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The Ethics of Travel Advisors Are Being Challenged, and It’s Not Right

A column in Friday’s USA Today has rankled the travel industry in general and sullied the name of travel advisors in particular.

And it’s not right.

The column is entitled, “Is it ethical to recommend travel while the world is in the grips of a second COVID-19 wave?” and was written by Christopher Elliott. In the piece, which you can read here in its entirety, Elliott not only questions the idea of selling travel now that a new surge of the virus is engulfing the country but also challenges the integrity of travel agents who do so as well as airlines and cruise lines and hotels for offering deep discounts to customers.

Elliott quotes a few experts, particularly those in ethics law.

“With both infections and hospitalizations increasing in many countries, including the U.S., it’s worth remembering the most fundamental ethical principle of all: do no harm,” says Bruce Weinstein, an author and ethics expert. “With that in mind, it is ethically unintelligent to travel now – especially for leisure.”

“I do not think it is ethical for companies to be recommending travel,” says Emily Waddell, who publishes a blog called The Honest Consumer. “The travel companies are just looking out for their own best interest in regards to sales. They’re not taking into consideration the seriousness of the pandemic and how more people traveling could increase the spread of the virus.”

Added Robert Foehl, professor of business law and ethics at Ohio University: “We have an ethical duty to prevent harm to others.”

Okay, as a pragmatist I can see some of their points.

Now let me make mine.

This logic is flawed.

If we were to follow this logic to the letter, then the author and the experts should also use their soapbox to talk about everything that is, allegedly, unethical – both during the pandemic and without this cloud hanging over our global heads.

Such as … where is the outrage for retailers who sell cigarettes, knowing the dangers of smoking and knowing the dangers of second-hand smoke to non-smokers? What about the tens of thousands of liquor stores across the nation selling alcohol, when we know the dangers of becoming addicted to booze? What about the rosy commercials for cleaning products that promise to turn everything sparkling, but fail to warn you that some of the chemicals used to make the product are harmful to your health? Where’s the outrage there?

Granted, I get it. The USA Today piece is directly connecting the ethics question to the pandemic. But again, you could make the same argument with any of the other examples I brought up. Drinking is up — why don’t we castigate liquor store owners who push specials during the crisis? Depression is up — why don’t we criticize schools, for instance, for not doing more to bring their kids into the schools to foster more socialization?

My point is simple – it’s called freedom of choice. Neither travel advisors nor tobacco manufacturers nor liquor salesmen nor the makers of window cleaners are going door-to-door and forcing you to buy their products. They might entice you with sales and specials, sure, but how does that make travel agents any more unethical than any other salesperson?

No, this is a personal decision to travel that rests solely with the client. Just like buying a pack of Marlboros or a fifth of Grey Goose.

There’s no question the entire travel industry is in a fight for its collective lives because of the coronavirus, but the circumstances are extraordinary. Ten percent of jobs in this country are somehow travel related. It’s not just the industry itself but the health of the U.S. economy at stake.

And to suggest, as the column does, that travel advisors could omit, downplay or outright lie about the guidelines and the situation regarding travel at this moment, is not only disingenuous but unethical in and of itself. Times are tough, yes, but travel agents have built an unparalleled reputation they are hardly going to risk for an eight to 12 percent commission. For that kind of reward vs. risk, they better be booking one hell of an around-the-world trip.

(Which, uh, aren’t allowed at the moment anyway.)

Look, the bottom line is this. We’ve already seen how bad the pandemic has been. It has shut down the cruise lines completely and, at one point earlier this year, had planes leaving the gate with just one or two passengers. But to stop selling travel – or, in effect, to shut down the entire industry as the column seems to be suggesting – is not the answer.

And to say that selling travel right now is unethical is a slap in the face to everyone from a hotel CEO to the person who cleans the airport bathroom – all of whom contribute to an industry that makes this country go.


Safe Tourism: Seychelles steps up health measures

Responding to the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and the second wave in certain regions around the world, destination Seychelles is re-enforcing measures to curb probabilities of local infection on its shores.

The review has been done by the tourism task force, a committee regrouping tourism stakeholders, health decision-makers and various other local agencies to oversee all issues relating to the re-opening of the destination during this period dominated by the COVID 19 pandemic.

The current review of the measures is based on epidemiological factors and considerations.

The first change to the measures relates to the COVID-19 PCR test to be done while in the country. The timing of the test has been reviewed by the Public Health Authority (PHA) and specifies that all visitors coming into Seychelles, will take a PCR test after the fifth night. This means the testing will be conducted on the sixth day after the arrival of the visitor.

Before that, only visitors from the Category 2 countries were required to take a PCR test whilst in the country. Now, these new measures apply to all visitors.

Visitors and hotel partners are also being advised that unless informed of the contrary after 24 hours of the sample being taken, the visitor should consider the result as negative. Visitors from Category 2 countries may then follow Category 1 requirements, which include changing hotels and able to proceed with their planned holidays whilst observing strict health protocols throughout.
The task force has considered the increasing interest of young couples to walk down the aisle in the paradisiacal islands and has since applied stricter measures for establishments hosting weddings and for other wedding service providers including Civil Status personnel officiating, beauty and hairdressing service suppliers.

Relating to the sixth-day testing and protocols to be adopted in case of an asymptomatic case detected, the PHA has advised that if the client is staying in a Category 2 establishment, he or she could be allowed to remain in isolation within the establishment.

It is imperative that the person does not have contact with other visitors staying at the same property as well as have limited and controlled contact with hotel personnel while being monitored daily.

In actual practice, when or if a visitor is found to be a positive case of Covid-19, the health team will be on-site to guide the management on measures to be applied. It may also be the case that a particular establishment is not suitable to keep an infected person and he or she would need to be moved to another designated and certified hotel.

The general measures for a Category 2 establishment will automatically apply for a positive case and the specific measures must be determined on the actual establishment and the conditions present at the time. Before the PCR test is taken on the sixth day, every visitor is treated with caution, through intensive safety procedures.

Seychelles has been welcoming visitors since June from private flights and charters but reopened its borders to commercial fights on August 1, 2020.


HVS Asia Pacific Hospitality Newsletter – Week Ending 6 November 2020

Singapore has announced that travellers from mainland China and the state of Victoria in Australia will be able to enter Singapore without quarantine. Upon arrival, travellers will have to undergo a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”) test and will not be required to be quarantined if the result is negative. Visitors from mainland China and Australia made up a quarter of total visitor arrivals to Singapore in 2019, with China as the top source market, accounting for one-fifth of total visitor arrivals and SGD4.1 billion in receipts. To facilitate the arrivals, the Singapore Hotel Association (“SHA”) created a one-stop reference on its website. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (“CAAS”) mentioned that travellers from these areas can apply for an Air Travel Pass from 30 October onwards to enter Singapore on or after 6 November. Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders returning from these areas do not need to apply for this pass. To qualify for the pass, applicants must have remained in mainland China or Australia in the last 14 days prior to their entry. As of 29 October noon, 1,375 applications from these areas were approved, and 602 visitors were received. None were tested positive for Covid-19.

Japan Eases COVID-19 Travel Curbs for Nine Countries and Regions

Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Toshimistu Motegi, announced that Japan has lowered its infection risk advisory from Level Three to Two against nine countries including Australia, Brunei, China, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. However, Japanese citizens are advised to avoid non-essential trips towards these countries. On the contrary, Japan raised its travel advisory against Jordan and Myanmar, which advises citizens to avoid all forms of travel. There are currently 152 countries and regions issued with Level Three advisories. In addition, Japan and Vietnam have agreed to implement a business track, where reciprocal short-term business travel could be resumed. Travellers could negate the 14-day quarantine order, should they test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival. Vietnam would be the third country that Japan authorises reciprocal business travel, following South Korea and Singapore.

Singapore-based economy hotel operator, RedDoorz, has launched a new economy lifestyle hotel brand, SANS, as part of its strategy to build the largest new-age hospitality company in South-east Asia. SANS, inspired from the Indonesian word “santai” which means to “chill”, aims to provide a vibrant and cosy stay experience at an affordable cost, with properties to feature trendy furnishings and amenities. The brand will debut in Indonesia next month, with an expansion of five more new properties targeted by year end. RedDoorz will also embark on a major rebranding exercise in 2021 to reposition the company as a multi-brand accommodation platform. The company said that it plans to add new accommodation products to its platform across economy lifestyle, mid-scale and extended stay segments, on top of its existing budget hotel brand and co-living service, KoolKost. As part of the rebranding, the company will also roll out a new redesigned app and rebranding campaign in the first quarter of 2021. The new app will allow users to browse the company’s portfolio of accommodation brands, and will also be complemented by a new loyalty programme, which can be used to earn and redeem discounts, and access exclusive partner offers and benefits.

Aman Founder, Adrian Zechahas partnered with Japan-based hospitality group, Naru Developments, to launch a new Ryokan-inspired hospitality brand, Azumi. The first Azumi property is slated to open on one of the islands in the Setouchi Region, in southern Okayama Prefecture of Japan, coming spring 2021. Named after the Azumi people, one of the ancient seafaring tribes who crossed the ocean and settled in Japan, the brand is anticipated to showcase the right harmony between traditional design and modernised comfort. Each Azumi property will serve as a medium of expression for each locale and its climate by charting the diverse and dynamic roots of Japan’s cultural background.

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Airbnb’s Commitment to Safer Travel: New Health and Safety Mandate

As people continue to find new ways to travel and host safely, in line with guidance and rules issued by local governments and health authorities, cleanliness remains a priority. Today, we announced hosts and guests must agree to follow Airbnb’s COVID-19 Safety Practices, which include wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and, for hosts and their teams, abiding by our five-step enhanced cleaning process. This commitment will help provide extra assurances to try and safeguard all our stakeholders – hosts, guests, their communities and governments.

Earlier this year we introduced Airbnb’s Enhanced Cleaning Protocol, a set of guidelines for cleaning and sanitization developed with guidance from leading experts in hospitality and medical hygiene and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, which earned the Safe Travel stamp from the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC).

Since the launch of the program in June, hosts have enrolled nearly 1.5 million listings and guests have given these listings an average 4.8* star rating for cleanliness. Early in the pandemic, Airbnb also issued health and safety guidelines about wearing a mask and practicing social distancing in accordance with guidance from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.

In an effort to reiterate our commitment to responsible travel and the well-being of our communities, we are now requiring all hosts and guests to commit to the following COVID-19 safety practices:

  • All guests and hosts must wear masks and practice social distancing when interacting with each other.
  • All homes hosts must commit to implement Airbnb’s five-step enhanced cleaning process by November 20.**

Hosts have until November 20, 2020, to commit, otherwise, their accounts may be subject to warnings, suspensions and, in some cases, removal from the Airbnb platform.

Resources to support hosts

To help hosts and their hosting and cleaning teams uphold these standards, we continue to update our Resource Center with information, resources and tools to help them offer a safer travel experience. We also developed the Airbnb Cleaning Hub that provides hosts with access to tools and resources to help them uphold the health and safety commitments, like articles, checklists and recommended supplies.

Consumers are voting with their feet

Now more than ever, guests are looking for the features that have made Airbnb unique – private homes beyond densely populated tourist and hotel districts with more space and more control over their environment. Roughly three out of four guests recently surveyed by Airbnb*** said they would be more comfortable staying with their families in a listing than in a hotel with other people.

The new requirements will not only help bolster the quality of listings on our platform, they will also help hosts meet changing consumer demands. According to internal Airbnb data, listings enrolled in the Enhanced Cleaning Protocol are some of the most popular listings and have three times more bookings on average than listings that were not enrolled in the protocol.**** Guests continue to turn to listings enrolled in the program to have a more socially distanced travel experience.

While hosts are doing their part to support healthier stays, we also continue to encourage our community to follow the latest local health guidelines. To learn more visit our Airbnb Resource Center.


Europe’s Recovery From the Last Recession

Major economies in Europe, including the U.K. and those in the Eurozone, recently confirmed what we already suspected. Economies across the continent have entered an economic recession because of the impact of COVID-19—an impact that has been devastating for the hospitality industry.

The short-term effects of the COVID-19 recession are evident as hotel demand across Europe was down 55.3% for the August year-to-date period. However, even with negative projections in place, the depth of the long-term impact remains in question.

To help develop answers, we look back at a lesser crisis, which may point to how hotel markets will recover in the coming years. The 2007-08 global financial crisis (GFC), caused by the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, impacted financial institutions globally and led to the subprime mortgage crisis, European debt crisis and the Great Recession. During the Great Recession, the global economy witnessed its steepest declines since the Great Depression.

For this analysis, we indexed revenue per available room (RevPAR) to 2007 for various key markets across Europe. This can be used to understand how markets were impacted in the short-term during the crisis, in the aftermath of the crisis and even further in the long-term to understand when markets recovered.

So how did hotel markets around Europe react?

London weathered the storm

London showed strong fundamentals and proved to be resilient. In fact, RevPAR increased in 2008 before dipping slightly in 2009 but did not look back from there with strong year-over-year growth through 2019.

Hotel demand in the U.K. capital is currently at an all-time low as the market suffers due to a reliance on international travel, which is nearly non-existent due to restrictions and lockdown measures. However, once international travel does return, we can perhaps expect a quicker long-term recovery in London as the city has proven it can weather a storm.

German markets dipped but recovered quickly

While other countries in Europe were being pulled further into crisis, Germany benefitted from its economic strength even during the crisis as well as being a mostly domestic market, which allowed hotel performance to recover quicker than others in Europe.

Economically, Germany remains a powerhouse in Europe, and its large domestic market has helped in boosting demand relative to other countries in Europe during this COVID period, so some optimism in a recovery can be taken regarding German markets.

Markets in weaker economies were more impacted

By 2009, hotels in Madrid and Dublin were among the most impacted. In the latter part of 2009, Spain and Ireland went through a debt crisis lasting several years leading to subdued economic growth in both countries as well as an increase in unemployment in Spain.

RevPAR in Madrid stagnated in the subsequent years following the GFC, and five years on from the crisis in 2012, RevPAR was almost 30% lower than pre-crisis levels. As the capital of Spain, Madrid sees substantial demand coming in the domestic corporate and leisure segment. A strong run of six consecutive years of RevPAR growth began in 2014 as Madrid benefitted from an increase in international arrivals and from hosting high-profile events, including the Champions League Final and COP 25 in 2019.

Madrid has stronger fundamentals and is more diversified than it was back in 2008, however, it will need to rely on a return of these lucrative segments to recover to pre-COVID levels.

RevPAR in Dublin five years on from the crisis in 2012 was just over 20% lower than it was pre-GFC as Ireland battled with suppressed economic growth domestically. Suppressed economic growth around the world impacted Dublin also as it is a market reliant on visitors from overseas.

RevPAR increased for eight years consecutively from 2011 through to 2018 as Dublin benefitted from substantial increases in international arrivals around the world, from the U.S. in particular, as well as close to no supply growth.

Future supply growth is expected to rise substantially as Dublin boasts a large pipeline of projects to enter the market. How Dublin responds to a current lack of demand as well as absorbing this new supply will be telling of its recovery. Dublin remains an attractive market for international visitors, and with plenty of new hotel offerings, it may recover from this current crisis quicker than it did during the GFC.


COVID-19 is a different crisis than what hotels faced during the GFC, as restrictions on travel and lockdown measures are severely impacting hotel demand. The GFC impacted performance, at a lesser rate, but key markets across Europe all eventually recovered. Some recovered faster than others due to a stronger economy or being domestic markets.

For markets to begin recovery, the threat of COVID-19 needs to be significantly mitigated. Once that happens, and destinations can begin to welcome to travellers to their hotels, we will see recoveries at different paces

Las Vegas: One Destination’s Approach to Travel Recovery

The Las Vegas strip was the leading commercial casino market in the U.S. in 2019, generating nearly $7 billion in revenue. However, its appeal for domestic and international tourism goes beyond gambling. As a top destination for shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and nightlife, Las Vegas has drawn interest around how it’s rebounding from the impacts of COVID-19.

The Las Vegas travel industry is navigating the complexities and uncertainties of the constantly evolving COVID-19 landscape, managing the unpredictable flow of openings and shutdowns of the city’s most prominent establishments and identifying new pockets of demand to help keep them afloat wherever possible.

Spurring industry recovery takes collaboration, partnership, and a unified approach with all stakeholders across the ecosystem – from lodging providers to online travel agencies, to destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and attraction providers, among others. This has been especially true for Las Vegas, which has leaned into partnerships, technology, and data to help support recovery strategies.

Hotels have been among those that hit the hardest during the pandemic. According to research, for the week of March 8-14, 2020, U.S. hotel occupancy was down 24.4% to 53% year-over-year, with Las Vegas occupancy down by 39.8%. On March 17, Nevada’s governor ordered a month-long closure of casinos and other non-essential businesses such as bars, movie theaters and gyms and restaurants, severely impacting the city. World-famous hotels, casinos and entertainment venues closed their doors. Since then, the city has been on a rollercoaster of volatile demand.

Research from Las Vegas-area tourism officials shows that in June, while the number of visitors was down, some hotels and casinos were seeing small pockets of domestic travellers eager to travel following months of lockdown. Expedia Group data showed that searches at the end of July to mid-August (July 20 – August 16) were up by an average of 30% week-on-week, for trips between August and October 2020. Almost all searches for trips to the destination came from domestic travelers, reflecting the U.S. border restrictions for international travelers. Top domestic inbound markets included travelers from L.A., followed by Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Anaheim, but all with a share of under 5%, indicating demand was widespread across vario us parts of the nation.

The type of traveler is also evolving. According to the Review Journal and Gambling News, many of the local and Strip casinos have seen a younger, high-spending demographic of travelers who tend to stay longer and, more importantly, spend more while they’re there. It’s thought this younger guest is probably a mix of local and drive-in customers who are viewing Las Vegas resorts as an affordable trip during the pandemic. Executives are advising local businesses to capitalize on this new guest now by offering promotions and incentives that target this specific group, with a longer-term plan of trying to build loyalty amongst them to ensure repeat customers after the pandemic ends. Casinos and hotels can lean into their partners’ digital capabilities and insights to help them understand their guests and where they’re coming from in order to tailor promotions to capture demand efficiently during the pandemic. For example, Expedia Group developed a new free online data insights tool for its lodging partners, and a new feature that allows partners to highlight the health and hygiene measures they are taking at their properties, such as hand sanitizer included in all rooms, enhanced cleaning, and social distancing measures, on their sites.

Daniel Wathen, Director of Market Management at Expedia Group for Las Vegas, says: “It’s been an incredibly turbulent few months for Las Vegas. Peaks and troughs of traveler demand has been non-linear and unpredictable. Hotel, resorts and casino owners and managers have done well to adapt to the volatility of the market and to serve domestic travelers where possible. Las Vegas is one of the world’s top destinations and at Expedia Group, we know the ride has been tough. We’re working hard to ensure our lodging partners are supported such as by providing local demand trends and insights, and we are in constant communication with other local players in the tourism industry to attract demand and facilitate travel however we can during these difficult months.”

So how else are hotels and resorts weathering the storm? Many are tapping into technology, allowing them to stay informed and flexible in a constantly changing environment, and are also getting creative in their recovery strategies and campaigns.

One example of this is seen with MGM Resorts International, who has sought creative ways to reposition itself over the course of the pandemic, such as via its Viva Las Office promotion, which encourages remote workers to trade in their home office for a hotel room office.

MGM Resorts also serves as an example of industry partnership, and how leaning into digital strategies can increase efficiency and deepen understanding of the market. Working with Expedia Group as part of the company’s partner recovery program, they were given various levels of assistance, including access to real-time, proprietary d ata to track demand trends, helping inform the resorts’ ongoing recovery strategies. Through this data, MGM Resorts can better understand when demand will return to the market and identify where demand will come from. The two brands have a long history of collaboration, including incorporating technology solutions to help drive business results.

“Our partnership with Expedia Group has been instrumental in helping us identify travel trends and adjust booking strategies during these challenging times,” said Lee Ann Benavidez, MGM Resorts International’s Vice President of Distribution Partnerships & Transient Sales Strategy.

Las Vegas lodging providers are constantly reevaluating their marketing strategies to align with the changing landscape. The STRAT Hotel uses TravelAds, a sponsored listing product from Expedia Group Media Solutions, in their recovery strategy, focusing on increasing brand awareness of their “Golden Commitment” to guest health and safety as well as driving additional occupancy. With the focus on high placement and conversion, the click-through rate has continued to be strong, while conversion increased.
“Since we have used TravelAds in the past, we knew it worked so we wanted to ensure it had a strong role in our recovery strategy. We also knew that customized ad copy would be important during this time to call out key things to our guests during this interesting time,” Corporate Director of Revenue Management Robert Bunker said. “We also saw our clicks stay consistent with what we were seeing pre-COVID-19 Q1 2020.”
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is no stranger to the constantly changing landscape, identifying through data when and how to best encourage and welcome back visitors. Partnering with Expedia Group Media Solutions, the LVCVA launched a recovery campaign at the end of May letting travelers from nearby drive markets and top fly markets, such as P hoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Denver and Seattle, know that the city is open to visitors, using imagery and copy that highlights social distancing and safe activities.

The LVCVA has evolved its campaign strategy based not only on campaign learnings, but also from available data across the Expedia Group portfolio of brands, providing insights into current traveler behavior. The ability to quickly turn the campaign on and off is critical, given the changing guidelines in Las Vegas as well as COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine mandates from other regions.

“This unprecedented year has dealt Las Vegas steep and unexpected challenges,” said Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “As a research-based organization, we spend a lot of time learning who our visitors are, where they are coming from and what they want out of their trip to Las Vegas. For the destination to be able to reopen successfully, it’s imperative that we apply these learnings to our media strategy and effectively reach those who are starting to plan their travel.”

The campaign has delivered a strong return on ad spend (ROAS) and steady improvements week-over-week, whereas many other markets saw a big dip in demand in July due to a second wave of cases. Las Vegas was one of the top booked domestic destinations across the Expedia Group platform in July, with market share seeing double digit growth in recovery against its competitive set.

Las Vegas hotels and attractions are also working on a co-op destination recovery campaign with Expedia Group Media Solutions for later this year.

It’s clear that in addition to local partnerships, a common theme throughout the road to recovery is technology and data. Data plays a key role in informing strategies, helping travel companies understand when and where they need to adapt , shift their approach, or pause external efforts. Las Vegas travel partners are leveraging proprietary Expedia Group data to understand where the demand is coming from so they can better track trends, traveler behavior and intent, so they can best connect with travelers and capture demand, when the time is right, to rebound from this global crisis.

It will continue to be a rocky road ahead for the starlit city, but a combination of understanding new traveler trends through intelligent data, working creatively and collaboratively with multiple local industry players towards a common goal, and using digital strategies to attract the right guests, means there’s a glimmer of casino-floor light at the end of the tunnel for Las Vegas.


Virgin Atlantic rolls-out Covid-19 testing to crew

Virgin Atlantic has become the first UK airline to introduce Covid-19 pre-flight testing at its Heathrow base for its cabin crew and pilots.

Launched on flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong, the airline plans to extend the trial to Barbados and select services later in October, before a wider roll out to test every operating crew at least once per month. 

In partnership with GeneMe UK, the official distributor of the Frank test, the airline trial is offering crew and pilots a rapid Point of Care Covid-19 RT Lamp test.

Through integration with the digital ID platform Yoti, the test process is fast, secure, paperless and does not require a lab.

After a swab is taken on-site, results are processed and delivered on the Yoti app within 30 minutes. 

Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer, Virgin Atlantic, commented: “The introduction of onsite pre-flight Covid-19 testing for our crew and pilots ensures we remain at the forefront of the aviation industry’s safe return to the skies.

“As testing technology and Covid-19 requirements around the world develop, we want to utilise technology that is relevant, accurate and available to keep our teams and customers healthy and safe.

“While the Covid-19 testing landscape evolves, we continue to be in discussions with multiple providers offering different technologies to guarantee the best solution possible, while absolutely ensuring that we do not compete with the NHS for vital resources.”

He added: “This trial is a first step in our phased plan to introduce regular testing for all of our teams in the air and on the ground, in order to instil confidence in flying.

“However, we continue to call for the swift introduction of a wider coordinated passenger testing regime.

“We need urgent action from UK and US governments to introduce pre departure testing, to remove the need for quarantine and to minimise travel restrictions, while protecting public health and half a million UK jobs associated with the sector.”

Loyalty Programs Need to Get Aspirational When Travelers Are Stuck at Home

Loyalty gurus discussed what travel companies need to do to solve a pain point: How can they engender loyalty when most travelers are immobile.

Speaking on a panel, “The Coming Shifts in Travel Loyalty Post-Crisis,” at the online Skift Global Forum Wednesday, Amy Weinberg, senior vice president of the World of Hyatt, said the loyalty program offers an always-on digital experience, Headspace, to address members’ needs outside the walls of a hotel.

Other panel members included  Danielle Brown, chief marketing officer of Points, who said aspirational purchases are booming on the platform, and Dan Frommer, founder of The New Consumer, who argued that loyalty programs need to get more fun and less transactional.  Skift Global Hospitality Reporter Cameron Sperance moderated the session.

Frommer of The New Consumer, a publication about the intersection of technology and how people spend their money, said loyalty programs often “are a real downer,” and need to get more fun, inclusive and community-minded instead of feeling like a class system.

During the current period, programs’ ability to be flexible becomes very important, Frommer said. He pointed to Chase, which added a Pay Yourself Back tool that includes credits for grocery purchases, for example.

For airline and hotel loyalty programs, agility is “ridiculously important,” said Brown of Points.

Personalized offers gives loyalty program members something to be excited about, Frommer said, adding tongue in cheek that for the first time in a while he measures his self-worth by metrics other than his airline loyalty tier. He pointed to Starbucks and Chipotle as two retail programs doing interesting things with personalized offers.

Weinberg of Hyatt recalled that the chain introduced instantly confirmable upgrades in 2009 coming out of the financial crisis, and expects the loyalty program to continue to evolve during and post-pandemic.

For example, Work from Hyatt has generated “really good traction,” especially in warmer climates, she said.

Frommer challenged Hyatt and others to publish more content, explaining that he has a couple of favorite Hyatt properties in Japan but hasn’t heard anything from the chain about what he’s missing out on there when he can’t travel.

All seemed to agree that leisure travelers will become much more important to travel loyalty programs with business travel on a seemingly prolonged hiatus.


Marriott in Danger of Losing 122 Hotels to Much Smaller Brand

A Boston real estate trust that severed ties with IHG on a 103-hotel deal last month appears poised to do the same with Marriott on an even larger portfolio — and a smaller hotel company stands to benefit once again.

Service Properties Trust, or SVC, sent Marriott a payment shortfall notice this week on 122 hotels across 31 states. Marriott has 10 days to cover the $11 million shortfall or SVC will terminate the agreement and transfer the hotels — largely a mix of select-service and extended stay brands like Courtyard and Residence Inn — to affiliation with Sonesta International Hotels Corp., the memo states.

The flag affiliation transfer would be the second growth shot in the arm in less than a month for Sonesta, which currently has 83 hotels ahead of taking on the 103 IHG hotels at the end of November. IHG failed to make an $8.4 million payment on guaranteed property returns to SVC, sparking that agreement termination.

Sonesta, which has hotels in North and South America as well as Egypt, largely benefits from the cancelled agreements due to SVC’s 34 percent stake in the hotel company.

SVC claimed its hotels saw stronger performance under Sonesta flags in prior brand conversions. Revenue improved by more than 14 percent at 16 SVC-owned hotels that switched from IHG to Sonesta affiliation in 2012, according to an August SVC memo.

“We have received SVC’s correspondence and are reviewing it,” a Marriott spokesperson told Skift. “We don’t have any further comments at this time.”

SVC and Sonesta declined to speak for this story, but Sonesta CEO Carlos Flores hinted earlier this month of further growth opportunities on the horizon beyond the IHG conversions.

“I think it’s highly improbable we would not explore and pursue other opportunities,” Flores told Skift. “I say that tongue-in-cheek because we’re already seeing other opportunities in the market.”

The continued build-up for Sonesta is notable, as it goes against so much of the hotel industry’s view on growth.

Analysts as well as leaders of major brands like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG have all predicted the biggest hotel companies will benefit over the next few years due to so many travelers craving familiarity on their first hotel stays during and after the pandemic. That familiarity is typically found with bigger brand standards and would conceivably lead hotel owners to consider switching flag affiliation to one of these bigger brands.

But Sonesta has far less scope than the two brands SVC is dropping. Sonesta is on track to have a little more than 300 hotels after the IHG and Marriott-branded properties change flag affiliation. IHG had more than 5,900 hotels at the end of the second quarter. Marriott had more than 7,400.

“I do scratch my head in terms of distribution systems and branding in general: Marriott vs. Sonesta, IHG vs. Sonesta — that could be a challenge,” said LW Hospitality Advisors CEO Daniel Lesser. “SVC owns the assets, but they also own the brand, so from that perspective, I can see what they’re doing.”

SVC’s wave of flag affiliation shifts has less to do with maximizing distribution channels and more with gaining control at both the ownership and operations side of these hotels as well as bulking up the Sonesta brand, Lesser added.

At least one of the impacted companies doesn’t see the SVC agreement cancellations as a sign trouble is ahead for some of the world’s biggest hotel companies.

“Candidly, the relationship is a complex financial one, and we have to do what we think is right for our shareholders. They have to do what they think is right for their shareholders,” IHG CEO Keith Barr said this week at Skift Global Forum. “We have more interest coming in than we have going out. That’s more of a financial relationship and transaction than it is a definition of the performance of the portfolio.”


Airbnb Reinstates Domio Listings After Scandal Cost CEO His Job

Despite Brian Chesky’s rhetoric about Airbnb needing to return to its local connections mission and roots, the economics point to Airbnb needing Domio- and Sonder-like listings. Even if it means negative publicity pre-IPO.— Dennis Schaal

Domio’s short-term rental listings are back on Airbnb after being suspended for several weeks, but Domio’s two co-founders, CEO Jay Roberts and Chief Strategy Officer Adrian Lam, were forced out as the seeming price for reinstatement.

Domio announced the executive departures on Friday.

Although Domio’s quasi-hotel listings are back on Airbnb in cities such as New Orleans and Nashville, interim CEO Jim Mhra, who replaced Roberts on the board of directors, has to operate the company knowing that one of its main distribution partners, Airbnb, has given Domio a “final warning” regarding further violations.

Airbnb suspended Domio’s listings in mid-August after The Information conducted an investigation that found a number of questionable practices, including Roberts, chief strategy officer Lam, and three other employees erroneously passing off homes they’d purchased in Nashville several years ago as being their primary residences, and listing them on Airbnb in apparent violations of the city ordinance.

The sketchy practices  also included “the listing of rental properties using a network of misleading Airbnb host accounts — some featuring fake names and stock photographs — which made it harder to tie them to Domio,” The Information story in mid-August said.

After the suspension, Airbnb conducted an investigation that found that Domio had violated its rules but that these transgressions ended “after 2018. But Domio was seemingly pressured to remove all executives who worked for the company at the time of the violations. Hence, the Domio board, in cleaning house, accepted the resignations of Roberts and Lam.

Until Saturday, Domio’s accounts on Airbnb had been suspended, meaning Domio wasn’t allowed to accept new bookings on Airbnb, but Domio was presumably permitted to service existing reservations.

The Domio suspension and its bad publicity had been an issue for Airbnb on the road to its pending initial public offering.

As framed in Dennis’ Online Travel Briefing September 9: “Whether it is house parties, regulatory crackdowns, or corporate hosts drawing ire, none of these developments would help Airbnb’s eventual roadshow. It is also an impediment to companies such as Sonder and Domio as they seek new contracts and expansion. However, these real estate-oriented hosts have proliferated across Airbnb’s platforms, so it becomes a question of when — not if — Airbnb would reinstate Domio into its good graces.”


The only question was whether Airbnb would reinstate Domio’s listings before going public or after. Some observers thought Airbnb might wait — and were shocked at the timing.

The proliferation on Airbnb of corporate hosts such as Domio and Sonder, which cooperate with real estate speculators and sign master leases of multifamily apartments to operate as short-term rentals and quasi-hotels, clashes with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s recent statements that the company needs to get back to its roots.

He has stated that Airbnb in its early days had a mission of connecting people — hosts and guests — but the corporate nature of big-time professional hosts, who have come to dominate the Airbnb platform in many cities, diminishes the people-to-people experience.

Many short-term rental industry executives, however, welcome the so-called professionalization of hosting because it tends to foster higher quality stays and a standard experience.

Andrew McConnell, co-founder and CEO of Rented, which focuses on revenue management in the short-term rental industry, tweeted: “It’s a 2-sided marketplace. Guests prefer the stability, certainty, and predictability that comes with professional management, as they should.”

McConnell acknowledged that Airbnb would find embracing listings such as Domio and Sonder’s as essential for boosting the Airbnb valuation in the IPO process. Last year, Airbnb reportedly attracted a $31 billion valuation, but that fell to around $18 billion when the company accepted private equity financing early in the pandemic crisis.

Domio, founded in 2016 and having attracted some $112-$116 million in funding and financing, issued a statement about the reinstatement that read in part:

“Airbnb found that a number of user reviews and non-compliant host listings between 2016 and 2018 were in violation of Airbnb’s community standards. We believe the home sharing community is built on trust and we respect Airbnb’s decision to remove those reviews from its platform.

“After weeks of cooperating with Airbnb, it was confirmed that this activity has not occurred in years. We’re pleased to announce that Domio’s listings will be reinstated on Airbnb’s platform. Guests will be able to book Domio listings directly on Airbnb effective September 26, 2020. We greatly appreciate the cooperation with Airbnb and look forward to our continued partnership.”

Airbnb’s statement noted that Domio requested reinstated after the Domio board removed executives who were running the company at the time of the misdeeds.

“Airbnb’s thorough examination uncovered certain past practices by Domio from a number of years ago in violation of Airbnb’s Community Standards regarding authentic reviews,” Airbnb said.

“As a result, we communicated to Domio our decision to remove their accounts. Domio requested reinstatement after its board removed all members of its leadership team present at the time of the unacceptable activity, and therefore Airbnb made the decision to reinstate Domio’s accounts, in addition to removing all prior suspicious reviews from Domio’s listings. We will not hesitate to permanently remove their associated accounts if there are future violations of our standards and policies.”