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GRAND GATEWAY: Much ado about makeover for Toronto airport hotel

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Just in time for the return of travel (and the holidays), the Sheraton Gateway, Toronto-Pearson airport’s only directly-connected hotel, has unveiled a $30-million makeover – it’s first since 2003.

Constructed in 1991 as a Swissotel, the Sheraton Gateway consistently ranks among the most visited hotels in Canada due to its coveted location adjacent to Terminal 3 at YYZ , but after 30 years, and hosting hundreds of thousands of guests, it was time for a major refresh, acknowledge hotel officials.

The makeover of the 484-room property, which will be fully complete in February (two floors are still in the final stages of overhaul) follows the purchase of the property in November 2019 by Toronto-based Knightstone Capital Management, which immediately embraced Sheraton’s sophisticated new brand vision and ensured that the Gateway is one of the first properties in the world to bring the vibe to life “top to bottom.”

“Except for the bricks, this truly is a new hotel,” director of operations Greg Macneil said during a recent press preview attended by Travel Industry Today.

“The transformation is nothing short of a metamorphosis,” added director of sales an marketing Jennifer Kazlauskis. “Our loyal guests who’ve recently returned are blown away. You can see it on their faces as they walk in. They can’t believe they’ve stepped across the terminal and into the same hotel. The difference is night and day.”

PUBLIC SQUARE

At the heart of the new experience is the lobby. It has been re-imagined as the “European-style public square” of the hotel – a holistic, wide-open space that invites people to join together, or be alone amongst others, creating a sense of energy and belonging. With a flow that is natural, intuitive, and uncomplicated, guests have what they need within arm’s reach, all set against an inviting backdrop that feels completely refined.

The well-lit lobby is graced with soaring ceilings and ample room for effortless social distancing. The sprawling space also features a restaurant, coffee bar, co-working spaces, and glass-walled soundproof booths for personal calls. Toronto’s Moncur Design Associates were tasked to implement Sheraton’s new brand updates and inject a distinctly Canadian sensibility into this “global hub” by creating a welcoming space that effectively invites guests to linger.

Moreover, “there’s connectivity everywhere,” noted hotel marketing manager Andrea Jaikaran during a site inspection as she pointed to charging outlets embedded into the lobby’s sofas.

ROOMS

King suite

Stepping into the generously sized, light-filled guest rooms that span nearly 37 sq. m., guests are greeted by a warm, residential appeal, composed of soft finishes and natural wood tones. Platform beds (in 1 King and 2 Queen configurations) are topped with luxurious Sheraton Sleep Experience mattresses and wrapped in crisp white linens. A 55-inch television is mounted to noise cancelling, woven fabric panels that make for an equally functional and stylish statement wall. A height adjustable table enables a quick transition to a standing desk. And a bench running beneath the TV provides additional seating and quick storage.

Bathrooms feature a modern walk-in shower or bath with amenities by Gilchrist & Soames. The space is surrounded with neutral porcelain walls, while a light wood vanity, backlit mirror, polished chrome fixtures, and black accents complement the guest room design.

The only thing that hasn’t changed here are the views. All rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows offering dramatic city or runway views, a thrill for any aviation fan.

CLUB LOUNGE

The Sheraton Club Lounge – moved to the lobby level – is open 24/7. The exclusive space for Marriott Bonvoy Elite members and Sheraton Club level guests and offers updated food and beverage option, access to complimentary amenities, and enhanced connectivity in an upgraded private environment.

FOOD & BEVERAGE

Gateway Gin & Tonics

Executive Chef Pravin Kumar Bagali has conceived a diverse menu designed to appeal to a wide range of tastes. Part cocktail bar, part coffee bar serving favourite Starbucks drinks, part grab-and-go market, the &More concept is more than a restaurant – it’s a central pillar of the new Sheraton vision with food and beverage options available day and night that are locally-sourced, easy to consume while working, and accommodating of varied tastes and time schedules.

A highlight is the hotel’s signature Gateway Gin & Tonic, or GG&T, which enables guests to design their own cocktails, with six gin choices and various flavours and garnishes. The drink even turns colours as it is concocted by the mixologist.

AMENITIES

The hotel also boasts nearly 1,700 sq. m. of flexible, updated meeting spaces, a fully equipped fitness centre, indoor heated swimming pool, and whirlpool. Additionally, a dedicated Peloton studio in the works that will house a pair of bikes available to guests 24/7.

NEW REALITIES

Sheraton Hotels are following Marriott International’s Commitment to Clean protocols, created in partnership with leading experts in food and water safety, hygiene and infection prevention, and hotel operations. Protocols include mandated mask wearing for all associates within the hotel, and the use of disinfectants to sanitize all surfaces.

IN OTHER NEWS

Having completed phase one of its own renovations, the Sheraton Centre Toronto is welcoming guests again following the first closure in its nearly 50-year history. A signature hotel in the city, located directly across from Toronto City (and beside the Eaton Centre), the property’s full re-fit will be completed in the first half of 2022.

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

MEET GOWAY 2.0: Tour operator looks ahead to next 50 years

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Despite largely having to largely skip celebrations of a 50th anniversary milestone last year while enduring the “most difficult” period he’s ever seen in the business, Bruce Hodge says he’s determined that Goway will come out of the global health crisis (and subsequent travel downturn) even stronger than it was nearly two years ago.

To that end, Hodge has invoked the words of Winston Churchill in the aftermath of WWII – “Never let a good crisis go to waste” – as an opportunity to reinvent the business he founded a half century ago for the next 50 years.

In particular, the company has spent its pandemic downtime investing heavily in new technologies, including a new phone system, online training program and customized reservation system, all designed to make its destination specialist staff better experts and its varied product line “more attractive and easier to sell.”

Hodge points to the company’s recently introduced ‘Your Next Journey: The Best of Goway Travel’ interactive digital travel brochure as encapsulating the brand’s fresh approach to “doing business in a post-pandemic world.”

He adds, “All areas of our company have been refreshed and revitalized.”

Company VP Craig Canvin says Goway’s pandemic downtime also saw a product revamp, which he says now includes over a thousand “totally reimagined” tours in the system, and now divided into three price tiers: moderate, first class and deluxe – as well as boasting consistency across all divisions, from Australia to Africa, Europe, and South America.

With an added focus on luxury experiences, which includes private guided tours, agents will have a wider range of travel styles to offer clients, he says, but at the same time still having access to Goway’s “tried and true” product.

Other enhancements include private transfers on every tour.

“We’re not just a head in a bed and bum in the seat,” Canvin says, noting that many of the tour upgrades reflect customer demands. “This is what clients have been looking for and the traveller demands – to (travel) on their own terms.”

Agents can also take advantage of Goway’s tech enhancements via a new three-way Zoom feature that allows a company destination specialist to liaise with the agent and their client, which allows the customer to be involved in the planning process.

Of the changes, Canvin says, “We’re calling it Goway 2.0,” and adds, “It sets the stage for growth.”

Goway trio: Rourke, Saba, and Norton

Accompanying the product changes are some new team members (including the recently announced addition of Rares Dumitru as National Account Manager for Canada), as well as transitional changes to the company’s senior management team, effective Jan. 1, including the promotion of Anthony Saba to VP of Downunder & South Pacific, taking over from Shirley Rourke, who becomes VP of Groups. The latter move reflects the retirement of Barbara Norton next April after 38 years at the company.

Until then, Norton and Rourke will continue to work together to reinvent Goway’s Holidays of a Lifetime program, which will be incorporated into the refreshed Groups Only division.

More changes to the new Goway “50+ management team” are expected in the New Year.

At the same time, Goway, always active south of the border, has announced a partnership with the prominent Signature Travel Network, which boasts 11,000 members, in order to expand its reach in the US.

As for the winter and into 2022, VP Canvin says bookings are booming, especially for exotic destinations, or “idyllic retreats” as Goway calls them, with the top three destinations being The Maldives, Tahiti, and Dubai, with the latter’s Expo 2020 commanding great interest. Similarly doing “extremely well” is Europe, he says.

Another trend amongst clients is staying longer and upgrading amenities, from flights to hotel rooms.

“As soon as a luxury destination opens up,” enthuses Canvin, “it is booked.”

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

EFFORTS TO SAVE WINTER PROVE FUTILE: Beloved dolphin dies. Aquarium closes today.

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UPDATED: Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium had temporarily closed today (Friday) to treat its most famous resident, Winter, the prosthetic-tailed dolphin that starred in the “Dolphin Tale” movies. The beloved marine mammal is now in critical condition from a suspected infection. Unfortunately their best efforts proved in vain and Winter died last night.

The announcement from the Aquarium:

The earlier story:

The aquarium said in a statement yesterday it was shutting down for the day “to create the best possible environment” for medical staff to treat the 16-year-old female bottlenose dolphin, who is suffering from a gastrointestinal infection.

“The dedicated CMA animal care experts are consulting with top animal care and veterinary specialists in the country and exploring all possible options to save Winter’s life,” the aquarium statement said.

James “Buddy” Powell, president of the aquarium, said the one-day closure will allow staff “to do nothing but focus on Winter’s health.” The aquarium plans to reopen Saturday.

“Winter is adored by the world,” Powell said. “Right now, she’s being docile, but she is moving and responding to people. We’re doing everything we can to take care of her medically.”

Winter was two months old when her tail became entangled in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, which forced its amputation. “Dolphin Tale,” which was released in 2011, chronicled Winter’s recovery and the unprecedented, lengthy effort to fit her with a prosthetic tail.

The film, starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman and Nathan Gamble, was largely shot at the Clearwater aquarium and surrounding Tampa Bay locations. It put the non-profit aquarium, first opened in 1972 on the site of a former water treatment plant, on the map internationally.

Officials there say Winter’s story has become an inspiration for disabled people around the world and the aquarium has received thousands of messages of support since Winter’s illness became known.

“Many are inspired by her resiliency and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has affected millions, including so many on their own health journey,” the aquarium statement said.

A sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2,″ was released three years later starring Winter and Hope, another rescued dolphin cared for by the Clearwater aquarium.

Bottlenose dolphins can live up to 60 years and are considered one of the most intelligent of all animal species.

Winter and Hope are by far the most famous residents of the Clearwater aquarium, which also operates sea turtle and manatee rescue programs.

A US$80 million expansion of the facility was recently completed, including 5.6 million-litre new dolphin complex, to handle the crowds that have descended on the aquarium since “Dolphin Tale” was released a decade ago.

Updated information at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Winter, photo/ Clearwater Marine Aquarium>

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

ST. KITTS CALLING ALL CANADIANS

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St. Kitts and Nevis are eager to get back to business in Canada, a market the Caribbean islands were making great strides in in 2019 only to be interrupted by the pandemic, but now set to resume thanks to Air Canada flights beginning on Dec. 5, coupled with eased border measures that took effect late last week.

Tourism minister Lindsay Grant told Travel Industry Today (via Zoom) that the St. Kitts Tourism Authority had been part way through a five-year strategic plan to increase in its profile in Canada, a process that was “well on its way” – boosting its arrivals numbers from this country to close to 10,000 – until the global health crisis,

Indeed, such was the success that Air Canada had even planned to add a second weekly flight, says Grant.

Nearing two years later, the islands are still hoping to “move the trajectory upwards” and improving their standing in the Canadian market.

“We see the potential and we’re plugging away at that – so much so that we engaged a Canadian PR firm and we’re putting the emphasis in Canada, because what the Canadians like is what we have to offer,” says Grant.

By which he means “an uncrowded, quintessential Caribbean getaway with a distinct array of activities, astonishing natural beauty and warm, welcoming hospitality,” not to mention rich in food, music, and other cultural attributes.

Or, more specifically, says Grant, “the Caribbean as it used to be – but with all the amenities. Somewhere you can lay back and be enchanted…”

Boasting plenty of sun, sand, and sea – and all that goes along with that – the small islands are not lacking in attractions, including, in St. Kitts, the UNESCO recognized 500-year-old Brimstone Hill Fortress Park, rain-forested Mt. Liamuiga, and the Sugar Train, the Caribbean’s only scenic passenger railway, which recalls the former British island’s history as a top sugar producer.

Less than 10 minutes away by water taxi, sister island Nevis (part of the twin-island federation formally known as St. Christopher and Nevis), is known for its unspoilt coastline, botanic gardens, and historical significance as the birthplace of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton.

Grant says Canadians tend to visit both islands – “two for the price of one” – with Nevis considered the quieter of the two.

And while there is a mix of accommodation options – including the noteworthy Four Seasons Nevis, which has just completed a major renovation, and the Park Hyatt St. Christopher, as well as the Koi Resort St. Kitts (Hilton) and a dual Marriott property – there are many quaint boutique properties that offer a distinct flavour of the islands. That includes the Royal St. Kitts hotel, the former Jack Tar Village that was a favourite of Canadians. And there are no all-inclusives, Grant notes.

Celebrity Equinox arriving at St. Kitts

Cruising is also important to St. Kitts/Nevis with Grant explaining that many visitors “fall in love with the country” on a shore excursion and then return for a longer stay in the future.

This fall, Seabourn and Celebrity have returned to the island, with the arrival of the latter’s Equinox on Sept. 14 making big waves in the island.

“It reaffirmed our status as a marquee port… and really signals that we are on our way to recovery (from the pandemic) and provides some short-term confidence to the tourism industry and residents,” says Grant

Since 2014 the islands have more than doubled the number of cruise passengers, prompting Grant to note that authorities are cognizant of not succumbing to over-tourism. He notes that the nature of the islands enables visitors to quickly spread out and not overwhelm the port and capital Basseterre.

But whether by sea or air (the latter featuring a $300 p.p. seat sale on Air Canada Rouge flights when booked by Oct. 14), the tourism authority is committed to carrying full on in Canada to increase exposure and “re-introducing” Canadians to St. Kitts this winter, and beyond.

“You’re going to be seeing a lot more of us in Canada,” says Grant.

ENTRY PROTOCOLS

Travellers 18 and over must be fully vaccinated (under 18 exempted) and have a negative PCR test result produced within 72 hours of travel. Another test is necessary upon arrival at one’s “travel approved” hotel during a 24-hour quarantine period (reduced last week from four days) and upon a negative result from that test, visitors can “fully integrate” into island life.

In August, St. Kitts and Nevis announced that people with mixed vaccine two-dose regimens using World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccines, will be considered fully vaccinated.

Specific to Canadians, the Ministry of Health said those “who received their first dose of an mRNA vaccine followed by a second dose of different brand of mRNA vaccine, as well as those who received a viral vector vaccine such as AstraZeneca/ COVISHIELD followed by an mRNA vaccine, will be considered Fully Vaccinated by The Federation.”

Visitors must also complete the online KNA travel form, which includes proof of vaccination and hotel bookings, for authorization before travel.

Full travel protocols and requirements are outlined HERE.

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

VANCOUVER, CANADA’S GREENEST CITY

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We dyed in the wool Torontonians have maintained a long-time rivalry with Vancouverites. They think that we think the world (Canada) revolves around us and we think that they think they live in Canada’s most beautiful city—with real estate prices to prove the point. However, I must confess that my recent trip to Vancouver confirms that the city is as vibrant and stunning as my Vancouver buddies like to boast. It’s hard, no impossible, to compete with Stanley Park, the stunning waterfront and backdrop of mountains. I hope you’ll find these “save and splurge” tips to be useful when planning your trip to, amongst other kudos, Canada’s “greenest” city.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST

Bottomless Brunch & Rooftop Buzz

Come hungry to ARC restaurant in the Fairmont Waterfront hotel. The all-inclusive brunch ($49 per person) features a smorgasbord of temptations including smoothies, jerk fried chicken, short ribs poutine, Croque Madame, tacos and salmon Benedict. Throw in a “Let’s Get Fizzical” Mimosa tasting flight ($19) and you’ve got a party.

Guests can work off those calories by taking one of the hotel’s free bicycles for a loop around Stanley Park’s Seawall or doing some lengths in the roof-top pool.

The Fairmont Waterfront also has a rooftop apiary where chief beekeeper Julia Common oversees a lot of busy bees who produce upwards of 200 pounds of honey per year. It’s all part of a Hives for Humanity program. The Waterfront is also dog friendly, so its canine guests receive water bowls, beds and cookies.
www.fairmont.com

Star-Studded Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar:
One of the most awarded restaurants in Vancouver’s recent history, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar features sensational seafood paired with the culinary visions of Chefs Alex Chen and Roger Ma. Like Ma, Chen also won the Canadian Culinary Championship crown in 2018 and was the first competitor to beat Iron Chef Hugh Acheson in the 2018 reboot of Iron Chef Canada.
Order the seafood tower and imagine you’re on a grand boulevard in Paris.
www.boulevardvancouver.ca

Sole Food
What do movie director Robert Altman and entertainer Madonna have in common? Both have worn the funky shoe creations by Vancouver designer John Fluevog. Everything about his soles and heels have attitude—from pointy-toed pilgrim styles to sexy Mary Janes.
www.fluevog.com

Take a Wok
Guide Robert Sung is a passionate font of information about Chinatown and the Chinese culture. Meet him at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Gardens, the first full-scale Ming Dynasty garden of its kind to be constructed outside of China. This oasis was named in honour of the Chinese philosopher, physician and politician, often referred to as the Father of Modern China du to his role in the overthrow of China’s last imperial Qing Dynasty.

From the peaceful garden Sung will lead you on a lively romp of Chinatown, stopping for tastes of warm apple tart and barbecued pork. You will visit a fascinating shop selling herbal remedies such as dried sea cucumber, all sorts of mushrooms and various fish bladders. Sung also stops at fish mongers, grocery and produce stores.

“Dim sum demystified” is how Sung describes lunch. While enjoying a spread of various dumplings and small bites, we learn that dim sum means “touch the heart” and that good manners specify that one never pours one’s own tea but fills the cups of others at the table. We wind up in a traditional tea shop with a demonstration of how to prepare Chinese tea and a chance to buy some exotic leaves. Sung also offers walking food tours of Granville Island.
Tour costs $80 plus tax; minimum two people.
www.awokaround.com

Food choices

THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST

Thai One On
Chef Narong Yumongkol presides at Unchai, named best Thai restaurant by Vancouver Magazine last year. Before coming to Vancouver, chef worked in several luxurious hotels in Thailand and Dubai. His small restaurant on Burrard Street, overlooking a Honda dealership, isn’t fancy but the food is five-star. Due to Covid, they no longer operate the indoor restaurant, so folks line up for take-out, plus there are three tables on a small curbside patio. Dishes from all over Thailand include papaya salad, boat noodle soup and Panang curry. It’s the best Thai food I’ve had in North America with a brilliant menu and just the right balance of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy.
www.unchai.ca

Keefer Yard bar

Putts & Pints
If you’re in Chinatown, check out the hip bar with an indoor putting course called Keefer Yard. You might want to try a sake colada or a rosemary gimlet to get you in the mood to sink some balls. Golf cost is $10 for two. Happy hour goes from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday when you can order a local beer for $5 or cocktails at reduced prices. Pub grub includes burgers, dim sum and exotic small bites.
www.thekeeferbar.com

Market Grub
Enjoy a DIY picnic at the Granville Island Public Market. Browse the wealth of stalls featuring artisan-made cheeses, meats, breads and sweets, then take your feast outside and enjoy your meal al fresco. Inexpensive and fun, the Aquabus and False Creek Ferries provide short rides across the False Creek Inlet, from the downtown side (north) to the Granville Island side (south).
The ferries run continuously from 7am to 10:30pm in the summer (8:30pm winter).
Aquabus

Hike the Grouse Grind
This steep 2.9-kilometre trail to the top of Grouse Mountain is commonly referred to by locals as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.” Average completion time for the Grind is 1.5 hours, with the fastest time just over 26 minutes. Once you reach the summit, order a well-deserved beer, enjoy the stunning views, and then take the tram back down. www.grousemountain.com

Pick of the Park
Stanley Park’s massive urban green space offers a multitude of athletic options. Play tennis or check out the Stanley Park Pitch & Putt, a par-three golf course that winds through mature trees along English Bay. Cyclists, joggers and walkers wanting to escape the crowds on the seawall can check out the park’s 64 kilometres of forested trails.

It’s a Gas
Will Woods runs Forbidden Vancouver, a bunch of walking tours that give guests an animated inside look at the city in the bad old days. On the Lost Souls of Gastown your storyteller will regale you with gruesome tales back in the 1800s when Vancouver was a wild frontier town complete with gangsters, gold rushers, madams, a terrible plague and fire. Cost is $32 for adults.
www.forbiddenvancouver.ca

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

JAMAICA READY TO PLAY BALL

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It was only fitting that the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Toronto tourism blitz last week concluded with a box for some select friends at a Blue Jays game. After all, though the Jays were soon to be headed home after their penultimate game of the season, the Caribbean nation is merely rounding first and heading for second as tourism begins to return from its pandemic pause.

JTB’s director of tourism, Donovan White, told Travel Industry Today that it was only natural for the tourist board team, which included tourism minister Edmund Bartlett, to come to Canada, the island’s second largest source market (after the US), as soon as they could after the border re-opened to international visitors.

“We haven’t had a chance to see our tourism partners in person, face to face (since the start of the pandemic), so it was extremely important for us to do that,” he said.

“Tourism is a people business, we understand that very well; and the more we’re able to have these first impressions on our partners, it will be able to help to deliver confidence…”

During the multi-day mission, the JTB team met with travel agents, tour operators, airlines and the media to build on the confidence he says Canada is showing in Jamaica, not least through the strong level of air seat capacity available this winter through returning airlines – Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Sunwing, and Swoop, flying from multiple gateways, including Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Edmonton, St John, Ottawa, and Moncton.

Moreover, White says 265,000 seats are already committed across the carriers, compared to 305,000 in 2019, which translates to about 82% of that previous capacity – a statistic that under the circumstances he considers “amazing,” and to which attributes the confidence of Jamaica’s partners in Canada and the ongoing work of the JTB office here.

Donovan White

He further credits the success of Jamaica’s “resilience corridors” in providing a safe haven for visitors to Jamaica with less than one percent positivity rates for COVID-19 – another “phenomenal” stat in light of Jamaica’s 1.4 million visitors since re-opening its borders in June 2020.

(Earlier this month, the government also launched a vaccination drive to facilitate administration of the vaccines island-wide with a series of voluntary vaccination blitzes at strategic sites across the country. This drive is an extension of the “Jamaica Cares” program, a nationwide response to COVID-19 that includes the resilient corridors and other comprehensive health and safety protocols.)

White adds that tour operators in this country are reporting a “positive trajectory” on bookings (currently reaching 65% of 2019 levels), and that Jamaica will continue to offer support and marketing in Canada “to drive the consumer to them.”

One aspect of the JTB’s ongoing efforts are plans to stage its annual JAPEX trade show in person in early November, albeit with a hybrid component to allow for people who can’t make it to the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

The JTB has also begun to invite trade partners in limited numbers back to the island to “touch and feel it for themselves.”

As for Canadians travelling to Jamaica, White says current protocols are not limited to fully vaccinated persons, but a negative COVID test (PCR or antigen) is a must, as is completion of a pre-travel authorization form that can be found on the visitjamaica.com website.

And with no quarantines in place (unless positive) or arrival testing, “you’re ready to be on your way to the beach immediately.”

White also notes that 90% of Jamaica’s tourism assets are located within the resilient corridor and that tourists are free to move around within that zone, where they will have “a very normal experience. The only difference you’re likely to notice from two years ago is people wearing masks.”

For anyone that does test positive in Jamaica, hotels are equipped with isolation rooms and care needs. The hotels will also help arrange PCRs tests with a private lab for Canadians as required for their return trip home, with White adding, “The hotels take the pain and frustration of getting it done by making the appointments for their guests.”

It’s just one more way, he says, to demonstrate that “we are focussed on ensuring that every person who comes to Jamaica can do so safely and can have a safe and successful vacation.”

As for the industry, White says “we are happy about the way things have gone (in creating a safe environment for visitors). And we are even more enthused by the confidence our international partners are showing us.”

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

BLUE DIAMOND SIGNS ON TO AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION

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Sunwing reports 20 of its Blue Diamond Resorts properties have now been fully integrated into Marriott International’s prestigious Autograph Collection. The integration follows the news earlier this year that the company’s hotel division had signed a mutual partnership agreement with the hotel giant.

The 20 participating Blue Diamond Resorts, now including Royalton Grenada, are the first all-inclusive properties to join the Marriott brand, a curated collection of independent properties with distinct perspectives on design and hospitality. The resorts will continue to be independently owned and operated by Blue Diamond Resorts under the Autograph Collection name and deliver on the brand’s promise to “create unique and memorable vacation experiences tailored to guests’ unique interests.”

Hotels that are now part of the Autograph Collection include:

Mexico
• Planet Hollywood Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort
• Planet Hollywood Adult Scene Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only
• Royalton CHIC Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only
• Royalton Riviera Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino
• Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only

Dominican Republic
• Royalton Bavaro, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino
• Royalton CHIC Punta Cana, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino – Adults Only
• Royalton Punta Cana, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino
• Hideaway at Royalton Punta Cana, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino – Adults Only
• Royalton Splash Punta Cana, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino

Jamaica
• Grand Lido Negril Au-Naturel, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only
• Royalton Blue Waters Montego Bay, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort
• Royalton Negril, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort
• Hideaway at Royalton Negril, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only
• Royalton White Sands Montego Bay, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort

Royalton Negril

Saint Lucia
• Royalton Saint Lucia, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort
• Hideaway at Royalton Saint Lucia, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort – Adults Only

Costa Rica
• Planet Hollywood Costa Rica, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort

Antigua
• Royalton Antigua, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort & Casino

Grenada
• Royalton Grenada, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort

The resorts have also joined Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott International’s award-winning loyalty program and travel marketplace, which offers a robust portfolio of 30 hotel brands and endless experiences, enabling members to earn and redeem points.

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

COVER UP: Dubai David unexposed at Expo

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A giant 3D printed replica of Michelangelo’s famous David statue has sparked controversy after organisers chose to cover up the statue’s genitalia to avoid offending viewers. The replica of what is arguably the world’s most recognisable nude was to be on display at the event’s Italian pavilion, but after much deliberation event organisers inexplicably decided the 17-foot statue was best viewed positioned in a column with stone slabs covering much of it – especially the dangly bits.

Public nudity is not permitted in the United Arab Emirates, and the first unveiling of the statue to Emirati VIPs caused “enormous embarrassment,” according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Italian artists and art critics have roundly criticized and protested the decision to shroud the Davis replica with the stone slabs

Sculpted by Michelangelo in 1504, the original statue of David was initially installed in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence before being moved to the Florence Academy of Fine Arts in 1873.

It is one of the most recognisable artworks in the world, and one of the biggest tourist attractions in Italy.

The version of David at the Dubai Expo is a replica of the original produced with laser scans and 3D printing technology. It is made of resin brushed with marble dust to represent the aesthetic of the original sculpture.

However, while the original David stands proudly for all to see, Dubai David is shrouded in a cylindrical chamber made of glass and stone columns which prevents audiences from viewing all he has to offer.

David as seen in Dubai

The Dubai Expo 2020 – originally set to take place last year but postponed due to the pandemic – aims to showcase examples of innovation and culture from countries around the world. UAE authorities hope it will attract more investment and tourism to the region

Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi labelled the event organisers’ cover-up of David as “grotesque and ridiculous.”

Davide Rampello, the director responsible for the displays at the Italian pavilion at the Dubai Expo, defended the decision as a “unique approach” and denied it was a question of government censorship.

“It is a different perspective, which is new, introspective and moving,” said Rampello adding that visitors who enter from the ground floor level will still be able to see the statue in its entirety. Event organisers however, said the lower level will only be accessible to VIPs – presumably those immune to distress at the sight of male genitalia.

An Italian who worked on the project told La Repubblica, “We even thought of putting undergarments on the statue, or changing it all together, but it was too late.”

Why didn’t anyone think to call Calvin Klein?

The Real Thing

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

RAIN AND SHINE: Transat event helps reconnect with agents

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Despite the rain in Toronto on Monday, Transat still had a chance to shine at the tour company’s first in-person event since the pandemic started. With close to a hundred agents expected over a couple of hours at the socially distanced outdoor gathering in the parking lot outside Transat’s office on the West Mall, it was a chance to get together after far too long, according to a company exec.

The aim of the event, which will also be held in Hamilton, London, Montreal, and Quebec this week, is “to return a little fun to the travel industry,” Transat Tours commercial director Nicole Bursey told Travel Industry Today. “People want to connect, and we owe a great deal of gratitude to travel agents.”

With a DJ pumping out upbeat tunes and a food truck serving burritos and nachos, agents also got the latest news from Transat, which includes the launch of special signage with a QR code for placement in brochure racks to direct users to the company’s latest (digital) brochure, which replaces the paper version this year.

Transat has also launched a hotel sharing tool, which allows agents to send a content rich email to clients.

Bursey says more in-depth virtual training will return later this month.

The events are also an opportunity for Transat to re-engage with the trade after a long pandemic pause that was further complicated last year by the company’s near, but ultimately aborted, merger with Air Canada.

Bursey noted that the corporate intrigue was a definitely a distraction, but said it did little to affect company business. “We never left, we’ve always been here,” she says, “and I think people knew we would be here in some version of Transat; we just didn’t know which version.”

While she believes there would have been new opportunities with an Air Canada deal, she also says Transat is now enjoying a new spirit of energy and renewal.

As for the get-together, Bursey says, “It just felt like it was kind of time and the agents wanted it. This is something they really deserve.”

Even getting together in a parking lot feels good these days.

 

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News