Marta upstairs is open during the summer, complete with orange trees and Italian nibbles.
The NoMad Hotel—one of New York City’s most decorated cocktail addresses—has opened its first international property in a historic building in the heart of London’s bustling Covent Garden. A veteran of NoMad New York, bar director Pietro Collina is overseeing the bar programs across all venues, chief among which is The NoMad Restaurant. Set in the glass-ceilinged atrium, the restaurant’s cocktail list juxtaposes traditional drinks with NoMad favorites and a new selection of concoctions focused on the seasonality of London. Also drawing crowds is Side Hustle; NoMad’s take on a classic British pub is housed in the building’s former police station.
Los Angeles’ hottest new spot for next-level cocktails is a New York City import, and a notable one at that. Death & Co, one of the most influential and creative cocktail bars of this century, has opened its first West Coast outpost in Downtown L.A.’s buzzing Arts District. As with the original New York location, the diminutive, dimly lit spot doesn’t take reservations, which gives customers time to choose between the wickedly creative concoctions on offer, and learn about new techniques and obscure ingredients.
Manhattan’s Dante, a welcoming haunt serving fine cocktails in an updated, historic Greenwich Village setting, has earned numerous global accolades in recent years. The Australian couple behind Dante, Linden Pride and Nathalie Hudson, have opened their first offshoot, Dante West Village a few blocks away. Set on the picturesque corner of Hudson and Perry streets, the mint-colored space features a hand-carved marble bar, with green velvet banquets, vintage lighting, and bespoke wallpaper. The Italian-accented list of libations includes Instagram-ready aperitivos and martinis served in elegant glassware to trendy spritzes and letter-perfect negronis.
Located in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, Bar Goto Niban is Kenta Goto’s second venture after the success of his Lower East Side cocktail bar, Bar Goto. The newer, more spacious outpost (niban means “second” in Japanese) follows in the footsteps of the original—a former winner of Bon Appétit’s “Bar of the Year”—by placing a focus on Goto’s Japanese-inspired drinks. The handsome space features walnut paneling and a gorgeous Japanese garden landscape spanning nearly 40 feet behind the bar, to sip on a meticulously crafted sakura martini, plum sazerac, or sesame milk punch, and a notable assortment of Japanese sake and shochu is offered as well.
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore’s newest drinking haunt, Republic Bar, can be found in the hotel’s newly refurbished east wing, which was designed by New York City’s tonychi studio. Inspired by the 1960s, the extensive cocktail menu is devoted to a narrative of historical and cultural anecdotes originating from Singapore, the U.K., Italy, and the U.S.. There’s also a selection of 1960s-era spirits and cocktails, and this being the Ritz, an opulent, British-inspired afternoon tea experience is hosted daily.
Set in Bangkok’s new, ultra-luxe Four Seasons Hotel at Chao Phraya River, BKK Social Club is the latest project for the lauded bar manager Philip Bischoff. Designed by the New York City-based firm AvroKo, the attractive space transports a well-dressed mix of locals and visitors to Buenos Aires, as Bischoff and his team have infused Argentinian-inspired offerings with Thai flourishes.
The first speakeasy concept by award-winning mixologist (and Seattle native) John Nugent, The Diplomat has opened in Hong Kong’s H Code, an au-courant lifestyle complex. Eclectic artworks by the likes of Ryan McGinley and Josh Sperling add some color and panache to the 18-seat hideaway, where the sleek interior features brown leather banquettes, motif ceiling tiles, and custom brass finishes. The beverage menu includes a range of mini martinis, from Gibsons to Tuxedos, and twists on modern classics such as an espresso martini with baijiu for extra depth. A lucky few are granted access to The Diplomat’s Back Room, where there’s a DJ on the decks, a button on the table that reads “Press For Champagne,” and a strict no cameras policy.
The trio behind Maybe Sammy, one the most-decorated Australian cocktail destinations to have debuted in recent years, have opened Sammy Junior a short walk away in Sydney’s Central Business District. The suave sibling, which starts out on weekdays as an espresso bar with bespoke coffee blends and classic breakfast bites, transforms into a cosy cocktail destination in the afternoons, most notably on Fridays after work, when live jazz is the highlight of a weekly aperitivo session. Smooth bottled cocktails include a jasmine negroni and eucalyptus gimlet, offered in mini (100ml) and large (500ml) formats.
Airlines See Covid-Related Losses Exceeding $200 Billion
Airline losses from the coronavirus pandemic are set to surpass $200 billion as travel curbs weigh on corporate and long-haul demand well into 2022, according to the industry’s main lobby.
Carriers are poised to post a collective deficit of $11.6 billion next year, the International Air Transport Association said Monday in Boston at its annual meeting. The trade body also increased its loss estimate for this year, and revised upward the shortfall for 2020.
The combined $201 billion in net losses over the pandemic-blighted period eclipses close to nine years of industry earnings, based on IATA figures. While domestic and regional travel have begun to rebound, there’s been little recovery in the globe-spanning business routes so crucial to many carriers.
The U.S. is poised to open its borders to trans-Atlantic visitors next month, but other long-haul markets remain in the doldrums, especially those connecting Asia with Europe and North America.
“The magnitude of the Covid-19 crisis for airlines is enormous,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh told the largest gathering of chief executives officers from the industry in more than two years. “People have not lost their desire to travel as we see in solid domestic market resilience. But they are being held back from international travel by restrictions, uncertainty and complexity.”
Carriers face an added challenge in responding to demands that the industry move faster to lower its carbon footprint. The pressure, which started before the pandemic, has only increased in recent months. IATA on Monday accelerated its goals, setting a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Passenger traffic — the number of people flying times the distance covered — is expected to reach 40% of pre-pandemic levels this year, rising to 61% in 2022, when the traveler tally should be 3.4 billion. That’s similar to the customer figure for 2014, but about one-quarter down on the 2019 number.
To aid the recovery, Walsh called on governments to simplify complex travel restrictions and allow vaccinated travelers to move freely between countries.
“Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic,” he said. “Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists.”
Losses this year will total almost $52 billion, IATA predicts, worse than the $48 billion estimated in April, after flights remained limited through the normally lucrative northern summer.
Last year’s loss was revised to about $138 billion from $126 billion.
Among global regions, only carriers in North America are forecast to return to profit next year, with almost $10 billion in net income. European airlines will register about $9.2 billion in losses, according to IATA, while Mideast operators, highly dependent on intercontinental routes, will rack up a $4.6 billion deficit.
Walsh, previously CEO of British Airways owner IAG SA, offered some optimism to the gathering airline leaders, saying the sector is “well past the deepest point of the crisis,” and that “the path to recovery is coming into view.”
Domestic flights, benefiting from the removal of curbs, will be almost back to pre-pandemic passenger levels next year, IATA said.
Air cargo is another bright spot, with demand this year expected to be 8% above 2019 levels, increasing to more than 13% higher in 2022 amid a surge in shipments from a global restocking and the shift to online purchasing.
Walsh said carriers will continue to need wage-support measures from governments until international travel recovers at scale, as well as regulatory steps such as the suspension of use-them or lose-them rules for airport slots.
Airlines are forecast to rush back capacity faster than traffic rebounds, hurting seat-occupancy levels. The average passenger load factor is expected to be about 67% this year, rising to 75% in 2022 — still well short of the record 83% figure set in 2019.
While IATA represents 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic, its membership excludes several low-cost carriers that are among those expected to rebound fastest from the crisis.
Business-Travel Slump Undercuts Hotels As Vacation Season Ends
Hotels see some recent momentum in corporate travel and look to foreign tourists’ return.
U.S. hotel owners are bracing for another quarter of sluggish business travel, hoping that this year’s surge in leisure travel can carry over into the fall and holiday season.
Overall, the strength of leisure travel looks unlikely to offset the falloff in corporate business and group travel this year. Hotel data and analytics firm STR is projecting that about 1 billion U.S. hotel rooms will be booked this year, up from 829 million in 2020, but still below the record year of 2019, when guests booked 1.3 billion rooms.
Hotel business-travel revenue for the year is expected to fall more than $59 billion compared with 2019, according to a report released last month by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
That is even a greater drop than 2020, when nearly $49 billion in revenue was lost, the report said. “We’re on a downward slope for the end of the year,” said Chip Rogers, the association’s chief executive.
Hotel owners in the spring pinned their hopes on the rise in vaccination rates to boost corporate travel and large group events. That hope was squashed by the Delta variant, which led organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters to cancel its trade show in Las Vegas and for organizers of the New York International Auto Show to call off the event scheduled for late summer.
Analysts say that companies are concerned that if they send employees to events they might be legally liable if a convention turns into a super-spreader event. “It comes down to liability,” said Mr. Rogers.
Hotels that depend on business travelers say advanced bookings are far lower than usual and typically are made just a few days before arrival dates, which is especially tough these days because many hotels also are suffering staff shortages.
The late advanced bookings are “dreadful when it comes to events,” said Sandi Robinson, director of sales for the Godfrey Hotel Chicago, a 221-room boutique lodging that got most of its business from business travel until the pandemic. “We end up having to turn down some events because we’re too short-staffed.”
Still, there are recent signs that business travel is slowly gaining momentum. Group demand, which is a mix of business and leisure, grew 5.7% between the final two full weeks in September, according to STR. Average daily rates for that business increased $16 to $214 to set a pandemic record for group rates. That was also the highest the average daily rate has been for groups since February 2020, STR said.
Now that peak vacation season has passed, hotel owners can’t count on the same level of leisure travel as in the summer, when hotel average daily room rates regularly exceeded their levels during the same period in 2019, said James Sullivan, head of real-estate research at institutional brokerage firm BTIG LLC.
But hotel owners in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, which suffered from a lack of foreign visitors during the pandemic, are banking on the return of overseas travelers during the holidays, analysts and industry executives say. The Biden administration lifted restrictions on foreigners who are fully vaccinated starting in November.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. on Monday reopened its 1,878-room property in Midtown Manhattan, which had been closed for most of the pandemic. Hilton had been planning to reopen last summer but decided to delay partly because of the spike in Covid-19 cases.
Hilton opted for an early October reopening partly because of the expected increase in international travel, and several event and group bookings this fall, according to Diarmuid Dwyer, general manager of the New York Hilton Midtown. The decline of the Covid-19 infection rate has had “a direct impact on the critical factors that drove our reopening timetable,” he said.
Meanwhile, Americans that put off family gatherings last year are unlikely to do so again, especially if they went on vacations earlier this year and are used to traveling during the pandemic, analysts say.
“Wedding season is in full swing,” said Jan Freitag, national director of hospitality analytics at CoStar Group Inc.
Downtown hotel managers also hope to get a boost from more leisure travelers visiting cities that have started easing restrictions on events and indoor gatherings for people who have been vaccinated.
“You have Broadway coming back, the New York City Marathon, and the mayor and governor have confirmed the Thanksgiving Parade will happen,” said Kori Yoran, general manager of the Margaritaville Resort Times Square, a 234-room hotel that opened in July.
Big Hotel Brands Bet On All-Inclusive Resorts To Counter Covid-19 Slump
Wyndham and Marriott make moves as business travel lags behind leisure recovery.
Big hotel companies are adding more all-inclusive resorts, betting that the pandemic will boost a business model that encourages guests to stay in one place.
These resorts, where customers pay a flat fee that covers their room, food, drinks and other services, have recovered from the shock of the pandemic faster than other types of hotels, analysts say.
They typically cater to tourists, who have been more eager to take trips again than business travelers. And they appeal to safety-conscious travelers who want to stay in one place to limit the risk of Covid-19 infection.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc. said this week it is launching an alliance with Playa Hotels & Resorts, an operator, developer and owner of all-inclusive resorts. As part of the deal, Wyndham is launching its first brand dedicated to all-inclusive resorts, and it follows in the footsteps of other big hotel brands.
Hyatt Hotels Corp. in August agreed to buy the all-inclusive-resort manager Apple Leisure Group for $2.7 billion, and Marriott International Inc. said Tuesday that it has added 20 new all-inclusive resorts to its portfolio under the Autograph Collection Hotels brand.
Big hotel brands decided that they wanted to add more leisure-focused hotels, said Scott Berman, a principal and hospitality-industry leader at professional-services firm PwC.
The industry’s interest in all-inclusive resorts started years ago, but the pandemic added another boost. All-inclusive resorts, an area the biggest brands had mostly avoided in the past, offer an easy opportunity for growth.
“The industry is convinced that leisure will continue to drive the recovery,” Mr. Berman said.
Resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean had few visitors last year, but visits to the properties surged this year as newly vaccinated people were more willing to travel and as countries eased border restrictions.
Wyndham’s chief executive, Geoff Ballotti, said he expects leisure travel to continue growing after the pandemic, partly because the adoption of remote work means people have the flexibility to extend a weekend trip or perform their job for a longer stretch from a resort.
He said Wyndham’s hotels are already experiencing an uptick in bookings for Sunday and Monday nights, which are traditionally less busy.
The first two hotels under Wyndham’s new Alltra brand (short for all-inclusive travel for all) will be on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and the companies are looking to expand the model to other locations. Playa will manage the properties, while Wyndham is providing its brand and sales apparatus for a fee.
All-inclusive resorts started in Europe in the 1950s, Mr. Berman said. In the 1970s and 1980s the business model spread to the Caribbean and Mexico. At the time, a big part of the appeal was safety, Mr. Berman said. Tourists could lie on the beach, eat at restaurants and play golf without ever having to leave their heavily guarded hotel or having to take out their wallets. Until recently, the sector was dominated by local brands.
Hyatt first got into the all-inclusive business in 2013. The company’s CEO, Mark Hoplamazian, wrote in an email that the Apple acquisition will push the share of leisure hotel rooms in the company’s portfolio to over 50%, from around 45%.
“The human experience of taking time for personal renewal and also connecting with family, friends and loved ones is in extremely high demand given the challenges we have all faced over the past 20 months,” he wrote. This, he added, will boost leisure travel for years to come.
All-inclusive resorts still face headwinds. The recent boom in travel might be short-lived, particularly if new, dangerous Covid-19 variants spread. As more cruise ships leave shore, competition over tourists might increase and push down rates.
Still, a growing global middle class should lead to more demand in the long run, particularly in Asia, said Gregory Miller, a hotel analyst at Truist Securities Inc. “I think beyond the Caribbean, there’s probably a very healthy runway of all-inclusives for decades to come,” he said.
Subsidiary of Mexican Airline Volaris To Accept Bitcoin Payments
El Salvador’s Bitcoin adoption agenda continues apace, this time extending to a local airline.
As a result of El Salvador’s mainstream Bitcoin (BTC) adoption, Volaris El Salvador, a local subsidiary of budget Mexican airline Volaris, will accept Bitcoin as payment.
The Bitcoin move comes a month after Salvadoran aviation authorities gave Volaris’ local subsidiary permission to operate in the country.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele took to Twitter to announce that the airline would accept Bitcoin.
Ya tenemos aerolínea salvadoreña, de bajo costo y que acepta #Bitcoin
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) October 20, 2021
In a recent Volaris event hosted on Twitter, President Bukele highlighted that the ability to pay with Bitcoin and the state-run Chivo wallet “allows us to increase the offering of flights for Salvadorans.”
Bukele’s government continues to incentivize citizens to use Bitcoin for payments and has even offered fuel subsidies. The country had previously reinvested $4 million worth of unrealized Bitcoin gains to fund infrastructure development projects such as a veterinary hospital.
Following in El Salvador’s footsteps, authorities from a Venezuelan airport plan to start accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as payment for tickets and other services.
As Cointelegraph reported, Simón Bolívar International Airport, in association with the National Superintendence of Crypto Assets and Related Activities, wants to enable crypto payments as a means to comply with local industry standards.
According to airport director Freddy Borges, the airport will accept payments in Bitcoin, Dash and the Petro, a government-issued oil-backed token. Signaling a commitment to drive cryptocurrency adoption, Borges said, “We must advance in these new economic and technological systems to be accessible.”
For $61,000 (One Bitcoin), Spend Most Of The Year On A Cruise Around The World
Around the world in 80 days? How about 274.
Royal Caribbean International announced Wednesday the launch of its Ultimate World Cruise –– a 274-night adventure that visits all seven continents, and hits more than 150 destinations in 65 countries. Highlights will include the Great Wall of China, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, Egypt’s Great Pyramid, and India’s Taj Mahal.
The trip, billed as the longest ever offered by a major cruise company, will cost $61,000.
The cruising industry suffered a crippling hit after Covid-19-related travel restrictions, which began in early 2020, prevented most voyages for more than a year.
Royal Caribbean’s 9-month-long sailing will surpass Viking Cruise’s 245-night Ultimate World Cruise, which launched in August of 2019. (It was forced to end early as a result of the pandemic.)
Passengers will board the Serenade of Seas vessel in Miami, Florida starting December 10, 2023 and travel the seas until the journey ends on September 10, 2024. The trip will be divided into four segments, and passengers will have the option to join for some or all of them.
The extensive trip comes months after cruise line companies began rolling out multi-month itineraries to cruise enthusiasts, many of whom were eager to resume travel after spending months in pandemic isolation. Those trips booked up quickly.
“Now more than ever, people have resolved to travel the world and make up for lost time,” said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean.
Where To Escape In Glasgow When COP26 Gets Too Much
Here are some picks to feed, water and distract you in Scotland’s big city.
Veterans of United Nations climate conferences have plenty of tips for newbie delegates, from bringing a sleeping bag to the final stretch of negotiations to making sure you take a good book to help remain sane. And get a quiet bite to eat away from the shop talk.
What’s critical is finding the places that can make the downtime more palatable, and if you’re one of the thousands descending on Glasgow for COP26 from Oct. 31 you may be wondering what Scotland’s biggest city has to offer.
Famous for its grit and acerbic wit, Glasgow has long been overshadowed by its picture-perfect neighbor less than an hour away, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. But look beyond the grungier façade — particularly the overflowing garbage bins and rat infestation — and you’ll find a thriving city with unique charm. The late American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain declared his love for Glasgow, calling it “Europe’s no bulls— zone.”
From the restaurants of Finnieston to the charm of Ashton Lane, there’s plenty to distract you from the doom and gloom of the climate crisis and even some options to boost your climate credentials. Here are our picks, mainly in the city’s leafier West End.
Lunch & Dinner
Cail Bruich, 725 Great Western Road, G12 8QX
The recipient this year of Glasgow’s first Michelin star in almost two decades, Cail Bruich works with seasonal produce and local ingredients, which lowers the carbon footprint of your meal. You can order a five-course tasting menu for 75 pounds ($103) from Wednesday to Thursday and a seven-course tasting menu for 105 pounds from Wednesday to Saturday, with vegetarian alternatives available for both.
Hanoi Bike Shop, 8 Ruthven Lane, G12 9BG
At the budget end of the spectrum, at this Vietnamese canteen you’ll find a rustic atmosphere with old cycles lining the wall outside and great food inside. The summer rolls and Vietnamese coffee are a must-try. Main courses from pho to pork belly with rice cost between 12 and 14 pounds, with vegan and gluten-free options available.
Dram or Pint
Oran Mor, top of Byres Road, G12 8QX
Arts and entertainment venue Oran Mor is a unique converted church. The main bar offers close to 300 different whiskies and the price of a pint of beer is cheaper than it would be in London despite the picturesque surroundings.
Hillhead Book Club, 17 Vinicombe St., G12 8SJ
Another spot in Glasgow’s West End that’s become an institution for locals, the former cinema specializes in cheap eats and great cocktails. The drinks will set you back about 8.50 pounds, while main meals range from 8 to 14 pounds. It’s great for breakfast, too, after a late night of climate conference panels. It serves pancakes, eggs and French toast until 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
A Bit of Culture
Many of Glasgow’s galleries and museums are closed during COP26 because they are hosting some of the debates. Luckily, there’s enough on offer that you should still be able to escape for a break.
This exhibition shows lives devastated by the climate crisis in countries around the world and will appear at a number of venues during COP26 including Glasgow Cathedral, St George’s Tron and Glasgow Central Mosque. The paintings by Glasgow-based artist I.D. Campbell were commissioned by charities including Christian Aid and Islamic Relief UK ahead of the conference to highlight stories from vulnerable communities.
The Grosvenor Cinema, 24 Ashton Lane, Hillhead, G12 8SJ
For a relaxed weeknight, this refurbished 1920s cinema does a mixture of movies and events. It’s on Ashton lane, so is ideally placed to grab a bite to eat afterwards at the bar next door or the Ubiquitous Chip, a Glasgow institution. The best bit: You can take a glass of wine into the screening.
Some Fresh Air
This Victorian park near the university features a bandstand and great views over the city. During COP26, it will also host a couple of climate rallies, with a school strike Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. featuring Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg and a march Nov. 6 at noon that begins in the park and moves to Glasgow Green at 3 p.m.
Buchanan Galleries, 220 Buchanan St, G1 2FF
For typical shopping needs, this is the place to go. Next to Glasgow Queen Street station, this mall includes the regular U.K. names from Accessorize to Victoria’s Secret.
Zero Waste Market, 17 Hillfoot St., G31 2LD
Burnish your green credentials by shopping at this market, where you can buy plastic-free products, fresh fruit and vegetables and groceries. It’s all sustainable, so bring your own containers.
U.S. Opens Borders To Vaccinated Europeans, Others, After More Than 18 Months
Airlines see bookings rise sharply after ban, but capacity is still well below pre-Covid-19 level.
Airlines started flying thousands of Europeans and others to the U.S. after Washington reopened its borders to citizens of 33 countries who had been barred by Covid-19 restrictions for more than 18 months.
As of Monday, vaccinated non-American citizens from previously restricted countries—predominantly in Europe—are allowed to travel to the U.S. if they have proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test taken within the prior three days. The countries formerly on the banned list accounted for 53% of all overseas visitors to the U.S. in 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
In March 2020, then-President Donald Trump banned Europeans and others from traveling to the U.S., part of a series of national travel restrictions put in place in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For many travelers, the ban kept them away from family and friends in the U.S. For business people, visits to American home offices or sales calls to U.S. clients were prohibited, long after domestic business travel started to resume on both sides of the Atlantic.
European tourists have also been eager to get back to the U.S. Fabrizio Magurno was checking in with his wife for an Emirates flight to New York from Milan’s Malpensa airport. They spent their honeymoon in the U.S. and had been waiting two years to return. During the pandemic, they traveled inside Italy.
“That was nice, but there is nothing like going to New York,” Mr. Magurno said. His first stop, if they make it on time: 5 Napkin Burger, the New York burger chain.
For airlines, the ban was particularly costly. International travel is often an airline’s most lucrative market. The trans-Atlantic market, in particular, which included a large amount of higher-margin business travel, had been one of the most profitable routes for both U.S. and European airlines before the pandemic.
United Airlines Holdings Inc. is slated to operate 33 flights from formerly banned countries on Monday, the company said. It expects about a 50% boost in its total number of international inbound passengers, compared with a week ago.
Delta Air Lines Inc. reported a 450% increase in bookings from outside the U.S. in the six weeks since the White House announced the border restrictions would be dropped. It said it expects many of its flights to operate at full capacity.
“This is the start of a new era for travel and for many people around the world who have not been able to see loved ones for almost two years,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said. “While we have seen many countries reopen their borders to American visitors over the summer, our international customers have not been able to fly with us or visit the U.S. All of that changes now.”
British Airways and rival Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., marking the reopening, sent planes off simultaneously from London Heathrow Airport’s two runways Monday morning.
“Today is about celebrating the U.K.-U.S. reopening of the trans-Atlantic corridor after more than 600 days of separation,” British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said.
British Airways is scheduled to operate 26 flights to the U.S. on Monday and has restarted direct services to 17 U.S. destinations. The airline, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, said it plans to extend that number to 23 airports over the winter, reaching up to 246 flights a week. Flights to New York will increase from five to eight a day next month, British Airways said.
Business travel, which has trailed the recovery in the wider aviation industry, has also picked up, according to corporate travel agency American Express Global Business Travel. It said business bookings from Europe to the U.S. doubled in the last five weeks.
Still, the market is far from having reached a full recovery. A total of 6,605 flights are scheduled to takeoff from Europe to the U.S. this month, a 41% decrease compared with the same month in 2019, according to aviation data provider Cirium.
London Heathrow will account for some 1,750 of those expected takeoffs, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt Airport, with 755 and 745, respectively, according to Cirium.
The U.S. on Monday also began allowing fully vaccinated visitors to enter the country via its land borders with Canada and Mexico for the first time in 20 months.
Several border crossings along the Canadian border reported longer than usual wait times on Monday morning, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, though traffic appeared to be flowing smoothly at many other locations.
Canada began allowing fully vaccinated Americans into the country by land and by air on Aug. 9. It expanded its reopening to include fully vaccinated travelers from other countries in September.
American Airlines Partners With (Ethereum-Based ) Decentralized Travel Market Winding Tree
The airline industry is still reeling from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the global economy and restricted travel.
Ethereum-based decentralized travel marketplace Winding Tree has announced a new collaboration with American Airlines that will allow select travelers to receive tailored booking options, opening up a potential new use case for blockchain technology.
Through the collaboration, American’s largest corporate travel buyers will have access to Winding Tree’s marketplace to book travel directly and receive “uniquely tailored and cost-efficient travel options,” the companies announced. Neil Geurin, who serves as American Airlines’ managing director of digital and distribution, said Winding Tree “provides a frictionless approach” to accessing travel accommodation.
Winding Tree said its marketplace accommodates all sorts of peer-to-peer connections for the travel and aviation industry. In addition to American Airlines, the marketplace has already secured a partnership with Air Canada, one of North America’s largest carriers.
American is the largest passenger airline in North America, having served over 95.3 million passengers in 2020. Passenger traffic peaked near 215.2 million in 2019 prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In October, American announced a third-quarter net profit of $169 million, or $0.25 per diluted share, on revenue of $9 billion. Revenue rose 20% from the previous quarter.
#COVID19: we estimate that aviation industry passenger revenues could drop $252 billion or 44% below 2019’s figure.
— IATA (@IATA) March 24, 2020
Airlines were ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic as governments locked down their economies and restricted both domestic and international travel. According to Airports Council International, the impact of the pandemic removed more than 1 billion passengers in 2020. Winding Tree co-founder Pedro Anderson said the pandemic created a “complete paradigm shift in travel” that has placed a premium on innovation.
In 2020, air transport technology provider Sita estimated that 59% of airlines were already piloting or researching blockchain technology solutions for their internal processes. As far back as 2018, it was estimated that 86% of aerospace and defense companies were planning to implement blockchain in the foreseeable future, according to Accenture.
Airplane Fights Are Surging. The Industry Wants To Stop Them Before The Holidays
Bad behavior has increased and can have a significant impact on airline staff and travelers alike.
The holiday travel season starting next week will test whether airlines, regulators and airports have done enough to combat a sharp rise in unruly passenger behavior and ease tensions for travelers.
There have been 5,114 reports of unruly passengers this year as of Nov. 9, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and more than 970 investigations have been initiated. In 2019, the FAA initiated fewer than 150 investigations into passenger behavior.
Among the incidents, a Southwest Airlines operations agent was transported to the hospital last weekend after a female passenger allegedly punched her, Dallas police said.
Close to three-quarters of reports to the FAA are of mask-related incidents, according to the agency. In several cases, incidents that began as a dispute over mask policy have spiraled.
Unruly passenger incidents can have a significant impact on airline staff and travelers alike—they can result in delayed flights or unplanned trips back to the gate, for one, and have resulted in serious injuries to airline staff. Flight attendants say they are concerned their uniforms will make them targets of a violent attack. High-profile incidents also stoke broader anxiety about travel.
“We went from telling everyone to be separated by 6 feet or more to packing them back into airplanes,” said Andrew Thomas, an associate professor of marketing and international business at the University of Akron, who has written books about air rage and aviation security.
Bad behavior on planes is nothing new. There was a rise in poor comportment on planes in the late 1990s, Mr. Thomas said. Things briefly improved after the 9/11 attacks, but the trend eventually resumed.
This time around, Covid-19 worries, new rules in airports and on planes, and rising numbers of delayed and canceled flights, have raised travelers’ stress, Mr. Thomas said. Expected crowds for holiday flights stand to strain nerves further.
Carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. say they expect the Thanksgiving period to include some of their busiest days since the start of the pandemic, with travel volumes down just 11% to 12% from 2019. Both carriers said that the Sunday following the holiday is on pace to set a pandemic-era record.
Jaina Mistry said she plans to take a Southwest flight from her home in Phoenix to San Francisco with her husband on Tuesday to spend Thanksgiving with her brother-in-law. Ms. Mistry, 37 years old and a senior manager of email marketing, flew frequently before the pandemic, but this will be her first flight since March 2020.
She said she feels a little apprehensive about the trip after seeing news of airlines canceling scores of flights in October and because Southwest passengers don’t reserve seats in advance. She plans to wear her mask as federal law requires and hopes her fellow passengers do the same.
“I’m just going into it hoping it all goes well,” she said.
The FAA and flight attendants say alcohol has played a role in many incidents. FAA regulations already prohibit passengers on flights from consuming alcohol that isn’t served by airlines. This summer, the FAA asked airports to ease up on sales of to-go alcoholic drinks. Some airlines suspended alcohol sales in coach cabins to avoid contributing to problems.
FAA officials also got creative, enlisting their children to help film a public service announcement. This week, the FAA is shooting another video along with the Transportation Security Administration, airlines and airports. The new message aims to remind passengers of the real people—crew members, airport workers, and others—who make it possible for them to go home for the holidays.
While the agency has proposed hefty fines for those who act out on flights, a high percentage of travelers who have incurred penalties have been able to show that they don’t have the financial assets to pay the full amounts, officials said.
The FAA can’t prosecute criminal cases, though it recently referred about three dozen cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has asked airports to coordinate more closely with local law enforcement.
The problem may be worse than numbers suggest. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said many incidents where passengers are rude, dismissive or make racist comments don’t get reported.
The Transportation Security Administration offers a crew member self-defense training program run by federal air marshals, but it is voluntary. In testimony submitted to a House subcommittee for a hearing on Tuesday, Ms. Nelson said crew member self-defense training must be made mandatory.
Flight attendants are resilient, Ms. Nelson said, but “when it’s at this level and there’s also the added stress of the frequency of violence, the name calling and insults carry a different kind of weight.”
Hoping to help law enforcement and airlines, and curtail incidents, Salt Lake City International Airport has volunteered to pay the expenses for any crew or passengers returning to the area to serve as a witness or as a charging complainant, said executive director Bill Wyatt.
The airport made this decision in October, and so far no action has been necessary.
“We think it’s important that people who are unruly to the point of committing a crime don’t get off the hook simply because no one wants to charge them because of the expense of returning here,” he said.
At United Airlines, the number of incidents has declined since early this year, Brett Hart, the airline’s president, told reporters earlier this month. Passengers are growing accustomed to new procedures and airline flight attendants are skilled at de-escalating situations, he said.
Passengers who witness these incidents shouldn’t get involved unless the flight attendant directs them to or unless there is immediate life-threatening danger, said Ms. Nelson. All passengers are encouraged to alert flight attendants to potential issues.
“With minimum staffing we may not see it as soon as other passengers,” Ms. Nelson said.
Airlines Are Rewriting The Rules On Frequent-Flier Programs—Again
Spending now can be more important for points and status than actual flying under some new travel-rewards programs.
Frequent-flier programs really need a new name: Welcome to the era of the frequent-spender program.
Carriers increasingly reward spending over actual flying, and American Airlines is about to push this trend farther than any big carrier. The pandemic has accelerated the transition as many formerly frequent travelers have been earning more miles and points on the ground through credit cards.
“The pandemic gave us the opportunity to really re-evaluate how we define loyalty,” says Heather Samp, managing director of AAdvantage member engagement at American.
The airline will make it possible to earn elite status without taking a single flight starting in March. Credit-card miles will count more toward status than ever before.
Those who are true frequent fliers will get some added benefits, and business travelers who aren’t taking as many trips will be able to boost their status with their spending. Small-business owners and others who use their credit cards a lot now can be a top dog at American before they ever lift the buckle on a seat belt.
Who stands to lose? Fliers who qualify only by flying long distances on cheap tickets. Spending requirements and credit-card use become even more important.
Loyalty programs have long been geared toward business travelers who typically pay higher fares and room rates than leisure travelers. Status tiers with special perks like upgrades and priority lines drive loyalty now for business travelers.
But business travel has remained depressed. That’s left airlines scrambling to figure out how to maintain status for grounded customers so they remain loyal when they do resume travel.
“I think they are all trying to figure out what their new world looks like,” says Gary Leff, a mileage expert, travel blogger and co-founder of the online community InsideFlyer.
Other airlines and hotels have made it easier to hang on to status for next year. United lowered flight and spending requirements necessary for 2022 elite status and now allows miles earned on its co-branded credit card to count toward elite status as long as you take four flights.
Delta says it will automatically roll over status that SkyMiles customers have this year to 2022. In addition, it will pool qualifying miles earned this year and next together toward 2023 status requirements. Delta is also offering bonuses to qualify for elite-status tiers faster and is counting the flying that members do on award tickets toward status levels.
Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group are all extending current status members have in their loyalty programs for another year and pausing points expiration until the end of next year.
Hyatt lowered qualification requirements for elite status by 50% this year, making it easier to attain status for 2022, but appears to be taking a harder line with members on keeping points current in accounts.
Hyatt has been warning members that it will enforce the two-year deadline on points expiration. World of Hyatt members who haven’t earned or used points during the pandemic may face the surprise of seeing accounts wiped out.
Hyatt didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Status matters to travelers. The usefulness of loyalty programs for many road warriors isn’t the free trips with accumulated miles or points. It’s the perks that come from qualifying for elite tiers: better seat selection, early boarding, free checked bags, upgrades, priority for rebooking and standby seats, special phone numbers and priority queues at airports.
Frequent-flier programs were created in the 1980s to keep customers loyal. Miles became a hot commodity and credit-card companies now buy them by the billion to give to customers as a reward. That turned loyalty programs into a profit center for airlines instead of just a marketing cost. And that changed how airlines run the programs—they focus on spending instead of travel.
American is creating a currency called loyalty points in an attempt to simplify elite-status qualification. Previously American, like other airlines, had three requirements for status: You had to meet requirements for mileage, number of flights taken and ticket spending. You couldn’t get status with just a couple of very long, very cheap mileage runs.
Under The New Rules, It’s All About Dollars: You’ll get loyalty points for ticket spending and you’ll get loyalty points for co-branded credit-card spending. American will even give priority to where members are on the upgrade list by spending.
The airline thinks the change will expand the ranks of customers with elite-level status. Often that makes upgrades even harder to score—more people in the ranks competing for few seats.
Status doesn’t come cheap. Gold status on American, the lowest tier, requires 30,000 loyalty points. Each dollar spent on a co-branded credit card earns one loyalty point. Executive Platinum, American’s highest published tier (Concierge Key is by invitation only), requires 200,000 loyalty points.
But Ms. Samp says the new members in the status ranks likely will be occasional fliers rather than hard-core road warriors. And that means they’ll be chasing upgrades at off-peak times rather than for typical business-travel flights.
“We don’t really see that adding to the ranks is going to diminish anyone’s service level,” she says.
The change also is likely to be a major boost for American’s co-branded credit cards. Airline credit cards have seen a lot of competition from cash-back cards and high-end cards from Chase, American Express and others that offer their own lounge access, rewards on any airline or hotel and other perks.
“If you are just flying, it is going to be harder” to qualify for status on American, Ms. Samp says.
Mr. Leff notes that American isn’t the first airline to offer status solely on credit-card spending. Frontier has a similar option. But American is the first huge program to fundamentally change the way status is earned, he says.
“It is a good deal for more travelers than it isn’t,” he says. “There will be people who are unhappy, and those are the people who would have earned higher status under the old program over the new one.”
Why Can’t Some Covid-19 Vaccinated People Travel To The United States?
Because they might not be vaccinated with shots recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.
When lifting overseas travel restrictions in November, the U.S. required adults coming to the country to be fully vaccinated with shots approved or authorized by the FDA or allowed by WHO.
Among the most widely used vaccines that don’t meet that criteria are Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and China’s CanSino vaccine. Sputnik V is authorized for use in more than 70 countries while CanSino is allowed in at least nine countries. WHO still is awaiting more data about both vaccines before making a decision.
Vaccines recognized by the FDA and WHO undergo rigorous testing and review to determine they’re safe and effective. And among the vaccines used internationally, experts say some likely won’t be recognized by the agencies.
“They will not all be evaluated in clinical trials with the necessary rigor,” said Dr. William Moss, executive director of the Johns Hopkins International Vaccine Access Center.
An exception to the U.S. rule is people who received a full series of the Novavax vaccine in a late-stage study. The U.S. is accepting the participants who received the vaccine, not a placebo, because it was a rigorous study with oversight from an independent monitoring board.
The U.S. also allows entry to people who got two doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of vaccines on the FDA and WHO lists.
Branson’s Virgin Voyages Courts First-Time Cruisers, Cures Inhibition
Virgin Voyages offers sexy, adults-only fare to court the next generation of cruisers.
Amid the flashing lights, blaring house music, and gyrating dancers at a sea-goddess-themed bash on the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, single mom Kylie Story felt so uninhibited that she jumped into the pool. She didn’t even pause to remove her long crimson dress or butterfly wings.
Story, 32, and a friend had booked a cabin on Richard Branson’s first Virgin Voyages ship, which began adults-only sailings in October after 18 months of delays. “This is living life a little on the wild side,” she said, dripping wet, somewhere between Miami and Nassau.
Branson says Virgin goes “where no other cruise company has gone before.” With that, he’s challenging the industry’s sleepy reputation. On Scarlet Lady, the first of three ships setting sail by the end of 2022, Broadway revues are swapped for tattoo parlors and pelvic-thrusting dance classes.
“Sailors”—Virgin-speak for “guests”—can cool down at the “Lick Me Till … Ice Cream” shop and heat up at sex seminars that urge audience participation. “If you believe sex is good, say yes. If you don’t, get the f— out!” a resident “sexologist” shouted at a rowdy crowd of about 135. (Nobody got out.)
Other lines, such as Viking Ocean Cruises, don’t allow children but are geared toward seniors. As a seasoned cruise writer, the main differences that I saw, aside from mean age, was that there was more day drinking on Scarlet Lady, more dirty chat, and more PDA, especially in the hot tubs.
The main sentiment I heard during my four-night cruise: It’s great to not have to deal with other people’s kids. Hard to argue with that.
Luxury, as Virgin Voyages sees it, is about letting your guard down and enjoying what happens when others do the same. In 2021 that means requiring vaccines and preboard testing—but no masks. Rates start at $1,550 per double-occupancy cabin for four-night sailings to the Bahamas or five-night trips to Mexico.
That’s more than three times what a comparable voyage on Royal Caribbean costs but only a fourth of the price of a one-week itinerary with Seabourn, which starts at about $6,200.
“A certain segment coming onboard thinks it’s a swinger’s cruise,” says Gene Sloan, 52, cruise writer for The Points Guy, who on the maiden voyage was asked by an older couple in an elevator why no one was getting naked. But Frank Weber, Virgin’s senior vice president for hotel operations, dispels that notion: “It’s sipping Champagne and listening to a DJ.”
Instead of millennials—the target of the young, attractive nonconformists in Virgin’s early branding—most bookings are coming from those in their late 40s and early 50s. The inaugural crowd ranged all the way from 20- to 80-year-olds, including frequent cruisers, first-timers, singles, gay couples, Jerry Garcia lookalikes, and women in black leather.
Hairstylist Justin Hipp, 32, who was honeymooning with his new husband, Bren, said he thought the ship would be “more inclusive than family-oriented cruises.” The thigh tattoo he got onboard (of the ice cream shop’s “Lick Me” logo) is one sign he felt embraced. Among Virgin’s free-spirited crew, many sport their own ink, nose rings, or dyed hair.
Scarlet Lady throws out a lot of cruise conventions. There’s no main dining room, and the six restaurants replacing it are all included in the fares. At Test Kitchen, the five-course menu features a perfectly cooked egg yolk with caviar and peas that arrives in a smoking orb.
Servers at the Korean barbecue Gunbae prepare meat and seafood on electric grills while leading drinking games; the first round of soju is on the house.
Entertainment is similarly nontraditional. Duel Reality, created with Montreal’s 7 Fingers collective, is a jaw-dropping spectacle of acrobatics and faux fighting. A wild nightclub, the Manor, is in a sultry duplex space created by Roman & Williams, designers of New York’s Boom Boom Room.
You get theater tickets and dining reservations using a Virgin Voyages app—which kept crashing on my trip. When it works, you can shake your phone to get a bottle of Moët & Chandon Champagne ($95) delivered anywhere by a server wearing a red ice bucket sling.
The cabins are almost beside the point, but they have some creative design details, such as Walter Knoll beds that convert into L-shaped couches by day. Swinging hammock chairs on balconies seem to float over the water.
Whether these perks attract new-to-cruising millennials—or alienate the fiftysomethings who are booking—will be the test of Virgin’s conceit. It may not be Mr. Right for any of them, but it sure is fun for right now.
The New Covid-19 Variant Is Already Disrupting Travel Around The World
Flight cancellations, travel bans and hotel quarantines are interrupting family gatherings, graduations and other long-held plans.
Fallout from the new, potentially riskier Covid-19 variant detected in southern Africa is adding fresh frustrations for travelers, just as they were glimpsing a return to normalcy.
The U.S., European Union members, Canada and Hong Kong are all restricting travel from several nations in southern Africa.
The U.K. halted flights, placed six African countries on its travel “red list” and will require arriving travelers to quarantine in hotels in an attempt to quash the spread of the B.1.1.529 variant — to which the World Health Organization has assigned the Greek letter omicron.
Those moves are set to make some travel plans more expensive. South Africa’s placement on Britain’s red list upended Lizelle Nightingale’s graduation plans. The 38-year-old from Northampton in the U.K. had intended to travel to the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where she was to celebrate earning her business degree.
Nightingale and her husband spent 1,600 pounds ($2,131) in total for flights in the first week of December, plus the cost of her graduation robes and a car rental. If the couple go ahead with their plans, they will now have to book a quarantine hotel on the way back, costing them more than 4,000 pounds, not to mention 11 nights in isolation.
“It breaks my heart because I was looking forward to my graduation,” said Nightingale, who is still trying to decide whether or not she will travel. “This is my first bachelor’s degree and it’s something I worked really hard for. I started crying when I heard.”
Callum Perry landed in London on Friday morning as the travel landscape shifted. The 26-year-old conservationist is based in Limpopo, South Africa, and came to the U.K. to visit his father for health reasons.
But now he’s worried he won’t be able to travel back home. He’s seeing flights to South Africa cancelled and is concerned that his — scheduled for next Friday — will be axed, too.
“We’re seeing countries like the U.K. move really quickly, so the number one challenge is that the shutdowns are happening quicker than ever,” said John Clifford, president of International Travel Management. “People feel stranded and sidelined.”
But there are services that can get you back to your home country if you’re stuck. Clifford says two services he recommends are Medjet — a global medical transport and crisis response company — and Covac Global, which provides evacuations and repatriation services.
“The first and best thing you can do is get a cancel-for-any-reason travel policy,” said Clifford. “Most travel companies sell some kind of CFAR travel insurance. It usually costs about 15% of your pre-purchase expenditures.”
That doesn’t offer full reimbursement — it’s usually between 40 and 80% of your loss. But it at least gets you some money back when you cancel a nonrefundable trip for an unexpected reason, he said.
“If people are traveling to South Africa, clearly you’re not going so you should have plan B,” said Clifford. “What we’re seeing is that clients are doing ‘trip stacking’ — they’re booking two or three trips at a time. You’ve got an option or two already booked and confirmed before you travel that you can cancel for any reason.”
In Johannesburg, Dennis Wabomba is reeling. He had planned a vacation in the first week of December that’s now been thrown into disarray. His original itinerary was to fly into Abu Dhabi, then to the U.K., and from there to Jamaica.
“I bought all the tickets and accommodation bookings but look now,” he said. “As everything got settled with my British visa last week this happens.”
He’s trying to get a reimbursement for his $6,000 flight but hasn’t heard back yet from his travel agent about whether it went through.
“I may have a couple of beers and I’ll get over it I guess,” he said.
Meanwhile, Frank Venter, a 35-year-old PhD candidate in parasitology and molecular biology in Edinburgh says he has some serious thinking to do this weekend.
He hasn’t been home to visit family in Pretoria, South Africa, in two years. He spent 800 pounds on a ticket home, but additional visa expenses, the threat of hotel quarantine or travel change fees, and the risk that he can’t come back to defend his thesis are giving him pause.
“It’s just unending,” he said.
Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge, an air travel assistance service, says consumers stuck in tricky situations because of policy changes shouldn’t panic. Variants of concern have arisen before — often followed by swift action from governments. Fortunately, travelers may have a few avenues if they want to get their money back.
“If your flight is cancelled, there’s a decent chance you will be eligible for a refund, given there isn’t a flight an hour later,” he said. “But if you just don’t want to go, it may not be an option to get money back.”
Snyder also advises that travelers make sure their contact information is up-to-date with their ticket provider. That way if there is a cancellation, the provider can get in touch.
Airlines Sink Most Since 2020 On New Variant Fears, Travel Bans
Airline shares tumbled the most since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as an emerging virus variant prompted travel restrictions and fears of crimped demand for flights.
The U.K. will halt arrivals from South Africa and several neighboring countries for two days and limit access mainly to its own nationals from Nov. 28 onward, with a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine. The U.S., Germany and France followed suit with similar measures on Friday.
United Airlines Holdings Inc. fell 9.6% and American Airlines Group Inc. declined 8.8% by the close of trading in New York, the biggest drops for each carrier since June 2020. Delta Air Lines Inc. slid 8.3%, the most since September 2020.
Hotel chain Marriott International Inc. fell 6.5% and cruise operator Carnival Corp. declined 11% as other travel-related stocks took a hit. The U.S. travel policy was revealed after the close of an abbreviated trading day in New York.
The retreat extended losses sustained by European carriers as the Bloomberg EMEA Airlines Index fell the most since March 2020, when global travel collapsed in the early throes of the pandemic.
The border clampdowns signal a new level of risk for tourism-dependent companies whose recovery was already stalled this month by a fourth wave of coronavirus cases in Europe.
Lockdowns in Austria and elsewhere in the region have cast a pall over popular ski getaways, while dampening enthusiasm for year-end holiday airline trips, according to Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary.
“This is the worst early Christmas present that the airline industry could think of,” said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at Agency Partners in London. “To quote Yogi Berra, this is déjà vu all over again.”
The emerging virus strain first identified in South Africa has alarmed health officials across the world, suggesting more countries could shutter borders. Israel and Singapore have also curbed access, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday proposed an “emergency brake” on air travel from South Africa, allowing European Union member states to act quickly to limit risks.
Delta or Worse?
The World Health Organization said Friday the strain was a “variant of concern.” While it isn’t clear yet whether it’ll overtake the dominant delta strain, the reactions from health officials in a number of countries show a level of concern that could lead to major disruptions, Cunningham said.
“It looks rather like a replay of delta but possibly worse,” he said. “If it plays out like delta, it’s pretty clear what happened then — you get outbreaks, country specific restrictions, and as it spreads across the world, you get large scale travel bans.”
Boeing Co. dropped 5.4% after European rival Airbus SE slid 11% in Paris in a sign that investors are worried the impact could undermine aircraft demand. Commercial aerospace suppliers including jet-engine maker General Electric Co. and Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., which makes fuselage sections for Boeing jets, also tumbled.
Cruise operators Carnival Corp. and TUI AG’s cruise unit were among the biggest losers in the bond market. A 600 million-euro ($677 million) Carnival note due in 2029 fell the most in more than a year, while a TUI Cruises note due in 2026 lost more than 2.3 cents on the euro, according to Bloomberg-compiled prices — the second-biggest decline on the Bank of America Euro High Yield Index as of mid-morning Friday.
Airlines, one of the industries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been slowly building back capacity since June, with a focus on shorter regional flights as countries started to lift border restrictions.
Long-distance travel also got a boost when the U.S. reopened its borders to European visitors and others this month, but that progress was already starting to wane.
Carriers had also started to bring back flights to countries like South Africa, a popular winter sun destination. British Airways was set to restart daily services to Johannesburg by mid-December, while ramping up flights to Cape Town.
“We’re working through plans for our customers and colleagues currently in South Africa and those due to travel from the U.K. in the coming days,” British Airways said in an emailed statement.
Neighboring Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe were also placed on the U.K.’s so-called red list and subjected to the temporary travel ban.
The measures mark the biggest change in the U.K.’s Covid travel rules since the traffic light system was overhauled earlier in the autumn to ease border crossings.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association lobby group, accused governments of “responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode, causing fear among the traveling public.” He called for a “coordinated, data-driven approach” that avoids border closures and quarantines.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. had a London-bound flight from Johannesburg in the air when the news of the red-list came through Thursday night, a spokeswoman said. Officials instructed people coming off the overnight flight to self isolate, she said.
A planned relaunch of Virgin Atlantic flights to Cape Town on Dec. 17 may be put on hold, the spokeswoman said. Services to Johannesburg went daily on Nov. 8 and links are likely to be maintained to allow Britons to fly home, albeit under strict quarantine conditions on their arrival.
Between 500 and 700 people daily arrive in the U.K. via South Africa on flights, a number that would normally be expected to increase in the next four to six weeks due to seasonal travel.
An Air France flight from Johannesburg arrived Friday morning in Paris and another is scheduled to leave the French capital in the evening, according to a spokesman. The company is awaiting official notification of the travel ban to adjust its schedules.
The real test for airlines will come after generally slow winter months, according to Davy analyst Stephen Furlong.
“Airlines, in the main, have excess liquidity and will wade out the winter period,” he said. “Key will be booking profile in early 2022 for the summer 2022 season, really Easter onwards.”
3 Bold Travel Ideas You Should Book As Soon As Possible
Check out a new hotel in the southern highlands of Costa Rica which combines healthy living with natural beauty.
Force of Nature
A museum in the Mexican jungle forges ahead with a new curator and a singular, sustainable design.
Sfer Ik, one of the world’s wildest art museums, opened in the jungle outside Tulum, Mexico, shortly before the pandemic, its structures built in and around the trees from a mix of vines, fiberglass and concrete.
“We decided to become part of nature,” says the founder, a self-taught architect who goes by Roth. “We don’t cut any tree that’s wider than one inch, don’t modify the surface of the land, so the floor of the museum is undulating.”
The exhibition program, cut short in 2020, relaunches this winter under a new director, Brazilian curator Marcello Dantas. “This is the opposite of the white cube,” Dantas says, “a place where artists have to negotiate with gravity, with light, with humidity.” His first commission is an installation from Mexican artist Héctor Zamora, who will fill the warren of spaces with 10,000 bouncing balls.
A “city of arts” (shown above) around the museum hosts local artisans like weavers, potters and glassblowers, who work closely with invited artists, such as Argentine Tomás Saraceno, who will develop his own installation after he visits next year.
“One of the provocations I put to artists,” says Dantas, “is, Can you make art that’s relevant to other species, to the birds or the spiders or the iguanas that are living in that place?” sferik.art. —Jay Cheshes
In the foothills of Costa Rica’s Talamanca mountains, Hacienda AltaGracia sits among more than 7,000 coffee plants. The property, newly renovated and reimagined by Auberge Resorts Collection, features 50 casitas spread across 180 acres of tropical forest, organic gardens, stables and a well-being center by The Well, a New York–based holistic-wellness provider.
“We’re going to be very much about having you feel that you are in that place, and you’re tasting it, touching it, climbing it, finding your center and your peace,” says Kemper Hyers, chief creative officer at Auberge. These opportunities range from a sensory massage in the Calientillo River to a sunrise meditation overlooking a 150-foot-tall carboncillo tree.
All guests are assigned a designated compa (from a Spanish word for friend) to personalize their stays. Hyers and his team partnered with Brooklyn-based designer Nina Gotlieb to create a safari-like sensibility, with abundant natural textures.
That organic, local touch is present both inside the property and outside at its farm, which is planted with edible flowers, vegetables and herbs. “We’ve all gone through so much in the past 18 months,” says The Well co-founder and CCO Kane Sarhan. “This is a place where you’re going to come and we’re going to restore you.” aubergeresorts.com. —Sallie Lewis
Home furnishings brand RH is bringing its design know-how to two 12-seat planes and a yacht, all available for charter. RH One (shown) is a custom Gulfstream G650, while RH Two is a refurbished G550. A vintage yacht has been revamped to make RH Three. Further details on RH One, Two and Three will become available in 2022 when the World of RH site launches.
Should You Give The Gift of Airline Miles This Holiday Season?
With some careful planning, you can turn your pile of frequent-flier points into a meaningful present.
Anyone sitting on a trove of frequent-flier miles or credit-card points that piled up during the pandemic might be closer to done with their holiday shopping than they realized: They can give the gift of travel.
The Covid-19 pandemic and emergence of new variants continue to be X-factors in booking air travel. But award tickets can provide more flexibility than tickets booked with cash.
Nearly two-thirds of American travelers reported that they would feel either happy or very happy to receive a travel-related gift this holiday season, up from 47% in 2020, according to recent survey data from market-research firm Destination Analysts.
Award travel can be complex and overwhelming. If you are considering converting your pile of points into an airline ticket for a friend or family member, consider these tips as a starting point to make the most of your miles.
Consider Booking A Gift Ticket Directly
Many people assume they need to transfer their miles to give them as a gift, says Adam Morvitz, founder and chief executive officer of point.me, formerly known as Juicy Miles, a New York City-based award-booking service.
But transferring miles can be costly. If you transfer 5,000 United Airlines miles, a relatively small number, it will cost $75, or $7.50 per 500 miles transferred.
There is also a $30 processing fee.
Instead, Mr. Morvitz suggests using your miles to book an awards ticket in someone else’s name. The largest U.S.-based carriers don’t have restrictions on whom you book award tickets for, he says.
The downside: This method could require a conversation with the person you’re treating, so there aren’t any surprises if you buy the ticket before you give it as a gift.
It is better to make the gift a promise of a flight instead of locking the traveler into specific dates and destinations, says Jordan Rozum, award consultant with PointsPros, a boutique reward-consulting firm in Tampa, Fla.
Keep in mind that if you buy a ticket in December for a trip months later, the schedule or aircraft might change. And booking with miles still requires paying applicable taxes and carrier fees.
Booking an award ticket can also provide some flexibility in times of uncertainty.
Airlines used to charge significant fees to change flights or to redeposit your miles, Mr. Morvitz says.
But in response to the pandemic, many U.S.-based carriers waived change fees for flights, including for those booked with miles. You should check each airline’s policy for specifics on rebooking award travel, and any fees associated with last-minute changes or fare differences.
If you cancel a ticket for which you paid cash, you will often be given a travel voucher with an expiration date, says Leigh Rowan, founder of Savanti Travel, a full-service travel-management company based in San Francisco.
But if you cancel a flight booked with miles, you will have more flexibility, Mr. Rowan says, as most award miles don’t expire. This could prove useful for anyone who changes their mind about travel later because of the pandemic or for any other reason.
Think International Before Domestic
Airlines have different redemption rates for award tickets. Most North American airlines have dynamic pricing, meaning you might not get a great deal when you redeem points for certain types of fares, such as some domestic economy tickets, Mr. Rozum says.
When you book in advance, economy prices can be low, while points and miles redemption rates can be high, he says.
If you are flying internationally, particularly business or first class, you are more likely to get outsize value from miles and points, he says: “You can book tickets that are otherwise prohibitively expensive for a relatively low number of points.”
A PointsPros customer recently booked a business-class seat on a flight from Rome to Chicago, which cost 77,000 miles. The next leg of the trip, from Chicago to Santa Barbara, Calif., would have cost 44,700 miles.
Mr. Rozum says a good redemption rate is at least 2 cents per airline mile. The cash price for the business-class ticket for Rome to Chicago was $2,600, making the value more than 3 cents a mile. The cash price from Chicago to Santa Barbara was $497, meaning the person would only get 1.1 cents a mile.
Anyone planning to travel internationally should keep track of their destination country’s latest pandemic policies on foreign visitors.
Be Strategic About When You Transfer Points
Although it is possible to book flights directly through a travel credit-card portal, it is often a better deal to transfer the points to an airline loyalty program account and book from there, says Mr. Rowan.
The timing of when you transfer the points also matters. Sometimes airlines will offer a bonus to transfer points from a credit card to their loyalty program, but these speculative transfers don’t make sense, Mr. Rowan says.
If you transfer points without a specific flight in mind, those points are then stuck in the loyalty program, and not available for other bigger transactions. You should move the points to an airline account when “you’re ready to pull the trigger on whatever flight they want,” Mr. Rowan says.
Explore The Option Of Pooling Points With Others
Some airlines allow you to pool miles with others with no additional fees.
JetBlue allows up to seven people to pool points, so multiple family members can combine points for a gift for someone else.
The “Pool Leader” can nominate certain members to redeem points.
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