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Dreaming about your next vacation? The perfect Galapagos itinerary – A Luxury Travel Blog

If you are at home, you are probably missing the last time you went on vacation and dreaming about the moment when you go on the next one. We would like to take you to an adventure through this itinerary so that you can escape for a while to a paradisiacal island filled with adventures and comfort.

Cruising the Galapagos on a yacht takes you to a new horizon each day, giving you access to places in the Galapagos Islands that few people will ever get to know, all in the highest comfort. An adventure on a yacht will allow you to enjoy unparalleled attention to detail and personal service. A cruise is the perfect opportunity for exploring some of the most beautiful, yet remote parts of the Galapagos Islands. An adventure like this will stay with you for a lifetime.

Visit Black Turtle Cove

Navigate on this large mangrove lagoon, during this quiet navigation. You will see curious pelicans and herons. After a while, if you look into the water, you will have your second encounter of the day, sea turtles and marine rays swimming peacefully next to you. What a way to start a week!

Visit Genovesa Island

This island is a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. So, if you are one, this is a must during your cruise itinerary. As you walk up the path to the island, you will understand its nickname “Tower Island,” but don’t worry, it will be worth it as soon as you encounter the birds nesting in their natural habitat, not being bothered by human presence. As you keep going further, you will finally find the coast to encounter sea lions as you snorkel along the bay.

Visit Bartolome Island and Sullivan Bay

Prepare to refresh your knowledge in geology, Bartolome is a geological wonder. After walking up the wooden stairs that will take you to the top of this island, take a deep breath because the view will take it away for sure. From Bartolome, it is easy to visit Sullivan Bay which is a fascinating place. You can walk on a recent lava flow of pahoehoe lava, observe the lava bubbles, pioneer plants growing directly from the lava, and of course, don’t miss the endemic Galapagos penguins along the shore!

Visit Rabida and Dragon Hill

Be camera ready when you are going to Rabida, this unique island has red sand. It resembles a Martian landscape. Crazy, right? Well, that is not it. While you slowly explore this island, you will encounter yellow warblers, mockingbirds and the tiny celebrities of the Galapagos, Darwin’s finches. Due to the distance, Rabida is usually complemented with a visit to Dragon Hill, and if you are looking forward to spotting some flamingos, then that is precisely where you will find them.

Visit North Seymour and head back to Santa Cruz

We know all of Galapagos is incredibly special, but North Seymour is simply stunning. This island must be included in your cruise. You will be overwhelmed by its nature from the moment you set foot on this island. You will see sea lion pups and their mothers, magnificent frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and if you keep walking further you will see marine iguanas and swallowed tail gulls.

After that, get back to Santa Cruz and stay for a day or two in town.

Meet the locals

If you decided to follow my advice and stay for a day or two, then it is time to relax. Head to Tortuga Bay and enjoy the beautiful landscape, swim on its crystal-clear waters, and be one with nature. Go to Las Grietas or the Charles Darwin Station and spend the day at your own pace, dine in a local restaurant and enjoy every second of it.

Carlos Beate is the Commercial Manager at Andando Tours. Andando Tours offers exclusive traveling experiences, specializing in sailing around the Galapagos Islands and overland along the magnificent Avenue of Volcanoes on the Ecuadorian Andes.

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Kent travel: Living the Dreamland on tour in the beautiful south

Down on the south coast, in the far-east corner of Kent, the resorts of Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate offer fabulous sandy shores with year-round appeal, as well as fascinating history and a funky art scene. Trudi Roche spent 72 hours exploring the Thanet district, with her dad, 77, and children, aged 12 and nine.

DAY 1: BROADSTAIRS 

We set up camp in a stunning Airbnb (of which there are many) in the pretty resort of Broadstairs. It boasts seven awesome sandy beaches. The three most popular areViking Bay, a huge horseshoe-shaped beach in the centre of town which has children’s rides in the summer, a boardwalk and a row of colourful beach huts.

Botany Bay has its photogenic chalk stacks that the kids loved climbing, and Joss Bay, located half way between Broadstairs and Margate, is the local surf beach and home to the longest established surf school in the area.

Broadstairs was author Charles Dickens’ favourite holiday spot and this year is the 150th anniversary of his death. You can visit Dickens House Museum or try the costumed St Peter’s Village Tours. Not for me I’m afraid, I still haven’t finished Little Dorrit, which I started in 1985 for my A-level English.

As well as an array of independent shops, the place is packed with restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours to satisfy your taste buds.

Wander along the beautiful promenade to Victoria Gardens which have sweeping sea views and plenty of benches for resting. The pathway is lovely and smooth for skateboarding too, so the kids inform me.

DAY 2: MARGATE 

Margate is Broadstairs’ noisier sister, just a 10-minute drive away.

With its kitsch shops and cafes, there’s a really cool vibe here, plus it’s got a huge sandy beach, fish and chips shops, seafood stalls and rides, all with a bit of a modern twist.

We visited the Turner Contemporary art gallery on a particularly windy morning. From here you get a great view of the rolling tides and tempestuous skies that inspired his great works. Inside the eye-catching space, the collections change frequently and it’s small enough that the kids (and my dad) didn’t get bored plus there’s a great gift shop. Margate is also home to Dreamland, a 100-year-old amusement park with vintage rides including the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster, plus lots of pop-up entertainment, live music, bars and restaurants.

The old town has been totally regenerated with loads of trendy bars, micro breweries, cafes, retro stores, art galleries and junk shops.

If shopping’s not your bag, you can while away an afternoon exploring the mysterious Shell Grotto, a subterranean passageway where almost all the surface area of the walls and roof is covered in mosaics created entirely of seashells.

There’s also adventure golf, theatres and the old Tudor House, built in 1525, the oldest building in Margate and well worth a visit. The interior is undergoing repairs, but the garden and exterior can still be viewed.

The Margate Caves, originally dug as a chalk quarry in the 17th and 18th centuries, re-opened last year following 15 years of closure, huge investment and restoration of its beautiful chalk carvings and murals.

DAY 3: RAMSGATE 

The historic waterfront of Ramsgate, a 10-minute drive south from Broadstairs, has a cosmopolitan feel. The picturesque marina has the greenest water I’ve ever seen and there are more of those huge, yellow sandy beaches the area is famous for.

It also has plenty of beautiful architecture including the Italianate Glasshouse erected in the grounds of East Cliff Lodge in 1832, as well as Georgian terraces and regency villas.

Ramsgate’s Maritime Museum is worth a visit to see the Ramsgate Meridian and the steam tug Cervia, and Sundowner – which was one of the Dunkirk “little ships”.

Our absolute favourite afternoon was spent on the underground tour of the Second World War Ramsgate Tunnels. Wearing the hard hats provided, we had a fascinating walk through the two-and-a-half miles of deep shelter tunnels that were built in 1939 to protect inhabitants during the war. By 1940 more than 300 families were living permanently in the underground city. Our guide brought its absorbing history to life and there’s some original household goods in the little museum. You also get a free cup of tea with entry.

One word of warning: it’s not a place for very small children, the toddler on our tour screamed her head off all the way round and you can’t just wander off back to the entrance once you’re in!

Thanet is gorgeous in all seasons, there’s plenty to do to keep the whole family entertained, but you can’t beat a bracing walk on a beach followed by tea and cakes in whichever town you happen to find yourself in…

visitthanet.co.uk

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Britain’s historic ghost villages

Most of Britain’s ghost towns were abandoned after a previous pandemic – the Black Death – wiped out entire populations from hundreds of villages. The greatest losses were in Norfolk and Suffolk, often the landing points for plague-infested ships.

Coastal erosion also contributed to settlements in these counties disappearing into the sea. The most famous, Dunwich, was a thriving port, equivalent in size to 14th-century London, before the sea swallowed it and its eight churches, earning Dunwich the name England’s Atlantis. While the majority of British “ghost villages” have all but disappeared, a few still offer rewards – and warnings – for the curious.

At the outbreak of the second world war, the Ministry of Defence commandeered several villages for target practice and manoeuvres. Imber, in Wiltshire, is still used for this purpose. On Open Days, visitors can wander deserted streets lined with skeletal houses, a Norman church and a bullet-riddled pub (Imber hopes to be open for August bank holiday this year).

Equally eerie is Tyneham in Dorset (currently closed, but usually open most weekends). Six days before Christmas in 1943, it was requisitioned for D-day landings practice by order of Winston Churchill. On the day they left, residents pinned a note to the church door: “We have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations, to help win the war … We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.”

Churchill’s promise of a postwar return was never kept. In the schoolroom, pupils’ nature books remain open from their final lesson: a study of corvids, archetypal harbingers of doom.

A hundred miles east, Balsdean, in the South Downs near Brighton, was once a hamlet with manor house, church and “lunatic asylum” but suffered the same fate as Imber: its only remains are desolate farm buildings. In 2012, musical duo Grasscut released an album called 1 inch: ½ mile, complete with a map and walk around Balsdean. But be wary: Balsdean is a cold, strange place. Local folk singer Shirley Collins is not alone in having seen spectral figures here.

Abandoned or drowned villages are bound to attract ghost stories. The bells of Dunwich are said to peal below the water at midnight, while children’s voices ring in empty village buildings. Our politicians would do well to heed such warnings: after a crisis, it seems the ghosts of land and water never forget a promise.

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UK competition watchdog investigates holiday firms over refunds

The UK competition watchdog is investigating package holiday firms after receiving thousands of complaints from consumers who have been unable to recoup money on cancelled breaks.

The Competition and Markets Authority said it had received 60,000 complaints related to the coronavirus crisis, including difficulties getting money back and price rises.

Holiday firms and airlines were the subject of almost 27,000 of the complaints, and those businesses accounted for three-quarters of the submissions involving cancellations and refunds.

The CMA said package holiday firms would be added to the list of businesses its Covid-19 taskforce was investigating. It said it had concerns about firms that refused refunds, made it difficult for consumers to obtain refunds, or insisted that consumers rebook or accept vouchers.

If firms were found not to be complying with the law, they could be taken to court, the CMA added.

The lockdown has forced hotels and holiday parks to close and prevented people from travelling to planned breaks.

The CMA said that in most cases it would expect customers to be offered a full refund if the service they had booked was not provided, including when the customer had cancelled themselves if it was due to the lockdown.

In many cases, holidaymakers have been told that deposits are unrefundable, or that they need to make a special request if they want a refund rather than a voucher. Many are struggling to get through to customer service teams, whose members are working from home and are often short-staffed.

The CMA said that with summer holiday season approaching, “the potential harm to consumers from companies failing to respect consumers’ cancellation rights is set to grow”. It has referred complaints about airlines to the Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees those companies.

The CAA is separately reviewing the way that airlines are treating their customers, and last week warned them that it did not “expect airlines to systematically deny consumers their right to a refund”.

In late April, the CMA said it would be investigating firms providing holiday accommodation along with those in the wedding and childcare sectors. In its update, it had opened cases against some companies in those sectors.

The CMA stressed that most businesses were doing the right thing, saying that complaints related to just over 16,000 individual private-sector businesses in the UK.

“The vast majority of businesses are behaving in a reasonable way, but the CMA will not hesitate to take enforcement action if there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law,” it said.

Between 11 and 17 May, an average of 1,200 people a day got in touch to make a complaint, of which about 850 involved cancellations and refunds. Most of the rest involved price rises, typically on food and drink or hygiene-related products.

The CMA said the largest price increases reported to it concerned hand sanitiser, with a reported median rise of just under 400%.

The travel sector has been hard hit by the crisis, with the accountancy group UHY Hacker Young saying average turnover among agencies and tour operators slumped by 56% in March.

Total turnover was £1.2bn that month, compared with £2.6bn last March, it said, adding that companies had faced cancellations at what would have been some of the highest-revenue points in their calendar.

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Life after lockdown in Porto: returning to my local cafe

Meia de leite, como sempre?” Sonia asked me, her mouth creasing with her tell-tale smile. “The usual, milky coffee?” Never did I think these five words – so habitual, so everyday – could resonate so powerfully or sing so sweetly. With Portugal further easing lockdown restrictions on 18 May, restaurants and cafes are beginning to reopen across Porto. Café Porta do Olival is among them. A cheerful neighbourhood joint directly outside my office in the city’s historic centre, it serves mostly locals. This is fortunate as there isn’t a tourist to be seen.

The sparkle in Sonia’s eyes gives away her smile, which is hidden behind the mask that all cafe and restaurant staff are now obliged to wear. We chat briefly. She is elated to be back at work, she tells me; free of the confines of home and, more importantly, excited about the prospect of some money coming in again.

A boom destination in recent years, central Porto is dependent on tourism these days. For Sonia, and many like her, the last few months of confinamento have been tough. Nor is it over yet. Normally all hustle-and-bustle, business at Café Porta do Olival is noticeably slow. The usual trio of grannies gossiping in the corner are nowhere to be seen. No workmen popping in for a quick espresso; no hum of the television news; nor the scramble over the sole copy of the daily Jornal de Notícias. Social-distancing rules leave only two lonely tables inside, in fact. The rest are consigned to the flagstone pavement.

Today’s reopening is not as I’d imagined it. Confined to home since mid-March, I’d played over this moment many times. My first sip of machine-made espresso; a look over the newspaper; perhaps a cheeky pastel de nata. In my mind’s eye, it would be a joyous moment, full of noise and merriment, but this relative quiet is disconcerting. On reflection, it’s perhaps not so surprising. People are still wary. There’s a nervous guardedness about the city, like we’re enduring a collective first day back at school.

I’m surprised also by the emotions stirred up by the lack of tourist crowds. I thought their absence would be, well, liberating. A chance to seize back the city; a welcome break from hearing English spoken at every turn. But it’s not like that. Tourists may be here today and gone tomorrow but, in a way that I’d never appreciated before today, they’re an intrinsic part of the city. An annoying one, at times, certainly. On my cycle into work, someone will almost always step into my path while staring down at a map or city tracking App. But today, nothing. No queue snaking across the road outside the Lello bookshop. No selfie brigade snapping away beneath Torre dos Clérigos bell tower. Not even a single open-deck tour bus to push me over into the curb.

I’ve never experienced the city without its touts and tour groups, so I have no reference point for this emptiness. Perhaps that’s why I miss it? But my friend José, who lives downtown and joins me for a coffee, also confesses to a certain saudade – longing – for the daily hubbub. Yes, local residents love to moan about the influx of tourists: the high rents; the constant noise; the hike in prices. But, as he readily admits, the city is livelier and more liveable now than it’s ever been.

This reopening of cafes, restaurants and museums is a first step to seeing that vitality return. For now, in the absence of foreign tourists, many Portuenses are rejigging their businesses to attract local residents. My chef friend Pedro, for example, is relaunching his popular restaurant with a new concept (“little chats, little dishes and big glasses of wine”). Another friend, Juan, who owns a gorgeous boutique hotel, is hoping to lure exhausted Porto-based parents to take a “city break” on their own doorsteps. Others who are more dependent on overseas visitors, such as Sergio at Porto Running Tours or André at Taste Porto, are busy getting everything in place for the moment the borders reopen and planes return to the skies.

Portugal has been here before, of course. A decade or so ago, the financial crisis almost brought the country to its knees. “That was bad,” says José. “Really bad.” He hopes this time recovery will come more quickly. For now, as a flight attendant, he’s grounded. Much like me. Like all of us. Yet at least we now have the chance of meeting up together to eat, drink, and – banal as it may sound – be merry.

We talk tentatively of meeting up with our kids tomorrow; Serralves Contemporary Art Museum has an open day. “An excuse for another coffee,” José suggests. Halfway out of my seat, my mask strapped back on, my smile is lost on him. Nonetheless, I hope he spots the sparkle in my eye.

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Life after lockdown: ‘Rome is trying to find her equilibrio’

The Eternal City absent of traffic and chaos is something we’ve dreamed of. In my lifetime in Rome, I’ve experienced the city almost empty on a few occasions: usually late-night and early-morning walks home, but nothing like the past two months.

On 11 March, Rome was silenced. Doors were closed, residents stayed inside and the pace of a frenetic city slowed to that of a faint beat. For 54 days there was no traffic, no street-side chatter and no tourists. The only movement was that of the delivery bikes and scooters passing in the streets below the apartment.

On 4 May, when the centro storico reopened, we returned to our city. The oval-shaped Piazza Navona became a jogging track, Piazza della Rotonda turned into a great training ground for fledgling cyclists and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was commandeered by skateboarders. For two weeks, we lived in our own utopia – it was just us and Rome. Even the former golden boy of Italian football, Roma’s Francesco Totti, and wife Ilary, enjoyed the empty streets.

As of 18 May, Italy’s bars, restaurants, shops and beauty salons could open for business. So, at 10 am, I walk out of my palazzo in Rome’s historic centre and into a street scene that could be any typical Monday morning: couriers run along the road, handfuls of people enter and exit the tram, and there is a long line for the post office.

I call my cousin Giovanna who lives in Prati, a nearby neighbourhood.

“It’s weird. It feels like we’re back to normal. Everyone’s at the bar downstairs all baci abbracci (kisses and hugs) but with masks on,” I tell her.

I bike to my local market. On via dei Giubbonari, shopkeepers are setting up and residents are walking around. People sit, socially distanced, at the tables of an outdoor cafe. Mostly everyone is wearing a masks. Reality sets in by the time I arrive at Campo de’ Fiori where there are only a handful of vendors, far fewer than there usually are.

Pippo and Anastasia Nicosia, flower vendors, came back to Campo on 4 May – and were here this morning at 7am. “It’s much quieter, less people. But we’ve been given a chance to see a Rome that perhaps we lost for a while,” Anastasia says. “Will it pick up? We need to wait before we have an idea what reality will be like … before we have equilibrio.”

She is talking about balance, because right now there is none. The main streets of Rome, such as Via del Corso and Via dei Condotti, are misleadingly busy. There are even buskers, including Luiza Constantin, but shoppers are few. On Via dei Condotti, I bump into Arthur, who came out to be the first to enjoy the boutiques before the return of the crowds. I like his positivity.

At Ciampini Caffè, on Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina, I smile when I see that about half of its outdoor tables have customers. “I think people are cautious,” says waiter Vicenzo Macri, “We just need to wait a few weeks to see what things will be like. And I have hope that they will be better.”

On side streets, shopkeepers anxiously await patrons but other shops are closed, protesting against the government, the pandemic and the lack of clear-cut protocols. Some restaurants will open, like Luciano Cucina – who has set up distinct dining shifts – but others have opted to remain shuttered while they plan a strategy for survival.

Only my local cycle shop, Cicli di Bartolomei, on Piazza di Santa Caterina della Rota, seems to be kicking into a higher gear at reopening – and rightfully so. Rome is finally attempting to make good on its promise to turn the city into a bike-friendly one, with economic assistance for those who buy bicycles, push- and electric scooters and e-bikes. Alessandro di Bartolomei tells me his retired mother has had to come in to the shop and help out, as it has been so busy since reopening on 4 May.

I make my way home, meandering the side streets. At the Pantheon, a woman takes the perfect Instagram photo of her mother, two businessmen walk quickly across the square and a man enters a sandwich shop, all set to a melodic, live soundtrack of birds chirping. It feels like Ferragosto, August 15, AKA Rome’s beautiful full stop.

Rome is trying to find her equilibrio.

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Elvis’ Graceland Reopening to Visitors

Travelers who have been waiting to visit the Graceland mansion, the former home of Elvis Presley, will be able to enter the museum again when it reopens on Thursday.

According to The Associated Press, officials representing the Memphis tourist attraction said the facility had made changes to its tours, restaurant and retail operations since closing in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Graceland welcomes more than 600,000 visitors every year, but the new health and safety protocols call for a 75-percent mansion capacity reduction and mandatory face masks for employees and visitors.

“We are helping Memphis and Tennessee to get back to some sense of normality,” Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker said in a statement.

Restaurant capacities limits on the Tennessee property were also cut by 50 percent, while Elvis Presley Enterprises said temperature checks would be administered to all guests and employees arriving at the facilities.

In addition, hand sanitizing stations are being installed around the 13.8-acre property.

Graceland isn’t the only popular tourist attraction beginning the process of welcoming guests again, as officials from Walt Disney World Resort recently released plans for a phased reopening of its Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex, to begin on May 20.

Government officials in the Florida Keys announced they would reopen beaches on June 1.

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Travel businesses have been hit hard, but spare a thought for Corona Holidays – A Luxury Travel Blog

These are certainly unprecedented times for the entire travel industry. Although businesses are incredibly good at dealing with all kinds of situations thrown at them, the world has absolutely changed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The last coronavirus to largely affect the travel industry was SARS in 2003. This mainly impacted the long haul Asian market, when a huge drop in passenger numbers was experienced.  The clear difference today is that the spread of the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting many more countries.  It is also altering how we think about travel right across the board. From cruising to aviation, and hotels to local attractions, nothing remains unaffected.

One of the many guest bloggers on A Luxury Travel Blog, is Corona Holidays. I recently spoke to their Director, Gail, to see if their brand had been caught up in the latest coronavirus outbreak, despite their name obviously having no direct connection with the virus.

Our conversation started with the history of the long-established travel company and a general background on the business.   Gail explained that Corona Holidays was established about 40 years ago and they are specialists in holidays to the Spanish Canary Island and Balearic Islands and European city breaks. She started with them in 2001 and became the owner/Director in 2017. Although she had seen the business affected by the flight ban following 9/11 in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008, and the 2010 ash cloud, she said : “Clearly the travel industry is in a crisis, and it’s about being honest with ourselves as a business. For the time being, we need to batten down the hatches, and take full advantage of this quiet time to prepare for the future return to travel.  It is, and will be, a challenging time for everyone”.

I asked about the background to their company name and whether this had created any issues for them over the past few months.  They said that the name Corona was selected based on it representing the part of the atmosphere that surrounds the sun. “We could never have envisaged that our company name would in the slightest way associated with a virus”.

Of course, coronaviruses have been in existence for a considerable period of time, and have generally been referred to by their names of MERS, or SARS.  The current coronavirus is COVID-19, albeit it is more commonly known in the UK as coronavirus.  However, in Spain, it is tended to be referred to as COVID-19.

Corona Holidays started preparing for potential cancellations and amendments at the end of February when it was announced that a few Italian guests had tested positive at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife.  As a result, guests were placed into quarantine at the hotel.  Gail said : “At that stage we couldn’t have forecasted the extent to which travel would be affected.  It was the weekend of the 14/15 March that it really became apparent that we were going to have to deal with cancellations and getting clients back home from resort.  For example, during that particular weekend the island of Madeira introduced an immediate and mandatory 14 night quarantine for all arrivals.  We had clients due to travel out on the following day, so we had to cancel their travel plans.”

Spain announced a state of emergency on the 14 March and the country was placed into lockdown on the 17 March, including guests staying at hotels.  People were only able to leave their homes or hotels for limited reasons. This meant that hotel guests were really limited to staying within the hotel grounds, or visiting the nearest supermarket.  Beaches were closed and nobody was able to go outside for exercise.

Gail told me they were aware that hotels all over Spain were instructed to close the following week so they were left in a position whereby they had to change many clients’ plans to ensure they got home before the closures. For a solid 3 weeks, they were dealing with a huge number of cancellations and amendments whilst at the same time making sure customers in resort were kept updated throughout on the plans to come home.

It was during this time that they started to get enquiries coming in from members of public who were after general travel advice – mainly from people who had booked direct with hotels, or those who had booked a flight only direct with the airlines. Gail said : “In an unexpected turn of events, we found our company name was attracting enquiries from people who weren’t our customers.  Some people just wanted directing to the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, but others obviously required more help.  This we did by contacting hotels to arrange cancellations, and helping them with flight cancellation – all as a courtesy service.  We have received some lovely letters and phone calls from these people, and hopefully we will see them return to us in the future”.

Our discussion then turned to what they believed the future holds for travel, and their business.

“We are currently working on our Winter 2020/21 product and will be extending our villa program for Summer 2021.  We will also be entering into discussions with some small, boutique hotels on the popular island of Mallorca.   Regarding our company name, we will be remaining as Corona Holidays.  The majority of our customers have been with us for many years, and the new customers that have made contact with us has been particularly encouraging. “

As we all see from the news articles and photos, airline fleets are grounded at airports all around the world with travel bans being introduced by many countries.  Understandably, customer confidence is at an all-time low to even engage in travel plans at the moment.

Will there be immunity passports, face masks being made mandatory on board, social distancing throughout passengers’ journeys?  Even if social distancing were possible on aircraft by keeping the middle seat free, this would attract a 30-50% increase in prices. However, this still doesn’t truly solve the social distancing problem. To do this would mean aircraft flying at 25% capacity which simply wouldn’t be financially viable.

The travel industry originally hoped they would see an element of normality returning to the industry in the summer months, but now believe that it will be towards the end of 2020 and even into 2021 before people will feel more able to travel.

Alex Macheras – Aviation analyst – reported on the 14 May that airlines were in agreement that we will not be back at pre COVID-19 passenger demand levels for at least another 3 years.

Yes, this will certainly be a long, slow recovery, as there are too many barriers to a rapid return. Of course, borders need to be open at both ends of the journey to make holidays viable.  With Spain having just introduced a 14 day quarantine period for anybody arriving into the country, and the UK imminently due to do the same, it is plain to see that travel just is not possible.

Additionally, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all but essential travel, or all travel to some areas.

The travel industry is facing a hugely challenging time, and businesses are having to adapt their models in anticipation of a return in demand for holidays.  We can all unfortunately expect to have to get used to what has been phrased as the ‘new normal’, and perhaps we will need to remain simply armchair travellers for the foreseeable future.

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Hotels in Spain reopen with new Covid-19 measures – but no guests

Half of Spain has advanced to phase one of a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions by July. Hoteliers can open their properties – though none of the common areas – and bars and restaurants can open a limited amount of outdoor seating. Although Madrid, Málaga, Granada, Barcelona and parts of Valencia are among the provinces and municipalities not yet cleared to advance.

Tourism is Spain’s third largest contributor to the economy, making up 11% of its GDP, and there is pressure to get hotels to reopen, despite the fact that until July no one will be allowed to travel between provinces. And until borders reopen, airlines start flying and the 14-day quarantine is lifted, there will be no foreign tourists.

In the meantime, to ensure health security and help restore confidence, government health-and-safety guidelines have been drawn up for every sector of the tourism industry. For hotels, this means vigorous cleaning and disinfection multiple times a day by staff wearing PPE, as well as changes to the guest experience, such as a ban on buffets.

“We’ll change all hotel services to ensure minimum contact,” said Manuel Vegas of the Spanish Association of Hotel Directors (AEDH). “Kitchens will be transformed to reduce handling and we’ll be demanding maximum guarantees from service providers. It is a radical change.”

Many hotels are installing screens between tables in their dining rooms, and introducing staggered dining hours and room service deliveries by staff in masks and gloves. Rooms are more wipe-down, with coffee makers, extra bedding and decoration removed. The government protocol also suggests removing carpets and minibars. And when common areas such as pools and gyms can be reopened, strict social distancing and disinfecting regimes will be in place.

Credit-card payment is being promoted in hotels and bars, and contactless technology is coming faster than anticipated. Until the lockdown, AEDH had been running a hotel digitalisation project, providing tools and expertise, said Vegas: “Planning apps to generate a welcome the moment you arrive at the hotel, to create a virtual key, for the lift to take you to the right floor without having to touch a button, to place orders in the restaurant and bar without contact with a waiter. We had been anticipating the crisis without knowing it.” This innovation needs to continue he said, to free up more staff to act as hosts to meet and greet guests.

Guests will be welcomed with a “safe smile” from receptionists (albeit from behind a screen) at Room Mate Hotels. “After so much time in confinement, we need that warmth. We are needy,” said the group’s founder, Kike Sarasola. Screens will be widespread – and the brand will ensure they look stylish. “We have designers competing to design the best screen and the public can vote on them,” said Sarasola, adding that hotels will offset the strict rules in common areas with personalised touches in the bedrooms, making “guests feel like kings” with personalised notes and messages. Room Mate has gained extensive practice of working with safety protocols, having made 13 staffed hotels available free of charge to healthcare workers and the elderly from the start of the crisis.

Whether guests will “feel like kings” or feel a little uncomfortable in an environment of screens, masks and none of the usual interaction, is another question.

“[Who wants to] go to a hotel and not be allowed to enjoy the swimming pool or the common spaces? To finally be free, after quarantine, and spend money to go and be confined in a hotel room?” said José Luis Zoreda, executive vice-president of non-profit group Exceltur (Alliance for Excellency in Tourism).

Post-Covid, seaside resorts and beaches will be very different. Senator Hotels and Resorts, a major presence on Spain’s Costas, plans to ensure physical contact is avoided in its kids clubs, and will monitor the spaces between loungers and disinfect them after use. The usual summer crowds of up to 40,000 will certainly not be gathering on the beaches of Benidorm this year; the most popular beaches are being divided into plots in order to manage social distancing, and access will be controlled by using QR codes for booking a patch (as in Valencia) and AI and sensors for monitoring (as they hope to do in Vélez, Málaga).

Those booking hotels can expect bargains but not a fire sale. Acknowledging that “many families will be in a situation that’s not good”, MP Hotels has two-for-one offers and free accommodation for children. The majority of hotels are offering no payment upfront deals and free cancellation policies.

“We’re aware that 2019 prices can’t be maintained, and we have to promote prices that are attractive, but we are promoting dynamic pricing not offers,” said Vegas. The industry is keen to avoid a potentially ruinous price war.

“I’m completely against it,” said Sarasola. “We should raise quality and service instead. This is the time for solidarity, to help small and medium hotels survive the summer.”

Smaller hotels may do better than most, especially those in the uncrowded natural locations 87% of Spanish people say they plan to holiday in post-lockdown. “They can offer more personalised attention,” said Vegas. “Those that will suffer most from the lack of international tourists are the biggest hotels in the top destinations, dependent on tour operators.”

Due to the uncertainty (and adding to it), it is estimated that around a third of hotels will not reopen this summer, or until there is the demand. Costa del Sol hotels are currently anticipating 30% occupancy. The holiday hotels that do open, said Vegas, will try to extend the season and, instead of closing in September as usual, will continue to November.” Hope also rests with the Canary Islands where the peak season starts in November and runs through the winter.

Spain has adopted health-and-security protocols that are among the strictest in the world, including antibody tests for all workers in the hospitality industry in the Canary Islands. They now need to ensure that when tourists eventually come, they don’t bring the risk of infection. The hotel chain Riu is among many of the major groups to introduce temperature control at the hotel entrance, while VP Plaza España Design in Madrid is even introducing rapid tests for arriving guests, who then must wear masks and gloves in common areas.

What’s needed, said Vegas “is confidence in the measures adopted, confidence in the protocols, confidence in the future … and then planes full of healthy guests.”

Keeping Spain’s hotels secure has to start with testing foreign visitors at the point of origin. Coronavirus arrived in Spain with a German tourist flying into La Gomera and, appropriately, from July the Canary Islands will be the first destination in the world to require tourists to carry a digital health passport, developed by the islands’ Laboratory Project with the support of the World Tourism Organization. If there are flights.

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Categories
Holiday

High end projects forge ahead

Jeri Clausing

While the travel industry, like much of the world, is largely shuttered, two of tourism’s most ambitious luxury projects appear to be proceeding as planned.

Last week, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced that its VSS Unity spaceship completed its first flight from its new home at Spaceport America, putting it one step closer to hitting its newest target of launching space tourism in 2020.

Also last week, Saudi Arabia said it had begun marking locations for overwater developments in its Red Sea Project, which aims to transform one of the world’s last untouched marine wonderlands into an eco-friendly, ultraluxury destination with hotels and residences across 22 islands and six inland sites.

Both offered much-needed reminders that while travel is at an unprecedented standstill, it’s temporary, and there are still many exciting adventures on the horizon.

Red Sea Project CEO John Pagano said the marking of positions for villas and restaurants as well as two hyperluxury hotels and one luxury hotel on Sheybarah South and Ummahat Al Shaykh islands marked “another milestone reached for the project.” It is an undertaking perhaps unmatched in scope and ambition since Dubai set out to make itself a global tourism mecca more than two decades ago.

At Spaceport America, the announcement that Virgin Galactic’s spaceship had made its first glide flight over New Mexico since being relocated to its permanent home there earlier this year was not only a reminder that tourism will continue to grow and evolve but also an example of overcoming adversity.

The quarter-billion-dollar futuristic spaceport, which was built by New Mexico to house Virgin Galactic as well as other commercial space operations, sat largely empty for years as development of commercial space vehicles lagged ambitious early estimates.

Once predicted to start flying as early as 2007, Virgin Galactic was dealt a serious setback in 2014 after the company’s SpaceShip Two broke apart on a test flight over the Mojave Desert in 2014, killing one of its two pilots.
Now in the final stages of testing, Branson has said he hopes to launch space flights this year.

So, here’s to the future and hoping we might one day soon be looking back on the Covid-19 pandemic as history from a spaceship or a luxurious villa overlooking the Red Sea.

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