By Eric Hanson
For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has signaled that some cruising could restart from U.S. sometime this summer.
“CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the conditional sailing order,” the statement said. “This goal aligns with the desire to resume passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers; hopefully, by mid-summer with restricted revenue sailings.”
The statement also acknowledged that “COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations, especially as more variants emerge and spread around the world.”
The statement comes after Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) on April 5 directly asked the CDC to allow them to cruise from U.S. ports starting July 4.
Also, numerous cruise lines have already started or announced plans to resume sailing on itineraries entirely outside the U.S. – in Europe and Asia – but also in locales such as the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda that are easily accessible to U.S. travelers by air.
The CDC statement also arrived after cruise industry officials, led by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), called the agency’s latest guidelines to resume cruising “unduly burdensome (and) largely unworkable.”
Large passenger cruise ships have been shut down in the U.S. for more than a year. The CDC’s Conditional Sail Order (CSO) issued Oct. 30, 2020, was supposed to serve as a framework for a return to cruising, but it remained in place for more than five months while cruise lines developed extensive health and safety protocols created in consultation with high-profile and acknowledged medical experts.
When, on April 2, the CDC released the latest Phase 2 guidelines, cruise executives saw more technical instructions and no clear timeline for a return to cruising.
Just days later, NCLH released its letter to the CDC and CLIA issued its critical statement. And on April 6, Carnival Cruise Line canceled more cruises and said it might also be forced to operate off-shore after previously saying it planned to stick to its U.S. homeports.
With millions of Americans getting the COVID-19 vaccine daily, cruise executives emphasize that it appears more likely that cruising could resume safely with vaccine mandates, testing and preventive measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
By Michael Higgins
East Coast Bureau
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that Americans who have received an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine can travel safely within the United States.
As part of the updated travel policy, CDC officials said fully vaccinated tourists will no longer be required to get tested before or after travel unless they are required by the destination.
Vaccinated travelers have been deemed less likely to spread the disease by the latest scientific data, which caused the agency to determine they would also no longer be required to self-quarantine.
The CDC continues to recommend that Americans who have received a full coronavirus vaccine treatment follow the existing health and safety protocols in place, including wearing facial coverings, social distancing and washing hands more often.
“With millions of Americans getting vaccinated every day, it is important to update the public on the latest science about what fully vaccinated people can do safely, now including guidance on safe travel,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “We continue to encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as it’s their turn, so we can begin to safely take steps back to our everyday lives.”
“Vaccines can help us return to the things we love about life, so we encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity,” Walensky continued.
For travelers who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine or have not completed the two-shot process, the CDC recommends delaying travel due to the potential spread of the virus.
As for international travel, fully vaccinated people will not be required to get a COVID-19 test before travel unless it is required by the destination. The agency also said vaccinated travelers don’t need to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S., unless required by state or local governments.
Travelers arriving in the U.S. will still be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before they board their flight and another three to five days after returning.
By Walter Sanchez
West Coast Bureau
The United States’ rolling seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases is escalating once again, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to recent increases in travel as one of the culprits.
In recent weeks, there has been an obvious rise in the volume of travelers taking to the skies and heading to vacation destinations during the Spring Break period. Travel + Leisure reported that, since March 11, the TSA has screened more than a million passengers per day at U.S. airports, representing a pandemic-era record of 19 days in a row. That’s more Americans heading off on Spring Break holidays than traveled for Christmas or New Year’s.
Whether it boils down to folks having hit their limit after a year of staying at home or the introduction of vaccines having sparked a false sense of safety, it’s clear that many Americans are now throwing caution to the wind as they head off on vacations.
The trend has strengthened despite the CDC’s consistent and repeated pleas that the public refrain from all non-essential travel a while longer, as accelerated vaccine rollouts attempt to overtake the virus that’s still sweeping the nation.
“We're in the life and death race with a virus that is spreading quickly, with cases rising again,” President Joe Biden said yesterday at the White House. The steady rise in infection is widespread from coast to coast, with spikes occurring in 30 states in the past week, according to Forbes reports and Johns Hopkins University data.
The most recent seven-day national average is close to 60,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky disclosed at yesterday’s White House press briefing. That’s ten percent higher than the previous week, with hospitalizations and deaths increasing commensurately.
By Paul Marcotte
West Coast Bureau
The global travel and tourism sector suffered a massive loss of nearly $4.5 trillion amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council's (WTTC) annual Economic Impact Report.
The industry's contribution to GDP plunged 49.1 percent, dropping to $4.7 trillion in 2020 from nearly $9.2 trillion in 2019. What's more, the report shows that international travel spending fell 69.4 percent in 2020 while domestic travel spending declined 45 percent.
"We must praise the prompt action of governments around the world for saving so many jobs and livelihoods at risk, thanks to various retention schemes, without which today’s figures would be far worse. However, WTTC’s annual Economic Impact Report shows the full extent of the pain our sector has had to endure over the past 12 months, which has needlessly devastated so many lives and businesses, large and small," Gloria Guevara, WTTC President and CEO, said in a statement. "Clearly no one wants to go through what so many have had to suffer during the past difficult 12 months. WTTC research shows the global Travel & Tourism sector alone has been devastated, burdened by an unprecedented loss of almost $4.5 trillion."
"With the sector’s contribution to GDP plunging by almost half, it’s more important than ever that Travel & Tourism is given the support needed so it can help power the economic recovery, which will be instrumental in enabling the world to revive from the effects of the pandemic," she added.
There does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the WTTC predicts that the 62 million travel and tourism jobs lost in 2020 could return by 2022 if the global vaccine rollout continues at pace and restrictions are relaxed ahead of this year's busy summer travel season. Research reveals that travel and tourism's contribution to global GDP in 2021 could rise 48.5 percent year-on-year.
WTTC continues to urge governments around the world to follow its four principles to recovery, including establishing a comprehensive coordinated international testing system to eliminate quarantines for non-vaccinated travelers, implementing enhanced health and hygiene protocols and mandatory mask-wearing, shifting to individual traveler risk assessments rather than country risk assessments and providing continued support for the sector in the form of fiscal, liquidity and worker protection.
By Eric Hanson
United States President Joe Biden and his administration are working with private industries to develop a COVID-19 vaccination credential system.
According to The Washington Post, the travel industry has been calling on the federal government to develop credentials—dubbed vaccine passports, health certificates or travel passes—that would streamline the process across the country, instead of allowing for regional variations.
The Department of Health and Human Services has taken the lead on the process, with the White House assuming a “bigger role coordinating government agencies involved in the work” earlier this month.
Officials believe streamlining the process of proving COVID-19 vaccination or negative coronavirus tests would help travel return to full form and provide a clear path to social gatherings in a post-pandemic world.
While there is support for the consolidated credential system effort, there are legitimate concerns that an “ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence,” according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
There are several private efforts to build the COVID-19 vaccine passports, including the Travel Pass from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and IBM’s Digital Health Pass.
The aviation industry has come out in support of a vaccination credential system to help reopen air travel, which was arguably one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic.
Vaccine passports will likely be most common on international flights.
By Mary Johnson
American Airlines announced expanded partnerships with airport authorities in Italy and coronavirus testing partner GoHealth Urgent Care to provide travelers with confidence when they’re ready to fly again.
The carrier first revealed passengers on flights to Milan and Rome from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City would be able to skip Italy’s mandatory quarantine period with proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Once travelers arrive in Milan or Rome and take a second test at the airport producing a negative result, they will be able to maximize their time in Italy.
American resumes daily service to Milan on April 4 and three-times-weekly service to Rome on May 8, with both flights operating on a Boeing 777-200.
“We’re proud to offer our customers additional options to ease travel as they begin planning their global trips once again,” American’s Chief Customer Officer Alison Taylor said. “We’ve worked closely with local authorities and testing providers to ensure we continue to provide world-class safety, confidence and comfort, and we look forward to welcoming our customers onboard soon.”
American also announced customers would have access to in-person testing at more than 150 local urgent care facilities or hospitals through GoHealth Urgent Care, starting on March 28.
As part of the collaboration GoHealth Urgent Care, travelers will have the option to receive rapid PCR or Rapid Molecular COVID-19 testing to ensure they’re meeting all travel restrictions in place at international and domestic destinations.
By Michael Barta
West Coast Bureau
Spending on U.S. business travel in 2020 totaled $103.2 billion, down 70 percent year over year, according to a new Tourism Economics analysis released Wednesday by the U.S. Travel Association. The devastation wreaked on the travel industry by the Covid-19 pandemic shows the continuing need for U.S. federal government aid to suppliers, according to the association.
Total U.S. travel spending in 2020, including inbound international travel, dipped 42 percent year over year to $680.3 billion, according to U.S. Travel, and 3 million jobs directly supported by the travel industry were lost last year, a 34 percent decline.
While the U.S. has ramped up Covid-19 vaccinations and several U.S. carriers have reported an uptick in leisure sales in March, "it is still unclear when travel demand will be able to fully rebound on its own," said U.S. Travel president and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. "With the travel industry suffering such a disproportionate share of losses, policymakers need to understand that a nationwide economic recovery effectively hinges on a travel recovery."
To that end, U.S. Travel said hundreds of travel industry representatives held virtual meetings with members of Congress as part of the group's "Destination Capitol Hill" event to lobby for more aid and additional legislation to help stabilize the industry and spark recovery.
Specifically, U.S. Travel is pushing for an extension of the deadline for applications for the Paycheck Protection Program from March 31 to May 31, with an additional 30 days after that for the U.S. Small Business Administration to process those applications. "The PPP is set to expire in just two weeks, yet the economic effects of the pandemic will continue to harm the industry far beyond that point," said U.S. Travel executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes in a statement.
The group also is calling for passage of the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act, introduced in Congress Feb. 25, which among other offerings would provide a tax credit for the cost of hosting a business meeting.
By Alice Richards
East Coast Bureau
United Airlines on Tuesday announced an ambitious new plan to recruit more pilots for what could be a worldwide pilot shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
United, the only major U.S. airline to own its own flight school, began accepting applications to the United Aviate Academy as it embarks on a plan to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030, at least half of them women and people of color.
Backed by scholarship commitments from United Airlines and JPMorgan Chase, United Aviate Academy will create opportunities for thousands of students, including women and people of color, to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot, one of the most lucrative careers in the industry.
In addition, for those United Aviate Academy students who may need additional financing, United has partnered with Sallie Mae to offer private student loans to ensure that no highly-qualified, highly-motivated, eligible applicants will be turned away solely because they can't afford to enroll.
"Over the next decade, United will train 5,000 pilots who will be guaranteed a job with United, after they complete the requirements of the Aviate program – and our plan is for half of them to be women and people of color," United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. "We're excited that JPMorgan Chase has agreed to support our work to diversify our pilot ranks and create new opportunities for thousands of women and people of color who want to pursue a career in aviation."
Both United and JPMorgan Chase have committed $1.2 million each to support women and people of color who are accepted to United Aviate Academy.
"We are proud to partner with United to support the Aviate Academy's mission to enable thousands to pursue their dream as a commercial airline pilot," said Ed Olebe, President of Chase Co-Brand Cards. "Investing in this program directly aligns with our efforts to advance racial equity by expanding career development opportunities and making tangible progress in a field where women and people of color are underrepresented."
By Steve Danvers
West Coast Bureau
A woman was arrested and charged with 47 felonies for allegedly scamming would-be travelers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars for trips that never materialized.
The woman, Wendy Wong, was based in Hawaii and dealt mostly with clients from California traveling to the islands.
Wong was described by Hawaii News Now as a former travel agent who currently does not have a travel agent’s license to conduct business.
Wong worked as a virtual travel agent for her company, the House of Aloha Hawaii. She is accused of booking fake flights and itineraries for clients and refusing to pay them back – monies that add up to several hundred thousand dollars.
In fact, one client alone paid her more than $100,000 to book flights, hotel rooms and tickets to events in Hawaii for the man and 80 of his friends and family.
The client said the flight, rooms and events were all canceled at the last minute.
Wong pleaded not guilty in Santa Clara, Calif. this week.
This is another example of why it's important to work with a trusted travel advisor.
By Eric Hanson
Florida Gov. DeSantis’ lawsuit to force the federal government to allow cruising in the U.S. gained much attention and enthusiastic reactions from his supporters and some loyal cruisers.
What did the cruise industry itself have to say about it?
Royal Caribbean Group’s response: “We are aware that there are many efforts underway at the state, federal and grassroots levels that can support us as we return to healthy and safe sailing from the United States. Vaccinations layered on top of the rigorous health and safety measures we are implementing enable us to create a safe environment for cruising. We strongly believe that the cruise industry can be part of President Biden’s stated goal for society to reopen by July 4.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings statement: “As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on third-party litigation. As we’ve outlined in our proposed plan to safely resume cruising, we look forward to partnering with the CDC to engage in meaningful discussions. We believe the time has come for cruising to resume from U.S. ports. Our proposed plan, including 100 percent vaccinations of guests and crew, universal testing and multi-layered health and safety protocols, is consistent with the CDC’s updated travel guidance.”
From Carnival Corp.: “We are aware of the lawsuit and share the sense of urgency of getting Americans back to work. Our focus is trying to work with the CDC on a plan to resume cruise operations this summer.”
Sounds like proof of COVID-19 vaccinations is a major part of the return of cruising in the U.S. – and elsewhere – as is working jointly with the CDC. Most cruise lines now starting offshore sailings are requiring proof of full vaccination from 100 percent of passengers and crew members.
However, DeSantis is opposed to vaccine passports and even issued an executive order opposing them. His ban on vaccine proof would apply to cruise ships, according to a story by NBC6 Miami.
Don’t forget that anyone can threaten a lawsuit or even proceed with filing one, as DeSantis officially did on April 8. But that doesn’t mean it has any merit.
“It’s a political stunt, and it’s not viable. DeSantis doesn’t care that it’s going to be laughed out of court. By the time it gets dismissed his base will have moved on,” Bob Jarvis, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University told the Miami Herald.
“I think it’s got negligible viability approaching zero,” Larry Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization’s center on global health law, told the Miami Herald. “Under no circumstance could I see a judge striking down a regulation that applies to cruise ships and the safety of its passengers because its passengers are going to be introducing infectious diseases back into the U.S. if they get infected on the ship. The U.S. has a very strong interest and power to stop that.”
Still, it's not hard to see what’s motivating DeSantis. He wants to be seen as doing whatever he can to help the cruise industry, which has been shut down for over a year, and all the workers who depend on it for their livelihood.
“To be clear, no federal law authorizes the CDC to indefinitely impose a nationwide shutdown of an entire industry,” DeSantis said in a press release. “This lawsuit is necessary to protect Floridians from the federal government’s overreach and resulting economic harm to our state.”
During the first six months of the shutdown, losses in Florida due to the cruise shutdown totaled $3.2 billion in economic activity, including 49,500 jobs paying $2.3 billion in wages, according to a September 2020 report from the Federal Maritime Commission cited by DeSantis. To date, over 6,000 former cruise industry employees have filed for state unemployment, and Florida’s seaports have suffered a decline in operating revenue of almost $300 million – a figure projected to increase to nearly $400 million in July 2021, according to statistics cited by the governor.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said it is “grateful” for the DeSantis’ support and his efforts to restart cruising. “Tens of thousands of Floridians rely on cruising for their livelihoods, including longshoremen, taxi drivers, travel agents and tour operators, ports, and numerous suppliers and vendors that make the cruise industry work. Ultimately, CLIA and the entire cruise community — from longshoremen to ports to suppliers and vendors, to mayors of cruise ports, to travel agents and many other small businesses and independent business owners — remain focused on dialogue with the CDC and the administration to pursue a workable path to cruising by the beginning of July.”
By Eric Hanson
Disney Cruise Line has extended its pause of U.S. voyages through the end of June.
"We are carefully reviewing the recently released guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and working toward resuming operations," the cruise line announced on its website this week. "As we continue to refine our protocols for our eventual return to service, we are canceling all Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy and Disney Wonder sailings departing through June 2021."
Disney's European sailings aboard the "Disney Magic" are also canceled through Sept. 18. The ship will however embark on limited sailings around the UK this summer on short voyages strictly for vaccinated UK residents.
Due to sailing restrictions in Canada, Disney is also re-evaluating its options for summer cruises to Alaska this year. Canada will not allow any ships with more than 100 passengers to dock in Canadian ports until at least Feb. 28, 2022. The cruise line will reach out to guests already booked on Alaska sailings once a decision regarding the voyages is made.
Guests whose reservations are impacted will receive an email with information on how to proceed, either choosing a full refund or a Future Cruise Credit worth 125% of the original voyage fare. Those who booked through a travel agent should contact their agent for more information.
For more information about impacted sailings, travelers should visit the Disney Cruise Line website.
According to Disney blog Inside the Magic, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a shareholders meeting that he hoped service would be able to resume by the fall.
However, the company announced sailings for 2022 for those who are looking to secure a future Disney cruise.
By James Schlessinger
West Coast Bureau
Vaccination in the US has been aggressive considering the high numbers of transmission and deaths that the country was and still is going through. Now it looks like America’s travellers are booking flights for post-pandemic vacations which is a strong sign that U.S. airlines are ready for take-off, according to aviation consultant Mike Boyd.
“When you look at what they’re doing, I’m very confident that they’re going to get through this now. They’re going to have to grow back, but they’re going to get through this,” he told Yahoo Finance Live while cautioning that passengers may still be wary of travelling to locked-down locations.
“They’ve been afraid to get to New York City and find out it’s under quarantine, or LA is shut down, or things like that. When we get more confidence in the destination, we’re going to see more people flying. But right now, no one wants to fly to a place where they can’t buy a hamburger,” said Boyd, the president of Boyd Group International, which provides analysis for airports and aviation businesses.
The data backs up Boyd’s contention that the airline industry is recovering.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, more than 1 million people passed each day through the nation’s airports between March 11 and March 28. By March 28, that number was over 1.5 million. During that same period in 2020, the number fell from 1.7 million to 184,000, as the coronavirus shuttered much of the nation’s economy.
Of course, that’s lower than numbers in 2019, when the daily number of passengers fluctuated between 2.1 million and 2.6 million. Analysts are still encouraged by the numbers, though.
“U.S. airline trends appear encouraging as the bookings recovery (early March through present) is the strongest it has been so far in the pandemic at 70-80% of 2019 levels,” Raymond James Analyst Savanthi Syth told clients in her most recent note.
While U.S. domestic fares remain up to 20% lower than comparable fares in 2019, Syth pointed out that the average round-trip U.S. domestic fares for May to August have increased.
Airlines will start reporting their first-quarter earnings next month with Delta Air Lines kicking off the reports on April 15. At the JPMorgan Industrials Conference on March 15, Delta CEO Ed Bastian struck an optimistic tone.
“The real story for the quarter, you know, kicked in about five or six weeks ago when we started to see bookings pick up, and that coincided clearly with confidence in the marketplace, people starting to book their spring and summer plans,” the Delta CEO said.
Amid this confidence, airlines have begun expanding their flight schedules. United announced flights, starting in April, between New York and California as the airline launches new routes from JFK International Airport.
For its part, American Airlines has expanded its flights to South America and said last week it’s already paid off a $550 million loan it received last year from the U.S. government to get through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. The airline received the loan as part of the coronavirus aid package known as the CARES Act.
“This prepayment is a shining example of the importance of the CARES Act,” American CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. “Our industry was in danger of shutting down one year ago when the CARES Act was passed. This important legislation, including the $25 billion secured lending program for airlines, demonstrated that our leaders understood the challenges facing our economy, and their quick action stabilized our industry and kept our workforce intact.”
Southwest, managing an upturn in demand, made news Monday when it announced plans to buy 100 Boeing 737 Max jetliners with options to purchase an additional 155 737 Max aircraft over the next 10 years. The first 30 planes will be delivered in 2022 as part of a $10 billion investment to update Southwest’s fleet.
For his part, Boyd says the U.S. airline industry “is recovering very well because of its domestic traffic upturn. He points out that 31% of U.S. airport traffic is driven by international travel, which is coming back much slower than domestic.
“We’ve got an incredibly smart management, the rest of the world is going to be the thing we’re not going to be too sure about until we get some control over the COVID overseas,” Boyd said. While he predicts overall airline traffic will be down this year, he says airlines will make money by the end of 2022.
By Stuart Danvers
West Coast Bureau
The COVID-19 pandemic hampered international travel for much of 2020 but as vaccines are distributed and more countries reopen their borders to foreign tourists there's hope that Americans will regain a sense of normalcy in 2021 in terms of where and how they can travel abroad. Safety will be the top priority for many and while conditions can change in a hurry in the time of COVID-19, there are a handful of potential destinations that stand out when it comes to offering travelers both protection and peace of mind.
Although Canada is still off-limits to Americans, it was rated as the safest destination among respondents to a recent survey conducted by travel insurance company Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. In addition to handling the coronavirus pandemic better than most, Canada ranked as the world's safest place across all three age groups, with millennials, middle-aged and mature travelers all in agreement.
New Zealand is another country that has responded well to the COVID-19 crisis that remains closed to Americans heading into the new year. The Down Under destination ranks second on the 2020 Global Peace Index, even edging out Canada by four spots. New Zealand is also listed at a Level 1 travel advisory (exercise normal precautions) by the U.S. State Department.
Like its Oceania neighbor, Australia routinely performs strongly on the Global Peace Index and has also fared relatively well in terms of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020. Unfortunately, like New Zealand, Australia will begin 2021 with its borders closed to eager U.S. leisure travelers.
Ranking number one on the 2020 Global Peace Index, Iceland remains closed to Americans entering 2021 as it's restrictions continue to mirror those of the European Union. The U.S. will need to see a dramatic improvement in terms of COVID-19 cases in early 2021 in order for Iceland and the rest of Europe to open up to Americans sooner rather than later.
Switzerland is a top 10 country in terms of peace but has struggled in its recent handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Like most places, Switzerland is a perennially safe destination that Americans will have to continue dreaming about for now when it comes to non-essential travel.
Scandinavia, including Denmark, Norway, Sweden and, yes, Finland, ranks among the best in the world when it comes to both peace and happiness. According to the World Happiness Report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations, Finland is the world's happiest country, followed by Denmark, with Norway and Sweden ranking fifth and seventh, respectively. All four nations also rank inside the top 17 on the 2020 Global Peace Index.
Italy was ravaged in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic but has recovered quite well and remains one of the world's most peaceful countries, according to the 2020 Global Peace Index. When Europe eventually reopens to U.S. leisure travelers, you can bet Americans will flock to this coveted cultural hub.
Ranking inside of the top 20 globally for both peace and happiness, Ireland is currently open to American travelers seeking a safe destination abroad. However, visitors are required to complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form and quarantine for at least two weeks.
While the pandemic has forced the U.S. State Department to raise its travel advisory levels for many destinations that would otherwise be considered safe to visit, Singapore is one of only five places listed at a Level 1 (exercise normal precautions) on the State Department's four-level scale heading into January. The sovereign island city-state also placed seventh on the 2020 Global Peace Index.
Even amid a global pandemic, Thailand enters 2021 as one of the safest destinations on the planet. The Asian hotspot recently received a Level 1 travel advisory (exercise normal precautions) from the U.S. State Department and a Level 1 Travel Health Notice (Low Level of COVID-19) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Like Thailand, Taiwan is one of the few places to begin the new year at a low-risk Level 1 based on assessments by both the U.S. State Department and CDC. While Taiwan has room for improvement in terms of the Global Peace Index (37th), it still fares far better than the United States, which ranks 121st by comparison.
Portugal was one of the emerging international destinations for Americans prior to the coronavirus pandemic and while the COVID-19 crisis has forced many to put their travel plans on hold, the European country, which ranks third on the 2020 Global Peace Index, remains among the safest places in the world for travelers.
The Caribbean was already close but in the COVID-era it's also become one of the most accessible destinations for American travelers in the time of coronavirus. The Cayman Islands, which is currently only opened to approved travelers (repatriation, Global Citizens, work permit holders, etc.), has wasted little time showing that its pandemic protocols are to be taken seriously, which should provide visitors some additional comfort in the new year.
The beautiful Turks and Caicos islands reopened to travelers this past summer and have attracted a handful of celebrities since then, including Ludacris and Kylie Jenner. The Caribbean hotspot enters 2021 receiving a Level 2 Travel Health Notice from the CDC, meaning visitors face only a moderate risk due to the pandemic.
One of the first countries to reopen to Americans this past summer, Saint Lucia has also attracted celebrities amid the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to pre-arrival registration and health screenings, visitors from non "travel bubble" countries such as the U.S. are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test within seven days of travel.
Aruba was already among the world's safest vacation spots for travelers but has cemented itself on that list in 2021 by embracing a multi-layered approach to tourism that includes visitors having to produce negative tests and purchase insurance to cover them in the event that they fall severely ill upon contracting COVID-19.
One of the world's happiest countries, Costa Rica also offers visitors plenty to see and do outdoors, which has never been more important amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It's safe to say that the unique Central American country offering travelers a taste of both the Caribbean and Pacific will continue to be a hit with nature lovers and adrenaline junkies in 2021.
Japan ranked 10th on the Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection Safest Countries scale for the second straight year and has landed between seventh and 14th on BHTP's list for each of the last three years. Japan also ranks ninth on the 2020 Global Peace Index.
By Eric Hanson
“In terms of whether we would consider sailing or homeporting out of the Caribbean, Carnival is really America’s original cruise line,” he said. “Part of that is the drive-to market capability is access for people. We have 14 homeports in the U.S. and nobody else has anything that.”
He said he’d also prefer to see American ports working again, providing jobs for thousands.
“But if we’re unable to sail then obviously we will consider homeporting elsewhere,” Donald said.
During the quarterly call with financial analysts, Donald was asked if he set a drop-dead deadline at which time Carnival Cruise Line would use overseas homeports if the CDC didn’t allow Carnival to operate in the U.S.
“We don’t have an arbitrary date. I would say it’s sooner rather than later that we might have to announce some additional homeporting outside the U.S.,” Donald said. “We’re kind of holding back on that, but I think it will be sooner rather than later. We are very much focused on working with the CDC and the administration to come up with a solution that works for American workers and the American public. And I think we can. If we all continue to work together, we’ll figure it out.”
One positive sign came April 6 when the CDC first signaled some cruising could return with restrictions by mid-summer.
Donald also was asked when the entire fleets might be back in the water.
“In terms of the overall fleet, we are going to come back staggered, no matter what, and we will be bringing in a few ships of a brand at a time,” he said.
“Hopefully, if we were to good to go and destinations were all up and running, and we have all the various itineraries, ideally we’d like to be able to have the fleet fully going by the end of this year and early next year. That’s our aspiration.”
Earlier in the call, Carnival cited huge growth in cruise bookings. The company said bookings for future cruises rose 90 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the final quarter 2020.
Cumulative advanced bookings for the full-year 2022 “are ahead of a very strong 2019, despite minimal advertising or marketing.”
Donald noted that the six of the corporation’s brands have already resumed operations or announced plans to restart this summer with nine ships.
– AIDA resumed guest cruise operations in March in the Canary Islands.
– Costa expects to resume cruising in May to Italian ports.
– P&O Cruises (UK), Cunard and Princess Cruises will each offer a series of UK cruises this summer.
– Seabourn expects to resume guest cruise operations July 3 sailing from Greece.
– Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are offering land-based vacation options in Alaska through a combination of tours, lodging and sightseeing.
“Throughout the pause we have been positioning Carnival Corporation to return to serving guests an operationally stronger company than we were before,” Donald said. “With an exciting roster of six new, more efficient ships by December and with lower capacity from the exit of 19 less efficient ships, we expect to capitalize on pent-up demand and achieve significant cost improvement from the greater efficiency of our fleet, along with ongoing streamlining of shoreside operations.”
The company reported a U.S. GAAP net loss of $2 billion and an adjusted net loss of $2billion for the first quarter of 2021. However, bookings are soaring as more and more people are getting vaccinated and starting to feel safe to travel.
Total customer deposits as of Feb. 28, 2021, and Nov. 30, 2020, were $2.2 billion, the majority of which are future cruise credits. During the quarter, customer deposits on new bookings essentially offset the impact of refunds provided.
Carnival CFO David Bernstein said the company ended the first quarter with $11.5 billion in cash and short-term investments on the balance sheet.
“At this time, we believe we have enough liquidity to get us back to full operations, and we will be pursuing refinancing opportunities to reduce interest expense and extend maturities,” he said. “We have successfully identified and implemented actions to optimize our monthly cash burn rate and we will continue to do so.”
As the company continues to resume guest cruise operations, it expects to spend more to bring ships out of pause status, return crew members to its ships, and implement enhanced health and safety protocols.
By Bruce Rigsby
West Coast Bureau
Despite the British government’s hesitancy to reopen transatlantic routes from the U.K. to the U.S., British Airways and Virgin Atlantic plan to restart flights on May 17.
U.K.’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson had cautioned Britons not to book holiday travel just yet, but the airlines are ready to get back to flying without restrictions.
According to Reuters, these two airlines, which are main competitors for transatlantic flights, are more than confident that with vaccine rollout ramping up in both the U.K. and the U.S. flights will be able to restart safely, and soon.
According to the BBC, over 31 million British residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, making the U.K.’s vaccination program one of the best in the world. The U.S. has also ramped up vaccinations, and a new announcement by President Joe Biden brought the date for when all citizens will be eligible up from May 1 to April 19.
The U.K. has confirmed its use of a traffic light system earlier this week to designate which countries can be traveled to with no restrictions, some restrictions and which cannot be traveled to at all for anything other than non-essential travel. Those on the “green” list can be traveled to without mandatory quarantines, only pre-departure and arrival COVID-19 tests.
Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO, said, “Within the UK government’s traffic light framework, we have the opportunity to put the UK and US on a ‘green’ basis and get the economy moving again as of May 17.”
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 Steven Jennings
East Coast Bureau
The number of US air passengers screened topped 1.5 million this week for the first time since March 2020, as air travel continues to rebound from a pandemic-related drop, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said.
COVID-19 devastated air travel demand, with US airline passengers down 60% in 2020. But with a growing number of Americans getting vaccinated, demand and advanced bookings have started to rise in recent weeks. Still, US air travel demand was down about 30% versus pre-COVID 19 levels. International and business travel demand both still remain weak.
For the last week, trade group Airlines for America said passenger demand was down 47% over pre-pandemic levels, while international travel demand was down 68%. The United States bars most non-U.S. citizens from travel who have been in Brazil, South Africa, China and most of Europe and many countries still restrict entry by Americans.
Last week, US airline executives cited concrete signs of a domestic leisure travel recovery in expressing optimism for demand this summer and said losses were declining.
United Airlines expects to halt its cash burn in March, CEO Scott Kirby said last week, the first major carrier to say it could hit the industry’s milestone. In January, United said an average daily core cash burn of USD 19 million in the fourth quarter would likely continue in the beginning of 2021.
By John Sandoval
West Coast Bureau
Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe passengers who have not been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus should be barred from travelling on an aeroplane according to a new Reuters poll. Overall, 62 per cent of those polled said people should be vaccinated before being allowed to travel, with that number rising to 80 per cent amongst Democrat voters.
Reuters polled 1,005 people on Monday and Tuesday to gauge the American people’s current attitude to Coronavirus vaccines. 54 per cent of respondents now said they were “very interested” in getting vaccinated – up from 41 per cent who expressed the same desire to get vaccinated in January.
The idea of barring unvaccinated people from flying on aeroplanes has been widely discussed at an international level because some governments are likely to ease tough border restrictions only first to visitors who can prove they are fully vaccinated against the novel Coronavirus.
While U.S.-based airlines have been broadly supportive of such requirements for international travel, they are likely to outright reject a similar proof of vaccination for domestic air travel.
Last month, airlines lobbied the Biden administration to drop plans for a domestic pre-departure testing mandate arguing it would decimate demand and simply push people onto less safe modes of transport. A similar argument would be in play if vaccination became a pre-requisite to fly.
Digital vaccination passports are currently being developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and several app developers but there is currently no internationally agreed standard. The European Union has said it will develop a vaccination passport scheme, but this is unlikely to be ready before the summer.
The Biden administration has, however, avoided calls to lead the world in developing a global standard for vaccination certification.
The Reuters poll also found that 55 per cent of Americans believe that the unvaccinated should be banned from entering public gyms or movie theatres. So far, only 18 per cent of American’s have received at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine but President Biden hopes to make every American adult eligible for vaccination from May 1.
During a live televised address to the nation on Thursday evening, Biden said he was setting July 4 as Virus Independence Day.
The airline industry has touted its “multi-layered” protection measures, such as face mask mandates, deep cleaning, and hospital-grade air filters as reasons why air travel should be classed as a low-risk activity. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has, however, refused to change guidance dissuading people from travelling, saying fully vaccinated people should still avoid all but essential travel.
By Cedric Johnson
West Coast Bureau
With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines now well underway, there’s a burgeoning collective hope among Americans that the pandemic may soon come to an end.
With three approved vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S.—from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—and improved distribution and availability of the inoculations, there seems to be a long-awaited sense of safety on the horizon. Over the past week, an average of 2.47 million doses per day was administered in the U.S. Per Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, 113 million doses had been given at the time of publication.
But, it’s not all good news, nor is now the time to let our guard down.
Although infection rates may finally be dropping nationwide, the pandemic is nonetheless still rampant across the country. To date, the U.S. has seen more than 29.5 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 540,000 related deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
According to BGR, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during this week’s White House COVID-19 Response Team Briefing, “We are just starting to turn the corner. The data are moving in the right direction, but where this goes is dependent on whether we all do what must be done to protect ourselves and others.”
Public health experts are concerned about the spread of more-contagious and possibly more-dangerous coronavirus variants and continue to urge Americans to follow established COVID-19 protocols and take CDC-recommended precautions.
Walensky revealed that variant B.1.1.7 (first detected in the U.K.) is already present in all 50 states. What’s more, it’s quickly becoming the dominant strain of the virus in at least two states: California and Florida. Worse yet, the CDC predicts that, by the end of March or early April, it will have become the dominant strain all across the U.S.
Fortunately, current vaccines are still effective against the B.1.1.7 strain. So, why the concern over variants?
B.1.1.7 is not only faster and more easily spread than older strains, but there’s also mounting evidence to suggest that it’s more deadly. And, at this point, not enough of the U.S. population is yet vaccinated to prevent a highly-transmissible strain from causing another surge—which we’d all prefer to avoid.
“Please follow our recommended public health prevention precautions, and be ready to get your vaccine when it is available to you,” Dr. Walensky advised during Monday’s briefing.
Bear in mind also that B.1.1.7 is not the only potentially more-dangerous strain of the virus out there. And that, the longer the pandemic persists, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate into something more troublesome than what we’re already dealing with.
Since January, travel to South Africa has been suspended in an effort to prevent its homegrown B.1.351 strain (which is 50-percent more infectious) from coming to the U.S. Travel to Brazil is also currently banned in hopes of keeping out the variant that’s arisen there, which is both more contagious and may cause reinfection. Researchers are still studying how resistant these strains could be to the current set of COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are really trying to restrain travel at this current period of time,” Dr. Walensky said in response to increasing appeals for clarification as to whether those who are already fully-vaccinated are safe to travel. “We’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them,” she said.
For more information, visit cdc.gov.