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Bucuti keeping in touch with social campaign

With tourism around the world paused due to Covid-19, one resort is bringing its message to would-be guests and followers virtually until they can travel again.

Aruba’s 104-room Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort owner and CEO Ewald Biemans has kicked off the resort’s social media initiative #BringingBucutiToYou with a video series on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Juan, Nakarid and Pauletti #BringingBucutiToYou from Elements Restaurant at Bucuti! The restaurant team is upgrading, training, creating new recipes and refreshing to make Elements better than its ever been – for your return.

A post shared by Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort (@bucutitara) on

New videos post several times a week. Upcoming videos will feature Bucuti associates bringing messages from guests’ favorite Bucuti spots, including the sun loungers on Eagle Beach, servers greeting followers from the deck of the oceanfront Elements restaurant and guests taking a dip in the pool.

“At our resort, our associates are our heart and soul. Caring for our guests is paramount whether they are here on property or, in these unique times due to the pandemic, far away,” Biemans said.

“When travel resumes, Bucuti & Tara will be ready to welcome our guests as soon as they touch down,” he said.

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Disneyland and Walt Disney World Closed Until Further Notice

Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts will remain closed until further notice the company said in a statement.

“As a result of this unprecedented pandemic and in line with direction provided by health experts and government officials, Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort will remain closed until further notice,” read an update on the Disneyland website.

The resorts are working with hotel guests to modify stays affected by these closures. Guests can cancel their hotel reservations and vacation packages during the closure and receive a full refund.

Guests who purchased tickets have had the dates for those tickets extended.

Those with specialty tickets for events will also be refunded for their purchases.

As previously announced, annual passholders will have their expiration dates extended the number of days that the park is closed.

Universal has also extended its park closures through April 19, 2020.

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South Africa postpones travel trade shows

South Africa’s most popular travel trade shows, including World Travel Market Africa and Travel Indaba, have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travel Indaba was originally scheduled for the beginning of May. A future date for Africa’s Travel Indaba will be disclosed soon, according to South African minister of tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

“We will review the decision, depending on how the situation evolves and, working in consultation with industry stakeholders, we will advise on future dates,” said Kubayi-Ngubane.

Meanwhile, Reed Exhibitions Africa confirmed that Africa Travel Week, which comprises World Travel Market Africa and International Luxury Travel Market Africa, will not take place in 2020. It had been scheduled for April.

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Jamaica May Impose COVID-19 Lockdown

One of the Caribbean’s most popular vacation destinations is struggling to contain coronavirus within its borders. Jamaica’s government has requested hotel companies provide 600 rooms to accommodate COVID-19 patients, according to local reports. On Tuesday evening, the country’s prime minister told Jamaicans to prepare for a “complete lockdown” of the nation.

Jamaica currently has 26 confirmed coronavirus cases said Dr. Christopher Tufton, the country’s minister of health and wellness, in a video address Wednesday. Of the 26 cases, “17 are imported, eight are import-related and one is still under investigation,” he said.

Tufton expressed disappointment with hotel owners’ level of cooperation regarding 600 rooms he said the government has requested to house infected patients. Tufton said the government could “trigger relevant legislation to take possession of properties,” although officials were reluctant to take that step.

However, later Wednesday, Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), said he was confident Jamaican hotels would provide the requested rooms.

“The JHTA understands fully the dilemma that is facing the government and the nation at large, and is willing to assist,” said Robinson in a Jamaica Observer report. Robinson said “ongoing dialogue between the JHTA members and government” would result in the rooms being made available.

“Discussions are taking place with the respective parties,” he said. “Information had just been sent out to our members earlier this week, most of who are in the process of closing their own hotels and taking stock.”

Meanwhile, in an address Tuesday evening, Andrew Holness, the Jamaican prime minister, told citizens to prepare for a “complete lockdown” to curb COVID-19’s spread. Jamaica’s government was prepared to introduce more drastic measures, Holness said, if the country showed a rapid increase in cases. He added that Jamaica has “a plan for each phase of the spread of the virus.”

Jamaica closed its air and seaports to incoming passenger traffic on March 21, allowing only outgoing passengers and cargo. U.S. citizens who planned to depart the country were encouraged “to do so at the earliest opportunity.”

The government earlier advised travelers from countries where there is local transmission of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for up to 14 days, “either in their hotel or place of residence in Jamaica.” The requirement also applies to U.S. citizens traveling from the United States to Jamaica.

Several Jamaica hotels opted to close temporarily following global travel restrictions due to COVID-19, including the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach and Grand Rose Hall in St James, which are now closed through April 30.

“As of March 19, guests arriving at Iberostar Rose Hall Beach will be redirected to the Iberostar Selection Rose Hall Suites where they will be accommodated,” hotel officials said. Guests arriving at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall will also be redirected to the Iberostar Selection Rose Hall Suites where clients will receive “a free return stay for the nights and hotel originally booked [and] the invoices will be adjusted accordingly,” officials said.

The RIU Palace Jamaica, RIU Negril and RIU Montego Bay resorts ceased operations beginning March 19. In addition, Royalton Negril’s three properties have closed, with guests moving to Royalton’s Royalton White Sands and Royalton Blue Waters in Trelawny. The Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Half Moon, Breathless, Secrets Wild Orchid, Zoetry, Sunset at the Palms, Hedonism II, Melia Braco and Sandals Negril properties have also closed.

Jamaica has also imposed limits on the number of people allowed in taxis and restaurants and directed visitors to remain confined to their hotels. Non-essential employees have been ordered to work from home and the government has closed school for two weeks and banned all public gatherings. Jamaica’s bars, nightclubs and other places of entertainment were ordered closed effective March 18.

Jamaica’s Seven Mile and Eight Mile communities have been declared quarantine areas although the Bull Bay quarantine area in St. Andrew’s parish will be discontinued on March 28, Tufton said.

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Some Spring Breakers Now Regret Traveling

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, spring breakers and young travelers quickly drew ire from the general public for packing Florida beaches despite the CDC’s urging for social distancing. Now, with nearly 55,000 cases of the coronavirus confirmed in the U.S., many of those spring breakers are realizing the consequences of their own hubris.

Many former spring breakers who had previously expressed indifference to the risks of contracting and spreading the coronavirus have changed their tune after many travelers, including at least six University of Tampa students, tested positive after returning from spring break.

Older members of the public quickly made 22-year old Brady Sluder the poster boy for young travelers who weren’t taking the outbreak seriously when the young man said in an interview, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying.” Now, Sluder has apologized extensively for his previous behavior, telling others “Don’t be arrogant and think you’re invincible like myself.

Sluder went on to say in another apology on Instagram that he “wasn’t aware of the severity of my actions.”

His apology led to the discussion as to whether or not young people’s blasé attitude toward the pandemic stemmed from government officials who were also not treating the pandemic as seriously as they should have.

Toronto native David Anzarouth contracted the virus while vacationing in Miami earlier this month and wound up in the emergency room only ten days after returning home. A spokesperson for Anzarouth told NBC News that, while he is doing well in recovery, he regrets going to Miami.

“There’s no one to blame. … I understand that I put myself into a place where I risked my health,” he told the CBC.

Meanwhile, a University of Pittsburgh student only identified as Molly believes that the many of the spring breakers’ indifference came from the fact that very few people had taken the threat seriously in the beginning. A national emergency wasn’t declared until March 13; by then Molly and her friends were already in Florida.

“At the time of the video, I don’t think most people were considering the gravity of a pandemic, and I think that needs to be taken into account before we shame and ridicule these people,” Molly said.

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, refused to close the state’s beaches despite the risks, possibly reinforcing the belief that the coronavirus was not a threat to young people. Locals officials had to take it upon themselves to close the beaches off to the spring breakers and urge visitors to stay at home.

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Residence Inn planned for Isla Verde in San Juan

The nine-story Residence Inn by Marriott, scheduled to open in November 2021, will be the first branded flagship property to be built in 25 years in Isla Verde, a popular tourist and residential area of San Juan.

The 231-room property features a contemporary layered facade and will offer a 4,000-square-foot restaurant and ground-floor terrace, while the reception and common areas will be on the first level and guest rooms above that.

Commissioned pieces from local artists will be on display throughout the hotel.

Hotel amenities include a pool, a playground area, an indoor/outdoor bar, meeting space and a gym.

All guest rooms will include a full kitchen, work area and separate living space.

Energy-saving and water-efficient equipment, lighting controls and electric vehicle charging stations are incorporated into the project.

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Baha Mar to suspend operations

Baha Mar will suspend all operations until further notice effective March 25, according to Graeme Davis, president.

The closure affects all three properties at the resort complex: the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt, the 299-room SLS and the 237-room Rosewood.

“While the decision to suspend operations is extremely difficult, we are committed to doing what is best for the safety of those in our community,” said Davis.

“During this time we will be working with reservation holders to refund or reschedule planned stays,” he said.

The resort complex will work with the Bahamas government to help support Baha Mar employees during the closure.

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Sandals closing all resorts coronavirus

Sandals
Resorts International is closing all 19 Sandals and Beaches Resorts on seven
Caribbean islands from March 30 to May 15 in a move to safeguard the
safety and health of its guests and team members because of Covid-19,
said Sandals chairman and founder Butch Stewart.

No
new arrivals will be accepted as of March 23.

“Recent
global travel warnings, coupled with airline carrier cancellations, compelled
us to make the difficult decision to close,” Stewart said. “Our
team will be reaching out to all guests personally to assist with rescheduling
future plans. The Caribbean is resilient. We have always come back
better, stronger and more passionate than ever. This time will be no
exception.”

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Sheraton Panama City Beach back and better

The biggest resort in Panama City Beach, Fla., is fully back online, 18 months after being closed by one of the most powerful U.S. hurricanes ever.

The Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort finished the last leg of its comeback in February, when it reopened its boardwalk, beach and satellite bar, which jut into the city’s Grand Lagoon and were highly exposed to the storm.

In October 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall about 20 miles to the east of Panama City Beach, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph that shredded the seaside community of Mexico Beach. 

At the 360-room Sheraton, the roofs on all three of the main buildings were torn off or damaged enough to allow water to ruin the hotel’s interior. It was all the more painful because the resort had completed a two-year, $30 million renovation a year earlier.

Recovery has come in phases, with different parts of the resort opening over the past year.

In a community full of beachfront condos, the Sheraton is a full-service resort that is not on the beach. It sits at the entrance to the Grand Lagoon, across the water from a barrier island that includes St. Andrews State Park.

In addition to 200 rooms in three buildings arranged around two swimming pools, the resort has another 160 rooms in six Golf Villa buildings sprinkled around an 18-hole Nicklaus Design golf course, the only one in the Florida Panhandle.

There is a golf clubhouse with its own casual restaurant, Bar 72, and five nearby clay tennis courts, which were resurfaced and refenced after the storm.

Amenities also include a 12,000-square-foot spa and a 30,000-square-foot convention and ballroom space, with an extensive sheltered patio with water views for outdoor events.

Rates for a weeknight in early April are $489 a night plus a $30 daily resort fee.

I spent two days as a guest of the resort in early February. The panoramic views of the lagoon from my fifth-floor balcony were a highlight of my stay. From my perch I could spot lots of birds and jumping fish as herons standing on one leg hunted and the fish tried to escape.

Early mornings brought spectacular sunrises, followed by a smattering of powerboats slowly proceeding toward the open ocean. Sunsets were equally impressive, as the pelicans returned home to their roosts.

I did not get a chance to try the spa or go golfing, but the tennis instruction was first-rate and the resort has regular classes during the week. Now that the boardwalk has reopened, watersports rentals are available again, including kayaks, paddleboards and water scooters.

For a nongolfer, another intriguing option I’d like to try is footgolf, a fairly recent invention in which a soccer ball and larger holes are used instead of the traditional clubs and dimpled balls. The golf course is set aside for regular golf in the morning but yields to footgolf in the afternoon.

Before the storm, the resort had a second golf course, which suffered extensive tree damage. 

“We’re working on a plan for the second course,” said Charissa Thacker, marketing manager for the resort, who noted this would help meet golf demand from large groups.

Being on the lagoon, the Sheraton is a bit of a drive from the main highway through town, U.S. 98. But it is very close to one of the area’s top-rated restaurants, the Grand Marlin, where the Saturday special was blackened redfish with lobster truffle mac and cheese. I had it, and I can vouch for it, along with the 2-inch-high slice of Key lime pie I had for dessert.

The restaurant also has a marina with no bridge obstructions to the ocean, so the Sheraton can arrange for an excursion or deep-sea fishing boat to pick up guests at the hotel’s dock on the way to the inlet.

Of the food and beverage outlets on the property, my favorite was Flip Flops, an outdoor bar created in 2014 from space that once enclosed an indoor pool. Like much of the resort, Flip Flops has marvelous views of the lagoon. A large hot tub is scheduled to be added this month just outside Flip Flops next to one of the swimming pools.

Venturing west into Panama City Beach, one finds diminishing signs of damage from the hurricane. The prime destination is the shopping and entertainment zone around Pier Park, which includes 124 stores, an IMAX theater, a laser tag center and a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel. The municipal pier extends 1,500 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. (There is a $3 fee to use it; $6 if you want to fish.)

However, venturing east from Panama City is another story. The eye of the hurricane passed over Tyndall Air Force Base and Mexico Beach, and for every structure that has been rebuilt better than new there’s another still in ruins. Thousands of large trees were snapped in two, giving the area a haunted look.

Fortunately, the Emerald Coast region’s tourism engine is Panama City Beach, and the recovery there is all but done.

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Exceeding Kyoto expectations at Sowaka

You know how there are some places you feel an inextricable connection to even though you’ve never been there before? Kyoto, Japan, was that place for me, familiar yet foreign. It makes sense in a way, considering that the city’s fabled pagodas and thriving geisha culture have continued to grace the covers of glossies for the better part of an eternity.

Expectations were high, and as the taxi slowly made its way from Kyoto Station to Gion last spring, I was immediately struck by the fact that reality did not meet expectations. It was busy, like what I’d imagine Pamplona, Spain, is like on a San Fermin festival day when it’s jammed wall to wall with revelers — but in place of the mozos in their red bandanas, it was hordes of women and men dressed in traditional attire. Maybe that’s an extreme recounting, but keep in mind I was visiting Japan during cherry blossom season.

By the time we crossed the river and arrived at the hotel, I was relieved, to say the least. The Sowaka hotel is neatly tucked away on a side street in the heart of one of Kyoto’s oldest neighborhoods, just a stone’s throw away from some of the city’s most famous temples and shrines. As I made my way across the stone foyer, it was as if I’d entered into another world altogether. 

Sowaka, I later learned, is Sanskrit for happiness, which after a long day of travel and that painfully long cab ride I desperately needed. Unlike other luxury properties in Kyoto, the hotel Sowaka opened just last March, having spent the majority of its 100-year history up until then as a traditional Japanese restaurant.

The property has since been transformed into a beautiful, 23-room ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with an award-winning Japanese-French fusion restaurant called La Bombance Gion. In addition to the main building of the hotel, an annex was constructed to add a few more modern rooms to the mix.

My first night at the property found me in the main building in the aptly named Tea Room. A two-story, townhouse-style abode, the first floor included a traditional Japanese bedroom and separate ceremonial tea room. Upstairs, a Japanese cyprus soaking tub with an adjoining relaxation room called the gorge that overlooked the hotel’s private courtyard. This was the Kyoto I had envisioned, a delicate blend of tradition and nature with all of the modern amenities you could ask for. 

That night, after an exquisitely tailored kaiseki dinner at La Bombance, I retired to the tea room to soak in the cyprus tub and laze about in the gorge as I listened to the sounds from the garden below. If I never left this little slice of paradise, could I still claim to have seen Kyoto?

The next morning, I managed to pry myself away from the tub, but not before a delicious, three-course Japanese breakfast. I spent the morning packed in among the throngs at Nishiki Market before a lovely stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk and lunch at a soba spot.

That night, I said goodbye to the tea room and moved into a room in the hotel’s annex. Sprawled across one level, this more modern interpretation of a traditional ryokan had a floor-to-ceiling window that extended across the length of the room and overlooked a private garden. In the middle, an outdoor veranda for meditating connected the bedroom and the bathroom.

That night, I drew myself a bath, where I stayed for a long while. Sometimes, especially in travel, your expectations don’t always match reality. But in my experience, there’s nothing a good bath and a glass of chilled sake in a beautiful hotel can’t fix.

Rooms at Sowaka start at $393 per person, per night. Inquire in advance and the hotel can arrange exclusive access and private tours of nearby Kodaiji temple.

See https://sowaka.com/eng/index.html.

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