Travel News

ICYMI: Why Biden revoked immigrant visa restrictions on Nigeria -US Secretary of State - PUNCH

MARCH 02, 2021

BY  Sodiq Oyeleke

The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, says President Joe Biden’s revocation of immigrant visa restrictions on Nigeria was an affirmation of the close ties between Americans and Nigerians.

He said this in a press statement titled, ‘Secretary Blinken’s Call with Nigerian Foreign Minister Onyeama’, by a spokesperson at the US Department of State, Ned Price.

Blinken was quoted as also reiterating the US support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

The statement read, “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to highlight the importance that the United States places on our relationship with Nigeria.

“Secretary Blinken outlined a holistic approach to the U.S.-Nigeria partnership based on our shared values of democracy, respect for human rights, and robust people-to-people relations.

“Acknowledging the threats that violent extremists pose to Nigerian and regional security, he welcomed President Buhari’s recent appointment of military service chiefs to bring new approaches to combat terrorism in the northeast and provide national security throughout the country.

“Secretary Blinken referenced President Biden’s revocation of immigrant visa restrictions on Nigeria as an affirmation of the close ties between Americans and Nigerians.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as the new Director-General of the WTO.”

Biden had in January signed some executive orders thereby lifting the immigrant visa ban placed on Nigerians by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Trump had last February placed an immigrant visa ban on Nigeria, citing Nigeria’s lack of a robust database. The American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary-Beth Leonard, stated at the time that Nigeria must improve on its data intelligence to ease the investigation of its citizens wishing to migrate to the US if it wants the ban lifted.

The Nigerian government subsequently set up a committee on Citizen Data Management and Harmonisation, to address the complaints of the US which led to the recent push for all Nigerians to register with the National Identity Management Commission and obtain a National Identity Number.

With Biden’s reversal of Trump’s order, Nigerians were able to apply for green cards.

Round-the-World Cruises Are Selling Out More Than a Year in Advance - BLOOMBERG

MARCH 02, 2021

Landlocked travelers try to make up for lost sailing time with multimonth itineraries that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By Fran Golden

After a year of isolation and lockdowns, four months on a ship is looking pretty good to cruise super fans.

The Covid-19 pandemic was raging in July when Viking Ocean Cruises opened reservation books for a 136-day world cruise itinerary. The Christmas 2021 departure sold out in weeks. In December, in the midst of a second wave, the company opened a second cruise for the same period. It, too, quickly sold out.

The company had no trouble filling two of its nearly identical 930-passenger ships, Viking Star and Viking Neptune, even though the borders of many of the two dozen countries the plan to visit remain largely closed to international visitors. The only cabins that went unsold, in fact, were those blocked off for potential quarantine needs. Now the line is scrambling to put together an additional around-the-world itinerary starting in 2023.

“We are looking to open the next opportunity as quickly as we can,” says Richard Marnell, executive vice president of marketing for Viking. “Watch this space!”

In spite of the dire straits of the cruise industry over the past year—or possibly, because of them—the hottest tickets on many cruise lines are pricey, multimonth world tours planned to take place a year or more out.

These bookings, which can cost from about $50,000 per couple in standard rooms to hundreds of thousands of dollars in top-tier suites, represent a rare glimmer of hope for an industry that’s taken more than $30 billion in losses and continues to be saddled with uncertainty. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently considers cruises a “very high level” of Covid-19 risk and recommends that travelers avoid them worldwide; to date, most lines have cancelled sailings until June, and even that timeline seems optimistic.

Viking isn’t the only line with big plans for the fairly distant future. On Jan. 27, Oceania Cruises opened sales to the public for its 2023 “Around the World in 180 Days” cruise, which will hit five continents,  including Antarctica. The upscale line sold out a 684-passenger ship in one day.

Ultraluxury line Seabourn, for its part, has sold out all top-level suites on two world sailings on the 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, with couples paying up to a half-million dollars for five-month cruises starting in 2022 and 2023. There’s so much demand, the company recently opened waitlists.

Why Now?

Many factors are driving this trend, from cabin fever to favorable deals and the promise of vaccinations for cruising’s famously older core demographic. 

World cruises don’t necessarily circle the globe, their name notwithstanding. But cruisers who have been stuck at home since March 2020 are apparently bullish on seeing as much of the world as possible in one fell swoop—including such hard-to-reach destinations as Easter Island, Bora Bora, or the Seychelles. Take Silversea’s latest itinerary: When it sets sail in 2022, the first-ever “expedition world cruise” will spend 167 days journeying from Ushuaia, Argentina to Tromso, Norway—nearly pole to pole.

Pent-up demand and “reprioritization of life goals” are at play here, says Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and chief executive officer of Virtuoso, a luxury travel adviser network. In addition to world cruises, which typically take place over the winter into the spring, he says longer sailings of several weeks or months are attracting more interest than before the pandemic.There’s a longing for the missed opportunities over the past year, and a strong desire to take advantage of seeing the world while they can,” Upchurch says. “By taking something away, you highlight the true value and appreciation for it.”

Other value propositions may also be at play. For cruisers who had to cancel one or several voyages in 2020, these once-in-a-lifetime itineraries are emerging as a good way to cash in on credits they have. Through the last 12 months, cruise lines have encouraged travelers not to seek refunds by offering 10% to 25% added value in the form of “bonus credits,” which on some lines need to be redeemed by April 2022.

Cruise lines are also ramping up the VIP freebies they offer long-term guests, such as free dry cleaning, Wi-Fi, and visa services. To help lock in ship occupancies for an extended period and guarantee income on their bright-red balance sheets, they are adding lavish pre-departure parties, business class airfare, and thousands of dollars in onboard spending credits.  

An Argument for Safety

Among folks raring to get back to sea are Linda Weissman and her husband Marty, a retired orthopedic surgeon. The pair has escaped the cold temperatures in Michigan and “wintered” on Cunard world cruises 14 times—always staying in a top Queen’s Grill suite and spending millions of dollars in the process. They plan to do  further four-month world outing on Queen Mary 2 in 2022.

“I miss the people, the service, being waited on and taken care of like royalty 24/7,” Linda says. “It’s like, ‘Do you want escargot tonight?’”

After the pandemic, passengers will have to grapple with some serious concerns, including the frequency of outbreaks on ships that had promised buttoned-up Covid protocols last summer and fall. Despite those headlines, Viking’s Marnell says world cruisers will benefit from a safe, “constant environment” in which travelers can feel comfortable hanging out for a long period of time. Like other lines, his company’s ships have been outfitted with labs for frequent PCR testing and new air purification systems, among other measures.

The safety of shore visits, however, remains a looming question mark—particularly in countries where vaccinations have not yet begun to roll out in any substantial way. While cruise companies are generally working on plans to ensure safety at these ports of call, the fast-changing nature of travel recommendations and long lead times before itineraries can resume mean that those details have not yet been broadly released.

Far From Guaranteed

For cruise companies to carry off these plans, many things will need to break their way. The Viking cruise in December 2021 is set to sail to 56 ports in 27 countries, including spots in Central America, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean—with fares from $53,000 to $166,000 per person.

The company, like others offering world cruises, will have to navigate the complexity of constantly changing entry requirements and quarantine rules in a world that may not reach herd immunity for years.

The unknowns surrounding government regulations will make it difficult for cruise lines to plan itineraries, says Virtuoso’s Upchurch. “Having to change course once a voyage is underway is not practical. It’s costly, and it does nothing for restoring consumer confidence,” he says.

Cruise lines are hoping that by the time these distant itineraries set sail, Covid won’t be an issue; should border closures persist for longer than expected, these itineraries may need to be postponed, just like the rest of the cruise calendar. 

What nobody wants is a repeat of last winter. As Covid-19 spread, world cruises had to be scrapped midway through, with passengers sent home on hastily arranged flights or stranded on ships. One result, though, is that travelers have come to understand that “nothing is guaranteed,” Upchurch says.

That goes for the Weissmans of Michigan. They had to pack their 10 bags (eight for Linda) and fly home from Perth when their world cruise on the QM2 was cut short last March. They’re hoping for the best in 2022.

“Every day on Facebook it pops up where we were on this day [last year],” Linda says. “Today, it popped up we were in Bali, drinking Bloody Marys. I mean, come on.”

Vaccine Passport Finds Strong Support in U.K. Poll - BLOOMBERG

MARCH 02, 2021

The nation is leading the world’s major economies on getting its population vaccinated. Now Brits say they would support blocking those without shots from entering.

By Katharine Gemmell

Nearly a third of U.K. adults have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot. Now a wide majority of Britons support a controversial next step: so-called vaccine passports that would allow some to return to a more-normal life.

New data provided to Bloomberg by YouGov show that 65% of British people say they would support a document that would theoretically allow vaccinated people to return to workplaces, bars and even travel again before those who haven’t had their shots.

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The poll found 76% support requiring proof of vaccination for people entering the U.K. from abroad as soon as possible, with 16% opposed to the idea. Support was broadly steady across the political spectrum, as well as among people who voted for or against Brexit.

The U.K. government is reviewing the idea of requiring proof of vaccine for certain activities, which is already becoming standard in Israel, another country leading the vaccination drive. The World Health Organization opposes requiring proof of immunization in part because it’s not clear whether vaccinated people can still spread the infection. And critics say a vaccine-passport system would be discriminatory and create an elite class of people with access to the shot.

In the U.K., older people, who are more likely to be vaccinated, also were more in favor of requiring proof of vaccination than younger people, who would theoretically be more restricted if requirements were put in place soon.

For Britons aged 65 and above, 77% support the speedy rollout of vaccination passports within the U.K., compared with 47% of those between the ages of 18 and 24.

Even though most British people agreed that vaccine passports should be created and used, they were divided over the specifics of where.

There was slightly more support for requiring proof of vaccination at pubs — 48% said yes, 41% said no — and restaurants, and not as much for requiring them for hairdressers, hospitals and doctors’ offices. YouGov, a market-research and data-analytics firm, surveyed 1,757 British adults between Feb. 24 and 25.

One area where respondents showed slightly more agreement: gyms. A full 50% agreed vaccine passports should be required for use of such facilities, with 39% disagreeing.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of respondents agreed that proof of vaccination shouldn’t be required at gardening centers or supermarkets. 

Those surveyed also tended to show a distaste for private companies creating their own versions of vaccine passports. A full 67% of respondents surveyed said that private companies should not be allowed to develop their own versions.

No matter how unfair it might seem to those with no chance of a jab anytime soon, even a trickle of customers could be a lifesaver for hotels, concert venues and other businesses. But while we may be living in an age of digital technology, our governments really aren’t.

The U.K.’s review of the issue is due by June 21. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there may be a role for certifications.

The government review is also looking into whether it will use certifications for international travelers.

FG approves Warri airport reopening for daylight operations - PUNCH

MARCH 03, 2021

BY  Okechukwu Nnodim, Abuja

 The Federal Government on Monday approved the reopening of the Osubi Airport in Warri for daylight operations.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who announced the reopening of the airport via Twitter, said the facility would only operate under the conditions of Visual Flight Rules.

In February last year, the Warri airport was closed due to some controversial issues that involved aviation service providers and the airport’s management.

 The issues bordered on alleged debt and mismanagement of funds, a development which was not mentioned by Sirika in his tweet.

There had been calls by public officials urging the Federal Government to reopen the facility considering its strategic position in the South-South region.

The aviation minister stated on Tuesday that the reopening of the facility had been approved, although this was subject to stipulated industry procedures.

Sirika said, “I have just approved the reopening of Osubi Airport Warri, for daylight operations in VFR conditions, subject to all procedures, practices and protocols, including COVID-19, strictly being observed.”

There would not be need for local approvals henceforth, he added.

Air Peace resumes Accra flights March 15 - PUNCH

MARCH 03, 2021

BY  Joseph Olaoluwa

Air Peace has announced the resumption of daily flight operations into Accra from its Lagos hub on March 15.

Similarly, the airline in a statement titled ‘Air Peace resumes Accra flights March 15, set for Ilorin kick-off’, expressed readiness to kick off scheduled flights into Ilorin from Abuja and Lagos.

The spokesperson of the airline, Stanley Olisa, in the statement signed on Tuesday, stated that the Lagos-Accra flight would depart daily at 07:00hrs while the Accra-Lagos flight would depart at 07:40hrs.

Olisa stressed that the resumption of Accra flights was a response to popular demand as the flying public had been anticipating it.

“You would recall that we suspended our Accra flights consequent upon the lockdown occasioned by the pandemic last year. But we have some exciting news for our esteemed customers as we are resuming flight operations into the Ghanaian city pretty soon. The flying public has been expectant of this,” he said.

Olisa said the airline was already finalising plans to commence Ilorin flights, adding that Air Peace’s commitment to providing peaceful connectivity across domestic, regional and international destinations and satisfying the air travel needs of Nigerians.

25 prospective airlines mull operations in Nigeria - BUSINESSDAY

MARCH 03, 2021

BY  Ifeoma Okeke

Nigeria’s aviation industry is experiencing a flurry of activities with new airlines coming up, as 25 prospective operators are in the process of marking their presence in the sky.

The wave of activities, BusinessDay learns, is driven by operators leveraging the opportunity of buying discounted airplanes, low cost of hiring staff and tax waivers on aircraft and spare parts, among others.

BusinessDay’s checks show that 25 investors are at different stages of acquiring Air Operating Certificates (AOC) for local flight operations from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

According to Sam Adurogboye, general manager, corporate communications, NCAA, who confirms this to BusinessDay, these investors are at various phases of acquiring AOC, which includes expression of interest phase, issuance of guidelines to the applicants, taking concrete steps to demonstrate the capacity to operate safe operations and staging of demo flight before issuance of AOC on fulfilment of all requirements.

United Airlines, a few weeks ago, commenced operations using Enugu Airport as its operational base, while NG Eagle and Green Africa are at the final stage of getting their AOCs.

Stakeholders in the aviation sector describe these new entrants and prospective airlines as being propelled to invest in the airline business as a result of the viability of Nigeria’s aviation sector, discounted aircraft parked in other countries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, low cost of hiring staff who are currently out of jobs since COVID and tax waivers on aircraft spare parts by the Federal Government.

Seyi Adewale, CEO, Mainstream Cargo Limited, told BusinessDay that there were many factors responsible for airlines springing up at this time, and it could be strategic and opportunistic.

“COVID-19 forced economic downturns around the world. It has now empowered potential aircraft buyers to buy on better terms than before the pandemic. There are many aircrafts parked and available during this period and this could explain the potential long leasehold opportunities,” Adewale said.

He explained that new airlines had taken decisions to enter into the Nigerian airspace based on the viability of the market even before the economic downturn, as Nigeria remains a viable economy with over 200 million people, largest African Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Furthermore, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) support to the sector with forex for aircraft purchases has encouraged more investors, and the now signed into law Financial Act enabling airlines to pay zero percent duty on aircraft and its spares is encouraging as these are major costs to airline operations.

“Massive investments in airport infrastructure in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and state governments providing either incentives to attract airlines to their state or going a step further to construct new airports are also encouraging investors,” he said.

According to Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, airlines are not only springing up in Nigeria but all over the world, from UAE to Columbia, USA, UK, Italy, Vietnam, South Africa and New Zealand, because most airlines are taking advantage of the low cost of hiring and low cost of aircraft.

Ohunayo recalled that Vietnam stopped processing applications for new airlines, asking them to wait until 2022 in a bid to stop possible glut; a position Nigeria may be gradually approaching.

“Suppliers and aircraft lessors are giving good discounts because of this. Investors are propelled to go and get aircraft and their spares, engines and other components. Prices for aircraft leasing have dropped and this has encouraged people to put forward their plans.

“Again, a lot of manufacturers, airlines, training schools have downsized, so the cost of hiring professionals have dropped compared to what was paid in the past, and this cutting down has helped because the cost of starting a new operation is much lower than it was two years ago,” he said.

United Airlines acquired three aircraft to commence operations; NG Eagle has acquired two aircraft while Green Africa plans to acquire several low-cost carriers to feed local and regional routes.

The new airlines and even old airlines are now buying smaller aircraft and shifting their base of operations from major cities to smaller cities, thereby developing routes that were not traditionally profitable, Ohunayo noted.

“United Nigeria is now using Enugu as its base. In the past, every airline used Lagos as an operational base. What is also common is that they are all marketing low fares. They are coming at a time when the in-flight services have almost vanished and that is a big chunk from the cost of operations.

“Apps are now being introduced to enable people to book flights directly with their phones and negotiate for fares. The little interface between staff and airlines has reduced the cost of hiring,” Ohunayo added.

John Ojikutu, an aviation security consultant and secretary-general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), observed that while most airlines around the world were parking their aircraft on the shelves or selling them at low prices than their market values, ‘clever’ Nigerians were buying them to put them into operations at low fares despite the operational costs.

It is better for the aircraft to be put in the air by the one who can bear the operational costs than to be kept on the shelves or on the ground by those who cannot bear the operational costs, Ojikutu said.

To him, the cleverer airline operators are those going for cargo aircraft for cargo operations, adding that while the passengers’ airfares are crashing, the same is not true for cargo fares.

UPDATE: Confusion As Lagos Airport Records Second Fire Outbreak In Two Years - SAHARA REPORTERS

MARCH 03, 2021

Firefighters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), however, promptly responded to put off the fire.

There was panic among passengers on Wednesday following a fire outbreak at a section of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

SaharaReporters gathered that the incident occurred at the departure hall of the Kenyan airways at exactly 6:58am.

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

The incident it was learnt caused panic among the passengers and workers at Nigeria’s busiest airport as the hall was filled with smoke.

Firefighters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), however, promptly responded to put off the fire.

Alabi Joseph, spokesperson for the Lagos Airport Police Command confirmed the incident.

“Good morning, please there was a minor fire outbreak near Kenyan airways’ office at International Airport building (MMIA) Lagos. The fire has since been put off by the airport fire service,” he said.

In January 2020, a fire incident was reported around the Runway End Safety Area (RESA) of the airport.

RESA is the surface surrounding the runway prepared or suitable for reducing the risk of damage to airplanes in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway.

Abuja Airport Rated Best In Africa - DAILY TRUST

MARCH 03, 2021

By Chris Agabi

The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja has earned the 2020 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) award for Best Airport by Size and Region (5 to 15 million passengers per year in Africa) by the Airports Council International (ACI) Africa.

The other category winners include Best African Airport under 2 million passengers per year which was won by Moi International Airport, Mombasa, Kenya.

The Best African Airport 2 to 5 million passengers per year went to Kotoka International Airport, Kotoka, Accra, Ghana and the African Airport with Best Hygiene Measures was won by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, Mauritius.

The award letter was sent to the respective winners in the different categories on Tuesday.

Nigeria’s award letter was sent to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

FAAN MD/CEO, Captain Rabiu Yadudu, accepted the award on behalf of the organisation and restated FAAN’s commitment to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of passengers at all airports across the country.

He said; “this award represents FAAN’s commitment to continuously improving customer’s experience across all our airports.

“The recognition comes at a time when we are geared towards ensuring seamless airport facilitation with the opening of new terminals and upgrading of our current infrastructures across board.”

According to him, despite a turbulent year plagued by COVID-19 induced financial struggles, FAAN had endeavoured to prioritize customers’ satisfaction while ensuring that health and safety remain topmost.

Britain to begin new visas for skilled migrants - VANGUARD

MARCH 04, 2021

Britain is launching a new visa system to make it easier for science, research and technology workers overseas to move to Britain, the country’s Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Wednesday.

Rishi Sunak told lawmakers that he hoped to make Britain the best place in the world for high-growth, innovative companies and to make the four nations internationally competitive. “I’m announcing ambitious visa reform aimed at highly skilled migrants,” he said. 

According to him, this includes a new unsponsored points-based visa to attract the best and most promising international talent in science, research and tech. He said it also included new, improved visa processes for scale-ups and entrepreneurs, and radically simplified bureaucracy for high-skilled visa applications.

Read more at: https://www.vanguardngr.com/20...

Pandemic pushes Etihad Airways to $1.7 bln loss for 2020 - REUTERS

MARCH 04, 2021


Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways posted on Thursday a core operating loss of $1.7 billion for 2020, more than double the year before due to lower demand and reduced service in the pandemic. Etihad has also slashed jobs and salaries.

DUBAI, March 4 (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways posted on Thursday a core operating loss of $1.7 billion for 2020, more than double the year before due to lower demand and reduced service in the pandemic.

Aviation has been one of the industries worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis, forcing airlines to lay off staff and seek government bailouts.

Abu Dhabi government-owned Etihad, which posted a core operating loss of $800 million in 2019, has also slashed jobs and salaries.

Passenger revenue slumped 74% to $1.2 billion from $4.8 billion in 2019, as passenger numbers dropped 76% to 4.2 million, down from 17.5 million in 2019.

"COVID shook the very foundation of the aviation industry, but thanks to our dedicated people and the support of our shareholder, Etihad stood firm and is ready to play a key role as the world returns to flying," said CEO Tony Douglas said in a statement.

Etihad said it continued to target a complete turnaround by 2023, having accelerated its transformation plans and restructured during the pandemic into a leaner and more agile business.

Etihad once sought to compete head-to-head with major Gulf hub carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways, but its strategy, including taking minority stakes in other airlines, did not bear fruit. It has made losses in the last five years.

(Reporting by Saeed Azhar. Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)


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