Breaking Travel News interview: Ólafur Óli Ólafsson, chief sales officer, Guide to Iceland | Focus

Breaking Travel News interview: Ólafur Óli Ólafsson, chief sales officer, Guide to Iceland

Guide to Iceland has been honoured with the titles of Iceland’s Leading Destination Management Company and Iceland’s Leading Travel Agency at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Ólafur Óli Ólafsson, chief sales officer with the company, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Ólafur Óli Ólafsson: It feels amazing!

While my official title is chief sales officer, throughout the team I’m known as the head of customer happiness.

We strive very hard to provide expert guidance to travellers about Iceland by offering the best experiences and letting customers leave with happy memories.

This means providing the best possible customer service and giving them access to as much information as we can.

We want travellers to understand the culture they will be experiencing and feel excited about seeing in person all the amazing things they have read about.

We aim to empower travellers to take control of their trip, arrive ready to experience everything Iceland has to offer, and know that we are here to help them anyway that we can.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote Guide to Iceland as we move into 2022?

OOO: This trophy will not only act as a motivator, but it is also a great showcase of the level of our service excellence.

It inspires us to keep providing the best service and will create an added layer of trust for our customers.

This award reinforces our message that we are experts when we write about Iceland.

We want our travellers to feel confident in what they read on our website and when they book with us.

These awards demonstrate that Guide to Iceland is a dependable company dedicated to delivering the best service and experiences.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates Guide to Iceland from its competitors in Europe?

OOO: This company is founded on a passion for sharing great traveller experiences.

The employees put their hearts and souls into the company, and it shows.

Founded by locals, there is a sense of pride that comes with showing travellers our home country.

Guide to Iceland is the biggest marketplace in Iceland, combining over 1,500 travel operators in a single community.

Our website is presented in 15 languages, giving billions of travellers the ability to browse in their native language.

Visitors have access to reviewed tours, accommodations and rental cars.

We want travellers to feel like they have all the information they need before experiencing Iceland.

Guide to Iceland is also rich in free travel information such as in-depth travel blogs, articles, and an opportunity to connect with the locals for the most authentic experience when visiting our beautiful country.

Finally, we pride ourselves in putting the customer first and providing the best travel experience possible, ensuring that everyone who books a trip with Guide to Iceland leaves with a positive and authentic Icelandic experience.

More Information

Find out more about Guide to Iceland on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Jean-Marc Mocellin, chief executive, Tahiti Tourisme | Focus

A near-mythical destination for many European travellers, French Polynesia has overcome the worst impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and is again rebuilding its tourism sector.

At its heart is the island of Tahiti, the hub for the wider region, which is preparing for the upcoming summer season.

As Jean-Marc Mocellin, chief executive of Tahiti Tourisme, tells Breaking Travel News, life is back to normal in the country, with the market preparing for an influx of well-heeled guests over the coming months.

“Tahiti originally reopened in July last year, driven largely by the French and United States markets – this was very successful, filling up all the islands,” explains Mocellin.

“However, we are not an independent country, we rely on France; when they had a surge of Covid-19 cases over the winter we were forced to close.

“Tahiti itself saw a wave of Covid-19 from March to August this year, but we are now back to normal.

“Curfews have been removed, while 70 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

“Transit through America has now reopened, and to travel through the United States, you need to be vaccinated – this has helped drive-up vaccination rates in Tahiti.”

However, with Covid-19 continuing to prove an unpredictable foe, a small number of measures to remain in place to keep guests safe when they do arrive.

For example, travellers seeking to reach a second island within French Polynesia having arrive in Tahiti currently have to show proof of a complete Covid-19 vaccination.

A pass sanitaire will also be introduced on December 1st, though this will only be utilised on internal flights.

Unless the pandemic accelerates again, it will not be required cinemas, restaurants and elsewhere, as is currently the case in France.

This reflects the wider picture between Tahiti at its European administrator, with the destination able to tread its own path through the pandemic.

“There was good co-ordination between the authorities in France and the representatives in Tahiti – a lot of negotiations behind the scenes,” continues Mocellin.

“Our local leadership has been in favour of keeping the destination open, while the French High Commissioner is ultimately responsible for the health and security of the local population.

“The French authorities were thus more cautious.

“However, as opposed to the departments of Martinique or Guadeloupe, which are subsidised by France, we are semi-independent and rely on our own resources.

“All the furlough schemes, the benefits people received to help overcome Covid-19, were funded by the local government.”

Although Tahiti is now reopening, there is no desire to drive visitor numbers dramatically upward as there is in much of the global hospitality market.

Perhaps uniquely, the destination has placed a cap on arrivals, preferring to focus on attracting a small number of wealthy guests and encouraging them to stay for a prolonged visit.

Mocellin explains: “Tahiti is not seeking volume when it comes to arrivals, as we never have.

“We have capped the total number of tourists at 300,000 per annum; the same figure Venice receives every day.

“Everybody has heard of Tahiti, but number of people who come is very small.

“This is something we want to maintain, with the level capped for the next five years at least.

“We would like to see people stay longer, to focus on slow tourism.”

In part the cap is to ensure the local population of Tahiti remains onboard with the tourism sector, limiting its impact on the destination.

“The population also has to be totally involved, to benefit from tourism,” says Mocellin.

“This is in contrary to some destinations, where outside investors take the majority of the profits; the population of French Polynesia must benefit.

“If they start to see too many tourists, or the sector starts too impact on their way of life, they will reject tourism.

“They would have no problem doing so, they have not been waiting for tourism to improve their lives, they are ready to live without tourism if needs be.”

He adds: “That said, the population of Tahiti has a legendary sense of welcome, they love sharing the islands.

“What separates the destination is that sense of culture; you need to be accepted and respect the way of life of the islands.

“This is the true asset of the island, and if we want to continue to offer it, we have to control numbers and make sure we bring the local population along with us.”

As the market reopens, Tahiti Tourisme has launched a number of initiatives to let the world know the destination is back on the map.

Working with agents remains a priority, while a new advertising campaign is designed to pique interest.

“We have launched a new campaign – Reconnect with the World.

“Whereas previously Tahiti was seen as distant and expensive, this is now an asset, it becomes an advantages as we are isolated, protected from the pandemic,” adds Mocellin.

“We have products, small hotels, cruises, that keep people away from large groups – we are the exact opposite of mass tourism.

“All of our activities are outdoors, which gives people a chance to reconnect with the world, their family and their loved ones.”

He adds: “We work closely with agents and have just launched a new online training programme as the market reopens.

“Agents are important partners for us, and we bring as many as we can down to the islands in order to help us sell the destination – they are an asset for us.”

Of course, no discussion of tourism would be complete without reference to sustainability, and Mocellin reveals Tahiti is again treading its own path.

He explains: “We cannot wait for what is happening, or not happening, globally.

“Tahitians, the young people in particular, are very aware and concerned about this – and there is a lot of activity.

“We have three hotels that use the sea water air conditioning (SWAC) system, as well as the main hotel.

“This draws freezing water from beyond the reefs that surround the islands, with a pipe going down past one kilometres and a pumping it to cool buildings.

“The investment is huge – but the return is within ten years.

“This is an example of what you can do with sustainability; let’s be realistic, we will be successful if we can prove a return on investment.

“We try to be pioneers – we cannot wait.”

He concluded: “We need some new hotels, it is true, but we are trying to place these in new locations – not just Bora Bora.

“It would certainly be easier to put them there, we build in Bora Bora, for sure it would be successful – but we do not want to kill the destination.”

More Information

Located in the South Pacific, the islands of Tahiti consist of 118 islands and atolls.

The destination is made up of the well-known Society Islands including Tahiti and Bora Bora, as well as the Tuamotu Islands, Gambier Islands, Austral Islands and Marquesas Islands.

Find out more on the official website.

Words: Chris O’Toole
Images: Tahiti Tourisme

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Breaking Travel News interview: Nguyen Ba Luan, chief executive, Sojo Hotels | Focus

Sojo Hotels has been honoured with the title of Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel Brand at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Nguyen Ba Luan, chief executive of the company, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Nguyen Ba Luan: For Vietnam’s travel and hospitality industry, Sojo Hotels sets a prime example of adaptation with its brand-new model of refreshing smart hotel since 2020.

By minimising physical contact between people and objects as well as direct contact between people, we do proactive changes by businesses to promptly adapt to the “new normal”.

Notwithstanding a new brand, we – Sojo have left our mark by building a new hotel concept that adapts promptly to changes in the market while making efforts to elevate the position of Vietnamese hospitality by having claimed a top title at the category Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel Brand 2021.

This award is a great motivation for us to continue pioneering the future of Vietnamese hospitality.

And we are especially proud to be the first representative of Vietnam to win this category since 2013 until now.

Sojo consider this award as the prestigious recognition of the community as well as travel’s experts.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote Sojo Hotels as we move into 2022?

NBL: Although there are encouraging signs for hoteliers, trading is still not anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022.

However, we believe this will be an opportunity for innovation, adaption and waiting for the remarkable growth of hospitality industry in Vietnam.

And our Sojo brings a new concept of hospitality service – “the right hotel and the right taste” – to active global citizens who love new experiences.

Based on convenient and modern features, Sojo Hotels became the first Vietnamese winner in Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Hotel Brand category by World Travel Awards.

We have the confidence that this award will make Sojo’s model to be more widely known in the tourism market not only in Vietnam but also in all over the world.

Strategically aiming to establish 100 refreshing smart hotels across the country, this award is considered as greatly support for Sojo Hotels to set new trends that will likely shape the future of Vietnam’s hotel market.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates Sojo Hotels from its competitors in Asia?

NBL: Developed by TNH Hotels & Resorts, a member of TNG Holdings Vietnam, Sojo Hotels aims to become “the right hotel and the right taste” for our guests – a new generation of global citizens who are youthful, dynamic, and always looking for exciting things.

Sojo Hotels invested in JO247 lounge – an impressive open space that is the highlight of Sojo Hotels.

We call JO247 lounge as a multi-use space where guests can do all in one: working in melodious music, relax and chill with fusion cuisines.

With its contemporary design, JO247 will provide a civilized entertainment experience and a place to connect.

Each touch point of Sojo Hotels stems from our absolute understanding of what makes our guests satisfied.

Bringing a completely new accommodation experience, Sojo especially offer the initiative to choose services for guests, and it’s a necessity to providing a positive customer experience in the digital age.

In detail, self-service allows Sojo to provide online support to our guests without requiring any interaction with a Sojo representative.

Considered a revolution stemming from realistic market demand and lodging requirements during the “new normal” period, Sojo Hotels presents a brand-new customer-centric hotel model.

Guests staying at Sojo Hotels will get acquainted with the “touchless hotel” concept, with touchless experiences through the Sojo app system (guest mobile app).

With the Sojo app as control centre for all activities in their experiential journey, our guests can check-in/check-out at an automated kiosk with their Face ID (facial recognition) or easily adjust the light and room temperature to suit their preferences and mood.

They can thereby minimise physical contact, as well as avoid direct contact with a person.

By making the most of new technologies, Sojo Hotels has created a safe-haven that is refreshingly smart for our guests, especially against the Covid-19 backdrop.

In addition, we – Sojo are deploying technology to record and analyse guest behaviours to create new and exciting services that properly and fully meet their needs.

And after all, we believe in our refreshing smart hotel model of Sojo bring a complete recreational experience for guests that separates Sojo Hotels from its competitors in Asia.

More Information

Find out more about Sojo Hotels on the official website.

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Delta Chief Health Officer: Covid-19 Near End of Pandemic Stage

The travel industry is “entering the end of the [Covid-19] pandemic,” Delta Air Lines chief health officer Henry Ting said at the Global Business Travel Association 2021 Convention on Wednesday.

“We’re coming down from the surge and entering an endemic stage,” said Ting, a former Mayo Clinic executive who joined Delta earlier this year. “It will persist at low but functional levels. There may be outbreaks, and we will see this become a seasonal respiratory virus.”

Ting based his prediction on high levels of “some form of immunity,” up to 95 percent of the population when considering vaccines and prior infections, and new treatments such as antivirals that significantly lower the risk of severe illness and hospitalization. He said he also expected the pandemic will change the approach to public health threats, much like Sept. 11 changed the approach to national security threats.

“The FBI [after Sept. 11] made a dramatic change, when they discovered what they were excellent at was solving crimes, but they weren’t excellent at preventing crimes,” Ting said. “I think for Covid, as well as the next pandemic, we have to get better at preventing what’s going on.”

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TSA chief expects “smooth” holiday travel despite projected increase in airport crowds

The expected surge in holiday travel and the possible firing of unvaccinated Transportation Security Administration agents will not bring chaos to the nation’s airports, the head of the TSA said Wednesday.

The most recent data show that about 40% of the agency’s workforce had either not received a single COVID-19 vaccine shot or not submitted their vaccination status as of last month despite a looming November 22 deadline. Experts fear that a possible staff shortage would create the perfect storm across U.S. airports, which are expected to see up to 80% more travelers compared to last year, reaching near pre-pandemic levels.

But TSA Administrator David Pekoske brushed off those concerns, saying most passengers should expect to spend about 30 minutes going through security.

“If they’re a pre-check passenger, 10 minutes or less,” Pekoske told “CBS Mornings.”

“I don’t think they should expect chaos… We’re very confident that this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days,” he said.

As for the vaccine mandate, Pekoske said the number of TSA employees who have received at least one shot has “improved greatly” and that he does not expect Monday’s deadline to have “any impact whatsoever on Thanksgiving travel.” 

“And the good news for travelers is that more and more people, including TSA employees, are now vaccinated, so from a public health perspective it’s a much safer experience,” he said. 

Pekoske said terminations would come only after a “progressive discipline process” and after every request for medical or religious exemptions is considered. 

“So we’ll go through the process of looking at each one of those individual cases and make a determination over the next several weeks,” he said. “Yes, there is the potential if you do not have an approved exemption and you are not vaccinated that you will lose your job because it’s very important that we have our workforce fully vaccinated.”

In addition to flying, millions of Americans are also expected to hit the roads this Thanksgiving holiday, with AAA projecting that 53 million people will travel next week.

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Jerry Inzerillo, chief executive, Diriyah Gate Development Authority | Videos

Breaking Travel News speaks to Jerry Inzerillo, chief executive of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, about the project and what it offers to the Saudi Arabia hospitality market.

Speaking at World Travel Market in London, he tells us how tourism will transform the country as part of Vision 2030.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Luís Capdeville Botelho, chief executive, Azores Promotion Board | Focus

The Azores have been honoured with the title of Europe’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Luís Capdeville Botelho, chief executive of the Azores Promotion Board, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Luís Capdeville Botelho: Very happy and obviously rewarding, because, in addition to being part of a group of strong destinations, the choice came from the public and thousands of tourism professionals from all over the world.

It means, on the other hand, that the Azores are increasingly recognised in a more recent area, which has gained the attention and interest of thousands of people eager for new experiences.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote the Azores as we move into 2022?

LCB: This distinction will allow us to continue promoting the Azores as an adventure destination, with the argument of such a prestigious award as this.

It will be, besides a reason of pride for all Azoreans, an important communication tool for the destination.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates the Azores from its competitors in Europe?

LCB: All activities and experiences take place in idyllic scenarios, built by mother nature, with the possibility for those who visit us to have more than one possibility to practice and venture into new areas.

All these possibilities, the characteristics of a sustainable destination, safe and with quality accommodation, excellent gastronomy, are essential factors for voters not to have hesitated in voting for the Azores.

More Information

Find out more about the Azores Islands on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Florian Sengstschmid, chief executive, Azerbaijan Tourism Board | Focus

Azerbaijan Tourism Board has been honoured with the title of Europe’s Leading Cultural Destination at the World Travel Awards.

Here Breaking Travel News speaks to Florian Sengstschmid, the chief executive of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, to find out how it feels to have been recognised by voters from around the globe.

Breaking Travel News: Having claimed a top title at the World Travel Awards, how does it feel to have won?

Florian Sengstschmid: We are extremely delighted to be voted as the winners of this prestigious award in the global travel and tourism industry.

This proves that we are on the right path with our strategy to highlight the unique tangible and intangible assets of the country and develop distinctive travel experiences based on these genuine features instead of creating something artificial.

We look forward to welcoming new and returning travellers to take another look at this beautiful country.

BTN: How will the trophy help you to promote Azerbaijan as we move into 2022?

FS: Tourism was one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, but with the active ongoing vaccination process and integrated travel protocols implemented, we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Participation at various international trade shows and exhibitions, numerous marketing campaigns, media work with leading publications and platforms worldwide, cooperation with prominent travel platforms and agencies, digital promotion – all these, topped with new exciting tourism products and experiences are only a part of what we have prepared for the coming year.

Certainly, the World Travel Awards trophy will contribute to achieving greater acknowledgement internationally and bolstering the image of our destination globally.

BTN: What is it that caught the eye of voters; what do you think it is that separates Azerbaijan from its competitors in Europe?

FS: Azerbaijan is a perfect destination for those who wish to explore the rich cultural offering and ancient heritage – the country is home to three masterpieces included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, such as the magnificent Old City (Icherisheher) in Baku, the prehistoric petroglyphs of Gobustan and the astonishingly beautiful Sheki Khans’ Palace with exquisite miniatures in the historic centre of Sheki.

Famous for its breath-taking views, Khinalig village has been included into the UNESCO Tentative List in 2020.

There are also many amazing examples of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in the country, including copper production in the village of Lahij, carpet weaving and the art of making women’s silk headscarf “kelaghayi”.

Being an important hub on ancient Silk Road trade route, Azerbaijan has long been under influence of various cultures and ethnicities, becoming a multicultural country represented by many nations and cultures.

Today, we can see the traces of Caucasian Albania which consisted of more than 26 nations all over Azerbaijan, Jewish settlements in Baku, Guba and Oghuz, Polish heritage in Baku, German heritage in the western parts of Azerbaijan – all represented by tangible and intangible cultural elements.

Shusha, the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, and the Karabakh region in general, will definitely play a crucial role in the development of tourism in the region.

An exceptional combination of an Eastern country with a Western outlook where antiquity merges with modernity, Azerbaijan is an enthralling mixture of people, styles, colours and traditions that never ceases to amaze, and we invite everyone to visit and discover this beautiful destination.

More Information

Find out more about Azerbaijan Tourism Board on the official website.

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Breaking Travel News interview: Andreas Metaxas, chief executive, Metaxa Hospitality Group | Focus

Breaking Travel News editor, Chris O’Toole, speaks to Andreas Metaxas, chief executive of Metaxa Hospitality Group, as the leading Greek hotelier is honoured by the World Travel Awards.

Breaking Travel News: Congratulations of your fresh success at the World Travel Awards – how does it feel to have won?

Andreas Metaxas: It is a great honour for me to have Metaxa Hospitality Group be awarded Greece’s Leading Hotel Group by a renowned institution such as the World Travel Awards.

I feel honoured that they recognise our hard work and efforts to add value and support the growth of the Greek hospitality industry by offering high-quality services with particular care and complete attention to detail for our guests.

Authentic hospitality is a key brand pillar and integral part of our DNA.

Our hotels not merely welcome customers, they welcome true friends and extended family.

We share with them a culture of friendly and humble hospitality which dates back five thousand years.

We thank all our guests and, of course, World Travel Awards for this distinction, and for recognising our hard-working team for their dedication and care to ensure every guest of ours always feels at home when they stay with us.

BTN: As we continue the fightback from Covid-19, how will these trophies boost momentum as we head into the key summer months of 2022?

AM: The pandemic has altered our way of life and the hospitality industry in particular was one of the most affected and changed industries.

Over the summer, we have seen a strong recovery both in Greek tourism and at our properties.

It is wonderful to see people back enjoying our resorts and feeling safe and comfortable while staying with us.

As we close our properties for the season, we are keeping a close eye on the latest global developments and hope we will be looking at a more stable 2022, allowing the hospitality industry to continue regaining momentum and confidence.

At Metaxa Hospitality Group, health and safety have always been among our top priorities and will continue to be so as we look ahead to 2022.

The five distinctions we garnered across the group as a whole as well as for our individual properties at this year’s World Travel Awards are a true indicator of the high level of quality service we deliver to our guests even when faced with difficult global situations.

BTN: Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa in Greece was this year honoured with the title of Europe’s Leading Boutique Resort. What is it that makes that property so special?

AM: It is a great honour to see our property, Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa recognised for the third year in a row among so many other outstanding hotel brands in Europe.

Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa is the ultimate serene hideaway for those who seek amazing views, tranquil vacations, luxury accommodation, and warm hospitality in Oia Santorini, one of the world’s best loved destinations in Greece.

Located only a five-minute walking distance away from the village centre, the resort boasts amazing direct views to the world-famous sunset of Santorini and the Aegean Sea.

Original, laid-back, and private is how to describe Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa best.

Guests feel immediately at home as they walk through our doors, and they know instantly that all their needs will be seamlessly met.

This summer, Santo Maris had a strong year despite the inconsistency in travel recommendations from global governments.

We saw key markets such as US travellers come back to Santorini, and we hope this will continue in 2022.

BTN: Creta Maris Beach Resort was also recognised as Greece’s Leading All-Inclusive Resort by voters. What separates that hotel in a competitive marketplace?

AM: We are extremely proud that Creta Maris Beach Resort has been distinguished as Greece’s Leading All-Inclusive Resort for the second year in a row.

Creta Maris Beach Resort is a family-friendly all-inclusive five-star resort in Hersonissos, Crete, that combines the tradition and elegance of Cretan hospitality with a safe and sustainable environment.

The resort’s unique architecture and layout as a traditional village, its stylish design, its high-quality services, and its many interesting activities and facilities, both for children and adults such as the on-site aquapark and Europe’s largest outdoor amphitheatre cinema, set this resort apart from other properties in Crete.

Since its opening 46 years ago, the hotel has operated based on principles of authentic Cretan hospitality and sustainable development.

Metaxa Hospitality Group has remained faithful to this philosophy and has continuously issued sustainability reports since 1999 that reflect our continued efforts to improve both our social and environmental footprint, while Creta Maris Beach Resort in 2013 started to produce its own, separate sustainability report.

BTN: Finally, and most significantly, Metaxa Hospitality Group took the title of Greece’s Leading Hotel Group. Can you tell me a little about the group, and your plans to develop it as we head into 2022?

AM: Metaxa Hospitality Group is an internationally recognised and award-winning hotel group.

It was founded in Crete, Greece in 1975 by my father Nikolaos Metaxas and, today, it consists of Creta Maris Beach Resort five-star in Hersonissos, Crete, (the first hotel of the group), TUI Magic Life Candia Maris five-star in Amoudara, Heraklion and Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa five-star in Santorini, as well as a convention centre, one of the largest in Greece which recently hosted the ANOC XXV General Assembly, also in Hersonissos.

Our mission is to lead the business towards a promising sustainable future in which employees, guests, and local communities are at the heart of the group’s activities to benefit the national economy, the environment, and society at large.

The strength of our commitment to sustainable development, our unique local perspective, welcoming hospitality, and our philosophy focused on continuous growth remain our key priorities for the years to come.

More Information

Based on sustainability principles and solid financial foundations, Metaxa Hospitality Group is a leading hotelier in Greece.

Offering authentic personalised holiday experiences with an excellent quality of service to guests, Metaxa Hospitality Group seeks to provide a stimulating and rewarding environment for employees.

Find out more on the official website.

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Europe air travel to US won’t end, says CDC chief


An alarming rise in cases of the “delta plus” COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom is unlikely to result in a ban on flights from Britain and Europe, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Sunday.

“We’re not anticipating that now,” Walensky said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’re absolutely following the science very, very carefully, but we are not anticipating or looking into that right now.”

The delta plus variant, identified by British scientists last month, is considered a relative of the delta variant that fueled a deadly surge across the U.S. this summer. Because it isn’t a variant of interest or concern, it has not yet been named after a letter of the Greek alphabet. The U.N. health agency is tracking about 20 variations of the delta variant.

‘Delta plus’ is ‘not a problem’: Everything to know about the subvariant and why experts aren’t worried, yet

Walensky said the U.S. has had a “handful” of cases linked to delta plus, or the AY.4.2 sublineage of the delta variant, but that it has not “taken off” as it has in the UK. The strand has not yet been linked to increased transmissibility or to decreased effectiveness of vaccines or therapeutics, she said.

Also in the news:

► All Dartmouth employees, including those who have been approved for fully remote work, must submit proof of vaccination or be approved for a medical or religious exemption by Dec. 8, the New Hampshire school announced.

► The Navajo Nation reported 61 more COVID-19 cases Saturday, but no coronavirus-related deaths for the 17th time in the past 24 days. The nation covers about 27,000 square miles of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico in the United States

► Country musician Travis Tritt, who canceled shows at venues that required a COVID-19 vaccine or mask-wearing, sang the national anthem before Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night.

► Unvaccinated people in Austria could face a lockdown if cases continue to climb and ICUs reach 25% of their capacity from COVID patients, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 45.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 735,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 243.2 million cases and 4.9 million deaths. More than 190,400 million Americans — 57.4% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: People with mental health disorders may qualify for booster shots, which are approved for just some groups of fully vaccinated Americans. Here’s why.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

After American Indian and Alaska Native children, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander children had the highest rate of COVID-19 cases, at 585 per 10,000, according to an analysis of cases through Aug. 31 by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Hispanic children came next on the list. Among white children, the rate of infection was about 354 per 10,000.

Researchers say health data collection on Native Hawaiians is generally poor, and the rates could be underestimates. Extreme weight gain among Native Hawaiian children has been a major pandemic concern, along with depression and anxiety.

“It’s extraordinary, and I think the fallout is – we haven’t even seen the fallout yet,” said Dr. Vija Sehgal, pediatric director at Waianae Comprehensive Health Center.

Nada Hassanein, USA TODAY

The amount of fentanyl seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has increased by 51% in the first eight months of 2021 compared with 2020, according to data from the CBP. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more drugs have also been found contaminated with the deadly drug. Last month, 1,123 pounds of the drug were confiscated, compared with 702 pounds in August 2020. 

“The COVID travel restrictions hindered some aspects of land-border drug trafficking, as there was less traffic and more time could be spent examining travelers, which increased drug seizures,” Matthew Dyman, CBP public affairs officer, told USA TODAY in an email. “But with people staying home instead of going to work, there was an increased demand for drugs,” 

It’s not uncommon after disasters, such as the 9/11 attacks, to see a temporary increase reported in substance use. 

“We see with other major events people are feeling traumatized and under stress,” said Dr. Andrew Saxon, a member of the Council on Addiction Psychiatry at the American Psychiatric Association. “An easy and natural way to cope would be to take a substance, even though it usually makes it worse in the long run.”

-Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates violates federal law and will remain blocked in Williamson County, a federal judge ruled. Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw’s ruling continues to prevent Lee’s order, which the governor extended through Nov. 5, from taking effect in Williamson County’s two public school systems. Two families of children with disabilities, one each in Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District, sued the school districts and the state over Lee’s decision.

“Disabled students are at a significantly higher risk for severe infection and are exposed at a higher rate,” Crenshaw said in his opinion, which mirrors those by federal judges in Memphis and Knoxville. That constitutes “an irreparable harm that justifies continued injunctive relief,” he said.

-Mariah Timms, Meghan Mangrum, Duane W. Gang, The Nashville Tennessean

Contributing: The Associated Press

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