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Coronavirus

REALLY? CANADA?

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised against travel to Canada because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases. The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High”, telling Americans they should avoid travel to its northern neighbor. Curiously, while the CDC warning actually says “Avoid travel to Canada” and adds “If you must travel to Canada, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel,” for Mexico, listed at Level Three, the warning is simply the latter, “Make sure you are fully vaccinated before you travel.” This despite the fact Mexico’s confirmed Covid cases rose 186 percent last week.

The CDC currently lists about 80 destinations worldwide at Level Four, including the UK, Ireland, France, Spain and much of Europe. It also raised the island of Curaçao to Level Four on Monday.

This is quite interesting – you can check them out for yourself here https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list

Canada advised residents in March 2020 not to travel abroad for non-essential reasons like tourism. It withdrew the notice in October – before the first Omicron cases were reported – citing the success of vaccination campaigns.

Canada remains one of the top foreign destinations for Americans.

Here is something we also find interesting: While WHO has warned against calling the COVID-19 Omicron variant ‘mild’, there seems little question that Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant. WHO said early studies showed that compared with Delta there was a reduced risk of hospitalization from the variant. There appears also to be a reduced risk of severity in both younger and older people, but uncertainties remain.

The symptoms appear to differ from previous COVID-19 variants. While the main COVID-19 symptoms are still said to be a cough, high temperature and loss of smell and taste, the symptoms for Omicron, reported in a London study taken in December, accounted for half of all cold-like illnesses in the UK.

The top five symptoms reported in London for those testing positive for COVID-19 were runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat.

However, it is unclear how many people with mild symptoms are not being hospitalized, and are staying home and self-medicating for the week or two it takes to get over the symptoms – how reliable then are the Omicron counts. And, which countries are reporting them accurately? Can there be any accurate reporting? How many people are reporting they have COVID when they have mild symptoms treatable with over-the-counter medication? Anecdotal evidence says many are not, or how many people believe they have had Covid when in fact they have had a cold or flu?

The pandemic is far from over. The week ending 02 January saw the highest number of cases reported since the pandemic’s start, according to The World Health Organization (WHO) and new record COVID-19 infections are being reported by countries from Argentina to Israel each day.

However, the CDC lists both China and India at Level One – Low.

I am currently in Florida. There are no lockdowns, no mandatory masking, no social distancing, and restaurants, stores and movie theatres are open. Some people are careful some are not.

In November the US lifted restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, ending curbs on non-essential travellers in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States reached a fresh high of 132,646, according to a Reuters tally on Monday, surpassing the record of 132,051 set in January last year, amid a surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Some interesting information:

The CDC warning about travel to Canada – you can also check warnings to other countries.

The number of Coronavirus cases worldwide as of Jan 10, 2022

DAILY NEW COVID CASES AS OF JAN 09,2022

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

NOT THE BEST NEWS: COVID threatens Christmas in Europe

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Nearly two years into a global health crisis that has killed more than 5 million people, infections are again sweeping across parts of Western Europe, a region with relatively high vaccination rates and good health care systems but where lockdown measures are largely a thing of the past.

The World Health Organization said coronavirus deaths rose by 10% in Europe in the past week, and an agency official declared last week that the continent was “back at the epicenter of the pandemic.” Much of that is being driven by spiralling outbreaks in Russia and Eastern Europe — where vaccination rates tend to be low — but countries in the west such as Germany and Britain recorded some of the highest new case tolls in the world.

While nations in Western Europe all have vaccination rates over 60% — and some like Portugal and Spain are much higher — that still leaves a significant portion of their populations without protection.

Dr. Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at Exeter University College of Medicine and Health in Britain, says that the large number of unvaccinated people combined with a widespread post-lockdown resumption of socializing and a slight decline in immunity for people who got their shots months ago is driving up the pace of infections.

Thanks largely to vaccination, hospitals in Western Europe are not under the same pressure they were earlier in the pandemic, but many are still straining to handle rising numbers of COVID patients while also attempting to clear backlogs of tests and surgeries with exhausted or sick staff. Even the countries experiencing the most serious outbreaks in the region recorded far fewer deaths per person over the past four weeks than the United States did, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The question now is if countries can tamp down this latest upswing without resorting to stringent shutdowns that devastated economies, disrupted education, and weighed on mental health. Experts say probably – but authorities can’t avoid all restrictions and must boost vaccination rates.

“I think the era of locking people up in their homes is over because we now have tools to control COVID – the testing, vaccines and therapeutics,” said Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh. “So, I hope people will do the things they have to do, like put on a mask.”

Many European countries now use COVID passes – proof of full vaccination, recovery from the virus or a negative test result – to access venues like bars and restaurants. Pankhania warned that the passes can give a false sense of security since fully vaccinated people can still get infected, though their chances of dying or getting seriously sick are dramatically lower.

But restrictions don’t go much further these days, although the Dutch government on Friday announced a three-week partial lockdown.

“We have a very unpleasant message with very unpleasant and far-reaching decisions,” caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

German lawmakers are mulling legislation that would pave the way for new measures. Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Friday that unvaccinated people in two regions will only be able to leave home for specified reasons starting Monday, and he is considering implementing similar measures nationwide. But he has said he doesn’t want to impose the restrictions on those who got the shot.

Austria is seeing one of the most serious outbreaks in Western Europe, along with Germany, which has reported a string of record-high infections in recent days.

“We have a real emergency situation right now,” said Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, which has started cancelling scheduled surgeries.

Duesseldorf’s university hospital said last week that its ICU is full, though many facilities are struggling more with staff shortages than bed space.

Drosten said Germany must increase its vaccination rate of 67% further – and fast. But officials have balked at ordering vaccine mandates and want to avoid any blanket lockdowns.

Health Minister Jens Spahn indicated that Germany could improve its often lax enforcement of COVID pass requirements.

“If my vaccination certificate is checked more often in one day in Rome than it sometimes is in four weeks in Germany, then I think more can be done,” Spahn said recently.

The Netherlands is in a similar bind: The country announced the highest daily tally of new cases since the pandemic began Thursday, hospitals are warning the situation could get worse, but officials are reluctant to clamp down too hard. Amid these concerns, organizers in Utrecht said they couldn’t in good conscience bring tens of thousands of people together to greet Santa at the annual Sinterklaas party beloved of children.

Cities in Germany, by contrast, went ahead with outdoor Carnival celebrations last week. In Cologne celebrations continued though designated “Prince” Sven Oleff cancelled public appearances after testing positive for Covid-19 the day before the start of celebrations on November 11th.

In the United Kingdom, which lifted remaining restrictions in July and has seen big spikes as well as dips in cases since, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the country can “live with the virus.” The government will only reimpose restrictions if the health service comes under “unsustainable” pressure, he says.

Spain, once one of Europe’s hardest hit nations, perhaps offers an example of how the risks can be managed.

It has vaccinated 80% of its population, and while face masks are no longer mandatory outdoors, many people still wear them. While infections have ticked up slightly recently, Rafael Bengoa, one of Spain’s leading public health experts, said that given the high vaccination rate, “the virus won’t be able to dominate us again.”

Several countries are hoping that pushing harder on immunizations will get them there. Germany plans to re-open vaccination centers across the country to speed booster shots. France is also pinning its hopes on booster doses while urging holdouts to get their first shots. Italy is also expanding its booster program as numbers edge higher.

Pankhania says that no single measure will control the pandemic.

“To really control it, it has to be multi-layered … avoid crowds, avoid poorly ventilated places, be immunized, wear your mask,” he said.

National Covid Memorial Wall, London, UK

 

 

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

GETTING THERE AND BACK: The Good, The Bad and The Whatever

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Finally! After 18 months of travelless (I know it’s not a word – but it should be) living ordained by the pandemic – finally, finally came the opportunity, the inevitability, the sort-of-necessity to travel. Not just to hop in the car and head to Mississauga or Kendell to visit friends. A real trip – on a plane.

We have a house in Gulfport, Florida which can be accessed by air through several American gateways the most convenient being St. Petersburg -Clearwater (PIE) or Tampa International (TPA). Air Canada has regular flights to Tampa so that was the choice.

We were a bit nervous about seating on board – and being beside non-masked (during meals) or unvaccinated passengers.

To circumvent that we decided to use my Amex points to book a Rouge Premium class. We then reserved a Shoppers Drug Rapid Antigen test for $40 each. The test procedure was flawless and we had results in 10 min. Once we had our test results we could ‘check in’.

So, here’s where it got tricky – we got our boarding passes on line only to find out that although in premium class – we were not seated together.

A two hour hold with AC ended up with the reservation agent explaining there was no ticket number associated with our booking and that the seats were cancelled. The message: “Do not go to the airport. Call your agent.”

That precipitated a second two hours on hold with American Express, and a lot of conversation with a promise of a call back once it was sorted. To Amex Travel’s credit, they did call back about two hours later (two hours seems to be the telephone norm for these things- we were timing). Anyway, they confirmed that we were in fact on the flight, with new seats but still not seated together.

It was now 17.00 Saturday before our 10 .00 flight Sunday. So okay, we’ll sit beside some stranger and possibly take our first major exposure risk.

We travel with carry-on baggage only. Took an early morning cab to Union Station (cab drivers will never accept that you know the best route to where you want to go … but don’t get me started)

Note the divider between the seats

I continue to sing the praises of the UP Express from Union Station to Pearson International Airport to anyone who wants to listen. This is the way to go. Right now the seats are all separated by plastic/plexiglass dividers – there were not that many on board and sure enough we were there at Terminal 1 in 25 minutes.

Ten minutes later we were at the US departures area and in line – a long line. The time 7.10. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10.00.

The security people were all there but they had not opened. US Customs and Immigration arrived around 7.55, security opened immediately and we were through the ‘shoes off/computer out’ bit by 8.15. All looking good.


But now came the not-that-much-fun part…waiting in the queues to clear US Customs and Immigration – at least 25 long rows of not-that-well-distanced folk. The tension was palpable, people were agitated and upset not unsurprisingly afraid they would miss their flights.

Everyone was masked, though some had pulled them below their noses – 6ft between people was non-existent as you not only had passengers ahead and behind you but at each elbow as well, as you maneuvered the maze of lines. The flight was at 10.00…. the tension was ramping up. Airline staff checking the lines to see how many people from individual flights were still not processed but were not pulling anyone out of line and moving them ahead of others. They did try to reassure concerned/angry/ belligerent people that the airlines were aware of the issue.

Frankly it was chaos. Everyone was checking their cells every 5 min for flight updates. We got our first delay notice at our actual departure time of 10.00 – the new ETD was 10:40.

Would we make it? Fingers crossed. We finally cleared, though to exacerbate the situation. Vicki managed to get a customs agent in training who took 10 minutes (working with his supervisor) who explained each step of the process before giving  the okay – though he didn’t check her COVID docs. My non trainee was pretty quick – but he did take a look at all the necessary medical documents.

Then came a run to the very last gate we could possibly have been positioned at – not helped in the least by large signs, “You are 10 minutes from your gate”. “You are 7 minutes from your gate”. My language as to what they could do with that gate is not be repeated. We made it – the last pax to board.

Not everybody did. Wheels were up at 10:50 and somehow luck was with us, as one of the seats belonging to an abandoned passenger made it possible for us to sit together. I don’t believe we were even thinking about it after the stress and the run – but the flight attendant suggested it when we came on board and it was ‘yes, thank you’

The service and big seat comfort with no unfamiliar seat mates was well worth the point splurge.

And, just a word about Air Canada and Rouge flight attendants. I listen to a lot of complaints and criticism about them. I can honestly say I have never – never – in years of flying on a regular basis had anything but pleasant, friendly staff and good service. And I should point out that, with few exceptions, I generally fly economy. So, had to say that.

Arrival in Tampa was smooth and easy – no bags so no line ups at Arrivals. The car rental (Enterprise) was quick and flawless.

Arrival, yeah!

Now there was time to worry about booking our PCR Covid travel test to return home (in two weeks).

We had heard about free and/or cheap Drug Store testing – forget it. Nothing is free or cheap, the drug store testing is primarily for residents to determine if they have Covid, or have had Covid, but not for travel with the certification and paperwork required to enter Canada.

Many people/ friends/ readers told us we could get tested easily at almost any drug store but getting an appointment for a RT- PCR medically certified test was not in the cards for us. We keep hearing from people who say they received this test at no cost at local drug stores but we could find no evidence of this working. There are Florida Travel testing centre pop ups and clinics in every major city and area. There’s an assortment of options available at various prices depending on the result delivery time.

Flying on a Sunday or Monday you’re at a disadvantage because of weekend closures for test results. You can get tested but no lab results are available after 4 PM Saturday until Monday morning. With just a 72 hour window and wanting our results before heading to the airport we didn’t feel comfortable with the no guarantee 24-48 hour test delivery for US $150 and went with the primo guaranteed delivery, 2 hour result of US $300. (See price list and delivery times below.)

It’s pricey yes, but worth the comfort of no bungles. We highly suggest proper and thorough research for return testing as there’s a lot of misinformation and risks associated for taking the 1-2 days test result.

Some foreigners have apparently had some luck with drug store travel testing – but personally we would not advise counting on that.

The return flight was delayed. ETD was 14.00. we left closer to 17.00. We were given $15 food vouchers by Air Canada some passengers fussed about that but some passengers fuss about anything. (Just as an aside Starbucks doesn’t take the vouchers).

The ArriveCAN app is easy to download and use – and it works. We had heard horror stories about delays at Canada Customs for arriving passengers at Pearson. We did not encounter any of that. There was no extended wait on the plane – just a minor issue with the bridge which was quickly sorted, so it was about 45 minutes in total from stepping out of the plane door to stepping on to the UP Express for the return home.

Toronto

A bit of advice. I wouldn’t buy scotch at TPA. A bottle of reasonably pricy Single Malt I had bought the day before at my local liquor store in St.Pete. was almost $30 more at Duty Free.

Here’s some information if you our family is planning a US trip:

• No cost to patient – Diagnostic COVID-19 PCR Test (result generally in 2+ Days, not for travel)
• $129 – Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Test (result generally sent in 1 hour)
• $150 – Expedited PCR COVID-19 Test (result generally sent within 1-2 days by 11:59 PM PDT excluding Sundays)
• $299 – Rapid PCR COVID-19 Test (Result generally sent in 2 hours)
• $319 – Respiratory Pathogen Panel (Result Generally in 1-3 Days)
• $75 – Rapid ANTIBODY COVID-19 Test (result generally sent within 1 hour)

https://www.covidclinic.org/st-petersburg/

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

Governments Response to Delta Variant Slams August Traffic Demand

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Governments Response to Delta Variant Slams August Traffic Demand - TRAVELINDEXGeneva, Switzerland, October 3, 2021 / TRAVELINDEX / The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the recovery in air travel decelerated in August compared to July, as government actions in response to concerns over the COVID-19 Delta variant cut deeply into domestic travel demand.

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to July 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

– Total demand for air travel in August 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 56.0% compared to August 2019. This marked a slowdown from July, when demand was 53.0% below July 2019 levels.

– This was entirely driven by domestic markets, which were down 32.2% compared to August 2019, a major deterioration from July 2021, when traffic was down 16.1% versus two years ago. The worst impact was in China, while India and Russia were the only large markets to show a month-to-month improvement compared to July 2021.

– International passenger demand in August was 68.8% below August 2019, which was an improvement compared to the 73.1% decline recorded in July. All regions showed improvement, which was attributable to growing vaccination rates and less stringent international travel restrictions in some regions.

“August results reflect the impact of concerns over the Delta variant on domestic travel, even as international travel continued on a snail’s pace toward a full recovery that cannot happen until governments restore the freedom to travel. In that regard, the recent US announcement to lift travel restrictions from early November on fully vaccinated travelers is very good news and will bring certainty to a key market. But challenges remain, September bookings indicate a deterioration in international recovery. That’s bad news heading into the traditionally slower fourth quarter,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

International Passenger Markets

– European carriers’ August international traffic declined 55.9% versus August 2019, significantly bettering the 63.2% decrease in July compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 45.0% and load factor fell 17.7 percentage points to 71.5%.

– Asia-Pacific airlines saw their August international traffic fall 93.4% compared to August 2019, barely improved over the 94.5% drop registered in July 2021 versus July 2019 as the region continues to have the strictest border control measures. Capacity dropped 85.7% and the load factor was down 44.9 percentage points to 37.9%, by far the lowest among regions.

– Middle Eastern airlines had a 69.3% demand drop in August compared to August 2019, improved upon the 73.6% decrease in July, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 55.0%, and load factor deteriorated 26.2 percentage points to 56.2%.

– North American carriers experienced a 59.0% traffic drop in August versus the 2019 period, much improved on the 61.7% decline in July compared to July 2019. Capacity sank 48.5%, and load factor dipped 18.0 percentage points to 70.3%.

– Latin American airlines saw a 63.1% drop in August traffic, compared to the same month in 2019, improved over the 68.3% decline in July compared to July 2019. August capacity fell 57.3% and load factor dropped 11.4 percentage points to 72.6%, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the eleventh consecutive month.

– African airlines’ traffic fell 58.5% in August versus two years’ ago, somewhat improved over the 60.4% decline in July compared to July 2019. August capacity was down 50.1% and load factor declined 12.7% to 63.0%.

– China’s domestic traffic dropped 57.0% compared to August 2019 – a huge deterioration from the 2.5% fall in July. However, overall cases were low, and outbreaks were mostly under control by the end of August, suggesting numbers will improve in September.

– India’s domestic traffic reversed the trend, as demand fell 44.8% in August, improved from a 58.9% decline in July versus July 2019, owing to positive trends in new cases and vaccination.

The Bottom Line

“The rapid slowdown in the domestic traffic recovery in August, owing to a spike in the Delta variant shows how exposed air travel continues to be to the cycles of COVID-19. For governments that should send two messages. The first is that this is not the time to step away from continuing support of the industry, both financial and regulatory. The second is the need to apply a risk-based approach to managing borders–as passengers are already doing in making their travel decisions,” said Walsh.

Next week, leaders of the global aviation community will gather in Boston at the 77th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit, 3-5 October. “The AGM provides a powerful vote of confidence in the safety of international air travel and the health protocols that have now been in place for up to 18 months. I’ve said it before: virtual meetings are no substitute for the value delivered through the opportunity to meet face-to-face. The AGM will provide a powerful reminder of this fact.”

First published at TravelCommunication.net

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

WHAT’S GOING ON? The closed US land border is inexplicable

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Can anyone explain why the US is dragging its feet – and parts higher – with respect to opening the northern land border? No matter how “regrettably” he made that decision, for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to blame the delay on the Delta variant, as he did this week, is horse manure.

Mayorkas’ attempt to rake over the incomprehensible decision, made it even more bizarre, when he suggested that the restrictions now include language making it possible to relax or lift the ban entirely before the start of the next 30-day window.

“Because we’ve renewed it for 30 days does not necessarily mean that the restriction will last for another 30 days.” He said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki stirred the doo-doo even further noting that the northern border manoeuvres (not her words) are – now, her words – “part of the process.”

Just what are you saying Secretary Mayorkas? What is it you expect to change within Canada, or to Canadians, in the next possibly/maybe/perhaps 30 days – or less?

And Ms. Psaki, as much as I can admire your deft handling of difficult press conferences … what freaking process?

Air Canada resumed flights to the US in May 2020 – that’s well over a year that Canadians have been able to fly across the border. Why can’t they drive? It cannot be that our cars are filled with some Delta infused petrol, it cannot be that unvaccinated hordes are converging on the northern border – 70% of Canadians are fully vaccinated (as opposed to 54% of Americans) – that’s data as of September 21, 2021.

Still worried about health and safety? Simple – stipulate full vaccinations and a negative Antigen test for drivers.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, it confounds logic, and something’s got to give,” said Scotty Greenwood, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Canadian American Business Council, adding, “I don’t understand the policy rationale for discriminating against Canadians based on their proximity. If we’re willing to allow Canadians to fly and we’re now willing to allow other nations to fly, why wouldn’t we allow Canadians to drive? It doesn’t make any sense.”

No, it doesn’t, except …

The air versus land issue perhaps speaks to the value the US places on the ability, cost and accountability of airlines to manage the cumbersome process of screening travellers to ensure they meet the necessary health requirements. The airlines are currently charged with this responsibility – so why mess with a good thing? And, it’s a benefit to the airline industry as well … ‘you can’t drive?  Well, here we are.’ Not that I’m criticising the airlines for that, it’s been tough all around.

But, for Pete’s sake people (and yes, we do know he’s Transportation Secretary) there is a huge advantage to the US economy when Canadians drive across the border.

Canadians visit America not just for the pleasure of vacationing in, or residing for the several months in your cities, towns and resorts (amazing though they may be), not just for theme parks, or beaches, or sport, or adventure, not just to visit friends and family, not just for the weather (let’s not even begin to compare) – they visit for all those reasons – and all those reasons cause them to spend money.

Whether it’s cross border shopping for the day, or snowbirds heading for homes – owned or rented for the winter – (where they spend on entertainment, gas, groceries, shopping and anything else you can think of) the bottom line is – Canadians – all 20.7 million of them who visited the US in 2019 – no matter how they got there – were a benefit to the US economy to the tune of US $19 billion.

So, what this all about?

Canada barely got a mention this week when the US announced plans to ease travel restrictions on a number of other countries, including the UK, the EU, China and India, among others. Sure, you can’t drive in from those countries – but so what.

The subject didn’t come up come either at the national security committee hearings on Capitol Hill, even though Mayorkas was among the witnesses.

American journalist and author Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggests the ongoing ban on recreational travel from Canada and Mexico may reflect a broader presidential doctrine aimed at placating nationalist sentiment inside the US.

With all due respect, few Americans appear to be overly isolationist when it comes to Canada, though the southern border certainly gets the “Build the Wall” crowd going. However, even less fanatical, more serious and thoughtful Americans, know there is a serious issue to the south, exacerbated by caravans of migrants from Central America and the current crisis which has tens of thousands of migrants, many from earthquake-ravaged Haiti, gathering in the hope of seeking asylum in the US.

But what has that to do with the northern border?

Critics have suggested that the Biden administration is unwilling to open the Canadian border when it is unwilling to do so for Mexico. But policy for America’s northern and southern borders should not and cannot be coupled. That makes no sense at all and is opposed by many politicians in the President’s own party.

US Senate Democrats, including Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, urged Biden to lift the ban.

“We believe that fully vaccinated Canadians should be allowed to safely travel into the United States via land ports of entry,” according to the letter, which was also signed by New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Angus King, the Independent from Maine.

“We urge you to lift these restrictions before October, provide a plan for reopening land ports of entry and appoint an interagency lead on US-Canadian border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Canadians, snowbirds in particular, are deeply affected by the seemingly nonsensical divide between those travelling by land and those by air. And as noted, a vast number of American politicians and businesses support a return to an open land border between our countries.

Canada has permitted fully vaccinated US citizens to drive across the border since August 9th this year. It is mind-boggling and absurd that the US has not reciprocated.

We’ll give the last word to New York congressman Brian Higgins, “Canadians should be pissed off – and for good reason.”

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

TIME FOR A CHANGE: Travel groups ‘link arms’ in call for action

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Nothing short of the continued support of governments and harmonized and recalibrated COVID-19 travel protocols are necessary to save the global travel industry in the present and secure its future, says a panel of prominent association presidents that includes ACTA Canada president Wendy Paradis.

Hosted last week by The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) on its Facebook page, the live panel event also featured representatives of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA), which collectively represent hundreds of thousands of people who work at travel agencies and related businesses around the world.

Broadly speaking, the association heads aimed to “link arms” to present a united front in calling for government leaders globally to align and make opening borders an immediate priority.

Citing World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) data from 2019 showing that travel and tourism was one of the world’s largest economic sectors, accounting for 10.4% of global GDP (US$9.2 trillion), 10.6% of all jobs (334 million), and responsible for creating one of every four new jobs across the world, the panel noted the “catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector – of which travel agencies, tour operators and other travel-reliant small businesses are a critical part.”

Among the group’s demands is standardized entry requirements regarding vaccine verification, testing, and other safeguards. This standardization is urgently needed, said ASTA’s Zane Kirby who says existing protocols are “unwieldy and untenable.”

“There’s a patchwork of constantly changing rules and regulations that depress demand, confuse the travelling public, and… can sometimes strand travellers,” he said, adding that the global travel industry must continue to come together to adds its voice to ask for more transparency from governments so that the industry can understand the rules and conditions imposed on travellers.

As an example, he pointed to current bans on American travellers in Europe, stating: “There are 175 million citizens of the United States who have been vaccinated, but right now around the world they are being treated as though they pose the same risk as travellers to foreign lands as those who are unvaccinated. And we think that needs to change. The threat level… needs to come up to where the science is, which is that you are far less likely to get or to spread the virus or be hospitalized (when vaccinated).

“They have to follow their own science,” he continued. “What they’ve told us for months and months is that vaccination makes life better and will allow you to return to activities that you love to do – especially travel. So, if that’s the case, there should be at least a two-tier system of threat analysis. The diagnostic equipment that governments have now has to change and it has to get more sophisticated.

“Put a system in place that recognizes vaccination and allow those who are vaccinated to travel more freely!”

Paradis meanwhile lamented a particular Canadian conundrum involving mixed vaccine doses, which was encouraged in this country, but not accepted elsewhere, as needing resolution.

Kirby went on to declare that the travel industry continues to need “industry specific relief” from governments, a notion that the panel supported.

Noting that until August, Canada has had “some of the tightest restrictions in the world,” Paradis said that travel agency revenue across the country is down 90% compared to 2019 and that more than 65% of travel agents are currently furloughed. Moreover, she added, “We as travel agencies are for the most part shuttered until these international borders open up and blanket travel restrictions are eased… (And until) that happens, we are in critical need of continued financial aid.”

Pointing out that most government aid programs in Canada are slated to end in October, she added, “Clearly it does not make sense to reduce any aid programs for hardest-hit sectors like travel agencies. We are looking for grants (and subsidy programs); our industry is so in debt we cannot take on more debt… We need to survive so that we can recover! We need these aid programs to not only continue but be enhanced over the next six months.”

ECTAA’s Eric Dresin believes the world is entering a new period in the pandemic. “I’m not sure if we’re getting out of it, but for sure we can’t use the tools we’ve been using up to now; and we need something to help the industry get back the conditions to bring people back to travel,” he says.

To that end, the five associations (ASTA, ABTA, ACTA, CHTA and ECTAA) have joined forces to urge government leaders around the world to create an aligned and synchronized response to the current state of the pandemic by:

1) Expeditiously developing clear vaccine and testing standards

2) Loosening entry restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers; and

3) Providing the needed economic relief to the travel agency sector “suffering for too long the bitter consequences of travel’s hard-stop brought on by the pandemic.”

“The value of and need for travel advisors and agents in today’s world given the intense complexity of travel,” they say, “is vital now more than ever as consumers around the world attempt to recover from this pandemic with certainty and confidence.”

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

CUBA EASES TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

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In preparation for the winter season and taking into consideration that by November, 92.5 percent of the population will be vaccinated, The Ministry of Tourism of Cuba announced the opening of all the tourist destinations in Cuba and more relaxed entry protocols as of November 15th, 2021.

The new rules will focus on the surveillance of symptomatic patients, temperature screening and diagnostic test performed at random. This means: NO covid test prior entering Cuba and NO PCR upon arrival at the Cuban airport (which in the past was completed to 100 % of the passengers).

The new protocols establish Canadian incoming travellers must show that they are fully vaccinated or, if they are not vaccinated, they must submit a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before entering Cuba.

The PCR test Canadians need to re-enter back in Canada is done right at the hotels and it costs US $30:00 (payable locally by visa or debit/visa).

The Cuban tourism authorities announced the opening of the local tourism market and the cancelling of the quarantine for passengers staying in private rental homes (B&Bs), additionally, locals can stay at tourist facilities shared by international visitors.

Lessner Gomez, Director of the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto noted that Cuba has done an incredible job vaccinating its people including children as young as two years old. “We are the first country in the world to administer Covid 19 vaccines to toddlers”, he said; “ the vaccination program in Cuba, the strengthening of the health and safety protocols in all tourists’ facilities and the high vaccination rate in Canada have made possible these openings”.

According to Gomez “the fact that Cuba is relaxing the rules and that the tourists will be allowed to travel around and enjoy our beautiful country is very exciting and very good news at the time when Canadians are looking forward to returning to normal and are planning their winter travels”.

The Cuba Tourist Board represents the Ministry of Tourism in Canada. It provides general travel information to Canadians who would like to visit the island.

Email: info@gocuba.ca

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

THE MAN IN THE MASK: Tips, observations, and complaints from my first pandemic trip

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The Air Canada captain said he was “pleased” to be flying with passengers again. And the passengers, me included, were certainly happy to comply, though with the new stress of pandemic-era travel, getting there is not quite half the fun. So, here is my view from the ground, and the air, on my first trip since COVID changed the world.

Let me first say that travel now has a “wild west” feel amid a complex and constantly changing series of tests, vaccination forms, and other protocols that vary from destination to destination and airline to airline. As such, please note that the observations here are mainly limited to my home country (Canada), airline provider (Air Canada), and destination (Switzerland).

My travels took place Aug. 27 to Sept. 02 as part of the Air Canada Race 2021, a fabulous event that also welcomed over three dozen travel agents, plus media and trip host personnel. And it should also be noted, in the words of lead Air Canada Race organizer Edna Ray, that Switzerland was perfectly suited for the FAM because it is “a great destination where everything works phenomenally.”

Here then is my story:

BEFORE LEAVING HOME

ArriveCan

All Canadians (and all travellers) travelling internationally are required to have the ArriveCAN app, which can be uploaded at any time before arrival back in Canada. It is fairly straightforward and takes about 10 minutes to load and fill out – but importantly, cannot be completed until within 72 hours of returning, meaning it must be done in destination, not in advance.

• The app worked on my phone, but not on my older iPad (lap- or desktops are reportedly fine).

• Internet/Wifi connections are obviously necessary to complete the form and proficiency with uploading/downloading, etc., is helpful.

• Proof of vaccination (both doses!) must be uploaded into the app; proof of molecular COVID test DOES NOT. The latter, apparently needs only to be uploaded the first time, though the government warns that the latest version of the app should always be used.

• Instructions for using the app can be found online and several helpful YouTube videos exist to give walkthroughs

• Tip: Download, print-screen or take photos of both vaccination dose confirmations on your device in advance, but also carry several printed copies of each.

Destination planning

Switzerland does not require a pre-arrival COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated Canadians. However, two pre-arrival forms, one for contact tracing, needed to be completed in advance. It is imperative to check individual arrival protocols for countries being visited (including transit).

Insurance

Some destinations require that travellers possess some form of COVID coverage before allowing entry. Even if they don’t – it’s a good idea. My research into coverage options (I checked Manulife and Allianz) revealed that regular travel insurance generally would cover catching COVID in destination if hospitalization is required (i.e. medical emergency), but NOT costs of quarantine if one tests positive and is simply unable or not allowed to travel. Supplementary coverage must be purchased for the latter. In my case, the supplement COVID policy amounted to about $5/day for $150/day coverage up to $2,100 total. Neither regular nor supplement insurance covers COVID test costs.

Masks

Air Canada currently accepts cloth masks (but word is that will soon change) for boarding and during the flight, but many airlines now require medical (non-valve) masks. It is imperative that travellers check specific airline requirements in advance.

• Air Canada handed out extra disposable masks in flight (along with the headsets).

• Observation: Chatty neighbours are now largely a thing of the past.

EN ROUTE

Airport

We departed from YYZ, which was busy for an overnight flight. Physical check-in (recommended, even if done in advance online and/or travelling only with carry-on) was slower than previous as agents are required to scrutinize relevant documents (such as vaccination certificates). Customs configurations at Pearson have also changed requiring extra time.

• Tip: Arrive earlier than usual (the airline’s three-hour suggestion is suitable).

Outbound

Easy-peasy. The flight was medium full with plenty of open middle seats (not required) and a few open rows in the back of the bus.

Onboard

Masks are required throughout the flight except while eating or drinking; seats cannot be changed due to contact tracing protocols.

Arrival

This was Switzerland: arrival was organized and quick. Customs agents verified the required entry forms, which I had chosen to print, but also had the email verification as back-up.

Me (middle- red lanyard) in Basel, Switzerland

IN DESTINATION

In Switzerland, masks are required in any indoor setting (except while eating and drinking). Everyone seems to comply without complaint (as it should be). In outdoor settings, most people take their mask off.

The dreaded COVID test

Canadians, including fully vaccinated, must complete a molecular (PCR) test within 72 hours of one’s flight departure time. Ensuring that one has an appointment in place that can provide the test is a critical requirement in planning one’s itinerary. You will be denied boarding without proof of a negative test. Antigen tests are not valid.

Air Canada: Being hosted by the airline, we lucked out as the trialists in a program that will be rolled out by AC in the coming weeks: In partnership with Switch Health, passengers will be able to purchase a COVID test kit that can be self-administered, thereby eliminating the need to find a local lab in destination. Various levels (and corresponding prices) of the kit will be available, with the “diamond” version including a live video appointment with a Canadian nurse to oversee the test procedure. Results from this version are available in about 30 minutes. (Sounds incredible, and it is!) An antigen test kit (for US flights) will also be introduced for sale (reportedly in multiple units priced at about $30/test I’m told).

• Test results: Once a negative test result is received, whatever the source, a copy must be downloaded to be shown upon arrival in Canada and uploaded to Air Canada during the check-in procedure. (I did so through the airline’s app, others on a laptop; again, technical proficiency is helpful).

• Tip: Registering for Air Canada’s Canada-based test required producing a Canadian health card number, something some travellers may not have. If not carrying the card, take a photo of it for reference. Also, be sure the test is taken strictly within the 72-time window, not before.

• Complaint: Notwithstanding the exorbitant cost of an incredibly inconvenient test 72 hours before travelling, that still leaves three days for the traveller to encounter someone with COVID. A better solution, in my opinion, would be a pre- check-in antigen test. While the latter is deemed not as accurate as a PCR test, it would surely outweigh having an unaccounted-for 72-window between test and flight.

HOMEWARD BOUND

Zurich airport (where everything works “phenomenally”) was extremely busy on the afternoon of our departure, though exceedingly calm at the Air Canada check-in. Except for everyone wearing masks, you’d never know this was the middle of a pandemic. From check-in to gate was only 30 minutes.

• Check-in: Beyond usual boarding procedures, we were required to show email proof of approval from Air Canada after checking in online (with proof of negative COVID test uploaded into the app); proof of vaccination (a copy of EACH dose; it should be noted for outbound travel that mixed doses may not qualify for entry into a country), and a verification code sent via email by ArriveCAN after the online form was completed.

• Tip: That’s four proofs required throughout the travel process:
• ArriveCAN code (including two vaccination certifications)
• vax certifications (electronic and printed copies of both doses)
• negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of travel to Canada
• Air Canada approval (sent via email) of health documents after online check-in.

BOARDING

Here’s where the fun really starts. Having checked in at the terminal and shown all the aforementioned documentation, I received (unbeknownst to me, until later) a red sticker on the back of my passport and special stamp on my boarding card. These important markers indicated that my docs were approved and I was good to go when called to board. In-transit passengers, without those markers, however, were required to visit a kiosk beside the gate (lengthy line) for verification. This notable safety measure resulted in several passengers (without the proper documents) being denied boarding and a slight departure delay as their luggage was off-loaded.

• Tip: Airport bar hounds might note that general boarding started about an hour before departure to accommodate the more involved protocols.

ONBOARD

The flight home was similar to the flight away, with the exception that this one was packed – in this case with passengers from India connecting through Qatar, suggesting an alternate route for travellers while Canada continues to bar flights from the country.

• Observation: Perhaps more people are trying to get into Canada than to leave it at the moment.

• Air Canada takes its mask policy seriously. Though I witnessed no dissent, passengers were warned mid-flight that failure to observe the mandate would lead to arrest upon arrival.

• Tip: Don’t doddle getting to the gate if your docs have not been checked; overhead bin space is also at a premium (some pax had carry-on bags taken away as checked luggage).

HOME SWEET HOME

Tales of deplaning and customs chaos are becoming legend – passengers stuck on planes for hours awaiting clearance, then hours queued in customs. On the other hand, a friend arriving from Iceland recently was out of Pearson in only 45 minutes after landing. In our case, we were warned of a customs logjam that would delay our exit from the plane; sitting in Row 22 (mid-plane), I waited about 45 minutes to exit, the time mitigated a little by orderly row-by-row disembarkation ahead of me (preceded by plane-wide passengers with connections).

Customs was also quicker than advertised: with my Nexus, I marched straight through with ease, while the non-Nexus maze appeared no worse than usual. The only difference was having to show my vaccination statements (both) and negative COVID test to a customs agent, who did not ask for my ArriveCan code (though presumably it was “in the system.”)

• Lastly: Arrivals exiting the customs hall after picking up luggage are subject to be selected for random testing. A quick check of the back of my passport (for the red sticker, I assume), saw me through with a smile.

WAS IT WORTH IT?

Yes – it was good to be on the road again, and, like a long plane ride, the new annoying protocols were quickly forgotten. Plus, travel restrictions and protocols will undoubtedly continue to evolve and become more efficient, easing the travel stress further. After all, 18 months ago, we couldn’t travel at all.

In the longer term, due to 9/11 and its aftermath, we have become accustomed to travelling without liquids, eating with plastic utensils, sending shoes through the x-ray machine, and wearing clean underwear in case our pants fall down when we remove our belts. We adapt.

At the same time, fingers crossed, this too shall pass.

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

IATA July Passenger Traffic Boost – Well Below Pre-COVID Levels

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IATA July Passenger Traffic Boost – Well Below Pre-COVID Levels - AIRLINEHUB.com - TRAVELINDEXGeneva, Switzerland, September 6, 2021 / TRAVELINDEX / The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that both international and domestic travel demand showed significant momentum in July 2021 compared to June, but demand remained far below pre-pandemic levels. Extensive government-imposed travel restrictions continue to delay recovery in international markets.

Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to July 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern.

  • Total demand for air travel in July 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 53.1% compared to July 2019. This is a significant improvement from June when demand was 60% below June 2019 levels.
  • International passenger demand in July was 73.6% below July 2019, bettering the 80.9% decline recorded in June 2021 versus two years ago. All regions showed improvement and North American airlines posted the smallest decline in international RPKs (July traffic data from Africa was not available).
  • Total domestic demand was down 15.6% versus pre-crisis levels (July 2019), compared to the 22.1% decline recorded in June over June 2019. Russia posted the best result for another month, with RPKs up 28.9% vs. July 2019.

“July results reflect people’s eagerness to travel during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Domestic traffic was back to 85% of pre-crisis levels, but international demand has only recovered just over a quarter of 2019 volumes. The problem is border control measures. Government decisions are not being driven by data, particularly with respect to the efficacy of vaccines. People traveled where they could, and that was primarily in domestic markets. A recovery of international travel needs governments to restore the freedom to travel. At a minimum, vaccinated travelers should not face restrictions. That would go a long way to reconnecting the world and reviving the travel and tourism sectors,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

International Passenger Markets

  • European carriers saw their July international traffic decline 64.2% versus July 2019, significantly bettering the 77.0% decrease in June compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 53.8% and load factor fell 19.9 percentage points to 69.0%.
  • Asia-Pacific airlines’ July international traffic fell 94.2% compared to July 2019, barely improved over the 94.7% drop registered in June 2021 versus June 2019 as the region continues to have the strictest border control measures. Capacity dropped 86.0% and the load factor was down 48.2 percentage points to 34.3%, by far the lowest among regions.
  • Middle Eastern airlines posted a 74.5% demand drop in July compared to July 2019, surpassing the 79.2% decrease in June, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 59.5%, and load factor deteriorated 30.1 percentage points to 51.3%.
  • North American carriers’ July demand fell 62.1% compared to the 2019 period, much improved on the 69.4% decline in June versus two years ago. Capacity sank 52.0%, and load factor dipped 18.6 percentage points to 69.3%.
  • Latin American airlines saw a 66.3% drop in July traffic, compared to the same month in 2019, improved over the 69.8% decline in June compared to June 2019. July capacity fell 60.5% and load factor dropped 12.6 percentage points to 72.9%, which was the highest load factor among the regions for the ninth consecutive month.
  • Australia’s domestic traffic sank further from a 51.4% decline in June versus the same month in 2019, to a 75.4% decline in July versus two years ago, amid stricter domestic lockdowns in response to a spike in the Delta variant.
  • US domestic traffic continued to recover in July, and was down just 7.7% compared to July 2019, improved from a 14.0% decline in June versus June 2019.

The Bottom Line
“As the Northern Hemisphere summer travel season draws to a close it is clear that too many governments missed the opportunity to apply a risk-based approach to managing their borders. The growing number of fully vaccinated travelers and the prevalence of testing provided the chance to restore international connectivity and bring much needed relief to economies that are heavily reliant on travel and tourism. Instead, governments continued to behave as if it was the summer of 2020. Economies and the labor force will pay the price for decisions that were made not based on science, but on political expediency. Governments have rightly urged their populations to be vaccinated; now governments need to have confidence in the benefits of vaccinations—including the freedom to travel,” said Walsh.

First published at TravelCommunication.net

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

Bangkok Iconic Shopping Centers Reopen

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Bangkok Iconic Shopping Centers Reopen

Bangkok, Thailand, September 2, 2021 / TRAVELINDEX / Shopping centers now reopen, according to Thailand’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA)’s ease of business restrictions so that people can restore their normal lives as close to normal as possible. OneSiam – the synergy of Siam Paragon Siam Center and Siam Discovery together with ICONSIAM and their tenants now open under strict preventive pandemic  control measures as well as health screening 100 percent of the staffs before resuming their operation. These stringent measures are to ensure utmost confidence to retail businesses in the shopping centers, tenants, staff and customers. The reopening is rolled out under “One Smile Forward” concept – that all of us will move forward, to embrace this new normal together.

Siam Paragon Siam Center and Siam Discovery together with ICONSIAM have taken hygiene and health safety measures our top priorities and has been taken proactive measures to the highest level, applied to  both our staffs and visitors. The shopping centers’ operation has been strictly carried under the guidelines by the Department of Disease Control and the Ministry of Public Health since the early spread of Covid-1 in 2020. The reopening is also operated under maximum preventive pandemic control measures and stringent staff screening before the official reopening, to reassure visitors’ utmost safety.

Naratipe Ruttapradid, Senior Executive Vice President – Operation, Siam Piwat Co., Ltd, said “Siam Paragon Siam Center, Siam Discovery and ICONSIAM now open under the highest level of sanitization and health safety measures, in compliance with guidance from CCSA to curb the  so that businesses are able to reopen safely and sustainably. We are implementing Covid-Free Setting Protocol to ensure best safety to our staffs and visitors. Our measures include stringent staff screening before resuming their operations. All staffs on duties must be vaccinated and tested negative with the antigen test kit, Thai Safe Thai platform registration, staffs must wear protective face masks at all time and strictly follow D-M-H-T-T rules (Distancing, Mask wearing, Hand washing, Testing, and using the Thai Chana app). Individual retail setting and food operators must complete self-assessment for Thai Stop Covid+ standard as instructed by the Ministry of Public Health.

The operation system is effectively maintained such as sanitizing the air cooling, air ventilation system,  water quality control, proactive big cleaning with disinfectant spray in the public areas and in the shops. Frequent touch points are sanitized every 30 minutes. Car park cards are cleaned after each use to ensure maximum hygiene and safety for both staffs and customers.

For visitors, we recommend they strictly adhere to the hygienic measures to best safeguard themselves including check-in and check-out via Thai Chana platform in comply with CCSA’s guideline. Visitors must wear facemasks at all time and follow the shopping centers’ mandatory such as frequent use of hand sanitizer, health screening at the checkpoint, safeguard themselves and use cashless or E-payment system for safety and convenience.

Additional facilities are on offered. Touchless Building Facilities are installed such as automatic parking entrance without having to receive car park card, automatic parking fee payment is an option for customers who prefer cashless service over paying cash at the exit, automatic hand sanitizers in the properties and elevators and for the restrooms – taps, toilets, and hand sop dispensers are automatic.

“We strictly comply to CCSA’s regulations at the maximum levels to leverage our hygiene and health safety measures to the highest levels, to ensure safe journeys to all visitors. We would like to be a part to support the government in encouraging Thai people to strictly safeguard themselves according to the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, to steer our country out of the crisis,” said Naratipe.

Siam Piwat is confident that OneSiam – the synergy of Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Siam Discovery together with ICONSIAM are more than ready to serves our customers under the most stringent levels of hygiene and health safety. We want to bring back happiness and smiles to everyone. The reopening, under the government’s announcement, is under the concept “One Smile Forward.” Indulging promotion campaigns for shoppers are also on offer, to bring happiness, good experienced and smiles to all, from this moment on.

The operation hour (until further notice)
ICONSIAM: 11.00 -20.00 hrs.
For more information, please call 1338
Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Siam Discovery
Monday – Friday: 11.00 -20.00 hrs.
Saturday – Sunday: 10.00 -20.00 hrs
Gourmet Market at Siam Paragon: opens daily 10.00 -20.00 hrs

First published at TravelCommunication.net

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News