Putting a Toe in the Water: Cruising in a Time of Pandemic

Rent your own Lockmaster canal boat from Erie Canal Adventures, and float where whimsy takes you on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It may not feel right to cruise on a mega-ship just yet, but there are wonderful alternatives, well adaptable to the “new normal” of travel at a time of concern for COVID-19. But for those who appreciate the lure of sailing: Expeditionary-style cruises, small-ship cruises, riverboats, barge hotels, canal boats (you can even self-skipper your own), and for the real talented, skippering your own yacht can meet the bill. And if you want to stay domestic and avoid an airplane ride or immigration, there are loads of alternatives here, including Blount Cruises (we took a delightful small-ship cruise among the New England Islands), Erie Canal Adventures which rents the sweetest self-skippered canal boats on the Erie Canal in upstate New York, and Maine Windjammer Association historic vessels that let you sail in the waters of the Penobscot Bay, as just a few examples.

The entire cruise industry has instituted stringent procedures to sanitize vessels and keep passengers and crew healthy; many are adapting itineraries and even shore excursions. UniWorld, for example, is conducting health screenings, new cleaning protocols, removing items like magazines from public use, having disinfectant wipes available throughout the ship, contactless payment, assigned seating in the restaurant. American Queen Steamboat Company is doing pre-boarding screenings and temperature checks, deploying ionizer systems to purify cabins, thermal imaging to scan temperatures as passengers come on and off the boat, limiting the number of guests dining or watching shows at one time, and hand-washing stations.

Avalon Waterways, looking to a September re-start to river cruising, plans to implement screenings, touch-free temperature checks, luggage disinfection, electrostatic cleaning and UV disinfecting systems, and supply guests and crew with masks. There will also be social distancing measures, including reducing ship capacity and providing alternative dining venues, and buffets and self-serve stations will no longer be offered. Cabins and ship will undergo deep-cleaning and disinfection during each turnover; plus dining areas and shared items (bicycles, umbrellas) will be disinfected after each use. (See their policy, https://www.avalonwaterways.com/peace-of-mind/; avalonwaterways.com)

These cruise operators are also being extremely flexible, and even generous, about cancellations, refunds and changes, and offering enticing discounts. Windstar, for example, is allowing cancellations within 48 hours of sailing and you can either get 100% of your money back or a credit worth 125%. (windstarcruises.com)

“Most of the major cruiselines are making it worth your while to reschedule by giving additional percentage of value of the voyage, if they have to cancel the voyage. Cruiselines are making it worth your while to book.” says a spokesperson for CruiseCompete.com, a kind of LendingTree for booking cruises where cruise agents bid for your business.

If you are not comfortable to get on an airplane, there are scores of ships and variety of sailings from some 30 North American ports within driving distance of the vast majority.

But the biggest trend will be in the segment of small-ships cruising and expeditionary ships. Not only are these ships smaller, with fewer passengers and crew, but they ply less trafficked waters, visit uncrowded ports, and, in the case of “expeditionary” cruises, voyage to remote wilderness places and exotic corners of the globe.

And some of the “small ships” are so small, they are actually available for charter by a family or a group, like AdventureSmith Exploration’s 12-passenger SeaWolf, which operates in Alaska’s Glacier Bay. “This is a growth area for us,” said AdventureSmith’s founder and CEO Todd Smith. (See: https://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/cruises/charter/yacht-private-cruise-cost/)

AdventureSmith’s SeaWolf is so small, it can be chartered by a family.

Destinations that are popular for expeditions, like Alaska (which had imposed a requirement for a 14-day quarantine for any visitor) and the Galapagos are loosening their restrictions so that cruising can begin again, possibly by late June or early July. And Smith is already getting calls from intrepid travelers, hoping to take advantage of deep discounts.

These small-ship, expeditionary vessels, hotel barges, riverboats, canal boats and the like afford all the advantages of a cruise vacation – packing/unpacking just once, camaraderie, great food, interesting/exciting destinations to explore, not being cramped in a car driving place to place – and avoid the chief risks to contracting infection because of crowds and density.

People need to have confidence, though, that not only can they travel safely, but that the other passengers and crew they are sailing with are healthy – something that is even more important for a ship than a hotel or restaurant. Perhaps one of the changes the industry could institute is requiring passengers to show they have been tested for COVID-19, or have the antibodies. This would eliminate the need for the draconian policy instituted, for example, by Maine and Alaska, which are requiring any out-of-state visitor to quarantine in the state for 14-days before they can go anywhere, like on one of the historic sailing vessels of the Maine Windjammer fleet (sailmainecoast.org). 

The state could even set up stations at the toll booths into the state and at the airports that ask visitors to show the document, and if not, to go to a mobile testing station. It seems staying overnight in a hotel to await the result is a better alternative to being quarantined for 14 days.

AdventureSmith Explorations, Alaska.

“We can provide a safe environment,” commented Todd Smith, president and founder of AdventureSmith Explorations. “Small ships, expeditionary ships are lower risk inherently – with only 12 to 80 guests – so the risk is already reduced. And expedition cruises – river cruises also – passengers are spending more time off the boat in wilderness settings, where the risk is low.

“But the industry still has some questions needs to address – I’m not sure we are there yet: How do you social distance on a small ship, do you stagger meal times, paint spots on deck, so people are consciously standing apart? What is the protocol for crew helping passengers get in and out of zodiacs which requires physical contact? Operators are working hard to do that. But when all is said and done, small ships, expeditionary cruising will be very appealing.”

Also, if passengers show that they have a test result to begin with, and the cruise company takes temperatures each day, that should also relieve a lot of the risk of sailing.

“Testing will be a part of the solution,” he agreed.”Whether the passenger takes a test at home before coming, or you can test on arrival the night before sailing and you have a test that gives result in a matter of hours, that would be the best solution. Testing means that travelers will feel confident. The traveler wants to know everybody else on the ship is healthy.”

One source of good news is that expeditionary cruise-goers tend to be  adventurers, who see the opportunity to explore as a reward worth a mitigated risk.

“Our customer base is small and motivated. We’re getting calls now for intrepid travelers saying willing to go now and looking for deals. That’s encouraging.

“It is the draw of nature, wanting to spend time in a place that brings people close to nature, to rejuvenate.  I believe there will be a lot of pent-up demand, but only if people feel comfortable.”

“North America offers 9.54 million square miles of diversity, and its northernmost territories showcase some of the most remote and pristine landscapes on Earth,” Smith said. “We pride ourselves in introducing our passengers to regions along the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Our fleet of small ships and wilderness lodges access hard-to-reach and often remote regions where guests can step back millennia into a natural world.” (AdventureSmith Explorations, 800-728-2875, www.adventuresmithexplorations.com).

Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endurance.

A global leader in responsible tourism, Lindblad Expeditions has become the first self-disinfecting fleet in the cruise industry.  In keeping with their legacy of sustainability and protecting the places they explore, they have announced that they are now implementing Premium Purity fleetwide, a unique cleaning system which creates a cleaner, healthier ship while drastically reducing the impact on the environment.

The new system, ACT CleanCoat™, is a photocatalytic process that works when illuminated, breaking down unwanted microbes such as bacteria, viruses, mold, and airborne allergens. It can be applied to all surfaces which become self-disinfecting after application. Created by ACT.Global A/S, a Copenhagen-based company, the antibacterial spray is transparent, odorless, and activated by light, and protects a room like an invisible insulation – plus purifies and deodorizes the air for up to one year. 

Chemical free, the product uses the ACT ECA water system created by electrolysis of salt and water, to clean the rooms, which is completely harmless to guests, staff and the environment.

“As the oldest and most experienced expedition travel company in the world, we go to some of the most pristine places on the planet. We are very conscious of the waste we produce, and how the cleanliness of our ship and protection of our guests onboard is vital to a healthy environment,” said Bruce Tschampel, Vice President, Hotel Operations for Lindblad Expeditions.

“Premium Purity is unlike anything we have seen out there.  Our ships are truly pristine and healthy, and we already have measurable results to prove it from our initial pilot program on one ship.  We reduced guest reported illness by 50%; eliminated over 1,000 plastic bottles of cleaning products; and dramatically reduced water usage by 1.1 million gallons per year.  The crew is raving about how much healthier the ship is and how effective it is to use this solution,” he stated.   

The fleetwide rollout is another step in Lindblad’s commitment toward defining travel industry standards for sustainability and environmentally responsible operations.  In 2019 they become a carbon neutral company, offsetting 100% of emissions from their ships, all land-based operations, employee travel, offices in New York and Seattle, and other contributors. They successfully eliminated guest-facing single-use plastics fleet-wide in 2018 and have operated a sustainable seafood program aboard the fleet for many years. Other related sustainability initiatives include building new ships that reduce emissions while increasing efficiency; mandating supply chain solutions to eliminate plastic; sourcing and serving local, organic produce; and making crew uniforms from recycled plastic.

Lindblad Explorations’ family program in Alaska.

Lindblad’s ships, including the National Geographic Venture, National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Orion, National Geographic Endeavor II, National Geographic  Islander, National Geographic Sea Bird, Sea Cloud, National Geographic Quest, Delphin, Jahan,  Lord of the Glens,  and Oberoi Philae operate around the globe, in Arctic, Antarctic, Galapagos, Baja, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, South Pacific, Russian Arctic, Alaska, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Amazon, Vietnam and Cambodia and Scotland, Caribbean and Mediterranean and Egypt.

Lindblad Expeditions was set to launch the National Geographic Endurance on voyages in the Arctic and beyond, but has delayed the grand entrance of the 126-passenger polar expeditionary vessel.

“While we are all social distancing at home, the team on board National Geographic Endurance have been prepping and polishing every inch of the ship’s gleaming new surfaces so when guests can finally explore on her this remarkable ship will exceed their every expectation. From the bridge and the observation lounge to cabins and suites, to new features like the glass-walled yoga studio, infinity Jacuzzis and the first igloos at sea, she’s an extraordinary ship for next-generation exploring,” the company stated.

“Our cruise ship fleet consists of nimble, intimately-scaled expedition ships, able to safely venture where larger cruise ships cannot,” Lindblad Expeditions CEO Sven Lindblad wrote. “This allows us to offer authentic, up-close experiences in the planet’s wild, remote places and capitals of culture. More than comfortable as your base for exploring, our National Geographic luxury cruise ships are outfitted with cool tools that enable a genuine connection with the places we visit and offer inviting private accommodations, and gracious public spaces for our expedition community to gather.”

To ease travelers’ concerns, Lindblad offers flexible options, allowing passengers to cancel a 2020 expedition up to 24 hours before departure to receive 100% future travel credit through 2021. (Lindblad Expeditions, 800-Expedition, www.expeditions.com).

Small-Ship Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures checks off all the boxes for me. Its two, specially designed ships carry just 84 guests, and are designed so they can sail into ports that are uncrowded and into waters that are less traveled.

Blount Small Ship Adventures’ Grande Caribe, calling at Nantucket. Small ships, especially ones that can be reached by car, are being sought out by travelers who love cruising but want to minimize any health risk. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Blount’s specially designed small ships make it possible to visit islands that would not be accessible by bigger ships. Their ships are nimble, even have a patented bow ramp (ideal in places like Belize and Guatemala) and a retractable pilot house (so they can go under bridges on the Erie Canal), both inventions of Luther Blount, who founded the company and was one of the innovators of “small ship cruising” more than 50 years ago, and can come close to shore. The cruises are enhanced with local historians, culinary experts, naturalists and entertainers who provide their expertise.

Blount is offering major discounts on select 2020 cruises, for example, a 14-day cruise that sails from New York City up the Hudson, onto the Erie Canal, to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, to Quebec City and Montreal. We experienced Blount’s New England islands cruise (888-368-2240, www.blountadventure.com).

Historic Sailing Ships

The Maine Windjammer Association fleet hopes to be sailing again this summer (Maine has imposed a 14-day quarantine on visitors to the state), and are small enough and nimble enough to provide a safe environment for passengers.

Sailing aboard the Maine Windjammers in the Great Schooner Race (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Maine Windjammer experience celebrates the pristine coast of Maine and the rare exhilaration of wind-powered freedom. Our itineraries are determined by the wind, tide and the wisdom of the captains. We call ourselves the “un-cruise” because of our small groups, our sustainable philosophy and eco-travel ethos combined with freshly prepared and sourced meals, picturesque destinations and wind-in-your hair freedom. By day, we explore the seas, islands and villages. By night, dramatic sunsets and star-filled skies.  These are the makings of exactly the vacation you’ll need when the pandemic passes. Let your shelter be aboard our sturdy ships on Penobscot Bay.”

In response to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the Maine Windjammer Association fleet is taking the following actions:

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and continue to adhere to all federal, state and local directives.

Monitoring the Coast Guard’s notices to mariners and taking additional steps to meet and exceed any further guidelines for the safety of guests and crew.

Maine Windjammer cruise aboard ‘Victory Chimes’ (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Each one of our vessels already follows strict guidelines for sanitation and cleanliness; we’re reviewing all those procedures and will implement increased cleaning protocols as advised by the CDC and Coast Guard. It is worth noting here that the vessels of the Maine Windjammer Association have an excellent safety record.”

“We trust that most guests share our optimism for the cruise season to commence as planned, as we have received very few requests to change or cancel bookings. These requests are being handled on a case-by-case basis by each boat individually.  Should you need to make a change to an already reserved trip, contact the boat you’re planning to sail on directly.”

Some of the ships are small enough they can be taken over by a single family or group.

Each of the ships that belong to the Maine Windjammer Association and three that belong to Maine Windjammer Cruises has its own character and personality, and each also reflects their captain/owner, but there are some universals about the experience – a sense of freedom and peacefulness. Many of the departures have special themes or are oriented to some special interest.

“The ships of the Maine Windjammer Association, whether Schooner, Ketch, Historic Landmark, or purposely built for passenger service, are individually owned and operated, each as different as those of us who sail them, all with essence unique to their design.”

American Eagle, one of the historic Maine Windjammer Association fleet (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ships include:

Schooner Stephen Taber (800-999-7352)

Schooner Victory Chimes (800-745-5651)

Schooner American Eagle (800-648-4544)

Schooner Heritage (800-648-4544)

Schooner Mary Day (800-992-2218)

Windjammer Angelique (800-282-9989)

Schooner Lewis R. French (800-469-4635)

Schooner Ladona (formerly the Nathaniel Bowditch, 800-999-7352)

Maine Windjammers Great Schooner Race (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In addition, there are three ships in the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet, the Grace Bailey, the Mercantile (which carry 29 passengers), and the Mistress (the smallest, it accommodates just six people so is ideal for one family unit). (P.O. Box 617, Camden, ME 04843 , 207-236-2938, 800-736-7981, www.mainewindjammercruises.com)  

River Cruising & Barge Hotels

When river cruising was a privilege for the wealthy, CroisiEurope developed an affordable cruising concept offering the best value in river cruises at great prices, and appealing to every traveler. The company operates 50 company-owned ships and five chartered vessels, on the Rhine and its tributaries, the Danube,  the Seine, the Rhône, of course, as well as the Tisza in Hungary, the Guadalquivir in Spain, the Douro in Portugal, the Dordogne and the Garonne in Bordeaux and more exotic destinations including the Mekong in Vietnam and the lake Kariba in Southern Africa.

The French company launched a river cruise on the Loire in 2016 with a new, revolutionary boat equipped with a paddle wheel to carry passengers into the interior. In 2014, the company also launched the MS Lafayette  class of intimate vessels with only 82 guests.

CroisiEurope plies the the French canals in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence, and Paris with a fleet of new, modern and comfortable hotel barges, with just 12 cabins. In someplaces, you go through locks that are just inches higher or wider than the barge, making for exciting experiences. The barges have bikes, so you can get out and bike along the canal, handing the bike back and jumping back onto the barge. (CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, https://www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/)

Barge hotels – literally barges that have been reconfigured for passengers – are so small, one family or group could book up the entire vessel. CroisiEurope, which has a fleet of river cruising vessels, also has a fleet of European barges, which have a maximum passenger capacity of just 22 passengers, offering itineraries in Alsace, Champagne, Ile-de–France, Burgundy, Provence and Loiret. (www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/destination/european-barge-cruises).

France Cruises’ barge hotel canal cruise through Burgundy (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Another company that offers barge hotels (in addition to river cruises) and boat-and-bike tours is France Cruises. It was on their barge cruise through the canals of Burgundy – each day featuring marvelous excursions and sensational meals – that I first saw canal boats that you could rent. (866-498-3920, www.francecruises.com).

Canal Boats

You can rent your own canal boat to ply the canals of Europe, but you don’t have to go so far: discover the charming villages and towns and see unfold before you the making of America as you sail your own Lockmaster canal boat on the Erie Canal, stretching from Buffalo to Albany. It is thrilling to have the lock master’s open the locks or raise bridges for you. The experience is made possible by Erie Canal Adventures (formerly Mid-Lakes Navigation, whose founder specially designed these charming canal boats). You can rent a boat suitable for a couple, up to a family. You get to float (the boats go a maximum of 3 mph), tying up pretty much where you like, to these charming small and uncrowded canal towns, take a bike to ride the Canalway. The boars are pretty self-sufficient, with galley, fuel, water, even a bbq, but there are plenty of picturesque outdoor cafes if you prefer. The company has an intense COVID-19 safety plan, describing its enhanced cleaning/disinfecting procedures. (Erie Canal Adventures,  315-986-3011, www.eriecanaladventures.com.).

Erie Canal Adventures lets you self-skipper your own Lockmaster on the Erie Canal, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And as the cruise industry attempts to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, another change might be for these small-ship, expeditionary, and historic sailing vessel operators to extend their season like the mega-ships do, and sail to another cruise destination for part of the year, offering “repositioning cruises” in between, so they are not so dependent upon a three or six-month season.

Size Matters

According to CruiseCompete, “Extra Small Ships” (201-499 passengers) offer a private, exclusive ambiance, along with personalized service and the advantage of being able to port almost anywhere. Passengers get a feel for the water and experience destinations in a very close-up, personal way.

Some benefits of XS ships:

  • The most important benefit of small ship cruising is an immersive experience in the destination. Very small ships allow an in-depth exploration of nature, culture, history and learning not possible on larger ships.
  • Passengers tend to be a well-traveled, worldly crowd who enjoy the pursuit of education and exploration of the destinations they visit
  • Very personal attention from the crew; with luxury cruises this translates to personal attendants who see to your every need
  • More solitude and the opportunity to relax and pursue your own interests
  • Seating is usually open, with no set tables
Seven Seas Navigator

Example XS ships:

  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises:  Seven Seas Navigator
  • Silversea Cruises:  Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Spirit
  • Seabourn: Seabourn Legend, Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Sojourn, Seabourn Spirit,
  • Windstar Cruises: Wind Surf, Star Pride, Star Breeze, Star Legend
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises:  MS Paul Gauguin
  • Voyages to Antiquity Cruises: MV Aegean Odyssey
  • Star Clippers: Royal Clipper

“Extra-Extra Small Ships” (fewer than 200 passengers) include:

  • Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Flora-100 Celebrity Xpedition, Celebrity Xperience, Celebrity Xploration         
  • SeaDream Yacht Club:  Sea Dream I, SeaDream II
  • Silversea Cruises: Silver Discoverer, Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos
  • Windstar Cruises:  Wind Spirit, Wind Star, Wind Spirit,
  • Star Clippers: Star Clipper,Star Flyer

CruiseCompete.com, an online cruise marketplace, is an excellent source for all sorts of cruising. You can find specials and discounts, cruise and ship reviews, shore excursions, and search for cruises based on ship size, cruise length, destination, type of cruise like river cruises or adventure cruises,  weddings at sea, and a score of other parameters. Then, member cruise agents bid for your business. (Visit CruiseCompete.com and try the Virtual Cruise Advisor.)
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Memorable Meals in World’s Best Restaurants Remind How Restaurants are Mainstay of Community, Magnet for Travelers, a Doorway to Appreciating Culture, Heritage

Master sushi chef, Okane, Japanese gastropub, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Restaurants are not just a mainstay, a staple, for a community, they also are a magnet for travelers – experiencing food has become a top priority for travelers who plan destinations and itineraries around it. Restaurants are vital to a local economy.

But at this point in time, they are among the most endangered of species as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local, independent restaurants are the backbone of our communities, tourism, and redevelopment in every corner of the U.S.,” writes the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), formed to lobby Congress for the interests of the more than 500,000 independent restaurants across the country. (https://www.saverestaurants.com/)

“We directly employ over 11 million people across the country, and indirectly employ hundreds of millions of workers up and down the food supply and delivery chain — from growers, packers, fisherman, linen services, delivery people and more — who depend on the continued revenue of restaurants to stay in business.

“We contribute $1 trillion to our economy, and represent 4% of our GDP. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closed for business. As of today, up to seven million people have been laid off, and millions of our suppliers will have their bills go unpaid, creating an unprecedented trickle down effect of economic damage to local restaurants and the small businesses that rely on them. We are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, and we need help.”

The restaurant industry is also an industry that is singularly dependent upon human resources, with products and services that are perishable and cannot be stored on the shelf for a half-price sale months from now, vulnerable to the ebb and flow of cash flow.

“Independent restaurants are small businesses. But, unlike many other small businesses, our cash flow is completely dependent on current business. The bills from 45 days ago are paid with revenue earned today. If there is no revenue, those bills go unpaid. Independent restaurants estimate that there needs to be a minimum of $150 billion cash flow just to pay our current bills, rent, and taxes — and that’s before we pay our employees, who are the front line of service in this hospitality industry and the backbone to the local economies our businesses sustain.”

A Doorway to Savoring Heritage, Culture

Travelers especially appreciate food as a doorway to appreciate heritage, society, the ecosystem that forges a culture. The foods, the ingredients, the seasonings, the preparations, and the ambiance of restaurants – these forge sensory memories. Indeed, “food” has become one of the top factors for travelers when they choose a destination. Food is the front door into a culture, a community, a neighborhood – in fact, one of the tips travel experts offer is to find the best restaurant by simply asking a local, perhaps the Uber driver, for their favorite restaurant.

Remembering some of my most memorable dining experiences brings me back:

Shaving truffles onto rissotto at Restaurant RiziBizi, Portoroz, Slovenia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurant RiziBizi, with Eric in Portoroz, Slovenia, capping our eight-day Venice-Croatia self-guided bike tour, specializes in truffles and serves one of the sensational meals that you remember forever. The restaurant has a tasting menu (from 50 to 60 E). We opt for a la carte: tuna tartar with zucchini, wasabi-reduced plum; truffle soup, the chef sends over pate, served on sticks in a plant; risotto with Adriatic scampi and truffles (the waiter brings a dish of black truffles to table and shaves them onto the dish); duck breast with wine sauce. All the selections are based on locally sourced produce. I can imagine the most devoted foodies getting on planes and coming to Rizi Bizi just for the truffles. And they should. This is a world-class restaurant and the dining experience has been truly memorable, with selections that uniquely reflect the local produce, exquisitely presented. The restaurant is exemplary in every way – we dine on a patio with a view overlooking the hillsides down to the sea; the service is impeccable. (Restaurant RiziBizi, Villanova ulica 10, 6320 Portoroz, Slovenia www.rizibizi.si).

I’ll never forget the meal we shared on the last night of our bike trip on the Danube Bike Trail, in Vienna. David and Eric found one of Vienna’s most famous restaurants on yelp: Figlmueller has been a popular restaurant since 1905 – so popular there are two locations on the same street and both are full. We go to Wollzeile, right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral, inside a small alleyway. David manages to talk his way in – on the wall is a New York Times review with a photo of then-Senator Al D’Amato of New York on the page. The flagship restaurant is often referred to as the “Home of the Schnitzel”.

Figlmueller boasts Vienna’s best schnitzel, which comes as an enormous round, bigger-than-the-plate, breaded pork pancake pounded impossibly thin. It is delectable with a light, delicate, tender texture. The waiter tells us that four men do nothing but pound schnitzel all day long – 1,600 schnitzels each day. The secret to the delectable taste is using only the best light vegetable oil for frying. Only a few schnitzels are fried in the pan at a time. Then the vegetable oil is changed which means that each month several thousand liters of oil make their way in and out of the kitchen at Figlmüller; they are processed into biofuels. “To ensure that each schnitzel turns out tender and crispy we do not take any chances with the frying temperature of the vegetable oil. It takes 3 different pans to make the perfect schnitzel.” It is a memorable dining experience in every way, and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a perfect trip. (figlmueller.at)

Another memorable meal was a highlight of my around-the-world in 23 days Global Scavenger Hunt: at the Riad el Yacout where we stayed in Fes, Morocco, I savored a fantastic dinner  of chicken tagine and chicken couscous – the food and the atmosphere – amid the stunning tiles, fountains, patterned textiles, sheer perfection. Riad el Yacout was built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university and the house stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse (www.riadelyacoutfes.com/en/)

A memorable dinner at Riad el Yacout in Fes, Morocco of chicken tagine and chicken couscous © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another unforgettable dining experience was a dinner at the Castello di Verrazzano (the explorer’s actual family home, 1,500 years old), a vineyard and winery making fine Chianti wines, where you it can dine at its Farm restaurant, offering meals produced with raw ingredients from the farm and locality, including the wild board they raise here. The Castle became the property of the Verrazzano family in the VII century. Giovanni da Verrazzano, the navigator and discoverer of the bay of New York (the bridge was named for him in 1964) was born here in 1485. (They also recently opened “Foresteria Casanova, lodging, right in the midst of the vineyard).( Hosteria della Cantina, Via Citille, 32A Località Greti 50022 – Greve in Chianti (FI), Tel: +39 055 854243, https://www.verrazzano.com/en/the-place/)

Sea urchin, a specialty of Okane, a SoMa neighborhood izakaya (Japanese gastropub), flown in specially from Tokyo’s famous fish market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As astonishing find in San Francisco was Okane, the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane, which opened in 2015, by 2017 had been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America. We dined on items that had been freshly purchased at Tokyo’s famous fish market and flown in that day. (Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com).

I can still taste the revelation of the sweetest, most succulent lobster, prepared over open fires on a secluded beach on Maine’s Penobscot Bay, a feature on every Maine Windjammer cruise on historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).

Steaming fresh lobsters on a secluded beach, a highlight of a Maine Windjammer cruise aboard a historic sailing ship in the Penobscot Bay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Our globe-trotting correspondents Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda offered their international favorites:

O Camilo, Estr. da Ponta da Piedade, 8600-544 Lagos, Portugal, +351 282 763 845, https://goo.gl/maps/n1CKYth49Tk27Rt8A

Tiger shrimp at O Camilo, Lagos, Portugal © Dave E. Leiberman

Punta Corcho, Avenida Rafael Melgar SM 01 MZ 6 Lote 01-01, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico, +52 998 206 9105, https://goo.gl/maps/vsfzyDJUxgZVW4X16

Punta Corcho, Puerto Morelos, Q.R. Mexico © Dave E. Leiberman

Les Bacchanales, 247 Avenue de Provence, 06140 Vence, France, +33 4 93 24 19 19, https://goo.gl/maps/nFgeymrduQB41BLU6

Les Bacchanales, Vence, France © Dave E. Leiberman

Pou Kitchen and Café, 136 Steung Thmei, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 70 716 969, https://goo.gl/maps/nxTtoojW1mks4z6M7

Club culinario toscano da Osvaldo, Piazza dei Peruzzi, 3/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy, +39 055 217919 https://goo.gl/maps/6mGpSW9sZey5JJAt7

Moran’s Oyster Cottage, The Weir, Roymore, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, Ireland, +353 91 796 113, https://goo.gl/maps/uynTUXjNR8g2tSN97

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, 600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, 504-948-9111, https://goo.gl/maps/6i2vAFghD6WXVx2i8

Hell’s Backbone Grill, 20 UT-12, Boulder, UT 84716, 435-335-7464, https://goo.gl/maps/UihaCLLbafLnkY1f7

Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268, 760-365-5956, https://goo.gl/maps/FAGatwLWgqMEvpta6

Peck’s Arcade, 217 Broadway, Troy, NY 12180, 518-326-3450, https://goo.gl/maps/MSZvH1j81tDindC57

In the tradition of omakase, Doma Sushi, San Francisco, gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. You watch him create his masterpiece right in front of you © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

World traveling gourmands Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter shared these “top of mind” favorites:

Verjus, 52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, France, +33 1 42 97 54 40, https://goo.gl/maps/c9SeBBtg9Yw6pKMLA

Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka, +94 77 258 3450, https://goo.gl/maps/x7D4j2xvnVxBZYW89

Kyuyam-tei Shimokita-sou, Japan, 〒155-0032 Tokyo, Setagaya City, Daizawa, 5 Chome−29−9 ナイスビル, +81 3-6450-8986, https://goo.gl/maps/Sqsuuecx93s5AYgm9

Miznon, 22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France, +33 9 71 34 53 84, https://goo.gl/maps/QzSo4Bpu8SvLSWpG7

Hungarikum Bisztró, Budapest, Steindl Imre u. 13, 1051 Hungary, +36 30 661 6244, https://goo.gl/maps/PfKwQEsFLsLEVUFV9

Memedof Balık Restaurant, Yalıkavak, Gerişaltı mevkii Çökertme cad. No:42, 48400 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 252 385 46 46, https://goo.gl/maps/gAYc9eY1cSTn635w9

LİMON GÜMÜŞLÜK RESTAURANT, Gümüşlük, 10. Yıl Sk., 48970 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 554 740 62 60, https://goo.gl/maps/vBFYD6N5zsq6ui4D6

Apoala, 97000 Calle 60 #471 x 55 Local 2 Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro, 97000 Centro, Mexico, +52 999 923 1979, https://goo.gl/maps/1DtAJhDXvgjsGEgA8

Doma Sushi, 433 Precita Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-648-4417, https://goo.gl/maps/3fS86STAujFqd8WP6

Doma Sushi, San Francisco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurants can transport you, and bring the world to you, as well. Here in New York, we have a United Nations of culinary experiences, so you can travel the world without even getting on a plane.

On one wonderful evening, I found myself in Peru for the first time in Greenwich Village at Llamita, the sister restaurant  (80 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014, 646-590-2771, llamitanyc.com). (It is the sister restaurant to the popular Llama Inn, 50 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY 11211, 7183873434.

Shalom Japan, “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food in South Williamsburg” marries two cultures, just as the chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi are also married. Aaron hails from Great Neck, Long Island (a 2000 graduate of Great Neck North High School), and Sawako is from Hiroshima Japan. Not just a gimmick. Aaron’s flavor combinations are astonishing, a sensory surprise. (310 South Fourth St. Brooklyn NY, 11211, 718-388-4012, info@ShalomJapanNYC.com, ShalomJapanNYC.com).

At Shalom Japan, Brooklyn, which marries “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food), a Jewish blintz has artistic Japanese flair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is likely that New York City and surrounding suburbs will be among the last to be able to reopen, and even then, will only be able to reopen with reduced capacity, social distancing, and such. But here are suggestions how they can stay economically viable.

In the first place, restaurants can play a vital role in staving off the epidemic of hunger that is accompanying the collapse of the economy. Depending upon circumstances, restaurants could be contracted by government or nonprofits to supply meals to shut-ins – better to spend the money that way than on unemployment – and needy families, as well as supply food pantries and kitchens.

In this current phase, as one of the IRC founders, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, turn restaurants into community food centers, “Restaurants turned into community meal service. That would keep the ecosystem of the restaurant – employees, suppliers – intact, and feed a lot of hungry people.”

Restaurants might also create pop-up market in the morning and midday non-mealtime hours.  You can support them by ordering take-out, pick-up, and also pre-purchasing gift cards.

When restaurants can reopen, for the foreseeable future (that is until there is a treatment or better, a vaccine), they will have to provide greater distancing (versus arbitrarily reducing capacity by 25-50 percent), test employees, and even give customers a temperature check upon entering. How to stay economically viable, when restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins?

They might consider 1) taking reservations and giving people specific times to arrive; 2) charging premium prices for eat-in dining with a more limited, even pre-ordered menu (to avoid waste) and 3) offering curbside pick up and delivery for menu items at reduced (that is, present) rates in order to keep up volume.

As the rules become a bit relaxed, allow restaurants to set up tables for social distancing (not arbitrarily cut capacity 25-50%), allow dining outside (close off streets in “restaurant zones” to parking, traffic; have seating by timed reservation and pre-selected menu (to avoid waste and unnecessary overhead) with premium pricing, continue take-out and delivery options at regular pricing.

If landlords are smart, they will help support the restaurants, as well – perhaps lowering the rent, or even taking rent as a portion of sales until the rent is paid off. 

The federal government should treat restaurants in a separate category, not lump together with small businesses, and take into account the specific issues related to restaurants (high overhead, labor-intensive, perishable products and services). And state and local governments can do their best to lower overhead – perhaps with tax rebates or tax holiday, refinancing credit and loans at the ridiculously low interest rates that banks are getting.

Support the restaurant industry’s lobbying efforts. The industry is asking for $120 billion in funding and business-friendly rules. Sign the petition at https://www.saverestaurants.com/

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in Time of Pandemic: Hotels Offer Risk-Free Reservations

St Kitts Marriott Resort. More than 1,000 luxury hotels are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including Fairmont, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels and lodgings, perhaps the industry most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, mindful of the uncertainty and changeability of conditions, have introduced flexible policies for changing or canceling bookings, offered hefty discounts on rates and gift cards, and, through the American Hotel & Lodging Association, introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. 

Overseas Leisure Group Introduces ‘Carefree Bookings’

It’s okay to dream about travel again and plan it, says Overseas Leisure Group, a luxury travel company operating in 34 countries across the globe. The company is announcing its Carefree Bookings initiative, offering a risk-free method of booking across an attractive portfolio of more than 1,000 destinations and experiences around the world. The newly launched industry-wide program has been designed to allow travelers plan their next trip despite the uncertainty of future restrictions enforced due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It features no deposit, no cancellation fees; automatic cancellation 7 days prior (if not paid by then), for travel between June 1 and October 31 at select top tier destinations and properties. 

The Carefree Bookings campaign follows the nationwide survey by the Miami-based travel group recently conducted among 2,000 travel enthusiasts in the U.S., revealing that 72 percent are already making plans for their next vacation; 53 percent are planning to travel this summer or fall, and 42 percent are ready to make a reservation now if it there was no constraint or penalty. With millions of travel and hospitality jobs on the line, it was deemed essential to obtain vital insight from travelers themselves.

Carefree Bookings offers a convenient method of making a reservation with some of today’s leading destinations and experiences around the world, without the need for a deposit and with no cancellation fee if travel plans change. Furthermore, the cancellation policy is truly carefree, whereby if payment isn’t made 7 days prior to the arrival date (to guarantee the reservation) the booking is automatically cancelled with no penalty whatsoever. These no-strings-attached terms for the Carefree Bookings initiative apply to travel between June 1st and October 31st, 2020.

More than 1,000 hotels, resorts and experiential providers are participating in the Carefree Booking program, including: COMO Hotels and Resorts, 1 Hotel, Auberge, Belmond, Crowne Plaza, Disney, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Hard Rock, Hyatt, InterContinental, Kimpton, Loews, Marriott, Meridien, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, St Regis, and Westin Hotels and Resorts.

San Francisco’s famous Fairmont Hotel. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

In addition to the vast array of participating hotels and resorts, Carefree Bookings offers hundreds of experiences, such as surf lessons in Malibu with actor John Philbin (Point Break), and private helicopter rides with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, among others. A full list of participating properties (with opening dates) and experiences can be found by visiting the Overseas Leisure Group website (https://www.overseasleisuregroup.com/CareFreeBookings.php).

“After weeks of confinement, there is a growing need for freedom and new horizons,” says Felix Brambilla, CEO of Overseas Leisure Group. “We heard the same comments time after time: “I am ready to make plans but I cannot commit if there is a risk of getting penalized.” Working with our hotel partners, we came up with the Carefree Bookings concept. More than a thousand properties already accepted to amend their usual T&Cs. We are very proud to be launching this initiative at a much-needed time!”

“In these extraordinary times, we believe strong partnership is fundamental to our business acumen, therefore we are thrilled to partner with Overseas Travel new initiative “Carefree Booking,” says Michele Bondanelli, Global Sales Director – Luxury, Lifestyle & Leisure for Hyatt.  “A large number of Hyatt hotels are participating in the program across all brands and we look forward to welcoming their guests in the days, months and years ahead.”

“What a great way to address the current global situation and the effect it is having on travel,” says Kidist Grznar, Vice President of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters.  “A ‘Carefree Experience’ is an amazing way to give people the opportunity to keep dreaming and move forward with their travel plans ‘worry free.’ I am excited that Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters is participating.”

According to Statista, domestic and international travelers spent nearly $1.1 trillion U.S. dollars ($1,127 billion) in 2019 alone. When this sum is split by type of traveler, domestic travelers spent $972 billion, while international travelers spent $155 billion. Total travel expenditure in the U.S. is forecasted to reach $1.26 trillion by 2022.

Loews Portofino in Universal Orlando themepark © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Overseas Leisure Group is a growing global network dedicated to providing travel professionals with insider expertise for all luxury travel needs. The company is represented in 34 countries through 41 offices and continues to expand every year. Through its brands, Overseas Leisure Group provides unique luxury programs for individuals, groups and high net worth individuals. 

Complete results from the recent survey conducted by Overseas Leisure Group can be viewed here. For further information on Carefree Bookings, visit the website.  For further information on Overseas Leisure Group, visit www.overseasleisuregroup.com

Major Hotel Groups Ease Restrictions

Major hotel groups and chains including Marriott, IHG and Hyatt have introduced flexible policies. But as a rule of thumb, double-check the specific cancellation, refund and change policies of whatever hotel, resort or lodging you book – for example, Marriott is excluding cancellation policies during peak travel periods.

The advantage of booking early is that lodgings are hungry to lock-in bookings and may be offering excellent rates, opportunities to upgrade, bonuses on gift cards, and alleviate the concern by offering very flexible and liberal change, cancellation and refund policies. You also get to lock in those favorable rates and the reservation because there is the possibility that when restrictions are lifted, there will be a great release of pent-up demand – weddings and honeymoons that had been put off, anniversary and bucket-list travel that have new significance and urgency.

Marriott International Hotel Brands

For all Marriott International hotels world-wide:

Guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive, are allowed full changes or cancellation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival, as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30,2020. Any changes to existing reservations will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

For guests making new reservations for any future arrival date, including reservations with pre-paid rates, between today and June 30, 2020, reservations can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival date. Changes to the reservation will be subject to availability and any rate differences.

Gaylord National Resort, Washington DC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Marriott brands include The Ritz-Carlton, W  Hotels Worldwide, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, Sheraton, Marriott, Marriott Vacation Club,  Delta Hotels,  Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Meridien,  Renaissance, Autograph collection Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard By Marriott, Springhill Suites by Marriott, Four Points by Sheraton, Fairfield by Marriott, Protea Hotels, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, Towneplace Suites, Marriott Executive Apartments, Element by Westin. (Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded. Periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks may also be excluded; refer to the property’s Rate Details for applicable terms or exceptions, if any, when booking or changing reservations.

The artful W Hotel, Amman, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

IHG ‘Book Now, Pay Later’

IHG has introduced “Book Now, Pay Later.” This new rate offers flexibility and savings. With no deposit required and cancellations possible up to 24 hours before your stay for direct bookings, travel planning is commitment free. Guests benefit from 5% or more off our Best Flexible Rate for bookings made up to September 3, 2020 for stays until December 30, 2020 (excluding Greater China).

  • Best Flexible Rate: This rate offers maximum flexibility to change or cancel your reservation. For direct bookings this rate can be fully changeable or refundable up to 6 pm (local hotel time) on the day of arrival (dependent on the hotels’ individual house policy).
  • IHG Rewards Club Members Rates: Additional savings are available for IHG Rewards Club members on these Book Now, Pay Later and Best Flexible rates.
  • IHG Rewards Club nights: You can change or cancel these bookings with no penalty prior to the time period set by the hotel.
  • We have removed our more restrictive (pre-paid/non-refundable) Advance Purchase rate from sale until later in the year (excluding Greater China)
  • These rates, and others, have their own terms and conditions. Please refer to specific rate information when booking for further details – including cancellation terms. Changing the date on any reservations may result in different pricing.
  • Exceptions apply at some Six Senses hotels – see the Six Senses website for details 

IHG brands include Kimpton, Regent, InterContinental, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn Resort, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Hualuxe Hotels, Voco, EVEN Hotels, avid hotels.

IHG is emphasizing its comprehensive health and safety procedures, including all local laws, and provides its hotels with best practices and guidelines. The company has supplemented these resources with additional COVID-19 cleanliness specific guidance, training and information, “consistent with our own high standards.” This includes: activation of response teams to provide around-the-clock assistance to hotels; hotels have increased the frequency of cleaning public areas (including lobbies, elevators, door handles, public bathrooms) and high-touch points in guest rooms; all hotels have been advised on cleaning products and protocols which are effective against viruses.

“We continue to review food and beverage service in accordance with current food safety recommendations.”

See more: https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/customer-care/travel-advisory

Find out more at https://www.ihg.com/content/gb/en/deals/hotel-offers/booknowpaylater; to book, visit ihg.com, 877-424-2449.

Hyatt Hotels COVID-19 Policies

Hyatt Hotels has issued new policies concerning its reservations:

All existing reservations (booked April 1 or before) for arrivals through June 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations.

Reservations for future travel: With some very limited exceptions, reservations made between April 2, 2020 and June 30, 2020 for any future arrival date can be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. The only exceptions are reservations booked after April 1, 2020 at select Destination properties and Special Events Rate reservations booked after April 1, 2020. The cancellation policies for a Special Event Rate will be noted in the rate’s Rate Rules section when booking.

Special exceptions are in place for all Advance Purchase Rate non-refundable reservations made directly with Hyatt on or before March 8, 2020 for arrivals before June 30, 2020. Guests holding these fully prepaid reservations who have decided not to travel may still opt, at least 24 hours before their stay, to receive 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Points compensation in lieu of both their stay and the offer above (if eligible). World of Hyatt points may be used toward future travel at any of our 900+ hotels across 17 brands globally.

Reservations can be changed or cancelled up to 24 hours before a scheduled arrival on www.hyatt.com or via the World of Hyatt app (subject to the exceptions noted above). For full details or to opt for the 10,000 World of Hyatt Bonus Point offer, call a Global Contact Center or email worldofhyatt@hyatt.com.

Reservations booked through Hyatt with MGM Resorts International, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), or Lindblad Expeditions are subject to their cancellation policies.

Booking Sites

Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco, booked on the fly on hotels.com. Hotels.com makes it easy to cancel or change reservations. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotels.com has always made it easy to get refunds when you book hotels that allow for cancellations without any fees, typically up to 24 hours of a stay, and now, is allowing cancellations for any booking. Because of the volume of cancellations due to COVID-19, the company is saying that refunds may take longer than usual to process – up to 30 days. If you paid with a gift card, hotels.com is sending a new gift card within 4 hours of processing the refund. (I had no trouble cancelling reservations in Prague and Budapest.)

Booking.com isn’t as straightforward about its refund policy, saying it depends on the policy of the country, the arrival date, reason for traveling, and individual reservation policies set by the property you’ve booked. See https://www.booking.com/covid-19.html.

Hotel Association Issues ‘Safe Stay’ Industry-Wide Cleaning Standards

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has introduced Safe Stay, an industry-wide, enhanced standard of health and safety protocols designed to prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens. Safe Stay represents the top priority for the industry, the health and safety of guests and employees, the association stated.

The standards of Safe Stay were developed under the guidance of an Advisory Council comprised of industry leaders representing all segments of the hotel industry, and in conjunction with public health experts to advance best practices for protecting against the coronavirus. This initiative represents a new level of focus and transparency for an industry that depends upon cleanliness. These enhanced guidelines are rooted in recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

“Safe Stay was developed specifically to ensure enhanced safety for hotels guests and employees. While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “The industry’s enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols will continue to evolve to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19.” 

The “Safe Stay” guidelines will be revised as needed, based on the recommendations of public health authorities, in compliance with any federal, state and local laws. They include guidance on employee and guest health; employee responsibilities; cleaning products and protocols; and physical distancing. 

“The hotel industry maintains stringent standards for cleaning and safety, and the Safe Stay initiative helps to strengthen best practices to provide the healthy environments that travelers expect at hotels throughout the country,” said Ecolab. “Development of the Safe Stay initiative included guidance from Ecolab, a global leader in cleaning and disinfecting solutions and services that collaborates with the U.S. EPA, FDA, CDC, WHO and other organizations to help establish and promote best practice guidance, training and solutions.” For more than 90 years, Ecolab has partnered with the hotel industry to provide cleaner, safer and healthier environments for employees and guests. 

“While the hotel industry was one of the first affected by the pandemic, we have collectively stepped up to serve their communities during this public health crisis.  Thousands of hotels across the country, more than half of those small businesses, are working tirelessly during this uncertain time to support their employees, healthcare workers and first responders. When the time is right, hotels will be ready to safely and eagerly welcome back America’s traveling public,” Rogers stated. 

The Safe Stay Advisory Council enhanced guidelines can be found at www.ahla.com/SafeStay.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Hotel Industry, Most Hurt by Coronavirus Pandemic, Looks to Help with ‘Hospitality for Hope’

San Francisco, California hotels are among the 15,000 to sign up for American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) “Hospitality for Hope,” providing temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows. Over 1,300 California hotels have signed on. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel industry has been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but is also an industry in position to be a crucial help to break the logjam between the public health emergency and the economic devastation. As the focus shifts to the dire need to test, trace and then isolate people who are positive for COVID-19, the empty hotels, facing bankruptcy, can be used to house both front line workers including health care workers who now have the daily anxiety of passing the virus to their loved ones, and the people who need to be separated from their own families.

The incidence of the disease has already shown to be disproportionate among communities of color, immigrant communities and low-income neighborhoods where people are likely to be crammed into close quarters, unable to be quarantined.

Similarly, the out-of-work restaurant and hotel workers could be hired as tracers; indeed, the call-centers used for hotel reservations companies hired to do the tracing.

The travel industry can also be put into a wartime footing to solve many of the other problems: farmers destroying their produce because they don’t have the commercial markets of hotels, restaurants and schools? Well, rather than throw bailout billions to farmers (already facing 8 percent bankruptcies because of Trump’s tariff wars), could sell their produce to the government, which could distribute to the very same hotels, restaurants and schools, to be hired to produce food for food pantries and shut-ins.

In fact, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is doing this – organizing dairy-products producers to purchase the excess milk and converting it into products that the state will purchase and supply to food pantries and needy people.

Meanwhile, places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California that have been hardest hit and most restrictive, need to make accommodation for getting people out in the summer. You simply cannot confine people in tiny New York apartments with three kids when the summer temperatures (the last several years have been the hottest on record thanks to Global Warming) hit 100. Communities – especially urban ones – will need to reopen pools (probably mitigating the risk of reigniting infection rates by restricting admissions to two-hour segments), reopen beaches, state parks, hiking areas; fishing and marinas; kayaking and canoeing; even golf courses; and shut down some city streets for walking, biking, and while promoting grab-and-go style eateries and dining al fresco. If ever there was a time for summer concerts in the parks, it is now. People should be conditioned to maintaining social distance as a new cultural norm.

Cyclists take over Park Avenue, New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we visited Central Park we saw people carefully respecting the new safety precautions, very possibly out of fear that if they didn’t, the city would close Central Park. We saw people walking on Jones Beach boardwalk, and on the sand also doing their best to maintain precautions (a couple of the bathrooms were open but closed frequently for cleaning, which is the pattern that other parks and facilities should use).

Governor Cuomo, looking ahead to reopening businesses at least the regions of the state least affected by the coronavirus (with infection rates below 3%), was careful to warn against reopening “attractions” that could become “nuisances” in the sense of attracting people into the area from downstate or neighboring states (the very definition of “travel”). But Cuomo’s reopening/”reimagining” strategy involves individual businesses to come up with plans that take into account the need for properly distance and that should hold true for places that give people necessary respite. Certainly you don’t want areas overwhelmed, but there should be a way to properly allow for people to enjoy – perhaps because parking lots have limits; restaurants that reopen to reduce their capacity (and take reservations) or do grab-and-go eating with outdoor tables for picnicking. And we are hearing about a revival in drive-in movie theaters.

A culture of social distancing seems to be taking hold as New Yorkers are desperate to keep access to the outdoor venues like Central Park (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Hotels and attractions should also be part of that Reopening/Reimagining Strategy to submit business plans that address the needs to continue to control the spread of the infection. This would include changes to working conditions, use of masks and gloves, taking temperature of employees as well as guests, more intense and frequent cleaning, providing hand sanitizer, limiting occupancy in order to maintain adequate social distancing.

Maintaining social distancing on the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Crisis in Hospitality

Let’s be clear: many communities depend upon the very existence of hotels as a mainstay of their economy – quite literally putting their locality on a map. Local hotels not only bring business travelers in to do their deals and establish connections, but enable local businesses to sell their products; local hotels accommodate tourists who bring an infusion of spending – every $1 a tourist spends generates $4 for a local economy. Hotels provide the venues for family milestone events. Moreover, hotels are a mainstay of the economy, an economic engine that contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. All of this has shut down because of the coronavirus crisis.

As COVID-19 continues to devastate the hotel industry, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released new data  showing that 70 percent of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed as eight in 10 hotel rooms across the nation remain empty.

As this crisis progresses beyond what anyone could have projected, the impact to the travel industry is nine times worse than 9/11, with forecasted occupancy rates for 2020 hitting record lows worse than rates in 1933 during the Great Depression.

“With the impact to the travel industry nine times worse than September 11, the human toll of this public health crisis has been absolutely devastating for the hotel industry. For the hotel industry our priority is rehiring and retaining our hardworking employees who power our vibrant industry,” said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA. “Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover. The CARES Act was an important first step with a lot of supportive measures for the hotel industry, but we need Congress to make important changes to the program to reflect the current economic reality and help the employees in the industries that have been impacted the most.”

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis. Over 1,000 Florida hotels are participating in the “Hospitality for Hope” initiative, providing lodging for healthworkers and first responders. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Due to the dramatic downturn in travel, properties that remain open are operating with minimal staffing. On average, full-service hotels are using 14 employees, down from 50 before the crisis. Resort hotels, which often operate seasonally based on the area’s peak tourism months, averaged about 90 employees per location as recently as March 13, are down to an average of five employees per resort today.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Impact to travel industry 9x worse than 9/11. (Tourism Economics)
  • 50% revenue decline (projected) for entirety of 2020 (Oxford Economics)
  • Eight in 10 hotel rooms are empty. (STR)
  • 2020 is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy. (CBRE)
  • Forecasted occupancy rate for 2020 worse than 1933 during the Great Depression. (CBRE)
  • 70% of hotel employees laid off or furloughed. (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • $2.4 billion in weekly lost wages due to the crisis (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • Nearly 3.9 million total hotel-supported jobs lost since the crisis began (Oxford Economics)

As travel halted in late February, the hotel industry took immediate action to work with the White House and Congress to help hotel industry employees and small business operators, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

“The hotel industry is at a critical juncture. We need more resources to survive this unprecedented time,” said Rogers. “Additional funding is vital for small business owners across America, including tens of thousands of small business hoteliers, to help them keep their doors open and rehire and retain millions of employees.”

Hotel Industry Supports COVID-19 Effort

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hotels have signed up for a new initiative, “Hospitality for Hope,” which identifies hotel properties that have offered to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows.  While the program primarily focuses on housing for the healthcare community, some hotels could potentially be used as “Alternative Care Sites” such as an emergency hospital or a place for those quarantined to stay if needed.

(New York City has contracted for some 11,000 hotel rooms for this purpose and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the testing-tracing-isolating campaign would also involve using hotel rooms to quarantine people.)

AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope Initiative” was created to boost collaboration between the hotel industry and local, state and federal governments to help employees, communities across the country, and the industry during this unprecedented health crisis. In the short time since the initiative was announced, participation has grown to more than 15,000 properties. Already, this initiative has identified a total combined 2.3 million rooms located in close proximity to established healthcare facilities.

To help match and streamline the process for willing hotel properties to connect with federal, state, and local governments, AHLA and its state association partners are working to create a national “Hospitality for Hope” database to assist the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local emergency management and public health agencies. AHLA has also provided a number of resources for members, which can be found here.

“It has been so impressive to see hotel after hotel join this important initiative as a way of giving back to the communities in which they operate,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO said. “As an industry of people taking care of people, the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to support our communities by caring for the first responders who are on the frontlines of this public health crisis. Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities, and this time is no different. We are proud to work to facilitate partnerships with federal, state and local governments to support the health community during this critical time.”

Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location. (Click here for a state by state breakdown of the number of hotels signed up).

Hotels partnering with local and state officials offering housing to doctors, nurses, homeless families and quarantined individual are being reported across the country including in Chicago, California, New York, Dallas, Portland and New Orleans.

“The number of hotels wanting to be part of the program is growing by the hour,” Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association said. “Our hotels are answering the call to action, and they want to be helpful to the city and the state.”

“‘Hospitality for Hope’ is just one of the many ways that our hotels are helping those in need in our communities during this time of crisis,” said Kim Sabow, President and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. “We look forward to working with all interested parties, including local and state officials, and the federal government to find innovative solutions to make it through this critical time together.” 

Given the unprecedented public health and economic crisis, hotels and the industry as a whole are coming together to support the community and their furloughed employees, as well. 

In expanding “Hospitality for Hope Initiative”, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation, AHLA’s charitable giving arm, rolled out free resources to help industry employees continue their education during this difficult time including free hospitality management online courses, professional development scholarships for AHLA certifications and continuing education online programs. (Learn more about additional training and education efforts through AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope” by visiting  AHLA.com/ahlas-hospitality-hope-initiative)

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry which contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AHLA focuses on strategic advocacy, communications support and workforce development programs to move the industry forward. Learn more at www.ahla.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Antidote for Cabin Fever: Road Trip to the Great Outdoors

Perfect antidote for cabin fever: Parks & Trails NY’s eight-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie biking/camping trip from Buffalo to Albany, NY (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This time last year I was getting set for an around-the-world Global Scavenger Hunt which took me to places that I had always hoped to see – Petra, Jordan; Myanmar; Vietnam; Morocco, just to list a few. The coronavirus pandemic has made that experience impossible this year. But it just goes to show: Don’t put off experiences, especially not a trip of a lifetime.

These are uncharted waters for the travel industry, and for travelers.

With the worst of the crisis appearing to be coming under control, state governments are looking to gradually reopen and lift their lockdowns. The same is true for people venturing out of doors. People are burning with cabin fever but may be cautious.

Here is the antidote to cabin fever: I’m thinking outdoors, great open vistas, clean air. This is a great time for a throwback to the 1950s family road trip to enjoy the Great Outdoors. Instead of a station wagon, pack up the SUV and set an itinerary that revolves around national and state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. I’m thinking camping (koa.com) or glamping (glampinghub.com). I’m thinking hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking.

“It’s vital that people find ways to engage in physical activity during this time; the benefits to our immune systems and our mental health are significant. But it is critical that we do so in ways that will keep us safe and minimize the spread of the pandemic,” writes Ryan Chao, President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Rails-to-Trails’ Conservancy has compiled resources, provides information on the latest on trails, walking and biking and the COVID-19 pandemic (Visit railstotrails.org/COVID19), and provides a trail-finder website and app, TrailLink.com, which is free for anyone to use to find particulars on more than 37,000 miles of multi-use trails nationwide, including trail maps, walking and biking directions to get to the trail, and contact information for local trail management organizations (visit railstotrails.org).

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are more ambitious ideas:

An ideal trip (and also one of my favorite bike tours ever) which hits all of these criteria (driving distance, biking, camping) is the Cycle the Erie, an eight-day 400-mile, fully supported biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, operated by Parks & Trails NY. At this writing, the 22nd Annual Cycle the Erie was still taking place July 12-19, 2020. (they expect to make a decision on May 12; they have eased the cancellation policy and would transfer the registration at this year’s fee next year if they have to cancel.) For information on Cycle the Erie Canal, call Parks & Trails New York, 518-434-1583, email eriecanaltour@ptny.org or visit www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal.

Hopefully, other supported biking/camping rides that also support nonprofit organizations will also run, such as the BikeMaine 2020: Katahdin Frontier – a seven-night ride 340 mile-loop (17,455 feet of climbing), from Old Town, September 12-19, 2020 (www.bikemaine.org)

The next best thing is an organized bike tour – self-guided trips obviously have the fewest people to interact with, and guided – that utilize inn-style accommodations are our favorites. We have enjoyed trips around the world – the Danube Bike Trail, Greek islands bike/boat trip, Venice-Croatia, Slovenia, and Albania (Biketours.com is a great source), and I’m still hoping to take my family on a self-guided bike trip of northern Portugal in late summer – but there are fabulous trips within driving distance that can be done on rail-trails with camping, inns and airbnb.com, such as the Delaware-Lehigh trail in Pennsylvania and the Great Allegheny Passage which can be linked with the C&O trail that can take you from Washington DC all the way to Pittsburgh, PA, and the Erie Canalway.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wilderness Voyageurs, a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, offers many guided and self-guided bike itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania and Katy Trail in Missouri. Last year we thoroughly enjoyed the six-day “Badlands and Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota. Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com.

Biking the Mickelson railtrail in South Dakota with Wilderness Voyageurs (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bicycle Adventures is offering 6-day bike tours of Oregon Columbia (riding and hiking); South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail; and Washington San Juan Islands. Bicycle Adventures, 18047 NE 68th St, Ste B140, Redmond, WA 9805 (425-250-5540, bicycleadventures.com).

Tour Operators to the Great Outdoors

Tour operators are in a position not only to have access to permits and accommodations in places that are likely to be overrun this year, but are better plugged in to what is happening on the ground,  can move passengers around, adapt itineraries. Wilderness adventure travel companies so far are still offering trips this summer.

Based in Billings, Montana, Austin Adventures has spent over 35 years building an international reputation as a top provider of luxury, small group, multisport tours for adults and families to the world’s most captivating destinations. Austin Adventures has perfected the art of creating itineraries featuring exceptional regional dining, distinctive accommodations, incredible guides and exhilarating activities, all while keeping all-inclusive rates and services the norm. In addition to scheduled group departures on all seven continents, Austin Adventures has developed a reputation as the leader in customized trip planning and execution, all backed by the industry’s best money-back satisfaction guarantee. For information on Austin Adventures’ trips, cruises and distinctive accommodations on seven continents:800-575-1540, info@austinadventures.com, www.austinadventures.com.

Western River Expeditions escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company and is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon. (866-904-1160, 801-942-6669, www.westernriver.com).

Moab Adventure Center, a division of Western River Expeditions and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, is a one-stop resource for a myriad of outdoor adventures that take you to Arches National Park and Canyonlands and river rafting. (435-259-7019 or 866-904-1163, www.moabadventurecenter.com)

Moab Adventure Center, Utah, is a one-stop resource for a myriad of outdoor adventures that take you to Arches National Park and Canyonlands and river rafting.

Holiday River Expeditions hopes to be offering its river rafting trips from the end of June through the end of the season in October. The company, operating out of Green River Utah, offers trips on the Colorado, Green River, San Juan and out of Vernal, on the Yampa, in heart of Dinosaur National monument.

Holiday River has just put out The Complete Guide to Whitewater Rafting Trips in Utah, for do-it-yourselfers as well as people who are more than happy to use a commercial outfitter. This new resource for every kind of adventurer is offered free and online.

Here are the seven river trips chosen for inclusion in this new resource:

The Colorado River through Cataract Canyon 

The Colorado River through Westwater Canyon

The Green River through Desolation Canyon

The San Juan River in Utah

The Green River through Lodore Canyon

The Yampa River

Labyrinth Canyon

“Oar power is the most natural way to experience the river and the absence of motors makes high water trips as exciting as it gets. Rafters experience the rush of wind, a chatty raven or a churning rapid absent the drone and smell of a motorized raft,” said Tim Gaylord, Director of Operations and Holiday employee since 1978. (For information, availability, reservations or the catalog, 800-624-6323, Holiday@BikeRaft.com, www.bikeraft.com)

Rethink “Lodging”

A perfect corollary for any sojourn into the wilderness, instead of staying in a hotel, consider glamping – basically luxury camping that brings you into the most gorgeous and distinctive places, close to nature, in comfort but affording very distinctive experiences.

With the popularity of glamping surging, an array of glamping destinations have popped up around the world in recent years, offering everything from geodesic domes to Airstream RVs to tiny homes. For example:

Fireside Resort: By combining the amenities of a luxury boutique hotel with the atmosphere of a wooded campground, Fireside Resort offers Wyoming’s best glamping experience. The lodging options reflect the heritage of the valley’s original homesteader cabins, with cozy fireplaces, full kitchens, private furnished decks, and outdoor fire pits. Situated on wildlife-filled acres where moose, elk, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and deer roam, Fireside Resort is just seven miles from Jackson’s bustling town square.

Fireside Resort offers Wyoming’s best glamping experience.

Kestrel Camp: The American Prairie Reserve in Montana is piecing together what will be the largest nature reserve in the lower 48 states, totaling 3.5 million acres, and restoring habitat and species in the process. APR’s Kestrel Camp offers five yurt-style luxury suites set around a central lounge and dining room serving chef-prepared meals, as well as a safari-style experience with special access to tour the reserve’s ecosystem with personal naturalists.

A great source to finding glamping accommodations is GlampingHub.com, an online booking platform for unique outdoor accommodations across the globe. With over 35,000 accommodations in over 120 countries, Glamping Hub’s mission is to connect travelers with nature in order to create authentic experiences in which travelers can stay in the great outdoors without having to sacrifice creature comforts—camping with added luxuries and five-star amenities. Guests can find over 27 different types of glamping accommodations to choose from on Glamping Hub from safari tents, tree houses, and cabins to tipis, villas, and domes. (glampinghub.com)

Or, think cottage on a beach (Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard are my favorites).

Rethink “resort”.

I’m thinking dude ranch: Duderanch.org lists 100 in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and such, but there are also dude ranches as close as the Catskills and Adirondacks in the wilds of New York State, like the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson, NY 12446, pineridgeranch.com), Ridin’ Hy, year-round inclusive ranch resort in the Adirondacks Preserve near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com);  and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (reopening June 12, 600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 877-605-6062, 845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

And while many will choose to venture within driving distance – biking, hiking (check out the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Catskills and camping at the North-South Campground, for example) – I will pretty much bet that traveling by air will be absolutely safe because of the regimen that every airline has imposed (going as far as to leave middle seats empty; sanitizing surfaces and utilizing hospital-grade ventilation/air purification systems). I would bet that the most dicey part of an airline trip will be getting through airport security.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Air Travel

Airlines are doing their best to allay passengers’ concerns – both from the point of view of health as well as easing up cancellation, change and refund policies. This from Delta is fairly typical of the major carriers:

“In the current environment, it’s important for all of us to travel smarter and more consciously. That’s why I want to personally update you on the situation with COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and the steps we are taking to ensure your health and safety in your travels,” writes Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

“For more than a decade, Delta has been preparing for such a scenario. As a global airline, we have strong relationships in place with health experts including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local health authorities worldwide. We are in constant contact with them to make sure our policies and procedures meet or exceed their guidelines.

“Operations are our lifeblood. We’ve learned from past experience with outbreaks like H1N1 and Ebola, and have continually refined and improved our ability to protect our customers. That includes the way we circulate clean and fresh air in our aircraft with highly advanced HEPA filters, the new fogging procedures in our cleaning process, how we sanitize aircraft between flights and how we respond if a customer is displaying symptoms.

“A full report on the measures Delta is taking to help you have a healthy flying experience..outlines our expanded cleaning and disinfecting at our airports and on board our aircraft; distribution of hand sanitizer and amenity kits to help customers stay clean; and the technology on our aircraft to filter and replace cabin air.

“A command center in Atlanta has been stood up to guide our response, leading our global team of thousands of Delta professionals dedicated to this effort. That includes our reservations specialists handling thousands of incoming calls, our flight crews and Airport Customer Service (ACS) agents taking extra care of our customers, and our TechOps and operations coordination teams keeping the airline moving. This world-class group of airline employees has your back, and I have never been prouder of the women and men of Delta.

“To ensure you always have access to the latest information and guidance, we have a website on the COVID-19 situation that is continually being updated with cleaning policies and actions we’re implementing to keep you safe, ways you can stay healthy while flying, and changes to our flight schedules and waiver information. Transparency is one of our core values, and we are committed to keeping you fully informed as the situation evolves.

“While we’re committed to providing you with information you need to make informed decisions around your travel, we also understand the need for flexibility based on your individual circumstances. To make sure you can travel with confidence, we’re offering flexible waivers, and we’ve also adjusted our network in response to guidance from the State Department.

“We understand that in today’s world, travel is fundamental to our business and our lives, which is why it can’t – and shouldn’t – simply stop. I believe Delta’s mission of connecting the world and creating opportunities is never more important than at times like this.”

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of Pandemic: Tour Operators Tread Uncharted Territory

Biking in Albania with Biketours.com President Jim Johnson: “Bike touring is simply our chosen mode of world diplomacy. We believe travel brings us all closer together, fosters understanding and growth, and makes the world a better place. We’re also keenly aware of the positive economic impact tourism has on so many places.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With travel all but shut down, tour operators are doing their best to keep travelers engaged and protected.

Tour operators are the facet of the global travel industry – which accounts for 10.4 percent of the total GDP worldwide and one out of every 10 jobs – most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that has brought travel to a standstill and the least resilient. These tend to be small businesses operating on tiny profit margins. And like restaurants which are looking to supporters to purchase gift cards for future visits in order to stay afloat, many tour operators which are juggling booked clients’ trips, are taking reservations for future travel, offering incentives and waiving cancellation penalties, reissue and change fees if destinations become impacted.

“We haven’t been here before,” writes Gabriella Ribeiro, CEO of Explorateur Journeys, a Virtuoso agency that specializes in planning immersive travel itineraries. “Yes, we have seen health challenges in the world such as H1N1 and Ebola and we have weathered them but COVID-19 seems more challenging, more widespread and overall, entirely more concerning to everyone in the world and understandably so. It’s a new time, a new world, a new place, a new destination and just like any new location we find ourselves in, we all need time to explore it and get used to it temporarily.”

Explorateur is representative of travel advisors and tour companies who are constantly restructuring programs and accommodating guests who may already have booked or are looking to book.

“We are inundated with information that changes by the hour and we are doing our level best to keep our clients updated as frequently as possible in line with the world’s leading health organizations.

“The bottom line is that whatever you choose to do, we are here to support you. Changing your travel dates of your bookings with us, converting to new destinations that you may not have thought of for later in the year, or simply just opting to look at 2021. The world is big, bright, beautiful and will be ready for us all to return at our normal pace. In the meantime, we are here to help answer any of your questions and help share information if you’re still daydreaming about the days you can return to your normal Explorateurean pace. Here for you 24/7/365 at info@explorateurjourneys.com.”

Explorateur is enticing travelers to fulfill their wishlist of destinations to explore, taking advantage of booking incentives, flexible change policies. (http://explorateurjourneys.com/, .973-420-8343)

Pure Adventures president and founder Loren Siekman writes, “Clearly, this is a dynamic situation and the outlook changes daily. Therefore our first recommendation is to take a ‘watch and wait’ approach. While some of our destinations are currently unaffected, others like Italy are under travel advisories. If you have concerns about a trip you’ve booked, we remain hopeful that the efforts of public health officials and governments will bring the spread under control and restore order to a point where travel to affected destinations is once again responsible, relaxing, and fun.

To make the waiting easier, we have been working with our partners abroad to adopt a thirty-day advance notice rebooking and modified cancellation policy. Some airlines too are recognizing the wisdom of this approach and relaxing their rebooking fees. What this means simply is that you can watch and wait up to 30 days prior to the scheduled start of your trip to see if things are good to go as scheduled, or rebook your tour to start later in 2020 or 2021, with no fees. We can in some cases issue a full refund should you wish to cancel altogether.

Our primary hope is that you rebook your trip in the future. This shows support for the many small businesses that contribute to the operation of a trip, across many destinations, and that are adopting more flexible cancellation policies during this challenging time.

If you are considering travel this year and are holding off because of the current uncertainty, we are fortunate that our self-guided model gives us flexibility, so we can work on scheduling trips at the last minute once things clear up, and if you are rescheduling your trip that is already booked we can move it forward even if exact dates are unknown right now.

We are concerned of course for our travelers’ personal safety, but also for your experience of travel to a destination, and in that destination, as well as the return home. If you are to book now for some time in the near future, you have the option of getting added travel insurance, which is time-sensitive from the date of booking. We always recommend travel insurance to our guests, but for added cost and peace of mind, you can add the Cancel for Any Reason option offered by our partners at InsureMyTrip.

While we stay in close contact with our partners on the ground, we’d also like to recommend that people watch credible and reputable sources of information:

 The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers Covid-19 travel updates by country and also has hygiene and prevention tips

The World Health Organization has daily situation reports

The United States Department of State offers travel advisories by country

“We’re travel experts, not doctors, so the best we can do is to help you make an informed decision, and give you the most flexibility we can for you to make a change if necessary. We have been at this for over 25 years and have been through Sept 11, the 2008 economic crisis, and other smaller events. This too shall pass, and we will be here to help you get out and experience the world!”

Pure Adventures offers cycling (including self-guided), hiking, multisport, foodie tours and the opportunity to build your own trip (https://pure-adventures.com/, 800-960-2221)

The satisfaction at arriving at the end of BikeTours.com’s eight-day Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided bike tour in Porec, Croatia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jim Johnson, president of Biketours.com which brokers guided and self guided bike tours and bike/boat tours primarily in Europe, stated, that besides exercising caution, “we also want to encourage everyone to exercise patience. This is the seventh coronavirus to be identified since the 1960s, and we’re learning more about it every day. We’ve experienced similar situations before, such as SARS and MERS. We hope that this coronavirus is soon a distant memory, too.

“For those of you with pending travel plans, loved ones in distant places, or any other number of less-than-ideal scenarios, we empathize with you. The fear and discomfort of the unknown are unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

“For those of you who have booked travel plans with us, know that as we continue to monitor the situation, we will advocate for you and keep you informed if your departure or destination is impacted. We want you to be confident and comfortable with your travel.

“Finally, bike touring is simply our chosen mode of world diplomacy. We believe travel brings us all closer together, fosters understanding and growth, and makes the world a better place. We’re also keenly aware of the positive economic impact tourism has on so many places. We’re hoping we don’t see destinations hit twice: first by the virus itself, second by devastating drops in tourism numbers.

“Thank you for being a traveler — an ambassador by bike, as we like to say — for seeing the big picture, and for being part of the BikeTours.com family. We hope that you are safe and healthy. And we hope to see you traveling soon (as soon as it makes sense for you!).” (biketours.com, 877-462-2423)

Butterfield & Robinson suspended all European scheduled small group departures with start dates before May 30.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the virus since it started, reacting to local developments with appropriate local responses in order to protect the safety of all our travelers,” Luc Robinson, President and CEO, writes. ”But now we need to go a step further. As a company, we believe that travel should enrich the soul not foster anxiety. Suspending these trips ensures this ideal continues for all of our travelers.

“Our team of travel advisors is currently getting in touch with everyone booked on impacted departures to review their options. You can transfer your booking to a scheduled small group departure later in the year or in 2021. If you would prefer to cancel outright, we will provide a full refund. Further, if you still do wish to travel, we can discuss options to do so privately – our team is ready to support you with your safety top of mind.

“If you are booked to travel privately before May 30th, the decision on how to proceed with your trip is yours. Your trip planner will be in touch with you shortly to discuss your options.

“As of now, we are planning to run trips beyond May 30th as usual. We will continue to closely monitor all travel advisories from the WHO and the CDC, as well as coordinate with our teams on the ground, and revise our plans as necessary. We’ll communicate any revisions on our website and by email.

“Butterfield & Robinson has weathered many crises since we started running trips in 1966. Through decades of experience, we’ve grown to understand that these global events are unavoidable. We are financially prepared, and we will get through this.

“To our dedicated travelers who share our passion for seeing the world, thank you for staying committed to taking the slow road with us. We truly look forward to helping you explore the world again soon. And to all our partners in the travel industry, thank you for rallying together in these tough times. With our communities we remain long-term, steadfastly optimistic.”

Butterfield & Robinson offer programs around the world including biking, walking, hiking, family, small ships, wine, active, safari, wellness, expeditions, self-guided (butterfield.com, 866-551-9090)

Western River Expeditions, which specializes in outdoor adventures – rafting, hiking – in Utah, so far is planning to continue to operate its programs this summer.

“At Western River Expeditions, there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our guests and staff. As an organization, we are continually monitoring developments to make the best decisions regarding our trip offerings and policies.  We are sensitive to the impacts the COVID-19 news is having on all facets of our lives, and want to reassure you that we are doing everything possible to prepare and to focus on your safety and welfare,” writes Brian Merrill, Chief Executive Officer.

“It is our goal to operate all trips scheduled for this season. At this time, when we are advised to avoid crowds and enclosed spaces, getting out into the backcountry may just be the perfect way to spend your vacation. As our clients, guests, friends, and family, you have our pledge that we will continue to do everything both prudent and possible to keep you safe and healthy while you enjoy the trip of a lifetime.”

Western River Expeditions is taking care to assure clients of measures to provide sanitary conditions:

“On our river trips, each of our guides holds a backcountry food handler certification. We have thorough and comprehensive sanitation practices. 

“In each camp, we set up two hand-washing stations.  One near the toilet facility and the other near the kitchen.  These stations allow a person to wash their hands without the need to touch any surfaces after the washing is completed.  It is our policy that no one may come to the meal table without having first washed their hands with soap and water followed by the use of hand sanitizer.

“Of course, due to this specific virus, we will be even more vigilant in our efforts to keep surfaces clean, require frequent hand-washing, and practice safe handling of food and anything else that has the potential to spread viruses.  In addition to our on-river sanitation protocols, all of our equipment is sanitized (including our boats) between trips.

“Our trips occur in remote, backcountry locations. This gives our trip two distinct advantages: 1. We operate in an “open air” environment.  Potential contaminants are more naturally dispersed.  2. We rarely interact closely with other groups. These factors give us great control over our immediate environment.”

If a guide or guest develops flu-like symptoms during a trip, per CDC guidelines, the individual will be kept away from the rest of the group, any suspected areas of contamination will be disinfected, and, where applicable, the individual will be evacuated as soon as possible.

If an official travel ban has been issued that does not allow you to travel to or from your point of origin, Western River Expeditions will allow you to use the full value of your non-refundable payments as a credit for a future trip. Credits may be applied to the same trip for any available departure through 2022. No refunds for any unused portion of credit will be given.Once an alternate trip is booked, it will be subject to standard cancellation policies.

As you weigh the possibility of future flight restrictions, you may also want to consider the option of driving to the starting point of your trip.

If Western chooses to cancel a launch due to any reason(s), including closure by a federal agency, governmental intervention, health department requirements, or the decision on our part, Western River will issue a full refund or allow you to use the full value of your non-refundable payments as a credit for a future trip. Credits may be applied to the same trip for any available departure through 2022. Once an alternate trip is booked, it will be subject to standard cancellation policies.

These policies will also apply to new reservations for the 2020 season. Check availability online. Purchasing travel insurance is recommended; you may wish to consider the “cancel for any reason” policy.

The 2020 season along with much of the 2021 season is currently sold out for Grand Canyon, but there is an online waitlist available (add your name to the 2020 waitlist here).

“Thank you for your support and trust. Western River Expeditions has been family owned and operated for 59 years. We consider our employees and our guests to be part of our extended family.  These are challenging circumstances, and like any family, we will endure this and any other challenge we face together.”

Western River Expeditions (gorafting@westernriver.com, westernriver.com, 801-942-6669).

Discover France Adventures CEO Thomas Boutin writes, “The impact of the virus goes far beyond the persons infected by it. As you may know, some of the hardest hit industries are travel and hospitality. We are no exception.

“Many of you have been very understanding and rescheduled your trips, instead of canceling. This allows us to get through this period with minimal implications to the everyday lives of our team and partners. 

“As the situation changes frequently, we want to ensure that you can modify your travel plans accordingly. To this effect, special terms and conditions are applied until the end of June 2020. All you have to do is to get in touch with your dedicated tour consultant, and he/she will take care of the rest.

“Our self-guided tours give you the freedom to choose your departure date, without restrictions – our tour consultants will adapt the practical details to your needs. (Even for last minute bookings)”

Special terms until the end of June 2020:

Groups that re-schedule more than 30 days before the start date, get a travel credit of the full amount paid without any change fees. (normally there is a 200 euro per person fee for changes after a tour is confirmed)

Groups that re-schedule less than 30 days before the start date get a travel credit of the full amount paid minus hotel cancelation fees (if any).

The travel credit does not expire to give you the peace of mind to do your trip when you want.

“With these changes, our aim is let you keep your options open and see how the situation evolves.

“To make informed decisions about your travel, we advise you to follow reliable information from the World Health Organization, and official government travel advisory for your destination. 

“We do encourage you to remember the physical and mental benefits of cycling, as well as the joy of discovering new places. 

“Stay active and keep dreaming about cycling through exceptionally beautiful natural, historical and cultural regions!”

“While our regular season activities are on hold, other areas are moving ahead rapidly. Our teams are busy working on improving our offering and preparing the company for a comeback in due time.  

“Our tour planning team members, Valentine and Sebastien, have been busy on two main projects: Updating existing tours based on your feedback; Creating new tours that are available as soon as traveling is possible again. 

“Our tour consultants are staying in touch with all clients with travel impacted by travel restrictions. 

“While we are in exceptional times, we are still here for you, ready to answer any questions about travel.” (discoverfrance.com, 800-929-0152)

A source to find well-established tour operators is the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA).Representing nearly $19 billion in revenue, the member companies provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow 9.8 million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business. (ustoa.org).

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in the Time of Pandemic: Stage 1: Travel by Armchair in Cyberspace

Lindblad Expeditions is bringing the world’s wild places to armchair travelers through cyberspace.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is no substitute for the thrill and connection of seeing and experiencing places first-hand, but in this time of enforced isolation, but, to cope with the enforced isolation that the coronavirus pandemic has created, the next best thing is to bring these places into our spaces. Many travel companies, museums and attractions re bringing their part of the world to you in cyberspace and have created special programming and activities that will engage children and help parents who are finding themselves home-schooling.

During this time of social isolation Lindblad Expeditions is bridging the distance—bringing the world’s wild places & keeping moments of ahhh alive and well—through a Virtual Expedition to explore the world’s remote pristine reaches. The small ship adventure travel company is taking guests on a virtual expedition, designed to offer the “tonic of wildness,” and the engaging and reassuring rhythms of life on board—from morning stretch classes, to exhilarating sights, photo ops and even evening Recap daily at 6 pm, complete with cocktail recipes from fleet menus. 

As the Virtual Expedition unfolds in the weeks ahead—and pulling from a renowned expedition team of naturalists and experts in isolation as well —there will be activities for kids led by Lindblad’s team of certified field educators; lectures with the line’s renowned naturalist team; live musical performances from around the world; artisan demonstrations; and cooking demos of sustainable shipboard bites. And a special evening recap will reveal the newest addition to their fleet, National Geographic Endurance, via a virtual ship tour led by the Captain and members of his team.

Choreographed with all the hallmarks of a Lindblad expedition, the Daily Program is posted daily to  Virtual Expedition. Flexible, spontaneous—who knows where you’ll go?—the expedition features new discoveries each day, using Facebook and Instagram for both video and live activities, including:

  • Today’s Activity: Video clips with Lindblad naturalists taking guests from temperate to tropical rainforests to the towering ice of Antarctica, guiding them into the sights & sounds.
  • AHHHHH Moment: The healing tonic of wildness, a tiny dose of bliss, or a bit of insight. What does it feel like to spend time, truly steep in wild remote places, stop, let it sink in, get captured by one moment or a string of them? Experience it now.
  • Photo Tips: Get info you can use to practice indoors or out. Learn from Lindblad certified photo instructors as they explore their own landscape in isolation. 
  • RECAP: It’s 6pm—grab a cocktail recipe & meet us in the Lounge, with demonstrations from virtual shipboard bartenders – and soon to be added lectures, presentations
  • Virtual Music Lounge: Choreographed by Lindblad’ ethnomusicologist, Jacob Edgar, enjoy a series of live musical performances from Ireland, Iceland, Trinidad, Rapa Nui, Scotland, and more. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, a multi-award winning traditional singer and musician from Ireland, leads the lineup starting this week.

(Lindblad Expeditions, 800-397-3348, www.expeditions.com)

Western River Adventures is helping adventurers deal with confinement by introducing virtual galleries in 360-degree views of tours, including the Grand Canyon, Idaho, Costa Rica. “We feel it too. That sense that the world is changing right in front of our eyes, the feeling that last week was a really long year, and that a trip to the grocery store is the nearest adventure we can find in our quarantined world. Our hearts go out to those of you who are personally affected by this physically, emotionally, or economically.​ “For the adventurous and explorative, sitting on the shoreline of life is actually asking a lot! We are working up a ‘survival kit’, of sorts, to help us bide the time until the travel restrictions lift.  The 360° virtual tours are part of that survival kit.”  (7258 Racquet Club Dr., Salt Lake City, UT 84121, 866-904-1160, westernriver.com)

Adventures Within Reach is offering “Home Activities & Health Tips for Travelers: “For everyone getting ready to travel, once the world is back to normal, or even for those just looking for ways to get the blood flowing while at home, we have put together training materials below that will help get you in shape, maintain fitness and/or reach potential fitness goals. Whether you’re training for a serious trek or not, we have some great at-home workouts for you to enjoy.” In addition, you can access trip journals to help you plan your next trip, and a list of travel-related games from AFAR Magazine, (303-500-5047, adventureswithinreach.com)

Ponant Cruises “invites you to explore the world from your own home with our weekly ‘Dreams of Elsewhere’ newsletter.”

COVID-19 has put the world on pause, and while physical travel may not be possible, Ponant Cruises “invites you to explore the world from your own home with our weekly ‘Dreams of Elsewhere’ newsletter. We’ve curated rich, original content will help you wait patiently while dreaming of your next trip!” (cruise.ponant.com).

Wild Frontiers is offering a “Dreaming of” series of virtual experiences, which this week brought Uzbekistan home.” We’d love to be traveling the Silk Road right now, but in these days of lockdown the next best thing is to fully immerse ourselves in a destination through other means. So this week we want to transport you with videos, books, music and the tastes of Uzbekistan…which you can enjoy right in your very own home!,” writes Jonny Bealby, Founder. (Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel Ltd., 11260 Donner Pass Road, No 136, Truckee, CA 96161, 877-725-6674, wildfrontierstravel.com)

Earthwatch Institute, which offers extraordinary opportunities to join research expeditions, is coping with COVID-19’s impact on field work by launching a new “Science Matters” webinar series featuring its principal investigators from around the world, who share their personal story of science and provide viewers to ask questions directly of the scientists. (Earthwatch Institute, 1380 Soldiers Field Rd., Suite #2700, Boston, MA 02135, earthwatch.org)

Earthwatch in the Amazon. Earthwatch Institute, which provides extraordinary opportunities for ordinary people to join important research expeditions, is making it possible to connect with research scientists who are grounded.

Join an expedition to Antarctica, the great white continent and one of the last true wilderness areas on earth – largely unchanged since the early explorers, with Quark Expeditions (3131 Elliot Ave., Ste 250, Seattle, WA 98121, 800-435-1900, quarkexpeditions.com).

For actual armchair travelers, Butterfield and Robinson, which operates luxurious active, immersive experiences, has provided a reading list of titles set around the globe, that transport you to new vistas while socially distancing – Scotland, Peru, Canada, Colombia, China, Mongolia, Japan, Italy, (866-551-9090, www.butterfield.com).

Austin Adventures has extended its “Virtual Adventures for Kids” online learning series through May, with upcoming adventures to South Dakota, Holland and the Grand Canyon. This Thursday, April 9, visit Zoo Montana for an up-close-and-personal look at four animals that call the zoo home. Other upcoming adventures in April include Costa Rica “The Land of Fire” (April 16), Life is Good Adventures “The Power of Positivity” (April 23) and Peru “The Land of the Inca” (April 30). “Virtual Adventures for Kids” gives children something to enjoy from the comfort of their home while giving parents a much-needed small break. Each adventure is recorded and posted for future viewing at https://www.austinadventures.com/virtual-adventures-for-kids/.

Also this week, Xanterra Travel Collection’s #RoamFromHome social media campaign is #OneWeekOfIcons, including fun facts and iconic sights from some of the world’s most legendary landmarks. Upcoming series include  #OneWeekOfWow (week of April 13, jaw-dropping landscapes),

#OneWeekOfSoftFootprints (week of April 20, sustainability practices) and #OneWeekOfStories (week of April 27, photography accompanied by intriguing travel stories). Zoom backgrounds featuring photos of dazzling landscapes from America’s national parks (LINK) as well as custom wildlife coloring sheets (LINK) are available to download. More info here: https://www.xanterra.com/stories/.

NonStopTravel, a Torrance, California-based  travel agency, invites you to keep your travel dreams alive with inspiring films, exotic recipes, and motivational music from around the globe. “We suggest you take this opportunity to learn a new language, taste bold new flavors and see the world through new perspectives. Whether you’re turning up music to lift your spirits or cooking up delicious drinks and dishes from other countries, there are endless ways to bring the world home. As your travel advisor, when you’re ready to explore again, we will be waiting to show you the way.” The site offers international films to watch, global foods and drinks to prepare (Use this time of social distancing to discover the stories of unique delicacies from around the world), songs from around the globe “to keep gloom at bay”. (800-949-6362, www.nonstoptravel.net).

Club Med Yucatan. The pioneer of the all-inclusive resort concept has launched Club Med at Home virtual travel experiences.

To bring the Club Med spirit to all staying inside during these unprecedented times, the pioneer of the all-inclusive concept has launched Club Med at Home

The weekly series of activities designed to inspire and engage families features downloadable coloring book pages, exclusive recipes, playlists, streaming workout classes, virtual resort tours and more. New content will be added weekly to www.clubmed.us/clubmedathome and announced via newsletter. 

Knowing multi-gen households are spending more time inside together than ever before, there’s never been a more relevant time for resort brands to launch at-home and virtual travel experiences. 

  • Start the day with destination workout videos like yoga in Italy or HIIT exercises in the Maldives led by Club Med staff
  • Download coloring pages of beachscapes and family fun for kids (and kids at heart!)
  • Indulge in fan favorite Club Med recipes, like the legendary White Chocolate Bread
  • Have a virtual dance party jamming to Club Med’s “Crazy Signs” Spotify playlist – bonus points for showing off dance moves on social and tagging @clubmed #ClubMedAtHome
  • From Bali to the French Alps, transport to over 30 Club Med resorts around the globe on 360-degree virtual resort tours
  • Activity suggestions for kids and parents designed to replicate Club Med’s popular kids club activities, such as music time with babies, family game night (with downloadable game sheets), and creating your own eco-friendly modeling clay to design a sculpture

The Saint Lucia Tourism Authority just announced new episodes of their “7 Minutes in Saint Lucia” social media campaign, offering opportunities to virtually explore and enjoy the destination’s nature, wellness, adventure, culinary delights, and arts and culture. Upcoming segments (which run on Tuesdays and Thursdays) highlight fitness (April 9), a tour of the petroglyphs at Stonefield Villa Resort (April 14), a lesson on how to make cocoa tea (April 16), more live music (April 21), and lessons on how to make a rum cocktail (April 23), wood sculpting (April 28) and using herbal plants (April 30). Visit the @TravelSaintLucia Instagram page to join live (all sessions are also recorded for future viewing and can be accessed on their Instagram feed). Additionally, visit Saint Lucia’s Facebook page to catch their newest destination video offering a message of solidarity and hope.

In Greater Williamsburg, children and adults can explore Colonial Williamsburg from home with downloadable activity pages (coloring pages, word searches, vocabulary matchups, crossword puzzles), recipes for cooking 18th century dishes, videos on how to make colonial crafts like a spring wreath, live chats with Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others, virtual colonial fitness classes (such as fencing), and more. Over at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, tour the museums virtually through their apps; access interactives such as a historical “Legacy Wall” timeline and “Artifactually Yours” personality matching game, post a message on what liberty means to you on the Liberty Tree, and play the “How Revolutionary Are You” quiz that pairs you with your Revolutionary counterpart; view videos on a variety of themes exploring the people and events of early Virginia; and access a collection of curriculum-based lesson plans designed for Educators at Home including live educational broadcasts on a variety of topics on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am, 11 am and noon ET.

During uncertain times, often the most calming and reassuring thing we can do for ourselves is get back to basics, including cooking from-scratch meals or transitioning to a healthier diet and lifestyle.  Rouxbe, the leading online culinary school, is offering a free 30-day membership, which includes access to 75 lessons, hundreds of chef-created recipes, cooking tips and techniques, live events with chef instructors and culinary experts, and 13 courses ranging from pasta to knife skills, available 24/7 and streamed on any device.  The membership also includes traditional and next-gen culinary foundations and techniques including plant-based cooking, mastering the fry pan, knife skills, and a Food Safety Course that covers common causes of foodborne illnesses, the importance of handwashing, how to purchase, store, prepare and cook food in a safe manner and how to keep a clean and sanitary kitchen.

Virtual Visits to Museums, Attractions

Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 2,500 museums and galleries around the globe to create virtual tours and extraordinary content.

Architectural Digest has provided links to virtual tours of 10 of the world’s top museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Bauhaus Foundation, Dessau; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; The Palace of Versailles, Versailles; Uffizi Gallery, Florence; La Galleria Nazionale, Rome; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Also, you can scroll through 3-D photographs from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, explore online exhibits from the National Women’s History Museum in Virginia, and tour artistic masterpieces from the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Spain.

For those in search of armchair travel inspiration,  Smithsonian magazine (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ten-museums-you-can-virtually-visit-180974443) has compiled a list of ten museums that have found new ways to fulfill their critical mission of cultivating creativity and spreading knowledge: the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (MMCA); The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam; the Vatican Museums including 360-degree views of the Sistine Chapel; the National Gallery, London;  an online tour of NASA’s research centers including  Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia where the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility is located, plus the glenn Research Center in Ohio where you can go inside a supersonic wind tunnel and the Zero Gravity research facility; the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City; the de Young Museum in San Francisco; the Louvre, Paris,

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo, Washington DC is closed, but the Smithsonian is offering many ways to access exhibits and resources online, including a new central portal for distance-learning resources (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington DC, including the National Zoo, and the fascinating National Museum of the American Indian in New York City are closed, but you can visit exhibits online: https://www.si.edu/exhibitions/online.

Meanwhile,  the Smithsonian Institution, which has more than 1.7 million multimedia educational resources available online,  has launched a central portal highlighting an array of distance learning resources, from STEM webcasts to American history podcasts and comprehensive lesson plans. Offerings range from low- or no-tech (interviewing family members for oral history projects) to high-tech (diving into an interactive exploration module). The resources, which focus on pre-K-12 education, include tailored lesson plans tied to national learning standards and added support for educators and parents.

The Smithsonian’s distance-learning resources draw on content and expertise from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers and 21 libraries. These activities are tied to national learning standards and can serve as a resource for teachers, students and parents across the country. (https://learninglab.si.edu/distancelearning)

You can tour National Trust for Historic Preservation sites visually with a new series on SavingPlaces.org, starting with Sacred Places.

“Historic places also yield contemporary stories of resilience. In historic commercial districts across the country, small businesses are showing incredible creativity and adaptability as they continue to serve and sustain their communities during this crisis. Our colleagues at Main Street America are collecting and sharing these stories online, from the inspirational quotes posted in Downtown Albany Georgia’s storefronts to a virtual farmer’s market sponsored by Downtown SLO in San Luis Obispo, California,” writes Kathleen Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Emma Peters  at The National Trust has compiled a superb list of  “13 Virtual Ways to ‘Edutain’ Kids About History and Preservation” (https://savingplaces.org/stories/13-virtual-ways-to-edutain-kids-about-history-and-preservation).

Among the ongoing virtual experiences that Cradle of Aviation Museum is offering are replays via Facebook Watch Parties of some of its favorite encounters with astronauts, pilots, authors, and STEM leaders including the gala celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing in July featuring five Apollo Astronauts and two Mission Control directors. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel in air and space with Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation Museum.  Though shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, the museum is bringing its experience and education online with 360° -view gallery tours and inspirational and fun content and programming. Resources are available at www.cradleofaviation.org/virtualmuseum and via social media channels.

LEARN with #Educator Tom, the museum’s latest TikTok sensation (with over 1.5m views in under a week) as he brings edutainment online through over 50 videos on the history of ingenuity and innovation in aerospace. Did you know that rotary engines spun along with propellers to cool it down? https://www.tiktok.com/@cradleofaviation/

MAKE an At Home Activity with video instruction from Cradle’s Education Team. Like “Make A Mission Patch” asking students to use their imagination on their own personal mission. If there were a mission to stop a virus, what would the patch look like? YouTube https://youtu.be/OShJVmPPJ8A

ASK an Educator those challenging STEM related homework questions and assignments and get some help from the Education team, like which layer of the Earth is located closer to the crust? Send questions to education@cradleofaviation.org.

BE INSPIRED with evening lectures as the museum replays via Facebook Watch Parties some of its favorite encounters with astronauts, pilots, authors, and STEM leaders including the Apollo 50th Anniversary Dinner Panel featuring five Apollo Astronauts and two Mission Control directors (Thursday, March 26th at 8pm) presentation and an intimate look at life and art of Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean with Leslie Bean and Shuttle Astronaut and Bestselling Author Mike Massimino (Tuesday, March 24th at 8pm.   www.facebook.com/cradleofaviation 

PERUSE thousands of inspirational photos of the heroes of air and space in its NY Heritage Digital Collection including rarely seen photos of Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, the F-14 and Lunar Module. https://nyheritage.org/contributors/cradle-aviation-museum

WATCH its YouTube channel  www.youtube.com/cradleofaviation including recommended picks from curator, Josh Stoff, as well as inspirational interviews with astronauts who recently visited the museum.

The Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater. The museum is located on Museum Row, Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in East Garden City. For more information call (516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of Pandemic – Phase 1: Armchair Travel, Staycations, Planning Bucket List Trips

To think: exactly a year ago I was embarking on a Global Scavenger Hunt which brought me to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Use this time of enforced isolation to plan a trip on your bucket list, take advantage of airline, tour operator and hotel flexible booking, change and cancellation policies as well as discounts and incentives © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel is vitally important to rejuvenating one’s body and soul, not to mention providing life-enhancing, experience, new learning and new understanding; it offers a chance for bonding with loved ones, building new relationships. But to mitigate the spread and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, travel has all but shut down around the globe, creating an unprecedented situation for the worldwide travel industry.

But eventually, it will be safe to venture out, and because travel offers a universe of possibilities, there are options that might better suit the circumstances. Travel suppliers are doing their best to accommodate, offering flexibility in making changes, eliminating cancellation fees, offering credits for future bookings. And with many offering sharp discounts and other incentives for putting deposits down on future bookings, this may well be the opportunity to fulfill that travel bucket list. Indeed, many travel companies are bringing destinations and experiences to you, virtually, to inspire and inform travel planning.

There will be phases and stages of re-entry that will parallel the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, the wider availability of testing and significantly, for antibodies, and the availability of vaccine. The stages might follow in this way: just venturing outside for a walk, run or bikeride in your immediate area; a staycation; getaways within shorter then longer driving distance; a domestic trip by air; longer-haul trips abroad and finally returning to those bucket-list travel experiences.

The situation changes frequently and planning can be for trips months from now. And be aware: once the “all-clear” is given, there will be a surging release of pent-up demand to get out and cure the burning cabin fever; to explore, discover, experience and make up for lost time by building memories for a lifetime. Putting down a deposit on a future booking not only secures a place, but also does your part to assure that the travel companies can weather these uncharted waters.

So make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant, and if traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage) and for added protection, insurance that allows for “cancellation for any reason” (New York State just made this kind of insurance available). US Tour Operators Association is an excellent source (ustoa.com).

Conditions are constantly changing – some communities are telling AirBnB hosts not to take bookings, Florida’s Governor (who did nothing to stop Spring Breakers from frolicking on the beaches) threatened to turn back New Yorkers at the I-95 border – but there are still places that are taking guests, recognizing the extreme need for release. For example, the Southhampton Inn on Long Island is inviting guests needing respite (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY 11968, 631-283-6500, reservations@southamptoninn.comhttps://southamptoninn.com/).

If ever there was a time to rely on travel professionals who are clued in to what is happening on the ground, how to alter and change in order to address changing circumstances, this is it.

Protect your travel investment as you would any other – by seeking professional advice, says Virtuoso. A leading luxury and experiential travel network, Virtuoso has been closely monitoring the impact of coronavirus, collaborating and consulting with its travel agency members across the world as well as its preferred partners. 

“It’s important to give my clients all of the facts about their trip, their destination, and the policies of their travel supplier,” says Virtuoso agency executive Amanda Klimak. “I then help them make a decision about travel based on the facts. I also recommend they speak to their personal physician to discuss the risks based on their medical history. Then I let them know I’m here to help, no matter what they decide.”

A travel advisor knows if or when airlines, hotels, cruise lines and tour operators have waived change and cancellation fees (many have): “The entire travel industry is in uncharted territory now due to coronavirus,” says Virtuoso agency executive Mary Kleen. “As travel advisors, our current role is to listen to travelers’ concerns and provide the most up-to-date options so they can make informed decisions at a minimal cost.”

To avoid losing out on future travel opportunities, Virtuoso agency executive Ange Wallace reminds her clients to start planning now. “Book 2021-2022 trips now, because everyone else is and you will have trouble finding space. Many travel companies have relaxed deposits, cancellation penalties and cancel for any reason waivers to encourage those willing to start thinking about the next window of opportunity.”

Grand Canyon: Once the “all-clear” signal is given, there will be an enormous rush to counter cabin fever of enforced isolation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel insurance is always a good idea. While “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) travel insurance policies may partially cover trip cancellations and adjustments related to the coronavirus outbreak, there are some restrictions, and the policy has to be purchased within 21 days of making an initial trip deposit. Make sure you have travel insurance that will cover medical expenses should you become ill while traveling,” Klimak advises. (My go-to travel insurance is worldnomads.com)

Practice good travel hygiene. Wash your hands! As soon as you get through security at the airport, make a beeline to the restroom to scrub, Virtuoso agency executive Tania Swasbrook advises. Cash frequently changes hands, so she also recommends using credit cards that you can wipe down with a sanitizing cloth. While at it, wipe down airplane surfaces and wash your hands before and after using the restroom on the plane.

As a rule, Wallace recommends taking veranda accommodations on any cruise and requesting hotel rooms with a balcony or outside terrace so that you have access to fresh air.

Be prepared. Virtuoso agency owner Cristina Buaas refers travelers to the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites for the latest travel advisories (including health, natural disasters, crime), and Klimak recommends travelers sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling – and while you’re at it, swipe that phone with an antibacterial wipe. 

Plan now, travel later. “Traveling is meant to be fun and educational,” says Wallace. “If you’re going to be worried and anxious about your trip, find something that you’ll be comfortable with and enjoy. If that means you sit out travel in the short term, that’s fine. But while you’re waiting, look forward to the recovery, because it will come, and you’ll need to be ready to jump on that trip you’ve been drooling over.”

(For more information or to find a Virtuoso travel advisor, go to www.virtuoso.com/travel-advisors.)

Create a “staycation”: Jones Beach State Park is open, but be sure to maintain six-foot separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Context Travel, which specializes in walking tours, is, in addition to new itineraries, is offering virtual travel:  “As dedicated lifelong learners, we don’t see any reason why the world has to be off limits when you stay at home. We’re keen to keep our minds lively by bringing Context to you—wherever you may be—through online seminars with our scholars (seminars.contexttravel.com/), podcasts (coming soon!), and ongoing contributions to our In Context blog.”

“Now more than ever, developing a shared understanding of the world around us and recognizing our role in the broader community is critical in being a curious traveler—and a responsible global citizen. We wish you health and understanding, in any form that your travel takes. We’re all in this together.” (800-691-6036, contexttravel.com)

In the immediate term, create your own “staycation.” Find local trails to bike or hike for example Bethpage State Park which has fabulous bike trail and Jones Beach State Park which at this writing was open – being careful to maintain six-foot separation.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Hotel Industry Pleads for Government Help against Crippling Unprecedented Covid-19 Crisis

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Leading hotel CEOs met with the White House on March 17 to discuss urgent economic recovery solutions needed to protect millions of U.S. hotel employees and 33,000 small businesses as travel grinds to a virtual halt across the country because of the coronavirus health crisis.  From Main Street to major cities across the country, hotels everywhere are on the verge of shutting their doors in the coming days – many by the end of this week. With 1 in 25 jobs supported by the hotel industry, the rapid pace of booking cancellations is having an immediate, negative ripple effect that risks seeing mom and pop hotel owners shutter, furlough their employees, hurting community businesses.  

The hotel industry is an industry of people and the current human toll is proving to be catastrophic. Based on current occupancy estimates, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) says four million total jobs have been eliminated already or are on the verge of being lost in the next few weeks. In certain affected markets, including Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Boston, hotel occupancy rates are already down below 20 percent and individual hotels and major operators have already shut down operations. 

The AHLA, the nation’s leading and largest trade association for hotel industry, made the case that the economic impact on the hotel industry is already more severe than 9/11 and the 2008 recession, combined. “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our 33,000 small business owners who operate 66 percent of hotel properties across the country has been extremely severe with many considering shuttering and closing their doors for good within days if they haven’t closed already.”

Chip Rogers, AHLA President and CEO, said the burgeoning COVID-19 health crisis is unprecedented in its size and scope, and it represents the single largest decline in travel in modern times.

“The impact to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined,” stated Rogers. “The White House and Congress can take urgent action to protect countless jobs, provide relief to our dedicated and hardworking employees, and ensure that our small business operators and franchise owners – who represent more than half of hotels in the country – can keep their doors open.”

According to an Oxford Economic Study, a 30 percent decline in hotel guest occupancy could result in the loss of nearly 4 million jobs, with $180 billion of wages and a $300 billion hit to the GDP – crippling the hotel industry, the local communities they serve and the U.S. economy.  

“This unprecedented public health crisis has quickly become a catastrophic economic crisis as well,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association President. “The losses for the travel industry alone are projected to double the unemployment rate over the next two months and plunge the country into recession. Small businesses, which make up 83% of travel businesses, need relief right now if they’re going to be able to keep paying their employees.”

The Oxford study estimates the hotel industry supports 1 in 25 American jobs, totaling 8.3 million jobs, paying more than $97 billion in wages and salary income, and contributes nearly $660 billion to the U.S. GDP annually.  In addition to major hotel brands, the hotel industry includes more than 33,000 small businesses, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

Top hotel industry leaders laid out several immediate actions the White House and Congress could take to help the hotel industry protect jobs and help small business operators. The group focused on two critical goals – retaining and rehiring employees and keeping hotels from shutting down through access to liquidity and low interest loans, including for small businesses. 

Hotel CEOs who participated in the roundtable discussion today at the White House were hopeful that President Trump and Members of Congress will work together urgently to provide relief and ensure the industry is positioned to rebound from the unprecedented impact from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Best Western Hotels & Resorts President and CEO, David Kong said, “For nearly 75 years, Best Western has been a brand with small family businesses at our core. Most of our hotels are owned and operated by hardworking men and women with their children growing up in the business. For them, their hotels represent their families’ legacy and their future. Many are being forced to close their doors with no assurance of when they will be able to reopen. Their employees are left with no gainful employment and the resultant financial hardship. It is imperative that the government step in immediately with loan programs that provide capital and liquidity to help small businesses survive as well as other employment programs to help the impacted employees. The situation is dire.”

Choice Hotels International President & CEO, Pat Pacious said, “The majority of our 13,000 franchisees are small business hotel owners who have to meet payroll, pay their mortgages every month, and support their families during this crisis – as well as take care of their guests. As I told the Administration today, while Choice Hotels is acting to assist our franchisees, the federal government has a critical role to play in helping minimize the impact and disruption to the livelihoods of small business hotel owners and their employees, as well as stabilizing the economy during this difficult and unprecedented time.” 

Hilton President and Chief Executive Officer, Christopher J. Nassetta said, “In Hilton’s 100-year history, we have never seen anything like the current situation. I am hearing directly from hotel employees concerned about their mortgage payments and hotel owners worried about making payroll. Nearly eighty percent of the hotels in our U.S. network are franchise properties that employ less than 50 people, and we are using every tool in our toolkit to keep these small businesses viable. Ours is an industry of people serving people, and that’s why we’re asking Congress and the Administration to help shield them from the economic impact of the coronavirus, so they can be part of the recovery that will follow.”

Hyatt president and CEO, Mark Hoplamazian said, “In our industry, success depends entirely on the passion and dedication of our people. It is critical that we take swift action to ensure that our workforce is protected with the proper healthcare and financial support so that the industry can return in full force following this unprecedented degree of business interruption.”

InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Americas, Elie Maalouf said, “The coronavirus represents a global economic emergency as well as a global health emergency, and the impact it will have on the hospitality industry is unprecedented. Even as we’re currently managing this issue to keep our guests and colleagues safe, and hotel owners secure, we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect the future of the millions of Americans employed by the hotel industry and prepare to expedite a return to normal once this crisis passes. We appreciate the administration’s engagement in this issue and look forward to continuing this important discussion in the weeks ahead.”

Marriott International President and CEO, Arne Sorenson said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented decline in demand impacting our hotels and our associates. We are looking to government to support the hospitality industry through this period of time so we can assist our associates and hotel owners, many of whom are small businesses.”

MGM Resorts International Chairman & CEO, James Murren said, “Within days we have transformed from a vibrant industry welcoming people from around the world, to one experiencing a total shutdown of business.  Addressing this public health emergency required major collective action which is why MGM shut down our operations. But it comes at a cost to our tens of thousands of employees, small businesses and communities who depended on us.  We look forward to a productive dialogue on how to ensure that when it is safe, the gaming industry can be in a position to open our doors so that we and the 2 million jobs that depend can be part of the economic recovery that is to come.”

“Pebblebrook Hotel Trust is a REIT with 54 hotels with over 13,000 rooms and over 8,000 employees around the country. Our hotels are in most of the hardest hit cities – Seattle, San Francisco, here in Washington, DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago and more. As of today, we have had to make the difficult decision to let go over 4,000 employees,” noted Jon Bortz, Board Chair, AHLA and Chairman & CEO, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust.

“By the end of the month, we expect another 2,000 employees will also be let go, representing over three quarters of our employees. We are looking at closing the doors at more than half of our properties. This is the reality we, and countless other owners and operators around the country are facing in the wake of this public health situation.”

New York City Virtually: Greatest Cultural Institutions, Closed for Coronavirus, Share Exhibits Online

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be temporarily closed, but you can explore its collections virtually © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s major cultural institutions are temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 150 anniversary year, has temporarily closed all three locations—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters—effective March 13. Meanwhile, you can watch videos from exhibition previews to curator talks and performances (https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia)) and experience the best of human creativity from every corner of the globe at The Met (I love watching the video of the conservation of the Degas tutu, https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/conservation-and-scientific-research/degas-tutu-conservation) and play audio guides (https://www.metmuseum.org/visit/audio-guide)

When the Met reopens, it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary: The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.

“Our galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.” Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art content.

Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph is featured in MoMA’s exhibit “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures”. Meanwhile, take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?

I can’t wait for MoMA to reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History. While the museum is closed, go online to its “Explore” site for videos, blogs and OLogy, a science website for kids of all ages. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History while closed, the website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC. While the exhibit is closed, there are excellent materials online. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in the midst of the landmark exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever presented in North America, the exhibit had already been extended until August 30, 2020. The museum so far is scheduled to reopen March 29; in the meanwhile, there are excellent materials at the website that will inform and prepare you for when the exhibit reopens (https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/). (See Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’)

New-York Historical Society presents “Women March” exhibit marking centennial of Women’s Suffrage. Many materials are online, but you can also re-visit some of the N-YHS’s imortant past exhibits, like a personal favorite, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,”   presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting.  (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/).  (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)

Meanwhile, some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed daily):

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)

Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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