By Eric Hanson
Responding to new CDC guidance, which states that fully vaccinated persons can discontinue wearing masks and social distancing, Disney theme parks announced Thursday that they will alter their mask policies and raise capacities.
Walt Disney World in Florida had already begun relaxing some of its COVID-related protocols this week to align with updated public health guidance by beginning a phased reduction of social distancing measures, eliminating temperature checks and permitting visitors to remove masks to take photos outdoors.
During the company’s second-quarter earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek called the CDC’s latest announcement “very big news for us” and said that Disney theme parks had already commenced increasing capacity. According to Forbes, Chapek also said that he, “think[s] you’re going to see an immediate increase in the number of folks that we’re able to admit into our parks.”
Also Thursday, a CNN correspondent tweeted out a Disney spokesperson’s statement, which called the CDC’s updated guidelines “extremely positive news” and confirmed that the parks would implement them “as soon as is practical.”
Chapek also implied that the parks’ mask mandates might be lifted as early as this summer, and opined that eliminating the need to wear masks would be a “bigger catalyst for growth in attendance” and “make for an even more pleasant experience.”
In the near term, any easing of mask requirements would likely only apply to Walt Disney World in Florida, as California’s Disneyland Park is still subject to the state’s wider mask order. Disneyland is also limited by statewide restrictions to 25 percent capacity through June 15.
Since Florida dropped its mask mandate and blanketly allowed businesses to reopen at 100-percent capacity earlier this year, there are no state-imposed restrictions on theme park attendance, but Disney is being characteristically cautious, nonetheless. Chapek did not disclose exactly at what capacity percentage Walt Disney World in Orlando is currently operating, but the cap was set at 35 percent as of January.
For more information, visit disneyparks.disney.go.com.
By Michael Higgins
East Coast Bureau
Despite threats from Norwegian Cruise Line about pulling out of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has no plans to change his recently announced COVID-19 vaccine orders.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Governor DeSantis responded at a bill signing in Ormond Beach on Thursday to Norwegian’s plans to leave Florida following a state order to stop businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) announced earlier this month that cruise lines could bypass simulated voyages and move directly to sailing with passengers if 98 percent of its crew and 95 percent of its passengers are fully vaccinated.
“Norwegian's not one of the big ones, by the way,” DeSantis said during the bill signing. “Cruise lines have been operating in other parts of the world where there's no access to vaccine. These cruise lines are ready to go: Royal Caribbean, Carnival.”
“At the same time, our state policy is our state policy,” DeSantis continued. “But I can tell you this, if one of the smaller ones says they somehow don't want that, that niche will get filled in Florida.”
Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said last week its three brands would move their Florida-based vessels to home ports in other states or even to non-U.S. ports in the Caribbean if they were forced to comply with the new rule.
In April, DeSantis and the state of Florida filed a federal lawsuit to force the government to allow cruising in the U.S., but his stance on banning any form of vaccine passports created an issue with the CDC.
Last month, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy revealed the state had joined Florida’s lawsuit against the CDC as part of an effort to restore cruising in Alaskan waters.
By Steve Danvers
West Coast Bureau
Hawaiian Governor David Ige announced Thursday the state would not lift its mandatory mask mandate due to potential enforcement issues with determining who was vaccinated.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced earlier the same day that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would no longer need to wear masks or physically distance indoors or outdoors.
The agency clarified that declaration by saying masks would still be required on buses, trains and airplanes.
According to KHON-TV, Governor Ige said that with more than half of Hawaii residents not yet fully vaccinated, he was not ready to drop the statewide mask mandate, calling efforts to figure out who was already inoculated an “enforcement nightmare.”
“With the majority of the community not fully vaccinated and we’re not able to determine whether someone is vaccinated or not, we will continue to maintain the mask mandate here in the state of Hawaii,” Ige told KHON-TV.
“It’s better that we continue to wear masks until we get to the point where 70- or 80% of our community is fully vaccinated, especially we want to get more of our children to be vaccinated,” Ige continued.
While the state government has decided not to lift mask mandates, mayors from around the island chain will meet with Ige on Friday. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth both support easing masking restrictions if done in a way that protects tourists and locals.
Earlier this week, it was revealed the future of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) might be in jeopardy as the state’s legislators passed a bill that would cut dedicated funding. If the bill becomes law, the HTA’s fiscal year 2023 budget starts at zero and the agency would need to justify why it should receive general funds.
By Paul Marcotte
West Coast Bureau
Three major U.S. airlines stated today that they plan to quickly repair more than 60 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which were grounded in mid-April, due to a potential electrical problem that's tied to some critical systems.
According to Reuters, Boeing sent the world’s 16 affected air carriers a service bulletin yesterday outlining how to address the production issue that’s currently affecting 109 airplanes in total.
As U.S. demand for air travel has lately begun to rebound, the American carriers relievedly received Boeing’s repair instructions, which should enable the aircraft’s return to service prior to the onset of a summer travel season that typically starts in late May.
This latest grounding of roughly one-quarter of the MAX fleet was announced on the heels of the aircraft model’s previous worldwide removal from service, which lasted for 20 months when a design flaw caused two fatal crashes to occur within six months of one another. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorized the 737 MAX’ return to flying in November 2020 only after Boeing completed exhaustive repairs and provided updated pilot training to rectify the software issue.
In signing off on yesterday’s service bulletins, the FAA noted that the plane’s present electrical problem hasn’t caused any in-service failures. Also on Wednesday, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told U.S. lawmakers that the electrical defect would require a "pretty straightforward fix."
The issue, found on 737 MAXs manufacturing since early 2019, is related to a backup power control unit inside the cockpit that’s secured with fasteners instead of rivets, thereby failing to provide a complete electrical grounding path. The issue was afterward identified in two other places aboard the flight deck: the pilots’ instrument panel and the rack where the control unit is stored.
United Airlines’ spokesperson Leslie Scott said the airline expects its, "Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to return to service in the coming days, as we complete our inspection process and ensure those aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards."
American Airlines announced that it would begin making the necessary repairs and anticipates that, "all affected aircraft will begin safely returning to service in the upcoming days.”
With the greatest number of affected aircraft (32), Southwest Airlines said it estimates the work will take between two and three days per plane. Hoping to start work on the repairs within the next several days, the carrier forecasts it will take about three weeks to complete.
By Eric Hanson
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, the three biggest carriers in the U.S. have suspended flights to Israel amid escalating violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s offensive airstrikes hit the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing senior Hamas military figures and demolishing buildings that had housed Hamas facilities.
The Palestinian Islamic militant group responded with rockets fired at Israeli targets, including Tel Aviv’s main airport, Ben Gurion (TLV). Rocket fire continued throughout yesterday and into early this morning.
According to The Associated Press, the current hostilities represent the worst Jewish-Arab violence seen inside Israel in decades.
United Airlines has canceled flights out of Chicago, Newark and San Francisco through Saturday, May 15. A United spokesperson told AP News that the airline will allow customers booked on Tel Aviv flights now through May 25 to alter their itineraries without raising their fares.
American Airlines canceled its daily departure from New York to Tel Aviv both yesterday and today, and offered to find flights for passengers on later dates. Delta has also canceled today’s flights from New York to Tel Aviv.
Airline representatives said that the U.S. carriers were monitoring the situation to decide when it might be safe to resume flights.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International was scheduled to launch cruises from Haifa, Israel, this summer. The start date was originally listed as sometime in May, but the company website appears to show the first cruise, a two-night sailing from Haifa to Limassol, Cyprus, as departing on June 2.
There haven’t been any changes announced as of yet. “We are currently monitoring the situation in Israel,” according to a statement from Royal Caribbean Group spokesman Jonathon Fishman.
By Mary Johnson
A pair of U.S. senators are urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to make protecting Americans from travel scams a bigger priority.
"While the FTC posts advisories pertaining to travel scams, we believe that more must be done to protect consumers," Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) wrote FTC acting Chair Rebecca Slaughter in a letter on Thursday.
"Travel reservations made on fraudulent websites can be costly and stressful for travelers, and it is critical to ensure that Americans understand how to recognize travel scams and their recourse options should they fall victim to these scams," they continued, asking the agency to share what it's doing to combat the issue.
The letter points to a recent FTC report that found U.S. consumers have lost more than $400 million to fraudsters since the pandemic began in March 2020. Klobuchar and Daines also note that approximately two-thirds of Americans say they’re planning to travel this summer as vaccination rates increase, suggesting the need for a sense of urgency.
As co-chair of the Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus, Klobuchar continues to play a key role in the tourism industry's recovery, working with Sen. Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) to introduce the Protecting Tourism in the United States Act in February and writing to the Commerce Department to learn what it's doing to help travel and tourism recover and push for the promotion of Brand USA this past March.
Earlier this month, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal asked airlines to commit to refunding passengers for flights canceled amid the pandemic or at least eliminate expiration dates for credits.
By Michael Barta
West Coast Bureau
They go by several names. Health passes. Digital health passports. Vaccine passports. Health credentials. “Green certificates.” The list goes on.
And since at least last fall, airlines in the U.S. and elsewhere have looked to digital health passes as a solution to reopen international travel as the Covid-19 pandemic lingers. And not only air carriers: Interests as diverse as the World Economic Forum, multinational technology companies, the EU and organizations representing the global travel industry are all stressing the importance of developing interoperable, open-source technology standards for health passes.
Such efforts are seen as an important component in building a regulatory framework for cross-border travel that has support from countries across the globe. The hope is that travelers could use the health pass of their choice to ease their journey, regardless of airline or destination.
But as the summer travel season approaches, hope that any sort of global framework will emerge soon is dimming, experts say.
“I would like to go to my vacation home in Italy this summer,” said Christopher Rodrigues, a U.K. resident who served as chairman of Visit Britain from 2007 to 2017 and is also a former CEO of Visa. “If I am told that the only way I am going to get there is if there is a global health pass system, I’m not going to get there this summer, and I don’t expect to go there next summer.”
Rodrigues expects international travel to recover via bilateral corridors between specific nations, such as the Australia-New Zealand corridor that recently opened.
It is a point agreed upon by Peter Gerstle, group head of travel products for the Collinson Group, which owns Priority Pass, the largest airport lounge network in the world.
“My biggest hope is that in 18 months’ time we’ll either have a solution for it or it won’t be an issue anymore,” he said of the interoperability of global health passes during a late-March webinar hosted by the Loyalty Security Association. “I think it is more likely to be the latter.”
Such a pessimistic outlook about the speed of developing interoperability among health pass providers isn’t shared by everyone.
IATA is sounding a more optimistic note.
“This will line up faster than you think it can,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security. The IATA Travel Pass is among the most prominent health pass solutions competing in the marketplace.
And although Paul Meyer, CEO of the Commons Project Foundation, the developer of the CommonPass, agreed that health pass solutions are not going to be aligned globally under a common standard in the near term, he also said that CommonPass is being designed to support multiple standards. As of mid-April, CommonPass was working directly with federal or state governments in eight countries as well as private interests in 24 more countries.
Nonetheless, health passes face challenges that go beyond the complexities of technical alignment.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, opposition has built against domestic uses of health passes for entry into busy venues such as concerts, sporting events, restaurants and gyms due to concerns about equity, civil liberties and the safety of Covid-19 vaccines.
Those concerns have spilled into the international travel arena. In early April, notably, the World Health Organization came out in opposition to requirements that individuals show proof of vaccination in order to travel.
But vaccine mandates are already in place or in the offing in some countries, including France, Iceland, Anguilla, the Seychelles and Israel, as a requirement for entry. And in late April, European tourism ministers stated at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Cancun that there was agreement among EU countries to admit vaccinated visitors from certain countries with advanced vaccination programs. Although details were scarce, it put the question of verification firmly in the spotlight.
Airlines have been clear that they oppose vaccination requirements. Where entry restrictions exist, they say, individuals who aren’t vaccinated should be able to travel abroad by providing negative Covid-19 test results or by showing they’ve already had the virus. Carriers primarily view health passes as a way to facilitate travel during the pandemic and to speed movement through airports by alleviating the need for manual document inspections at check-in.
“If it’s paper documents, the system just won’t work,” Perry Flint, an IATA spokesman, said. “You are going to have people backed up in airports around the world.”
Cruise companies, though, are approaching vaccination differently than airlines.
Several, including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Royal Caribbean Group and Crystal Cruises, have announced that they’ll require customers to be vaccinated in order to set sail, either on all routes or on some.
Such rules may face complications when these companies sail from U.S. ports. Florida, which has several homeports, is under an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April banning vaccine passports.
By Alice Richards
East Coast Bureau
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby wants the carrier he runs to be among the first companies to require that employees get a Covid-19 vaccination.
The other major U.S. airlines, however, have yet to take the same view.
Speaking to employees late last week, Kirby said he believes that writing letters to the family members of United staffers who have died from Covid-19 is the worst thing he will have to do in his career.
"And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine -- and I recognize it's controversial -- I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory," he said.
Other airlines are vowing to facilitate employee vaccinations but have not expressed an appetite for making them mandatory.
By Steve Dangers
West Coast Bureau
A new study of the hotel and resort industries shows how they have reacted and adapted to the coronavirus pandemic and which trends implemented during the outbreak will likely stick around moving forward.
According to Demand360 business intelligence data from Amadeus, hotel occupancy levels are on the rise, with occupancy around the world reaching 46 percent in April 2021, up from just 13 percent in April 2020.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, global hospitality occupancy hovered around 70 percent.
The Rebuilding Hospitality report from Amadeus also found that booking lead time is lengthening, indicating growing consumer confidence. While most bookings during the pandemic were made within seven days of travel, only 11 percent of bookings on the same day as travel have dropped to only 11 percent.
“One year on from the start of the pandemic we are really pleased to see the early indications of traveler confidence and an uptick in some hotel bookings,” Amadeus Vice President Katie Moro said. “Now, more than ever, data is so critically important across an entire hotel's business as it informs not only revenue potential but also marketing strategies, staffing and occupancy profile.”
“We want to help hoteliers understand how all the different pieces of data connect together,” Moro continued. “Data is the foundation that helps you build a better plan and from there, your property is so much stronger from the ground up.”
Other findings from the report include 30 percent of hoteliers anticipate opening one or multiple sites in 2021, 63 percent think leisure travel will drive their recovery and 59 percent expect to hire new staff this year.
As for changes made during the COVID-19 outbreak that respondents would like to see stick around, 32 percent of hoteliers think they will always need significant social distancing, sanitization and visible hygiene measures.
Another 20 percent of respondents indicated they would keep interactions between staff members and guests to a minimum for the long term and 21 percent plan to reduce daily housekeeping.
By Eric Hanson
British Airways is to launch a trial with medical tech company Canary Global to assess if its Pelican Covid-19 Ultra Rapid Covid-19 test can play a role in opening up travel.
It is hoped the test can display a result within 25 seconds.
The airline will be inviting flight and cabin crew to take the Pelican Covid-19 test and will compare the performance of the result against existing tests that they are already taking.
Recently approved for use in Europe and UK, the test is currently going through United States FDA approval and the airline is the first in the world to trial the new technology.
Subject an evaluation, the airline hopes to be able to offer the test technology on applicable routes where tests have to meet the stated specificity and sensitivity standards.
The test is a non-invasive saliva ultra-rapid digital antigen test that delivers 98 per cent sensitivity and 100 per cent specificity in symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals with SARS-CoV-2.
Users simply take a sample of their saliva into a disposable sensor unit, shake and insert it into a re-usable digital reader which is connected to a blue-tooth enabled device like a smartphone, and then wait for the results that appear through a mobile app.
Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive, said: “As we start to see the opening up of travel, we remain committed to exploring easy and affordable testing solutions to help our customers travel again, whether it’s for business, to reunite with family and friends or take a much-needed break abroad.
“We think this new ultra-rapid test is a game changer so we are delighted to work with the team at Canary to begin initial trials with our flight and cabin crew, before exploring what role it could play as a customer testing option.”
By Jesse Haldrich
For the first quarter of 2021, revenue was $887 million, a figure higher than Q1 2020 revenue of $842 million as well as Q1 2019 revenue of $839 million.
Airbnb says the revenue increase was driven by strength in North America and higher average daily rates during the quarter. Comparatively, in the same period last year, revenue was significantly impacted by the cost of cancellations related to COVID-19.
"We sharpened our business on our core bus of hosting and got back to our roots," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in an earnings call with analysts. "We emerged as a stronger and more efficient company. Our business rebounded faster than anyone expected."
Nights and Experiences booked for the quarter totaled 64.4 million, up 13% year-over-year. In Q4 2020, nights and Experiences booked on Airbnb totaled 46.3 million.
Gross booking value - which represents the dollar value of bookings on the platform in a period and is inclusive of host earnings, service fees, cleaning fees and taxes, net of cancellations and alterations - grew 52% year-over-year to $10.3 billion.
North America has been Airbnb's strongest region during the pandemic, with nights booked increasing slightly above the level achieved in the same period of 2019. In EMEA, business was significantly impacted in Q4 2020 but saw steady improvement in Q1 2021.
Net loss for the quarter swelled to $1.2 billion. Airbnb attributes a loss of $782 million to “significant items,” including a $377 million loss related to the repayment of term loans, a $292 million non-cash mark-to-market adjustment for warrants and a $113 million expense related to a lease no longer deemed necessary.
Adjusted EBITDA for Q1 2021 materially improved due to a reduction in operating expenses and was a loss of $59 million compared to a loss of $334 million in Q1 2020.
Operating expenses in Q1 2021 included the impact of $229 million of stock-based compensation expense, which is excluded from adjusted EBITDA.
Excluding the impact of stock-based compensation expense and a reduction in reserve for certain lodging taxes recorded in Q1 2020, operating expenses declined on a year-over-year basis in all categories.
Sales and marketing expense for the quarter decreased by 28% year-over-year to $229 million, primarily due to a decrease in performance marketing expenses. Airbnb says its strategy is to increase brand marketing and “use the strength of our brand to attract more guests via direct or unpaid channels.”
Airbnb attributes its financial performance to a number of trends, including people's comfortability traveling as the vaccine rollout continues and restrictions ease.
People are also traveling differently: Nearly a quarter (24%) of nights booked prior to cancellations and alterations in Q1 were for long-term stays, defined as stays of 28 days or more, compared to 14% in 2019. Fifty percent of nights booked in the quarter were from stays of at least seven nights.
Airbnb says it is also seeing supply increase in popular regions, with active listings in non-urban areas increasing almost 30% in Q1 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
Overall, the number of active listings and Experiences was consistent with Q4 2020.
Looking ahead into 2021, Chesky said Airbnb is preparing for the "travel rebound of the century," and its plan is to perfect “our existing product by improving the entire end-to-end experience of our core service for both hosts and guests.”
Its focus is on the following areas: Educating consumers about Airbnb hosting, recruiting more hosts to the platform, simplifying the guest journey and delivering world-class service.
In February of this year, Airbnb launched its first large-scale marketing campaign in five years targeted to hosts. The campaign launched on TV and digital channels in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia and will be expanded to Italy and Spain in Q2.
The company says that, while still early, the campaign has been “well-received” and has driven an increase in visitors to Airbnb and an increase in the number of people making their first booking on Airbnb. Based on survey data, the campaign “is driving meaningful increases in guest favorability towards our brand.”
The campaign has also drawn an increase in traffic of prospective hosts in the markets where it launched. For new listings that were both activated and booked in Q1 2021, 50% received a reservation within four days of activation, and 75% received a reservation within 12 days.
Airbnb will be announcing new measures to make it easier for hosts to sign up, as well as new platform innovations, at an event on May 24.
By James Schlessinger
West Coast Bureau
Roller skaters and aviation geeks, this one's for you: The TWA Hotel at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport is opening a roller rink on the tarmac.
The hotel's outdoor Roll-A-Rama at the Runway Rink is now welcoming skaters on weekends through the summer season. Admission for a 50-minute skate session with a retro soundtrack is $20 for adults and $16 for children under 12.
Unfortunately, tickets can't be purchased in advance and capacity is limited.
But there are a few ways you can entertain yourself should you arrive at JFK and discover a line of skaters ahead of you. The TWA Hotel is also home to Connie, a 1958 Constellation airplane that's been converted into a gorgeous retro cocktail lounge, and a unique rooftop pool with excellent runway views.
In its previous life, the TWA Hotel was a vibrant airport terminal for Trans World Airlines, an iconic carrier that operated from 1930 through 2001. The terminal closed in 2001 and was reborn as the TWA Hotel in 2019. Its roller rink — made of 2,668 individual tiles — may be the only roller-skating venue at an airport.
The rink sits on the tarmac just outside Connie, creating an Instagram-worthy background.
The Roll-A-Rama at the Runway Rink is open on Fridays between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 8 p.m., weather permitting. The hotel said its policy is to clean and disinfect the rental skates after each use, though guests are welcome to bring their own wheels.
Whichever you choose, be sure to bring your credit card — it's the only form of payment that's accepted at the rink.
Socks are required with rental skates and optional helmets are available as well. Face masks also are mandatory for now.
By Stuart Danvers
West Coast Bureau
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that masks would still be required on buses, trains and airplanes despite previously announcing a relaxation of the facial covering protocols.
Earlier the same day, the CDC announced people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would no longer need to wear masks or physically distance indoors or outdoors.
According to The Washington Post, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency continues to update its policies, but did not explain why masks would be required on forms of public transportation, despite the changes announced hours earlier.
“Right now, for travel, we are asking for people to continue to wear their masks,” Walensky told The Washington Post.
U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration issued a mandate in January requiring facial coverings on public transportation, including in transit stations and airports. In April, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended enforcement of the order through September 13.
TSA spokeswoman Alexa Lopez said the agency “will continue to work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives.”
Last month, the CDC announced that Americans who have received an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine could travel safely within the U.S. and would no longer have to get tested before or after travel unless required by the destination.
By Eric Hanson
In an attempt to salvage an Alaska cruise season, the U.S. Senate passed legislation that would allow cruise ships to operate in Alaska without visiting foreign ports in Canada.
The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA) was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. A companion bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska, would need to be passed in the House before it would go to President Biden for his signature.
The Alaska cruise season has fallen victim to the no-sail order by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) but also Canada’s ban on large cruise ships until Feb. 28, 2022. The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (PVSA) requires that cruise ships sailing to Alaska visit a foreign port, which usually is Vancouver or Victoria in Canada. So even if the CDC does give the green light to cruising this year, Alaska cruises would still be hampered by Canada’s ban. A PVSA waiver would remove that foreign port requirement and allow ships to sail to Alaska in U.S. waters.
“The Alaska delegation has been working every angle to help find a path forward for struggling Alaskans who rely on the tourism industry. Senate passage of my legislation sends a strong signal that we will not stand idly by, withering on the vine, until another country catches up to our level of readiness,” Murkowski said.
“This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back.”
“Congressman Don Young, the dean of the House and a great advocate for Alaska, will be working with his colleagues to quickly get the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act through the House,” Sullivan said. “And, we’re continuing to work around the clock with CDC leaders to finally issue workable guidance that allows the cruise lines and coastal communities to safely welcome visitors again. Given the CDC’s much-awaited loosening of mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans, I am hopeful we will see progress on this front as well.”
The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) welcomed passage of the bill.
“ASTA welcomes Senate passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act and commends Senators Murkowski, Sullivan and others for their dogged efforts to salvage part of the 2021 Alaska cruise season. Since February, ASTA has advocated for this legislation and to otherwise mitigate the impact of the Canadian government’s decision to close its ports through 2022,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president-advocacy. “We call on the House of Representatives to pass the bill without delay, a message that will be conveyed along with other priorities at the more than 170 Congressional meetings taking place next week as part of ASTA Legislative Day 2021. Whether legislative, regulatory or diplomatic, we will continue to push for a solution to this impasse.
With the vaccination rollout well underway and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working with cruise lines to resume cruising from U.S. ports, there is promise for the 2021 cruise season. Government and industry must work together, find a solution and keep that promise.”
Cruise Planners CEO and founder Michelle Fee sees this as a positive step forward as well.
“This is a step in the right direction as Alaska needs the industry, infrastructure and income that cruising provides to the great people of Alaska who have relied on this thriving economic engine. Clearly, the U.S. Senate agrees since they unanimously passed the bill to allow foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail to Alaska without having to stop in Canada—now, let's hope the House steps up. Every step closer to cruising boosts consumer confidence and we are already seeing the demand spike from cruisers who are eager to set sail.”
By Bruce Rigsby
East Coast Bureau
Delta will require all future employees to be vaccinated prior to joining the airline, CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview aired Friday by CNN.
Bastian explained that the carrier won't require existing employees to be vaccinated, because such a policy would be unfair. But he said there could still be consequences for employees who don't get vaccinated.
"For example, you probably will not be able to fly an international flight if you are not vaccinated because it's going to be mandated by local authorities in order to get into the country," he said.
Bastian said that more than 60% of Delta's employees have had at least one vaccine shot. He expects 75% to 80% of employees to eventually be vaccinated.
Delta is running a vaccination center at the Delta Flight Museum at its Atlanta headquarters where it is administering up to 5,000 shots per day, Bastian said.
The map features a color-coded map and a drop-down menu of more detailed restrictions and state-specific rules.
Aiming to make deciding where to travel a bit easier, as COVID-19 continues to spark restrictions and rules for traveling around the United States, United Airlines created an interactive, color-coded map detailing everything travelers need to know ahead of planning a trip.
The map lists everything from whether or not entry into a state is allowed, potential quarantine measures, testing requirements, and even mask mandates for all 50 states and Washington D.C., the company shared with Travel + Leisure. Travelers can see if restaurants, tourist sites, or hotels are open and if there are any specific restrictions in place.
"We know it's a challenge to keep up with the ever-changing list of travel restrictions, policies and regulations so we are offering a simple, easy tool that helps customers decide where to travel next," Linda Jojo, the executive vice president for technology and chief digital officer, said in a statement.
"By providing the most up-to-date information on the destinations we serve, customers can compare and shop for travel with greater confidence and help them find the destinations that best fit their preferences."
The map's color-coded feature and drop-down menu offer more detailed restrictions and state-specific rules.
Several states have implemented quarantine or testing measures for out-of-state visitors. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, for example, require travelers from dozens of states to self-isolate for two weeks when entering the tri-state area. Similarly, Hawaii requires visitors to quarantine and has pushed back its plan to welcome tourists again until at least October.
United’s new feature comes as the airline eliminated most change fees on domestic flights and committed to allowing all customers to fly same-day standby for free on both domestic and international flights. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines then followed suit.
United isn’t alone in trying to inform passengers before hopping on a flight. Google Travel introduced a similar feature, linking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Health Notices.
By Steve Jennings
West Coast Bureau
Hertz Global Holdings selected and approved a $6 billion funding proposal from affiliates of Knighthead Capital Management, Certares Opportunities and Apollo Capital Management, the car rental company announced Wednesday.
The proposal from the collectively named KCHA Group will provide equity capital to fund Hertz's revised reorganization plan and Chapter 11 exit, which the car rental company hopes to complete by June 30, 2021. Hertz chose KHCA Group's proposal over a competing proposal provided by Centerbridge Partners, Warburg Pincus, and Dundon Capital Partners.
The proposed agreements with the KHCA Group, as well as any modifications to the plan and solicitation procedures, are subject to the approval of the bankruptcy court at a hearing scheduled for May 14, 2021.
Under the selected proposal, Hertz's Chapter 11 plan will be funded through direct common stock investments from the KHCA Group and certain co-investors aggregating $2.781 billion, the issuance of $1.5 billion of new preferred stock to Apollo and a fully backstopped rights offering to Hertz's existing shareholder to buy $1.635 billion of additional common stock.
The proposal would eliminate $5 billion of corporate debt, including the complete elimination of all corporate debt on Hertz's European business, and provide the company with over $2.2 billion of global liquidity. "Now, we look forward to implementing our Chapter 11 plan, which will substantially strengthen our financial structure by eliminating 79 percent of our corporate debt," said Stone in a statement.
A court hearing to confirm Hertz's plan of reorganization is scheduled for June 10.
Leisure Rebound Drives Hertz's Q1
Meanwhile, Hertz on May 7 released first-quarter performance figures, boosted by leisure demand.
"This quarter we realized the first effects of the leisure travel rebound and capitalized on strong demand-driven pricing in destination markets that exceeded 2019 levels," Stone said in a statement. "We're continuing to see improved demand and are optimistic about a sustained recovery."
Like Avis Budget, Hertz has continued to maintain fleet availability amid ongoing worries about rental car shortages. "We're actively replenishing our fleet, despite the constraints of the global semiconductor shortage and its impact on the automotive supply chain," Stone said. "Most importantly, I'm exceptionally proud of our employees who are working tirelessly to serve our customers as they're ready to be on the road again."
Hertz reported first-quarter revenue of $1.3 billion, compared with $1.9 billion in the same period last year. First-quarter net income amounted to $190 million, compared with a net loss of $356 million in the same period last year. Liquidity reached $1.1 billion.
Also in the first quarter, the car rental company closed on the sale of all assets of its Donlen vehicle leasing and fleet management business to Athene Holding Ltd for $891 million in cash proceeds.
By John Sandoval
West Coast Bureau
Delta Air Lines is flexing its muscles against the budding American Airlines-JetBlue alliance with plans to bolster service out of Boston and New York.
On Oct. 4, the carrier is launching twice-daily service from Boston to Dallas-Fort Worth and three daily flights from Boston to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, both American Airlines hubs. Delta will use Embraer 175 aircraft for the Charlotte service and 109-seat Airbus A220-100 aircraft for the Dallas-Fort Worth service.
In addition, Delta will upgrade its service from Boston to Cincinnati to the A220-100 aircraft on Oct. 4, and it plans to add the aircraft to other business routes in the fall, including Boston to Raleigh-Durham and New York's LaGuardia to Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
The carrier also is adding new service to Toronto out of the Northeast this fall, with three daily flights from Boston starting Oct. 4 and two daily flights from LaGuardia starting Aug. 5. Delta is using Embraer 175 aircraft on both routes and plans to bump up the LaGuardia route to six times a day later in the fall as demand returns and border restrictions ease.
Delta's Northeast build-up will take on the new American-JetBlue alliance, which announced its own service plans for Boston and New York last month. "As demand grows, our commitment to Boston and New York is stronger than ever, which is why we're continuing to invest in these communities to offer more nonstops and greater connectivity to top markets," Delta SVP of network planning Joe Esposito said in a statement.
By Cedric Johnson
West Coast Bureau
Major tourism-reliant Caribbean destinations are reporting steadily growing visitor arrivals as hotels reopen, flight service resumes and expands and countries plan for the resumption of cruise activity and new homeport agreements.
Government and tourism officials gathering for this week’s Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's virtual Marketplace event outlined the progress regional destinations have made to balance the resumption of the health and safety of residents and visitors with the need to resume crucial tourism activity.
Most officials reported positive results in terms of traveler protocols and safeguards, as well as the prospects for continuing visitor growth as vaccinations increase both among travelers as well as in Caribbean communities. Here is a review of the tourism picture on several regional islands:
Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, is projecting the country will welcome 1.4 million combined land-based and cruise ship visitors in 2021. While the number is a fraction of the record 4.3 million visitors in 2019, it exceeds the 1.3 million travelers hosted in 2020 during the height of the outbreak.
Jamaica has additionally launched a vaccination program for its 170,000 tourism and hospitality workers, said Bartlett. The initiative will “protect not only our citizens but also those who visit,” he said.
Bartlett expects more than half of all tourism workers to be fully vaccinated by this summer. “The global recovery rests on vaccinations to prevent transmission of the virus and to make everyone feel safe,” he said.
Bartlett said the pandemic has not stalled the country’s sweeping hospitality expansion plans and that Jamaica will add 4,300 new hotel rooms by 2023 and 7,000 new rooms by 2025.
“Across the world, consumers are ready to travel again,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. “Our insights indicate there is a huge interest in Caribbean travel and specifically in travel to The Bahamas.”
She also pointed out the first phase of the vaccination campaign has been in full swing over the last few months and that the territory recently adjusted its traveler protocols to ease restrictions for vaccinated travelers.
Crystal Cruises and Royal Caribbean International will launch Bahamas-based cruise itineraries this summer. “We welcome the return of cruising to our islands,” said Jibrilu, who noted cruising accounts for over 70 percent of Bahamas visitor arrivals.
The itineraries will be supported by a $250 million redevelopment of Nassau’s cruise port, scheduled for completion by the summer of 2022.
“We have gradually seen visitors coming back to our shores,” said May Ling Chung, St. Maarten’s director of tourism. “We are very fortunate to have most of our carriers return. We also have some new flights and new airlines.”
The routes include new American Airlines seasonal service from Dallas, adding to the carrier’s existing flights from Charlotte, Miami and Philadelphia, said Chung. Frontier Airlines is also adding new St. Maarten flights from Miami and Orlando. Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and United also offer flights to the destination.
Beginning June 5, St. Maarten will homeport ships from Celebrity Cruises, while luxury operator Crystal Cruises will also homeport a vessel in St. Maarten this summer, with voyages beginning in August. All passengers on the voyages will be vaccinated, Chung said.
Most of the hotels on the island’s Dutch and French sides have re-opened; the new Secrets Resort and Spa opened on April 1 in St. Martin.
“This tells you we have the confidence of not only the travelers, but our airlines partners, that travel is coming back,” said Chung. Sint Maarten’s “invisible” border between its French and Dutch sides is open to visitors.
Turks & Caicos Islands
“Demand for the Turks & Caicos is up and we are grateful for that,” said Elisha Jennings, senior public relations officer for the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board.
American Airlines will launch new nonstop flights from New York’s JFK International Airport in June, Jennings said. JetBlue recently added new Turks & Caicos flights from Newark.
On the cruise front, the Grand Turk Cruise Center is tentatively scheduled to reopen in August, she added. “Our [COVID-19] positivity rate among our guests is less than one percent, which means that a large majority of our guests are able to come to the Turks & Caicos Islands and enjoy themselves without significant fear of contracting the virus on island,” said Jennings.
In addition, “Our local positivity rate is just over three percent so compared to other destinations we are in a very good position,” she added. “Many of our resorts on island have set up COVID testing sites on-property.”
Jennings said 51 percent of Turks & Caicos residents have been vaccinated, and the government has set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of residents by July, after which the 11 p.m. curfew will be reviewed.
U.S. Virgin Islands
“We are moving to a new plateau in terms of vaccination. The community began the vaccination process from January,” said Alani Henneman-Todman, assistant commissioner at the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism.
“The territory was ahead of most places and we opened to the general public as well. It puts us in a very good position for the destination to be ahead of our partners in terms of vaccination and returning for safe travel.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands’ airlinks are some of the most extensive among Caribbean destinations, providing the territory with the capability to rebound quickly from pandemic closures, said Henneman-Todman.
St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport is served by nonstop flights from 13 U.S. cities including San Juan, Puerto Rico. Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on sister island St. Croix hosts nonstop flights from five U.S. cities. “St. Croix’ flights are even stronger than they’ve been prior to the pandemic,” said Henneman-Todman.
“With no cruise ships coming in, it’s the airlift that’s keeping us abreast in the pandemic,” she noted. No date has been set for a return of cruise ships to what prior to the pandemic was among the Caribbean’s most popular cruise destinations, Henneman-Todman said.
Territory officials are working with CDC, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to ensure “the destination has a plan so that we can open to cruise passengers [and] welcome them back safely” when cruise calls resume, she said.
Hotel occupancies are showing slight month-to-month increases, although key properties including Caneel Bay, Carambola Beach Resort, Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort and Sugar Bay Beach Resort remain shuttered. Otherwise, “we are open to business and open to travel,” said Henneman-Todman.