Omicron dampens demand for international travel: Travel Weekly

Demand for international travel has plunged in the week since the omicron Covid-19 variant emerged as a global concern. 

According to data provided by Kayak, international flight searches initiated within the U.S. were 21% below the 2019 level on Nov. 24, when travel restrictions and headlines related to omicron took hold. But as of Nov. 30, U.S.-based international travel searches on the metasearch engine were down 41% compared with 2019. 

The downward plunge, however, has not extended to domestic travel. Domestic flight searches in the U.S. on Kayak were off 13% compared with 2019 on Nov. 24 and were off a similar 16% year-over-two years on Nov. 30.

Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann writes that the option to see the world will still be there for those willing to persevere through new restrictions brought on by an evolving virus.

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The plunge in international flight searches came after the U.S. and numerous other countries instituted new restrictions against inbound travel from southern Africa. However, the Kayak data ends before President Biden’s decision Wednesday to require individuals entering the United States to show a negative Covid-19 test result from within one day of travel beginning early next week. Current rules require a negative test result from within three days of travel. 

Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, said he expects international travel demand will drop further due to the newly tightened policy.  

“We’ve already seen international travel interest drop sharply after the omicron variant was discovered, while domestic travel interest has held steady,” Keyes said. “Today’s news will exacerbate that trend — a significant number of travelers will reconsider international travel plans in favor of domestic trips where no pre-flight testing (or quarantine) is required.”

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Omicron causes another spike in travel insurance sales: Travel Weekly

Travel insurance sales have increased 53% since news of the omicron Covid-19 variant hit, according to travel insurance comparison site

Travel insurance demand had already been on the rise in recent months, Squaremouth said, but omicron has caused sales to rise “to an all-time high.” The delta variant of Covid-19 only bumped sales by 20%.

“A new and highly transmittable variant can certainly be a cause of health concerns among travelers,” Squaremouth chief marketing officer Megan Moncrief said in a statement. “But the implications go beyond that, to include border closures and quarantine restrictions that can be difficult to accommodate.”

Squaremouth warned that travel insurance will not necessarily cover travelers for those eventualities. While most policies do cover those who contract Covid-19, only some will enable travelers to cancel if there is a government-issued travel warning for a destination. 

Cancel-for-any-reason policies would enable travelers to do just as the name implies, but they are more expensive than standard policies and must be bought within a short window after a trip is booked.

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Carnival, Virgin, American Queen grab a cuppa at CruiseWorld: Travel Weekly

MIAMI BEACH — Perhaps the biggest take-away from CruiseWorld has been the vast amount of travel products that are debuting in 2022 — and the overwhelming need of suppliers for travel advisors to sell them.

A Coffee Chats session focused on just how much the cruise lines need and appreciate their travel advisor partners. And Virgin Voyages‘ associate vice president of North America sales, John Diorio, announced that starting Monday the line will launch a two-week promotion with 20% off all sailings through March.

Expansion at Virgin Voyages

At Virgin, Diorio has spent three years waiting for a ship. “It’s been a long journey,” he said, “probably one of the longest launches ever in history.” But now in one year the line will go from zero to three ships in the water, and a new terminal in Miami opens next month.

American Queen Voyages’ domestic plan

With river cruise vessels that hold fewer than 250 people, American Queen Voyages had the advantage of being first back in the water, said vice president of sales Joe Jiffo, and now all four of its U.S.-based river vessels are sailing.

Also importantly, the company has rebranded from American Queen Steamboat Company and brought different companies owned by parent Hornblower, including Victory Cruise Lines, under the American Queen Voyages banner.

For 2022, Jiffo is excited to watch the relaunch of the expedition ships that “hug the coastline and go into these tiny ports.”

New itineraries are Ocean Navigator on the Yucatan Peninsula and a southeast United States to the Southern charm of cities like Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., and then another expedition ships, the Discover, in 2023.

Carnival Cruise Line looks towards Wave

“Ever since I started at Carnival I have always developed relationships with people like Michele Fee and Jackie Friedman and David Crooks; I always knew the importance of travel advisors,” said Adolfo Perez, Carnival‘s senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing.

While the pent-up demand for cruising jumped in June, it since then has begun to taper, Perez said. Carnival will soon combat that with a consumer marketing campaign, and it needs travel advisors in particular to “reach out to people our marketing never reaches,” Perez said. “You can talk to the Kiwanis Club or your kids’ soccer team to really draw in people who may not have considered cruising in the past or are on the fence.

Perez said he was excited about Wave season. “Our numbers have been going up in each of the past three months; we’ve been 70% full overall and have had a few sailings at 100%.”

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Madeira, Portugal, getting first direct flight from U.S.: Travel Weekly

NEWPORT, Wales — A proactive approach to managing the Covid-19 crisis has helped the Madeira islands of Portugal gain tourism share over the course of the pandemic.

Now, Madeira is also gearing up for its first nonstop flights from the U.S.

Azores Airlines will fly weekly this winter between New York JFK and the Madeira capital of Funchal, beginning Nov. 29. 

“We had a strategy at the beginning, and we’ve had that strategy to the end,” explained Nuno Vale, executive director of the Madeira Promotion Authority. 

He touted Madeira’s Covid Safe Tourism initiative, which the autonomous Portuguese region initiated in the summer of 2020, as pioneering. And he credits the initiative for Madeira’s especially quick recovery from the pandemic in terms of tourism. Notably, in August Madeira drew 1.7% more visitors than it did in August 2019, Visit Madeira data shows. That was the archipelago’s best August ever in terms of tourism. 

T1122MadeiraMarket_c_HR [credit: Visit Madeira]

Azores Airlines will fly weekly this winter between New York JFK and the Madeira capital of Funchal, beginning Nov. 29. Photo Credit: Visit Madeira

The Madeira autonomous region sits to the southwest of Portugal and to the northwest of Africa. Its primary destinations, which are the island of Madeira itself and nearby Porto Santo, lie approximately 250 miles north of Spain’s Canary Islands. While Porto Santo draws tourists for its beaches, visitors make the trek to Madeira to enjoy its mountainous tropical landscape, which rises to more than 6,100 feet above sea level, and for the cultural attractions in Funchal. 

Tee time on Madeira

Hoping to expand its base, in late October, Vale and a team from Visit Madeira were in Wales at the International Golf Travel Market as part of the archipelago’s increasing effort to position itself as an emerging golfing destination. 

While Madeira enjoys lots of air service from Europe, it only this month is getting its first nonstop flight from the U.S. The Azores Airlines’ JFK-Funchal service will augment existing service that the carrier provides between Boston and the Azores capital of Ponta Delgado. 

Madeira’s pandemic time success as a tourist destination likely played a role in the carrier’s decision to take a risk on U.S. service. 

Strong tourism numbers

In August, which is the most recent month for which Visit Madeira has published statistics, the autonomous region drew nearly 171,000 visitors. Though the international travel landscape was still choppy over summer, visitation from outside Portugal was 85% of the August 2019 level. Meanwhile, Madeira drew 49% more domestic visitors than it did in August 2019.

Currently, tourists can enter Madeira with proof of vaccination, proof of recent recovery from Covid-19 or proof a negative Covid-19 antigen test result from within 48 hours of boarding their flight. 

But after a lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, Madeira reopened its doors in July 2020 with an innovative program that involved free testing and government-funded hotel quarantines when required. 

Innovative approach to Covid-era travel

Under the Covid Safe initiative, visitors were offered one free Covid-19 test. The test could either be taken upon arrival for flyers who hadn’t first taken a test at home or upon departure if one was required by the traveler’s destination.  

Flyers who failed a Covid test received free lodging, meals and medical assistance during the mandated quarantine period. 

In addition, said Vale, Madeira was the first destination in Portugal to implement a health certification program for lodging establishments and other tourist facilities. 

The program was instrumental in the organization European Best Destinations ranking Madeira and Porto Santo as the two safest islands in Europe earlier this year. 

“The measures that we took in the islands put us in a very good position,” Vale said.

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Arch RoamRight Travel Insurance Recognized by Travel Weekly with Multiple Magellan Awards

HUNT VALLEY, Md.–()–Travel insurance brand Arch RoamRight was awarded two gold Travel Weekly Magellan Awards in the categories of Marketing-Crisis Communication and Marketing-Direct Mail. A silver Magellan Award was given in the category of Overall-Travel Insurance.

The awards are hosted by Travel Weekly and honor outstanding design, marketing and services in the travel industry.

“Our entry on Outstanding Service During COVID-19 is a testament to the quality of our customer and partner support, as well as our overall dedication to the travel industry,” said Tim Dodge, Vice President of Marketing for Arch RoamRight. “We are also exceptionally proud of The Travel Insurance PlaybookTM, which is our annual publication on travel trends and changes in the industry.”

“Each year we recognize industry innovators and creative communicators through our Magellan Awards. This year, we recognize the resilience, ingenuity and path forward created by those who shared their company’s initiatives through words, images and design, and kept travel part of the conversation and part of the equation,” said Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly.

With entries from across the U.S. and around the world, the Magellan Award winners represent the best in the travel industry and salute the outstanding travel professionals behind it all.

The Magellan Awards are judged and overseen by a one-of-a-kind panel of top travel professionals representing the best names and most accomplished leaders from the industry. In determining winners, entries do not compete with one another, instead they are judged against a standard of excellence based on the long experience of Travel Weekly. To uphold this high standard of excellence, a category may have multiple winners, or may have no winners at all.

For a complete list of silver and gold winners, please visit

About Arch Roamright

Arch RoamRight ( is the co-branding of Arch and RoamRight® marks used by Arch Insurance Company to market its travel insurance that insures U.S. residents traveling around the world. From trip cancellation to travel medical insurance plans and an award-winning mobile app and website, Arch RoamRightTM is an industry leader in innovation and technological solutions. In 2021, Arch RoamRight has won multiple American Business Awards® and was named one of the Best in Travel Insurance for 2021 by

About Travel Weekly

Travel Weekly is the most influential provider of news, research, opinion and analysis to the North American travel trade marketplace. It reaches a broad industry audience in print, online and with face-to-face events throughout the year. Travel Weekly is a division of Secaucus, New Jersey-based Northstar Travel Media, the largest travel business-to-business travel publisher in the world.

About Northstar Travel Group

Northstar Travel Group is the leading B-to-B information and marketing solutions company serving all travel industry segments, including leisure/retail, corporate/business travel, corporate and sports meetings, incentives, hospitality, and travel technology. Northstar is the owner of leading brands serving these travel segments. The company produces more than 100 face-to-face events in 13 countries in retail travel, hospitality, corporate travel, travel technology, sports travel, and the meetings & incentive industry. In addition, Northstar owns Phocuswright, the leading research and event producer serving the travel technology industry. Northstar Travel Group owns the BHN Group, the leading producer of hotel investment conferences. Northstar is also the majority shareholder in Inntopia, the leading SaaS e-commerce software business serving the mountain destination, golf, activities, and hospitality markets. Based in Secaucus, NJ, the company has 7 offices in the U.S., U.K., Singapore, and China. Northstar Travel Group is owned by funds managed by EagleTree Capital.

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides a “safe harbor” for forward-looking statements. This release or any other written or oral statements made by or on behalf of Arch Capital Group Ltd. and its subsidiaries may include forward-looking statements, which reflect our current views with respect to future events and financial performance. All statements, other than statements of historical fact, included in or incorporated by reference in this release are forward-looking statements.

Forward-looking statements can generally be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “intend,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “believe” or “continue” or their negative or variations or similar terminology. Forward-looking statements involve our current assessment of risks and uncertainties. Actual events and results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in these statements. A non-exclusive list of the important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in such forward-looking statements includes the following: adverse general economic and market conditions; increased competition; pricing and policy term trends; fluctuations in the actions of rating agencies and the Company’s ability to maintain and improve its ratings; investment performance; the loss of key personnel; the adequacy of the Company’s loss reserves, severity and/or frequency of losses, greater than expected loss ratios and adverse development on claim and/or claim expense liabilities; greater frequency or severity of unpredictable natural and man-made catastrophic events, including pandemics such as COVID-19; the impact of acts of terrorism and acts of war; changes in regulations and/or tax laws in the United States or elsewhere; the Company’s ability to successfully integrate, establish and maintain operating procedures as well as consummate acquisitions and integrate the businesses the Company has acquired or may acquire into the existing operations; changes in accounting principles or policies; material differences between actual and expected assessments for guaranty funds and mandatory pooling arrangements; availability and cost to the Company of reinsurance to manage the Company’s gross and net exposures; the failure of others to meet their obligations to the Company; changes in the method for determining the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and the potential replacement of LIBOR and other factors identified in the Company’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

The foregoing review of important factors should not be construed as exhaustive and should be read in conjunction with other cautionary statements that are included herein or elsewhere. All subsequent written and oral forward-looking statements attributable to us or persons acting on our behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by these cautionary statements. The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Tag: arch-insurance

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New Europe hotel chain debuts: Travel Weekly

The new British hotel chain Quartz Inn Hotels & Resorts was unveiled at the WTM trade show in London on Nov. 3.

The chain is made up of independent and sustainable hotels, owned and operated by their owners, according to managing director Ignacio Merino.

The idea is to facilitate access to the latest hotel technology for those independent hotels that do not have sufficient means to compete with the large hotel chains, he said.

The brand will also formalize the standards of service, safety, hygiene and sustainability, while preserving the character of each establishment.

“The expansion plans of our company are to end 2022 with over 100 affiliated hotels throughout Europe,” Merino said.

“We want to promote direct sales for our hotels and contribute to creating a more sustainable tourism industry, maintaining the local cultures, reducing energy and water use and eliminating single-use plastic in the rooms.”

Unlike other franchise models, properties do not pay entrance or monthly fees. Quartz Inn Hotels handles all sales, marketing, online reputation and sustainability standards for a minimum percentage of the sales.

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News hotels, new attractions in Puerto Vallarta: Travel Weekly

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

New projects and developments are ramping up in Puerto Vallarta as 2022 approaches and arrival numbers begin to creep back to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are very positive that the fall and winter season will be close to 2019 numbers,” said Luis Antonio Villasenor, director of the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board.

Puerto Vallarta is looking to target younger age demographics as well as families as it reemerges. “More than 80% of visitors are 55-plus, but during the pandemic we have gotten a lot of families. We’re very positive about the following months. We keep adding products to the area to try to highlight more ecological tourism, wellness, pet-friendly and LGBT,” as well, Villlasenor said.

Promoting ecotourism

Socially responsible tourism has become a popular theme for destinations that reopened to tourism during the pandemic, and Puerto Vallarta is no exception.

One of the newer eco-adventure experiences/accommodations is Jorullo Paradise, which debuted in April. Located in the Sierra Madre mountains, Jorullo Paradise features 11 cabins, a farm-to-table restaurant, pool and nine hot springs for guests who are looking to experience something away from the beach and with sustainability in mind. Many of the property’s activities are what it calls “low-impact”: hiking, nature walks, wildlife viewing and a bicycle zipline.

“It has the longest zipline to cross on a bicycle, as well as hot springs,” Villasenor said. “The company is trying to reforest the area, and it is a great place to experience the beauty of the mountains.”

Down on the beach, a new ecolodge, El Jardin Yelapa, has opened in Yelapa, a small beach community with a string of laid-back beachfront bars on the southern tip of the Bay of Banderas. The new lodge features four palapa-style casitas, all of which are open-air and oceanview. It gets all of its water from a natural spring and provides purified water for drinking and also composts and recycles. For travelers who really want a private island-style experience that is nature-immersive and promotes disconnecting, this would be the place to book in Puerto Vallarta.

• Related: Where to try tequila in Puerto Vallarta

“Yelapa has a strong expat community and is very colorful,” Villasenor said of the destination, which is only accessible via boat from PV. “It is very popular for that hippie-chic travel. You will keep seeing new things in the following year in that area.”

Expanding the southern part of the Bay of Banderas has been a big goal during the pandemic. There are plans for a high-end beach club in a stretch of beach between Yelapa and Quimixto that will feature an ecofriendly marina, a mixology bar and plenty of places to relax, swim, and eat.

Puerto Vallarta has also established a network of companies that work to give back to the community. When travelers come to Puerto Vallarta and want to make donations to the families and individuals who were negatively impacted by the pandemic, they have a whole list to go through of who needs help and with what.

“The pandemic changed the way people travel,” he added. “We get a lot of requests for social responsibility. We have a network of more than 20 associations that we can refer tourists to when they want to come and do something good for the city.”

More projects on the horizon

Other new projects to keep an eye out for include the launch of Vidanta Cruises, Mexico’s first luxury cruise line. The debut vessel, the Vidanta Elegant, will sail from Puerto Vallarta and call at Mazatlan and Los Cabos.

A Cirque du Soleil theme park is set to open in February. The original plan called for one park, but there will actually be three parks at the site: a Cirque du Soleil park, a waterpark and an adventure park similar to Six Flags.

“We had a great summer,” said Villasenor. “We are expecting 60% hotel occupancy at the end of the year. We have a lot more product in much of the city and are a top-rated Airbnb destination.”

He pointed out that 90% of hotel personnel in Puerto Vallarta have been vaccinated and that the destination still maintains its strict health and safety protocols, even as vaccination rates continue to rise.

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Battleface taking early lead in space insurance race: Travel Weekly

The development of space tourism may still be in its nascent stages, but insurance startup Battleface is looking to stay ahead of the curve with what it claims is the market’s first civilian space travel insurance plan.

Launched earlier this year, Battleface’s space insurance policy is highly customizable, offering many of the same protections typically covered by more traditional travel insurance plans, including trip cancellation and interruption benefits. 

T1025SashaGainullin_C_HEAD [Credit: Courtesy of Battleface]

Sasha Gainullin

“For example, you may have to travel to Texas just to get to your space launch,” said Battleface CEO Sasha Gainullin. “So, standard travel insurance is still an important part of your journey from the time you leave home to the time you come back.”

Unlike regular travel insurance, however, the company’s space travel protections also include add-ons like accidental death and permanent dismemberment coverage. The policy is also far more costly, due to the high expense and risk associated with space travel. 

T0816NEPTUNEONE_C_HR [Credit: Courtesy of Space Perspectice]

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Space Perspectice

When are astronauts not astronauts? When they pay their own way into space, says NASA. But the growing overlap between exploration and adventure travel is redefining both categories.

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“It’s very much geared toward individual travelers,” said Gainullin. “We have to understand their background, financial situation, nationality, what they’re looking for in terms of coverage, the training they’re going through and just how safe it is for them to be going into space.”

Gainullin added that Battleface’s space insurance product, which is underwritten by Lloyd’s of London, remains a work in progress. The company plans to adapt its insurance offering as the space tourism landscape continues to evolve.

“One problem we’ll need to solve in the future is how to actually provide assistance [in the event of] an emergency space evacuation,” said Gainullin. 

Although it’s early days, interest in Battleface’s civilian space travel insurance has already proven to be fairly robust. The company has been fielding numerous queries from specialty tour operators and travel agencies building a focus around space tourism as well as from brokers working to organize space travel for high net worth individuals. 

Just how big the space tourism market is set to grow remains to be seen, but a recent report from Lloyd’s projects that the space travel industry is on track to be worth $1 trillion by 2040.

According to Gainullin, civilian space travel could go relatively mainstream sooner than many might imagine.

“Just last week, we were on the phone with a U.K. travel agency that’s building out an entire model around space tourism, and within the next couple of years, they’re expecting to have space mission trips up to four days in length,” said Gainullin. “So, certainly it’s becoming more and more serious as an industry. And if the pricing [goes down a level], then I think it could become much more like a standard trip type.”

The foray into space travel insurance appears to have been a natural next move for Battleface, which, since launching as a consumer-facing insurance model in 2018, has long specialized in travel insurance products for travelers interested in remote destinations as well as more adventure-oriented activities.

The company has also put a strong emphasis on working with travel agencies, especially those with a focus on adventure and other niche travel experiences.

“What we’ve seen, especially now, is that a lot of travel agents are specializing in a [specific field], whether that’s trips to Antarctica or trips to space,” said Gainullin. “And those are the types of travel agencies that we love to work with.” 

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Travel agencies find ways to navigate Covid complexities: Travel Weekly

Navigating international travel these days isn’t for the faint of heart, and to keep clients abreast of ever-changing policies, agencies are relying on a dizzying mix of digital resources, creative initiatives and staffers specifically dedicated to the cause.

Embark Beyond, for example, augmented its approach by adding a “Covid expert” to the company’s team earlier this year. The Covid expert, who transitioned into the role after most recently serving as an Embark concierge, is charged with keeping the agency updated on the latest travel protocols,while also fielding more complex Covid rules-related queries from Embark advisors. 

“As an agency or an advisor, you have to think about how you can be a step ahead and make the client’s life easy when it comes to travel, and really give people no excuses to not travel,” said Embark founder Jack Ezon. 

For travelers looking to visit or travel through multiple destinations, as well as those traveling with younger children ineligible for vaccination, having a Covid expert has proven especially valuable, added Ezon. 

“She’s been saving our advisors so much time,” he said. “In the beginning, our advisors were spending half an hour or 45 minutes trying to figure some of this stuff out, when they could be selling instead.”

Like many travel groups, Embark has also tapped Sherpa, an online platform specializing in travel identification requirements, to stay up to date on various restrictions like visa, passport, quarantine and Covid testing measures across the globe. According to Sherpa’s website, the company collects its information by aggregating data from thousands of sources, including official government websites, every day.

While Sherpa is also a go-to resource for Brownell Travel, the Birmingham, Ala.-based company has beefed up its pandemic problem-solving efforts with a special desk intended to field restriction-related questions. The travel desk email account is manned by a team of six. 

Additionally, Brownell has set up several Slack channels focused solely on Covid concerns.

“We maintain a Slack workspace for the entire community, with channels dedicated to different topics, including Covid updates and Covid resources,” said Sheri M. Selkirk, COO at Brownell Travel. “So, you have the Brownell community of about 200 people seeing your posts, and whoever can help you be more efficient and adapt to what your client needs at that time, they absolutely jump right in.”

So far, said Selkirk, Brownell’s crowdsourcing solution has yet to leave a single travel restriction query unanswered. 

“Everyone in the company is on Slack, from our president, Troy Haas, on down,” said Selkirk. “So we can cover all bases, whether it’s an operations question, a sales question or a Covid question.”

The tiered approach

Across Internova Travel Group, the strategy around travel restriction updates has been similarly multilayered, according to John Rose, chief risk and security officer for Internova’s Altour division. 

In addition to the Sherpa platform, which Internova has used since September of this year, the group has been leveraging support provided by a company called Exlog Global since August 2020. 

“Exlog is able to provide that next tier of support, and they specialize in that human component,” said Rose. 

“Let’s say you might be traveling with someone, but the person you’re traveling with is on a different passport. So, if there’s a question about that, that maybe isn’t clear to the client or the advisor, Exlog is able to work that out.”

One-on-one support from an Exlog professional is available via email or phone, with Rose estimating that Internova typically sees “several hundred” questions get answered by the Exlog system each week. 

If a Covid-related travel quandary proves too difficult or unique for Sherpa to address or Exlog to solve, the matter is then escalated to an internal team within the organization. 

The tiered approach has “really worked well,” said Rose.

“To be able to provide that level of service is a differentiator we have within Internova,” he added. “We can’t have an advisor spending eight hours searching 19 different websites and then getting conflicting information, because that’s not helpful to anyone.”

Meanwhile, as international travel continues to ramp back up, Rose predicts that being able to efficiently stay on top of travel protocol changes will be more important than ever.

“The world is opening back up, but it’s going to open with restrictions and those restrictions aren’t going to be going away anytime in the near future,” said Rose. “So, the demand for tools like Sherpa and other tiers of support is likely to grow, and it’s so important to be forward-thinking and get solutions.”

At Signature Travel Network, members are granted access to a paid enterprise account on Sherpa, which provides them the ability to create custom links that can be shared with clients, as well as integrate Sherpa’s content directly into their websites, emails and itineraries, among other channels. 

Members can also opt to create their own white label version of the Sherpa site. 

“Without question, a travel advisor’s greatest challenge today is keeping up with the continually changing border closures, visa needs, Covid protocols, et cetera,” said Jean Newman Glock, Signature’s managing director for communications and public affairs.

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Local pianist gets back in weekly groove at Edmonds Waterfront Center

Can we please just get back normal? We all wish it could be so. One local pianist and singer truly is happy this week. Being blind and autistic, Edmonds resident Nick Baker feels the need to return to normal a bit more acutely.

Nick began his local performance career at the former Edmonds Senior Center building in 2006. His grandmother, Lillian Passage, was an annual summer visitor and she loved dining at the center every day. She mentioned the gorgeous grand piano. “In the corner of the luncheon room, and hardly anyone plays.”

Lillian Passage with grandson Nick during a break from piano playing at the former Edmonds Senior Center. (Photo by Kathy Passage)

“It seems a sin for it just to be sitting there; I bet Nicholas would love to play it,” she said. So she petitioned the activities coordinator on Nick’s behalf.

Nick was finishing up his musical degree in performance and technology at Shoreline Community College. His Friday mornings were open —  he became a regular entertainer for the folks having lunch. It wasn’t long before he knew his way around. After Grandma returned to Phoenix that fall, he was able to travel independently on DART buses, to and from his weekly gig.

Technically, Nick wasn’t a volunteer — his tip jar usually received donations. On occasion he sold some of his CDs, and later the books that he authored with his mother.

Nick enjoyed the social aspects of his weekly visits very much. He enjoyed chats with others who rode the DART bus. Many of the folks having lunch, as well as the staff at the front desk, adopted Nicholas as a “grandson.” One day when Nick didn’t show up as expected, his mom got a phone call… “Where is Nick? Did he miss the bus?”

In May 2019, the old facility was torn down to make way for the multigenerational Edmonds Waterfront Center building, ending Nick’s time entertaining.

His angst centered on the gap in his former routine. “When do you think the new senior center will be open?” was a frequent question at breakfast.

Over the years, Nick’s presence at the senior center launched a successful career as an entertainer in many of local area assisted living facilities. His days were full, yet he missed his senior friends and the weekly gigs. COVID certainly isolated him even further as many establishments closed to outside entertainment.

Zoom sessions with some fellow musicians filled in the gaps, and his work on an Internet radio station — providing weekly musical support to the station’s various DJs and programs — filled the gap. But he longed for a return to the established routine, the weekly gigs at the new Edmonds Waterfront Center

The day came when Potlatch Bistro announced its grand opening at the Waterfront Center, and they invited Nick to come and be part of that celebration. One caveat: The lovely grand piano that he had played for years was still stashed in storage. His electronic keyboard filled in nicely, and he enjoyed the day.

Nick Baker playing his keyboard during the March 2021 Potlatch Bistro opening. (My Edmonds News file photo)

Nick’s craving for routine activities was finally fulfilled, with the return of the grand piano that is now tucked in the front corner of the Potlatch Bistro. Once again, he can count on a regularly scheduled activity.

Nick Baker returns to his grand piano at Potlatch Bistro. (Photo by Kathy Passage)

Wednesdays are his open day and he looks forward every week to entering the building, seating himself at the piano and playing for an audience.

You are invited to come up to the piano. His musical repertoire is boundless, and it would be his pleasure to honor your request.

— Submitted by Kathy Passage, Restaurant News columnist, who’s proud to be “Nick’s Mom and #1 Fan”


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