Siberia journey tops growing number of luxe rail products

When it comes to travel, there are few trips that actually
live up to the now overused, almost cliche term “iconic.” Those that do,
however, often involve luxury trains.

And what fits the definition of iconic better than the
Trans-Siberian Express, the longest rail line in the world?

Rocky Mountaineer CEO Steve Sammut talked about his company’s product and how it has evolved. Read More

As travelers increasingly seek the authentic, Golden Eagle
Luxury Trains recently unveiled its Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland trip
between Moscow and Vladivostok on cars hauled entirely by steam.

The journey, which departs Feb. 25, follows the classic
trans-Siberian route that is used in the summer, winding for roughly 6,200
miles across eight time zones of frozen wilderness and pulled by no less than
20 steam locomotives.

While the company said the winter trip will be a first for
Golden Eagle, it’s just one example of the growing demand for luxury train

This year, for example, both Tauck and the Uniworld Boutique
River Cruise Collection have partnered with the company to offer packages in
Europe that include a few nights on the Golden Eagle Danube Express, which
travels through Italy, Vienna and Switzerland.

While most luxury train trips are in far-flung locales such
as South Africa, India and Peru, North America’s Rocky Mountaineer said it has
been seeing huge growth in demand in recent years for its train trips through
western Canada.

Founded 30 years ago by Peter Armstrong, Rocky Mountaineer
started with 1950s-era, single-level rail cars that carried 7,000 passengers a
year. Today, the company has 26 single-level and bilevel, glass-domed cars that
travel through Canada’s scenic Rocky Mountains and carry more than 100,000
guests a year, according to president and CEO Steve Sammut.

Unlike most other luxury rail lines, however, Rocky
Mountaineer’s trains don’t have sleeper cars. Guests disembark at night to stay
in different Canadian mountain towns. And the company offers a host of packages
in partnership with Alaska cruise lines, adventure operators and destinations
in Canada.

The new Golden Eagle trip through Russia is a 22-day passage
offering sleeper cabins with butlers, even an onboard doctor.

The winter trip will travel westbound from Vladivostok to
Moscow. The itinerary includes a visit to Sretensk, one of the most remote
towns in Siberia; a folk performance in the Old Believers Village at Ulan Ude;
and the opportunity to experience a traditional Russian banya (sauna) in
Irkutsk, which is known as the Paris of Siberia.

Other highlights include the neoclassical architecture of
Omsk; a visit to Yekaterinburg, known as the Great Divide between Europe and
Asia; a day in Kazan to discover the Kazan Kremlin, a Unesco World Heritage
Site; a stop at Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin; and Lake Baikal,
the deepest lake in the world, which freezes over completely in winter and
provides a great spot for snowmobiling and dog sledding.

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Carnival ship transformation put on hold

Carnival Cruise Line is suspending work on the Carnival
Victory’s refurbishment in Spain. After a $200 million overhaul, the ship is to
be renamed Carnival Radiance.  

The ship is drydocked in the city of Cadiz. Carnival said
that travel restrictions have made it difficult to secure workers. 

The Carnival Radiance’s four European sailings and
transatlantic crossings have been canceled and guests are being notified. The Radiance
has been scheduled to make its debut on April 29 with a 10-day Mediterranean
sailing from Barcelona. 

The company did not give details on compensation for
canceled cruises.

The Destiny-class vessel is to get 115 additional cabins and
new bars, restaurant and kids clubs. The ship will accommodate 2,998 passengers
at double occupancy when the work is done.

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Hotels help furloughed employees find other work

Forced to furlough workers because of
a severe decline in business, hotel companies are helping their employees
find other work.

Retail, healthcare, consumer goods and delivery service
companies are hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic. Marriott International has
partnerships with CVS, Albertsons, Manpower, Pepsi, HCA Healthcare, First
Service Residential, Kroger, Walmart, Shipt Grocery Delivery, Home Depot,
Alight and Amazon.

Pharmacy giant CVS Health said in a press release that the
company has immediate plans to fill more than 50,000 full-time, part-time and
temporary roles across the U.S., with available positions ranging from store associates
and home delivery drivers to distribution center employees and customer service

CVS said it would be hiring furloughed employees from Hilton
as well as Marriott.

Likewise, food and drug retailer Albertsons Companies said
it needed to fill 30,000 associate roles, partnering with G6 Hospitality,
Hilton, Marriott and MGM Resorts to offer furloughed workers part-time

“So many businesses in the hospitality and retail sectors
are scaling back hours or temporarily closing as their customers remain home
and adhere to shelter-in-place orders,” said Albertsons president and CEO Vivek
Sankaran. “We are grateful to be a resource to help fill a critical need in our
own business and take care of people who want to continue working during this
time of national emergency.”

Marriott said earlier this month that it would be forced to
furlough a significant portion of its workforce,
as properties have been forced to close restaurants, close floors or entire
hotels. Hilton said operations have been suspended at many U.S. hotels.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association and Oxford
Economics estimate that around 4 million U.S. hotel jobs have either been
eliminated or are on the verge of being lost within the next few weeks.

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Marketing during a crisis coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has thrown travel marketing departments
into disarray as they navigate a world in which travel is stalled indefinitely,
borders are being closed and the public is being asked to hunker down. 

Marketing experts offer different takes on how brands should
react in terms of scaling back and adjusting their message, but most seem to
agree that falling off their target market’s radar is not a good option. 

Robert Li, director of the U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism
& Hospitality Research at Temple University, said brands should not shut
down completely, but he added that strategies should differ depending on the
sector and situation. 

“I think destinations cannot simply abandon marketing at
this point,” he said. “Right or wrong, you have to keep some kind of
communication with your source markets. … In some cases, it also helps to
clarify some of the messages, such as travel bans. Always be genuine and

For the cruise industry, which has taken an outsize hit so
far as a result of the outbreak, Li said, “Maybe taking no action at this point
is the best action. The situation remains rather complicated, and sending
premature marketing messages at this point could further complicate the
situation and could even be misinterpreted in some cases. Maybe in that case
you should not say or do too much. But always listen to your customers and
monitor the market sentiment and try to keep your bond with the community and
target market and show your social responsibility.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. did just that early in the crisis,
before the industry grounded its fleets for 30 days by planning to use some
ships moved out of Asia to offer cruises to first responders in the U.S. and

Cruise executives said they have adjusted both their spend
and message.

“I think marketing has to change while we are all in the ‘pause’
phase in our industry,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and
trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International. “I think major
advertising must be placed on pause and we all go back to the basics of true
one-to-one connecting. That means calling our past clients, checking in with
them, emailing, snail mail. After all, it is so rare these days to receive a
card in the mail.” 

Freed said sensitivity is important. 

“Selling them hard during this period is not appropriate,”
she said. “Let your clients lead the interest in vacation planning.”

James Rodriguez, Oceania Cruises’ executive vice president
of sales and marketing, said Oceania is scaling back its marketing, but “looking
for new and creative ways to connect with our guests and travel advisors via
social media and personal messaging.”

“Given the current global environment, brands must stay in
sync with the emotions and mindsets of their guests and partners,” Rodriguez
said. “This doesn’t necessitate a change in strategy or philosophy but does
require us to think differently in our approach in how we consistently
communicate the right message at the right time. While our ships may not be at
sea at the moment, our guests and travel partners are relying on us to keep
them dreaming about their next voyage. And that’s what we intend to do.”

Freed said travel advisors can also keep their clients
dreaming. One way to do that, she said, is to host a virtual cruise night that
people can join from home. 

“It allows clients to dream about that vacation, and when
they are ready to truly vacation, they have more knowledge about the product,”
she said. “No hard sell, just educate.”

The point is to stay top of mind. 

“It is important to market yourself during this time frame
and not become a hermit,” Freed said. “Staying in front with your clients and
prospects is the key to the rebuilding process. The stress that the world
events are creating for us today will encourage people to take a break and

River cruise lines are in a somewhat different situation,
since the crisis unfolded before their main Europe season had started. 

Even before the U.S. shut down travel from Europe, Rudi
Schreiner, president of AmaWaterways, said the company was planning to continue
with already-contracted efforts, but “new marketing right now is on hold. We’d
rather spend the money later.”

AmaWaterways also held off on sending out its new brochures
this season.

Marcus Leskovar, executive vice president of Amadeus River
Cruises, said it was also holding off on new marketing, as “It would just fall
on deaf ears right now.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out how to get out of their
vacation,” he said. “They are not going to jump into new commitments.”

But Pamela Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways,
said it is important not to take one’s eyes off the long game.

“This is a short-term problem, and we are in a long-term
business,” Hoffee said. Like Freed, she expressed the hope that when this crisis
passes, there will be huge pent-up travel demand. 

Hoteliers are faced with deciding whether or not to launch
new brands and properties this spring that have long been in the pipeline.

“There’s just so much that goes into any new launch,” said
Oscar Yuan, president of Strategy3, a consultancy owned by market research firm
Ipsos. “You may have media you’ve purchased, employees you’ve hired. And you’ve
maybe built the financial forecast around a launch or opening, and it’s really
difficult to just back out of those types of things. To stop and then later
restart something completely from scratch is an enormous investment.”

Some hotel groups are sticking to existing launch and
opening schedules.

Aman debuted Janu this month, the first new hotel brand to
join its portfolio since its 1988 founding. That same week, fellow luxury
player Capella Hotel Group unveiled Patina Hotels & Resorts, a lifestyle

Even as occupancy is in free fall in key markets
worldwide, Mama Shelter is among the brands still opening new locations. Its
Mama Luxembourg is still slated to open this spring. 

Yuan approves of this. 

“The whole industry needs to try to keep things
business-as-usual to the extent that they’re able to,” he said. “The worst
thing a travel brand can do is to create any extra hysteria around things and
ruin any chance they have of coming back later in the year completely. We know
there’s going to be impact, but I think demonstrating stability and consistency
as this pandemic is sorted out is probably one of the best things that can be

He also said that delaying an opening could mean ceding a
chance to ride a potential rebound later this year.

“If all the planning and preparations have gone ahead for a
hotel to open, then they might as well have the opportunity to get some revenue
this year,” Yuan said.

Max Starkov, an adjunct professor at New York University’s
Tisch Center for Hospitality, takes a contrary stance.

“Launching a new hotel brand or new product now is simply
counterproductive and a complete waste of money,” he asserted. 

The best approach, he said, is to follow the strategy of the
producers of the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” who have postponed its
release until the fall. 

Otherwise, he said, “For a brand to be positioned correctly
and to be able to relay the right value proposition is just impossible at the

Christina Jelski and Jeri Clausing contributed to this

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Ritz Carlton ship delayed again owners take control of shipyard

The debut of the first Ritz-Carlton luxury cruise ship has been delayed again. 

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, blaming shipyard issues for the delay, said the
Evrima will set sail on April 22, 2021. Ritz-Carlton had scheduled a Feb. 5
maiden cruise. It then got postponed to June 13 because the shipyard was facing
issues with delivery and project costs.

The first voyage next year will go from Lisbon to Palma de Mallorca. Subsequent sailings also have been pushed

The project has been fraught with delays at the Hijos de J.
Barreras shipyard in Spain. The majority of stakeholders of the Hijos de J.
Barreras shipyard have now agreed to hand over control to Cruise Yacht Yard Co., an affiliate of the ship’s owner, Cruise Yacht 1 Ltd. That is led by
Douglas Prothero, CEO of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. 

“This effectively gives this newly formed entity oversight
of the shipyard,” the company said in a statement. “The new structure will
ensure the timely completion of Evrima.”

In a statement, Prothero apologized to guests who have
already booked a cruise on the yacht. 

“We remain deeply committed to ensuring a seamless delivery
of the standards of quality and service that Ritz-Carlton is known for as
well as providing a highly customized, state-of-the-art build that will make
our inaugural yacht the most distinctive of its kind,” Prothero said.

Guests booked on the cruise will get a full refund or fare
savings when they reschedule. 

Those who rebook a cruise within the next 90 days will get a
30% discount on the cruise. After that, they will get 25% off the fare if they
rebook up to six months later. They will get 20% off the fare up to one year
after the announcement of the postponement.

Those who made independent air and hotel arrangements may
be reimbursed for any change or cancellation fees. Travel advisor commissions
will be protected on the cruise fare.

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Hilton Providing Furloughed Workers With Access to Temporary Jobs

As travel demand plunges around the world amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, hotel companies are being forced to cut jobs and furlough thousands of workers.

One of those companies, Hilton is looking to keep affected staff working by providing them with direct access to temporary jobs with hiring companies like Albertsons, Amazon, CVS, Lidl, Sunrise Senior Living and Walgreens, among others, via the Hilton Workforce Resource Center.

The companies are seeking more than 200,000 workers to fill short-term positions such as customer service associates and delivery drivers created by a spike in demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The recognized quality of our team members, including their hospitality and service culture training, make them ideal candidates to quickly step in and assist organizations in these temporary assignments,” Nigel Glennie, vice president of corporate communication at Hilton, told USA Today.

Hilton said that it aims to expand the expedited hiring program globally and also plans to welcome team members back when travel eventually resumes.

“Our partners need workers and our team members need to work right now, so this is an initiative we put together with the sole intent of helping our people, even though we can’t be the ones to employ them right now,” added Glennie.

Hilton team member applicants should visit

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Trump Expresses Confidence in Cruise Ships Serving as Hospitals

During the White House press briefing, held on March 20, 2020, President Trump expressed confidence in the cleanliness and sanitation standards of cruise ships, which have been offered up to potentially serve as temporary hospitals amid the escalating COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

With vessels pulled from commercial operation through at least mid-April, Carnival Corporation has offered to turn some of its ships into floating hospitals for non-coronavirus-related cases, in order to free up space in land-based facilities for an anticipated influx of COVID-19 patients. Select ships from its several brands, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia, could be made available to governments and health authorities, the company said.

In response to a reporter’s question regarding whether the president has concerns about utilizing cruise ships as hospitals, given that they have many frequently contacted surfaces, Trump said, “I can tell you they’re very clean and also those surfaces, the germ, as you know, the virus disappears over a period of time. And these ships are very clean. They’ve been kept very clean. They’ve been gone over.” He added, “But, the virus, as you know…disappears when it’s on a surface after a certain number of days or, in some cases, hours, depending on the surface it’s on.”

President Trump said that he’d spoken personally with Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison on the subject. “He said to me…if we need ships for helping people, that Carnival would be absolutely willing to help us in Los Angeles, in New York, wherever it may be, in Miami where they are very big. If we needed something, they would be willing to,” Trump explained. “So far, we haven’t needed to.”

Travel Weekly reported that the White House has already ordered the deployment of two large Navy hospital ships—one to New York and the other somewhere along the West Coast. In his briefing, the president implied that it would be brought up to offer relief either in California or Seattle.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, amid speculation surrounding any increased potential for contracting the virus aboard passenger cruises, cruise lines have reiterated their adherence to strict sanitation protocols throughout their sailings and explained that ships are also thoroughly disinfected between departures.

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Sandals Resorts shuttered in Caribbean until mid-May

Sandals Resorts International will close its properties in the Caribbean until May 15th to protect guests and staff against the spread of Covid-19.

All resorts under both the Beaches and Sandals brand are expected to close their doors in March 30th.

In a statement, Sandals founder and chairman Gordon Stewart described the decision as difficult.

However, he added Sandals will use the time to make further enhancements to its resorts, “so that we will continue to surpass your expectations and provide you with the luxury-included vacation you so well deserve.”

Stewart continued: “We also want to alleviate any additional worry you might have about your upcoming vacation.

“Our dedicated team will be reaching out to you personally to assist with rescheduling your future plans.

“This way, you can spend less time trying to reach us and more time with your loved ones.”

The brand, which operates 19 properties in the Caribbean – ten of which are in Jamaica.

The temporary closure of these and other hotels means that thousands of hospitality workers will possibly be without an income.

“The Caribbean is resilient.

“We have always come back better, stronger and more passionate than ever.

“We promise this time will be no exception,” Stewart added.

“When the time is right, you can trust us to be here, ready to welcome you back with open arms and a warm smile.

“Soon come back,” he concluded.


For all the latest from Breaking Travel News on the coronavirus pandemic, take a look here.

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Banyan Tree eyes Myanmar expansion with new joint venture

Banyan Tree Holdings and Myanmar Treasure Hotel & Resort Group Company (known as Htoo Hospitality) have signed a joint venture agreement for the formation of a hotel management business.

Launched in 2002 and built upon authentic Burmese culture and traditions, Htoo Hospitality owns and manages the largest collection of 15 hotels located across eight states and 11 destinations in Myanmar.

With nine brands under four boutique collections, its two signature brands include the Aureum Palace Hotels & Resorts and the Myanmar Treasure Resorts.

The venture shall initially be responsible for the management of the 17 hotels and resorts (15 existing properties and two in the pipeline) owned by Htoo Hospitality.

Some of these properties will gradually be rebranded into either a jointly-developed new brand for the Myanmar market or a brand within Banyan Tree Holding’s brand portfolio.

Under a long-term partnership, the venture envisions to become the top hotel management company in Myanmar, overseeing and managing hotels owned by third parties.

Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, said: “As a leading independent global hospitality company, our group has identified growth opportunities in Myanmar’s hotel management sector.

“With this head-start coupled with our hotel management expertise, we are mindful that this joint venture will open further opportunities for our group to enter key strategic sectors in this fast-flourishing country.

“This strategic alliance with the established Htoo Hospitality, Myanmar’s largest hotel and resort network, will accelerate the growth and reach of our brands as we elevate hospitality service to yet another level across the country.

“We are excited and committed to this partnership.”

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Obituary Legendary hotelier Sol Kerzner

Hotel magnate Sol Kerzner, best known for building the
Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas and the Sun City resort in South
Africa, died of cancer on March 21 at the Kerzner family home in Cape Town,
South Africa. He was 84.

The South Africa native opened Sun City in December 1979 north
of Johannesburg in an area that previously had no roads or other infrastructure.
The resort was in a Bantustan (a territory set aside for black inhabitants),
and the apartheid government declared the territory an independent state,
enabling Sun City to have gambling and topless revues — entertainment that was illegal in the rest of
the country.

Sun City became a popular holiday destination, and it also
became a lightning rod for worldwide protest against South Africa’s apartheid
government. The United Nations instituted a cultural boycott of South Africa in
1980, and many musical artists refused to perform at Sun City, which had a
6,000-seat arena that did manage to draw big acts such as Frank Sinatra and rock band

In the 1980s, Sun City expanded to include four hotels and
two golf courses.

Before opening Sun City, Kerzner had a long career developing
South Africa hotels. He began his hospitality career in 1962, when he purchased
the Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa, that he transformed into a popular
hotel. In 1964, he opened the Beverly Hills, Umhlanga Rocks in Durban, which is
said to be the first five-star hotel in South Africa. He partnered with South
African Breweries to establish Southern Sun Hotels, which by 1983 operated 30
luxury hotels.

Kerzner sold his South Africa holdings in the early 1990s.

In 1994, Kerzner made his first major acquisition outside
Africa — the Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. A major redevelopment and
expansion transformed the bankrupt property into the extravagant Atlantis Paradise
Island, a 2,300-room resort with one of the world’s largest man-made marine
habitats and the Caribbean’s biggest casino. Later expansions of the Cove and the
Reef hotels added 1,100 rooms.

By the 1990s, Kerzner was working closely with his son,
Butch. Together, they developed the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Connecticut
and founded One&Only Resorts. In 2006, Butch Kerzner, who had recently
assumed the role of CEO of Kerzner International, was killed in a helicopter
accident while scouting for sites in the Dominican Republic. His father
then returned to the CEO role. 

Kerzner went on to extend the Atlantis brand with the opening
of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai in 2008. In 2014, Kerzner exited Kerzner
International and retired as chairman of the company.

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