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London City Flights Return in Sign of Pickup in Banking Trips - BLOOMBERG

SEPTEMBER 06, 2021

BY  Charlotte RyanBloomberg News

London City Airport in London. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

London City Airport in London. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg , Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- London City Airport, a favorite of regional business travelers, is seeing a tentative reawakening as British Airways and Deutsche Lufthansa AG restore flights to key financial centers.

Services to Zurich, Frankfurt and Rotterdam are resuming this month, the airport’s chief operating officer, Alison FitzGerald, said in an interview.

“We’re seeing some early signs of good load factors, some early bookings,” FitzGerald said. “Hopefully frequencies will also increase.”

The number of flights from London City is set to increase more than 70% during September to about 260 per week by month’s end, based on data from Bloomberg NEF. Still, traffic remains about 80% below 2019 levels, according to FitzGerald. 

The airport, which which offers easy access to the City of London and Canary Wharf financial districts, is almost wholly focused on short flights because its truncated runway is limited to smaller aircraft. It has relied on leisure journeys that resumed earlier in the summer season when Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns eased, FitzGerald said.

While demand for business travel in the aftermath of the pandemic remains uncertain, FitzGerald said executives are seeking out face-to-face meetings with clients, and more customers will combine business and leisure trips made possible by flexible working patterns.

Lufthansa will resume services to Frankfurt from Sept. 16, after the group’s Swiss arm restarted Zurich operations last week, using the latest version of the Embraer SA regional jet series that dominates London City. The 110-seat E2 model was recently cleared by European regulators for the airport’s steep approach.

British Airways will add Rotterdam, home to Europe’s busiest seaport and offices of Unilever Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, from Sept. 20, after mothballing the route at the start of the pandemic. Amsterdam is already being served by KLM, London City’s biggest carrier after BA.

A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia showed that 84% plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. Demand is also being held back by constantly changing U.K. travel rules, causing carriers to take a conservative approach to reopening, FitzGerald said. 

“It’s a cautious lift given where the airlines are financially,” she said. “They need to make sure the demand is there.”

UAE announces 50 initiatives to boost economy, but businesses await more details - CNBC

SEPTEMBER 06, 2021

BY  Natasha Turak@NATASHATURAK  and  Dan Murphy@DAN_MURPHY

KEY POINTS

  • Fifty new projects and initiatives will be announced in the coming weeks, Emirati officials said, to coincide with the country’s 50th anniversary, including new visas to attract residents and skilled workers.
  • Visas are a core pillar of the UAE economy as nearly 90% of its population of 10 million are expatriates.


Commuters drive along Sheikh Zayed Road past commercial and residential properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Commuters drive along Sheikh Zayed Road past commercial and residential properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has launched a series of programs to stimulate and diversify its economy, seeking to attract some $150 billion in new foreign investment in the coming decade. Fifty new projects and initiatives will be announced in the coming weeks, Emirati officials said, to coincide with the country’s 50th anniversary, including new visas to attract residents and skilled workers.

“The UAE’s drive for the next 50 years is to become a global player across different industries,” Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE’s first Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Sunday. “The region is what we’ve been targeting for the past five decades; now we’re moving on to ensure that a lot of our sectors are competitive on a global level.” 

The country aims to invest more heavily in advanced industry sectors and technology education. Newly introduced changes include visa schemes like the Green Visa, which is meant to expand self-residency status for skilled individuals and investors, and the Freelancers Visa, which will enable the self-employed to sponsor themselves. The country has already introduced the 10-year Golden Visa, granted selectively to the highly skilled and select residents and investors. 

Visas are a core pillar of the UAE economy as nearly 90% of its population of 10 million are expatriates. Traditionally, without a job, an expat resident loses their visa; this was a reason behind nearly 10% of the country’s population leaving over the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.  

The oil-rich desert sheikhdom has been working to bring in new capital and residents to help its economy rebound from the blows dealt to it by the pandemic, which led its economy to shrink 6.1% in 2020. Late last year it launched the remote worker visa, which allows individuals to live in the UAE for one year even if their employment is overseas, as long as they meet a certain earnings threshold.

Like many major announcements in the UAE, however, the news of the 50 initiatives was light on details, with no specifics yet as to when each of these programs will begin and exactly what they will entail. 

Awaiting specifics

Employment law specialists who spoke to CNBC described the plans as a “significant and positive” step for business in the region. 

“Historically, largely due to visa and work permit restrictions, it has been difficult for companies to operate more flexible, atypical working arrangements outside the traditional employment model,” Kiersten Lucas, a partner at Dubai-based firm Stephenson Harwood, told CNBC. 

But companies are awaiting more specifics. “Businesses and individuals alike will keenly await further clarity from the authorities on how the new visas will operate in practice,” Laura Anderson, an associate at the same firm, said. 

She added that many employers will want to know the extent to which the changes “give them increased flexibility to contract directly with individuals on a more traditional consultancy basis” without being bound by the current legal obligations surrounding a company’s relationship to their employees in the UAE.

Chris Payne, chief economist at UAE-based Peninsula Real Estate, described the move as strategic despite currently lacking in details. 

“It’s a recognition in the UAE that expats are here for the long-term, they’re here to stay, and when you have though the economic cycle, when you have a downturn, people who lose their jobs leave the country,” Payne told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Monday. “And that immediately impacts other businesses, it impacts the real estate market quite obviously, and that’s why bit by bit that is being addressed.” 

“It’s often afterwards that you get the real detail on it,” he said of Sunday’s announcements. “But the details will come ... If we talk about the visa changes, they’re all extremely positive even as we wait for the details.” 

Regional competition

This initiative also comes amid a growing rivalry with neighboring Saudi Arabia to be the region’s trade and business hub. The UAE  Dubai specifically  has long been seen as the commercial center of the region, buoyed by modern transport and logistics infrastructure and conveniently positioned at the crossroads of east and west. 

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on January 16, 2021. People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. - The six-month world fair, a milestone for the emirate which has splashed out $8.2 billion on the eye-popping venue in the hope of boosting its soft power and resetting the economy, will now open its doors in October 2021. KARIM SAHIB | AFP | Getty Images

In the last year, Saudi Arabia has launched liberalizing economic reforms in an effort to draw more human capital and investment. And in February it announced that its government would cease doing business with any international companies whose regional headquarters were not based within the kingdom by 2024. The move was widely perceived to be a direct shot at Dubai’s business primacy in the region.  

“Competition is obviously a good thing in many cases, and the UAE are responding to that by moving themselves onto the next stage,” Payne said. “This has always been the UAE’s vision  that it’s not just a GCC hub, it’s a hub for South Asia, connecting into East Africa, and beyond South Asia, in East Asia as well. So if you look at some of these announcements regarding trade and investment, it’s saying well, we have competition within the GCC, but actually our vision goes beyond the GCC.”

“So absolutely it’s a response to what’s been going on in Saudi Arabia, but it’s a positive response; it’s saying ‘we can rise to the challenge’.”


Tourism association 'caught off guard' by U.S. travel advisory for Canada - YAHOO FINANCE

SEPTEMBER 06, 2021

Canada's tourism and hotel associations say they were caught off guard and disappointed by the U.S. government's decision to escalate its travel advisory for Canada.

The U.S. State Department urged Americans on Monday to "reconsider" travel to Canada as they set the travel advisory to Level 3, after just a three-week period where Canada was at Level 2 with the land border open to U.S citizens and permanent residents.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada says the decision will further hurt the country's battered tourism sector, especially ahead of the Labour Day weekend, the first holiday in which Americans are able to travel across the land border.

"This was not on our radar," said Beth Potter, President and CEO of TIAC.

"It's like businesses got kicked again while they're already down."

The Hotel Association of Canada said it's disappointed the U.S. is discouraging travel to Canada, saying hotels and the events sector will continue to feel the brunt of COVID-19's economic impact for many months to come.

"Our current data shows hotels are still operating more than 40 per cent below industry norms on average, and this will only make things worse," said Susie Grynol, President & CEO of HAC, in a statement.

"Limited international tourism, combined with the reality that no major conventions or festivals are taking place and limited business travel, means that Canadian hotels will face another eight months like the last sixteen."

However, Flight Centre spokeswoman Allison Wallace said the fact that the U.S. only issued a travel advisory without any increased restrictions means there won't be a large effect on travel.

She said the advisory wouldn't even have implications for travel insurance, which is already affected by COVID-19 being a known risk.

"The pent-up demand is evident both for people looking to get away and those wanting to see family/friends that live across the border," said Wallace.

"Unless there’s a restriction put in place, we expect those Americans that planned to travel to Canada in the near future will continue with their plans."

Both Wallace and Potter say the question now is how long it will take for the U.S. to lower their advisory, and when Canadians will be allowed to travel south through the land border.

Vaccinated Americans have been allowed to cross into Canada via the land border without quarantining as of Aug. 9, although Canadians are still not able to cross the land border into the U.S.

Wallace also said the tourism industry will be watching to see if rising COVID-19 case counts will have any effect on the Canadian government's plans to reopen to vaccinated international travellers on Sept. 7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2021.

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly referred to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

London’s Tube Has Busiest Morning Since Covid as Workers Return - BLOOMBERG

SEPTEMBER 06, 2021

BY  Charlotte RyanBloomberg News

BC-London’s-Tube-Has-Busiest-Morning-Since-Covid-as-Workers-Return

BC-London’s-Tube-Has-Busiest-Morning-Since-Covid-as-Workers-Return , Transport for London

(Bloomberg) -- London’s underground rail system had its busiest morning since March 2020 as office workers returned to their desks and schools reopened. 

Some 831,000 people used the Tube network from 7-10 a.m. on Monday, an increase of 17% from the previous week, Transport for London said in an emailed statement. Bus traffic jumped 39%, with London’s schools returning after the summer holidays. Monday’s figures were compared with Tuesday, Aug. 31, because Aug. 30 was a public holiday. 

While ridership remains far below pre-pandemic levels, the pick-up in traffic suggests a much-delayed return to the office may finally be taking hold. TfL, which runs London’s Tube and bus network, has received more than 4 billion pounds ($5.5 billion) in government bailouts since the Covid-19 pandemic gutted tourism revenue and forced commuters to work from home. 

In an email, a TfL spokesman said he expected to finish the day with more than 50% of pre-pandemic Tube ridership, and at least two-thirds of normalized bus usage. The network was moving some 5 million people around London per day before the

Covid-19: Vaccine passports to start in England this month - BBC

SEPTEMBER 07, 2021

Vaccine passports in nightclubs and other indoor venues in England will be required at the end of this month, the vaccines minister has confirmed.

Nadhim Zahawi said it was the right time to start the scheme for sites with large crowds as all over-18s will have been offered two jabs by then.

Asking people to show certificates with Covid vaccination proof has been criticised by venues and some MPs.

Mr Zahawi said it would ensure the economy could remain open.

"The best way we can keep those industries open in my view, in our view, is to work with the industry," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

The vaccines minister said: "One thing that we have learnt is that in large gatherings of people, especially indoors, the virus tends to spike and spread."

Mr Zahawi also indicated the government's plans to offer a Covid booster jab to most vulnerable people - including all over-50s - could get the go-ahead this month.

And he said extending the vaccine rollout to all 12-15 year-olds would "absolutely" be the right thing to do if the UK's chief medical officers recommended it.

Asked about vaccine passports, Mr Zahawi referred to Premier League football clubs asking some fans to show proof they have been jabbed, which allowed stadiums to reopen to capacity crowds last month.

However, only a small number of clubs have made Covid-19 checks a mandatory condition of entry.

Mr Zahawi added: "When the evidence that you are presented is so clear cut and that we want to make sure the industry doesn't have to go through [an]open-shut, open-shut sort of strategy, then the right thing to do is to introduce that by the end of September when all over 18 year-olds have had their two jabs."

The prime minister's official spokesman last week said the plans first unveiled in July remained in place, adding: "We set out broadly our intention to require vaccination for nightclubs and some other settings."

The Night Time Industries Association has said plans for vaccine passports could "cripple the industry" and see night clubs facing discrimination cases.

Opposition to the plans has also come from Tory MPs on the Covid Recovery Group as well as the Liberal Democrats, whose leader, Ed Davey, described them as "divisive, unworkable and expensive".

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour has refused to support plans to require vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and many large events in Scotland from later this month.

Opposition is building to the Scottish government's proposal, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said would be the least restrictive way to keep people safe.

Wales says it has no plans to introduce Covid passports for venues, while ministers in Northern Ireland have not yet announced a position on a scheme.

On the issue of offering Covid jabs to all 12 to 15-year-olds, Mr Zahawi said he did not want to "pre-determine" the decision of the UK's chief medical officers but would accept their advice.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided not to recommend the rollout be extended, saying the benefits to younger children on health grounds alone were "marginal". They have now asked the chief medical officers to consider the wider implications - including transmission rates and disruption to schools.

Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag group that advises the government on virus threats, said he was "a little surprised" at the JCVI's decision.

"We do know the virus is circulating very widely amongst this age group, and that, if we're going to be able to get the rates down and also prevent further surges of infection perhaps later in the winter, then this is the group that needs to become immune," he told BBC Breakfast.

Interim advice from the JCVI has also suggested giving a third dose of a Covid vaccine to more than 30 million people.

Mr Zahawi said: "It is very likely that we will begin boosting those groups as per the, I hope, interim advice becomes final advice by the end of this month."

On Sunday, 37,001 cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK and 68 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

British Airways in advanced talks on low-cost Gatwick business, CEO says - REUTERS

SEPTEMBER 07, 2021

The airline, owned by Anglo-Spanish group IAG, first announced plans for the new business focused on short-haul flying on Friday, saying that it would be branded British Airways and would offer the same standard of service.

Feds ease travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals - THE CANADIAN PRESS

SEPTEMBER 07, 2021

WASHINGTON — The federal government has added fully vaccinated foreign nationals to the ranks of travellers who are once again welcome on Canadian soil.

As of midnight Monday night, quarantine requirements were eased for non-essential international travellers who have had a full course of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

To be eligible, travellers must have allowed at least 14 days to pass since their last vaccine shot and show proof of a negative molecular test for COVID-19 that's no more than 72 hours old.

They are also required to use the ArriveCAN app or online web portal to upload their vaccination details.

Denis Vinette, vice-president of the travellers branch of the Canada Border Services Agency, says the latest wave of vaccinated visitors is arriving primarily by air.

Vinette says that simplifies matters for the agency, since airlines will be screening travellers to ensure they meet the criteria.

"The great thing in air is that you've got the airline working with you, who will not allow individuals to get on if they're not meeting all of the requirements," Vinette said in an interview. "The land border is a different beast."

Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, also known as Covishield, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson option.

Vinette said the agency will continue to conduct random tests of travellers at the border, a surveillance program that has been in place since the phased-in process of easing travel restrictions began earlier this summer.

Between Aug. 9 and 26, the positivity rate for randomly selected, fully vaccinated travellers was just 0.19 per cent despite the increase in cases in both Canada and the U.S.

"While cases are currently increasing in Canada, the illness severity and hospitalization rates remain manageable as Canada's vaccination rates continue to rise," the agency said in a release last week.

"This data, along with continued adherence to public health measures by Canadians and incoming travellers, means that Canada is better able to prevent outbreaks of infection and can now allow more incoming fully vaccinated travellers without increasing the risk to the health and safety of Canadians."

Direct flights from India and Morocco will remain suspended until at least later this month. Travellers from either country who take an indirect route to Canada will be required to produce a recent negative molecular test taken in a third country.

The U.S., meanwhile, continues to prohibit non-essential Canadian travellers from entering the country by land. Air and sea travellers are exempt, though passengers by rail, ferry and pleasure boat are not.

The U.S. has also maintained stringent travel limits on a number of foreign countries, including China, India, Ireland, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and the 26 European countries without border controls, known as the Schengen group.

The borders with Canada and Mexico, however, are widely seen as falling into a different category, in part because of the close trade ties between the three countries as well as the fact that visitors can arrive by land without the help of a private-sector company like an airline or cruise ship operator.

The continuing U.S. restrictions have provided the agency with a silver lining of sorts, however: since Canadians can't cross the border for short incidental trips or shopping excursions, that's meant fewer people trying to return to Canada than might otherwise be the case.

"In a normal year, throughout the summer, about 65 per cent of our border crossings are what we term day trippers," Vinette said.

"Currently, we only have unidirectional entry, and so you don't have day trippers from Canada going to the U.S. and then coming back, which is a significant portion of our usual traffic volumes."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2021.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Airlines say rise in COVID-19 cases is hurting ticket sales - ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEPTEMBER 09, 2021

DALLAS (AP) — Several leading U.S. airlines warned Thursday that the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant is hurting their bookings and further delaying the travel industry's recovery.

The summer got off to a strong start, with many planes full of vacationers eager to break out after being stuck at home for more than a year. After months of improving travel numbers, however, August was disappointing.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Thursday that people are still traveling, but key segments — business and international flyers — are still largely missing. He said the rise in COVID-19 cases won’t derail the travel recovery but will delay it by 90 to 120 days.

Delta said it still expects to post an adjusted pretax profit for the third quarter, but revenue will be toward the lower end of its previous forecast.

United Airlines said its revenue is weaker than previously expected, and it forecast a pretax loss in the third quarter that could extend into the fourth quarter if the virus outbreak continues. It is trimming flights to match the lower demand.

American Airlines said a slowdown that started in August has continued into September, and the airline further lowered its outlook for third-quarter revenue.

Southwest Airlines reported that leisure travel has weakened, with more cancellations and softer bookings for September and October. Southwest said, however, booking patterns for the winter holidays look normal.

Airlines are watching COVID-19 numbers closely and finding hope in the latest figures showing the surge that started in July might have peaked. The seven-day average of cases is roughly flat compared with two weeks ago.

Airline executives say they believe bookings will pick up as soon as case counts go down.

“Things moved downward rather quickly, but they can, I think, move upwards just as quickly,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief marketing officer, said during an investor conference held by financial-services firm Cowen.

Airline stocks fell shortly after trading began Thursday but then turned higher. By early afternoon, American was up 6% and others rose between 3% and 5%.

Americans have been willing to travel over the summer and during shorter holiday periods. Air travel over the Labor Day weekend approached 2019 levels — on two days, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2 million travelers.

By Wednesday, however, the number of people going through airport checkpoints dropped back to 1.4 million, down 28% from the comparable Wednesday in 2019.

United's Nocella warned that travel is likely to slump in October, early November, and the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In a bid to reassure passengers worried about the virus, airlines have been pushing their employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19.

United is requiring the shots and says it will fire workers who don't get vaccinated in the coming weeks or merit an exemption on medical or religious grounds. A United executive said Wednesday that more than half of the previously unvaccinated employees have received a shot since the airline announced the requirement last month, although United refused to give precise numbers.

Delta employees on the company health plan face a $200 monthly surcharge starting in November if they aren't vaccinated. On Thursday, the airline's chief health officer, Dr. Henry Ting, said that nearly one-fifth of the 20,000 Delta employees who were unvaccinated when the surcharge was announced have decided to get the shots.

Ting called that “a huge number in terms of shifting that group that is most reluctant.”

___

AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this report.

David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Shenbanjo: Economy Ticket to London has Risen Astronomically Due to Naira Devaluation - THISDAY

SEPTEMBER 10, 2021

The Chief Executive Officer of Shenbee Travels Limited, Wole Shenbanjo, in this interview, spoke about emerging issues in Nigeria’s economy, and events in the travel and tourism industry. He spoke to Chinedu Eze. Excerpts

How has the devaluation of the Naira affected international air travel? It has affected travel a great deal. Ticket fares have increased astronomically. You have economy tickets to London costing as high as N1 million. Not to include the cost of Covid-19 tests here and there especially the ones you have to pay for abroad. It has really affected holiday travels this period. I know quite a number of families who have had to postpone, cancel or reschedule their holidays due to cost constraints.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of COVID-19 on air travel? Before talking long-term impact, we have already started to experience the impact and more importantly the recovery. Initially, we had everything come to a standstill with nations shutting their borders and all of that. A lot of countries that know what they are doing and understand the importance of travels have started to experience what we call the Post Covid-19 recovery.

In the long term, I believe we will experience safer travels. Most countries would not go back on the health and safety measure put in place as a result of Covid-19. As more people get vaccinated, we will see a pick up in travels across the globe. In another two years, we hope to be back to our Pre-Covid-19 numbers.

Would you say that the shrinking of international holiday destinations has made travel agents innovative and in what way? Absolutely. It has caused us to be more innovative. We have had to research and explore more destinations to offer our clients. Personally, I have had cause to visit two new destinations this year to experience firsthand and be able to offer more options to our clients. So, we will continue to see more of that. We now have to look inwards into Africa and other safer destinations that are open to receiving tourists. It has made a lot of us go all out in exploring and pushing our domestic tourism, which I strongly believe will thrive as we look to better days ahead.

With selective lockdown of many places in Europe and Americas, do you foresee a boost in African tourism? Most definitely. Just this August, I went on holiday with my family to Ghana. You can imagine, as exposed and well traveled as we are, we had never visited Ghana, which is literally next door. It was a beautiful experience seeing lovely resorts and all that. We have had a lot of people reach out to us to help package similar tours. I am sure a lot of the top agencies and tour operators would be getting similar requests and experiences. People are now more interested in seeing Africa. Agencies and tour operators are beginning to showcase more of Africa; it will really be a great boost for African tourism if we are able to sustain it.

Do you think the federal government took a wise decision by introducing stringent protocols against South Africa? From a personal standpoint, I did not understand nor subscribe to the ban of travellers from South Africa into Nigeria. The reason we heard was that the Covid-19 variant there is stronger, but I believe it is not a problem at all. There are health measures that we needed to put in place, closely enforce and monitor. But if we continue to sell fear, we will continue to experience huge economic loss and we will be losing out in the grand scheme of things.

Knowing that South Africa and Nigeria are key economic pivots in the continent, how is not having direct flights affect the business partnership of the two countries? The two countries have a bilateral agreement, which should eliminate trade barriers and by extension what this implies for the aviation sector is that our own Air Peace cannot fly there and bring back passengers. That is a loss to the airline. We ought to use this opportunity to support and grow our indigenous airlines. Things are looking up now though and soon everything will be back to normal.

Do you think we have come to a tipping point on the fall of the Naira and how has that affected the prices of air tickets? Frankly speaking, it is a tough call to say if we have gotten to the tipping point or not. Neither the agencies nor the airlines have the power to control or influence the currency exchange rate. Several factors control that. Yes, prices of air tickets adjust strongly to exchange rate and the impact here is a lot more are unable to afford tickets on direct flights to their destinations or airlines of their choice. Again, adaptability is one of our strong points as a people. We will continue to adjust.

What can travel agencies do to boost international travel, as nations seem to be closing doors on inbound flights? I actually don’t think nations are closing doors on inbound flights anymore. At most, they are introducing more testing and quarantine rules to suit them as advised by their health authorities. What travel agencies can do to support or boost travel is to stay abreast with the ever-changing Covid-19 rules across countries and destinations of interest and advise their clients accordingly.

Do you think the intransigent position taken by UAE against Nigeria in terms of Covid-19 protocol has political undertone? That will be for the governments of both countries to comment on. I believe that the governments need to come to roundtable and iron out the diplomatic challenges between both countries. Again, it brings us back to the issue of bilateral agreements and something not being right about it, there is need for them to come to an amicable resolution as quick as possible. The challenge between the two governments goes beyond you and I. But whatever the reason is, it is not doing any good to either of the countries and I believe we will get positive news on it soon. We hear engagements are ongoing.

How has not flying to Dubai affected the revenue of Travel Agencies? Without a doubt, it has. Dubai has been our highest selling destination for a very long time. It is like second home to a lot of us here. Guess what? Nigerians are still going to Dubai, and they are going there via Cotonou and Accra. Who is losing out? We are the ones losing out. And it goes beyond travel agencies.

You know how we are losing out? This is because revenue that would have come to our NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) is being lost. Other countries are benefiting from our losses. We are helping other economies to grow. Because Kenya Airways is lifting Nigerians to Dubai, Qatar is doing the same. Egypt is doing the same. Only Emirates and Nigeria are not benefiting from it because we currently do not have direct flights. So why can’t we just put our ego aside and go into discussions and get it resolved. Dubai needs us as much as we need them. Both governments just need to sit and get this thing resolved because as the popular saying goes, “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.

It is the travellers that are feeling the pinch; it is the business people that are feeling the pinch. Because instead of booking a direct flight, they now have to connect through other countries, having to spend at least 14 days in those places before proceeding to Dubai. We keep getting resumption dates but it is still from one party.

What do you advice government to do to encourage inbound tourism in Nigeria? In any clime, for businesses to thrive, the government needs to create an enabling environment. We ought to consider the movement of visitors to other neighboring countries as being serious cause for concern, but we have not been able to latch onto such opportunities. Nigeria is blessed with the history of many ethnic groups, beautiful beaches and wonderful natural landscapes. The government can adopt a few measures to encourage inbound tourism.

We need a National tourism policy, which would serve as a guide and must be conscientiously implemented. The private sector can be encouraged to develop and operate tourist sites on a PPP arrangement with the government. As part of CSR, blue chip organisations can be encouraged to adopt tourist destinations within their operating locality in partnership with the government. All of the above can only be possible if the government is ready to work on the infrastructure side of things and most of all security. We should also take presentation and packaging of festivals very seriously. Take for example the annual Calabar festival, this attracts so many visitors from all over, we need more of that. Tourism will really boost the economy by way of job creation while adding to growth of our GDP. By promoting investment in tourism and rebranding the industry, the potential for growth on the economy is limitless.

To what extent has insecurity imperiled domestic tourism? To a very large extent. I mean investing in tourism in areas such as hospitality, attractions, events, commercial outdoor recreation, festivals, arts and crafts etc. requires a very high level of security and safety. We read reports of terrorism, banditry, insurgency and kidnappings almost on a daily basis. And you know bad news travels fast. Nobody will love to invest or go out exploring unsafe territory.

Do you think destinations like conservation Centres, water falls; game reserves and others in Nigeria could attract throngs of international tourists in future? Oh absolutely. These sites in Nigeria are places you will always find holiday seekers traveling to, during weekends and public holidays. Identifying these spots and giving them the necessary attention will well position the states who are the custodians of such locations to be at the heart of tourism development in the country.

In other countries, they have some cities they refer to as call holiday cities. We can mirror such here; they will attract more developments in terms of infrastructure like road network, ease of transportation and all of that. By improving infrastructure, the governments both state and federal partnering with local tourism organisations to promote the tourist attractions of the country, I believe in a few years we can boast of tourism adding significantly to our GDP, away from our sole reliance on oil. Revenue from taxes too will rise easily.

Shenbee Travels Limited is known for driving travel innovation and exciting customer experience. What plans do you have for your existing and prospective clients as travel and tourism emerge from the lull of the year 2020? As you know, we are all adjusting to what we have now known to be our new normal. We would ensure that we are able to provide safe, healthy, and prompt service to our clients so that they are able to fly seamlessly or with the airline that respects COVID-19 protocols.

Information is being updated by different countries and airlines almost on a daily basis, we continue to stay close to our clients and keep them updated with the ever- changing Covid-19 protocols. We will encourage our clients to safely learn to travel again while offering them best value deals. I remain optimistic that we would all weather this challenging period and come out of it even better than the pre-Covid-19 days.

US investigating airlines over slow refunds during pandemic - ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEPTEMBER 11, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Transportation Department is detailing efforts it says it is making to help airline customers who were wrongfully denied refunds after flights were canceled or changed during the pandemic.

The department says in a new report that it investigated 20 airlines over failures to issue prompt refunds to customers, and 18 of those probes are still going.

The department disclosed that an examination into United Airlines was dropped in January after the airline took steps resulting in “thousands” of customers getting refunds.

In June, the department announced that it was seeking a $25.5 million fine against Air Canada, saying the airline improperly delayed refunds for more than 5,000 passengers by up to 13 months. The airline is fighting the penalty.

The Transportation Department did not identify the other 18 airlines still under investigation in Thursday's report to the White House, but a footnote identified 10 U.S. carriers and 15 foreign ones — a who's who of the industry — that it contacted about the matter last year.

“Air Canada is far from being the only carrier that violated DOT refund rules," Bill McGee, an aviation expert at Consumer Reports, said Friday.

McGee said both Consumer Reports and the Transportation Department received “tremendously high numbers of complaints” against United and Frontier Airlines.

The department says it received about 30,000 complaints over airline refunds. The agency says at least nine airlines changed their policies to clarify that passengers are entitled to refunds, not just travel vouchers, when the airline cancels their flight or significantly changes the flight's schedule.

Consumer groups and lawmakers have been raising the issue of refunds that were slow or never came since March 2020, when U.S. air travel nosedived and airlines canceled thousands of flights on short notice. Elaine Chao, who was Transportation secretary under President Donald Trump, issued a reminder to airlines of their obligation to offer refunds when they — and not the customer — cancel a trip, but refrained from stronger action against airlines.

On Friday, consumer groups praised current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for expanding the agency's staff for handling complaints and proposing to expand refunds to times when government lockdowns cause flight cancellations. But they said more needs to be done to help consumers who are still waiting for refunds from 2020 and those who received travel vouchers that will expire.

The Associated Press

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