Unused Trains in India Being Converted Into Hospitals

After India went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 25, Indian Railways decided to suspend all passenger trains across the country until April 14, marking the railway’s first suspension in 167 years.

Indian Railways, Asia’s oldest railway network, operates over 20,000 passenger trains a day from 7,349 stations across India. While freight trains continue to operate, thousands of passenger trains are currently unused.

To put many of the idle trains to good use, Indian Railways is converting nearly 20,000 old train carriages into isolation wards for coronavirus patients. The network already operates 125 across the nation.

According to CNN, India has reported 4,288 cases of coronavirus and 117 deaths as of April 1. While the country’s hospitals are not currently overcrowded, the repurposed trains will be ready to use if the number of cases continues to rise.

“Now, the railways will offer clean, sanitized and hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover,” Piyush Goyal, the Railways Minister via Twitter.

Each carriage available will be sanitized and converted into a hospital ward able to accommodate up to 16 patients, complete with a nurses’ station, a doctor’s cabin and enough space for medical supplies and equipment. Each train will be sent to locations with rising cases of coronavirus.

Preparing to Combat Coronavirus: In a novel initiative, Railways has converted train coaches into isolation wards for COVID-19 patients

Now, Railways will offer clean, sanitised & hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover. #IndiaFightsCorona pic.twitter.com/miYO3LOGfN

Local health authorities will assign government doctors, paramedics, nurses and volunteers to the trains.

Additionally, railway factories are assessing the possibility of manufacturing hospital beds, stretchers, medical trolleys, masks, sanitizers, aprons and medical apparatus such as ventilators for use in railway hospitals and other government hospitals.

“The first 5,000 isolation wards will be ready within a fortnight, and if necessary, more carriages can be converted within 48 hours”, said Rajesh Dutt Bajpai, executive director of information and publicity at the Railway Board.

The trains will not act as a substitute for full-service hospitals and are to be used for patients who have tested positive for coronavirus but are not critically ill.

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Saudi Arabia buys a piece of Carnival Corp

The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth
fund, has acquired an 8.2% stake in Carnival Corp.

According to Carnival Corp.’s securities filing on Monday, Saudi
Arabia acquired 43.51 million Carnival shares. Carnival’s closing stock price
of $8.49 last Friday makes the transaction worth about $370 million.

With the news, Carnival Corp.’s share price increased 22% on
Monday afternoon. The company’s stock has fallen about 80% since mid-January.

Like other cruise companies, Carnival Corp. has paused its
operations since mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Cruising has been
suspended through the middle of May.

Carnival Corp. last week shored up its liquidity, securing about $500
million from a stock sale and about $5.75 billion on the bond market.

Carnival Corp. borrowed at a high cost. The company is
paying 11.5% interest on $4 billion in three-year senior secured notes and
5.75% interest on $1.75 billion in three-year senior convertible notes.

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Cruise: The tip that could see you enjoying a better onshore excursion for less money

Cruise holidays encompass all of the relaxations of a luxury boutique hotel with the adventure of a multi-destination backpacking trip. Most cruises sail on a planned route, and often take in up to five port stops where guests can disembark and explore the local area.

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However, while these stops provide ample opportunity to experience new cultures, they can end up costing cruisers hundreds of pounds in additional expenses.

Speaking to Express.co.uk Adam Coulter, UK Managing Editor of Cruise Critic explained: “Shore tours vary in price, depending on the cruise line, and can run you anywhere from £40 per person for a simple beach break to hundreds of pounds each for such higher-priced options as helicopter rides, golf outings and long-day or overnight tours.”

These shore excursions are planned with the aim of enhancing the customer’s onshore experience enabling passengers to see new places, engage in new activities and immerse themselves in the local culture of the destination port they are visiting.

Most operators offer a variety of excursions, from sightseeing and walking tours to zip-wiring and dog-sledging, depending on the destination.

“Activity-based trips might feature a day at the spa or beach, a pleasure cruise on a sailboat, a wine or food tasting, a cultural performance or a visit to a museum,” says Adam.

“Sightseeing excursions are typically bus tours that take passengers to the highlights and shopping areas of the port city or nearby destinations, and they usually differ according to the particular part of the world you are visiting.”

He continues: “Cruise line tours are usually a tad more expensive than tours available ashore, so depending on what you want to do and experience and the time you have ashore, you can often save money by going it alone.”

Of course, whether the added expense is worth it is really down to the traveller.

In fact, savvy travellers could enjoy a very similar experience for a cut of the price simply by planning and researching.

“If you want to book your tours independently, then the key trick is to plan ahead. Learn about the attractions in each port and check to see how far these and key shopping outlets are from the port,” says Adam.

“If you want a relaxing beach day, find out if there are actually any good beaches nearby too.

“If all you want to do is walk around town, shop or visit the beach, then it could be much cheaper and less time-consuming to get a map and do it on your own.”

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Exploring port stops independently allows travellers to stick to their own time frame, and avoid large crowds of tourists.

Adam adds: “Although organised museum shore excursions, for example, include transportation and expedited admission, in most cases you can still go it alone and minimise hassle and wait times by planning transportation and purchasing museum tickets in advance.

“In many instances, it can be cheaper and quicker to get a cab to a certain attraction, rather than waiting for other passengers to get on and off specially-arranged tour buses.”

However, while the savings might be tempting for budget-conscious holidaymakers, there are some downsides of going it alone.

“The key potential downside of going it alone, is that while a ship will wait for any late-returning passengers on ship-sponsored tours, if your independent tour gets stuck in traffic or there are other problems and you are late returning to port, then your ship will leave without you and you will be stranded in port,” warns Adam.

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“This is more common than you’d think, so it might be advisable, for absolute peace of mind, to opt for a ship-organised tour if you plan to visit cities, such as Athens, Rome or Florence which are pretty far from the port.”

The destination should also be at the forefront when deciding if you’re going to venture off independently.

Adam explains: “It is also wiser to take a ship-sponsored shore excursion in any third-world country or in foreign ports if you don’t understand the language and customs, such the need to cover most of your body at certain religious sites, or the usual haggling practices of stallholders or taxi drivers, which can seem overly aggressive to tourists.”

What’s more, though the price tag for a cruise line excursion may seem high, the quality and content of the trip are sometimes beyond what can be planned DIY-style.

“Cruise-organised tours generally take the hassle out of arranging your own shoreside activities and will usually look after you from the moment you step off the ship, to ensure you get back onboard safely and on time,” says Adam.

“Shore excursions are generally worth it if you want to venture to attractions that are located far from the pier, learn more about an area through a guide or participate in physical activities where gear is required, such as scuba diving.

You also have the assurance that your ship-sponsored tour provider is licensed and reputable, and the ship won’t depart until all of its tour buses have returned.

“It’s also worth noting that some ship tours are exclusive to the ship only, which means you are getting a unique experience that you would not get if you go DIY.

“The knowledge and efficiency of tour operators vary, and some tour offerings are not good value for money – especially if they simply offer time-consuming bus rides with drop-offs at shopping centres. It always pays to do your research and check other cruiser reviews before you book.”

For holidaymakers who do decide to book onto the pre-arranged excursion, it is advised you do so as soon as possible, as popular excursions can fill up fast.

“If you decide to book a ship-sponsored tour, check to see how many places are available and how popular the tour is. If it’s a limited-availability excursion, or specialist must-see tour, then it is certainly worth adding this to your booking as soon as you can,” says Adam.

“Be aware, however, that some cruise lines charge penalty fees for cancelling shore excursions onboard or within 24 to 48 hours of the port call, so make sure you check the weather in-port, in advance, if you can.”

Largely, whether shelling out for a planned port excursion is down to the specific needs of the traveller.

“The answer ultimately depends on budgets, personal preferences, what’s available in port, the particular customs and language at your destination, and the distance of key activities or sites to your port,” concludes Adam.

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How to Become a More Conscious Traveler

Sustainability is increasingly becoming a global focus, and many travelers are wondering how they can make more conscious choices when choosing where, when and how to travel.

The TreadRight Foundation has put together a number of resources to help travelers become more aware of sustainability in the travel space and include steps for making the best decisions.

The journey begins with research and preparation, the impact travelers have on a destination and what visitors can do once they return from a trip.

Travelers can commit to sustainability with the “Make Travel Matter Pledge.” The pledge includes dos and don’ts of travel such as a commitment to making travel matter, to “tread right,” honoring the people they meet and respecting animals and nature.

Travelers can find advice for making good on their pledge with a video from Ambassador and Storyteller Sarain Fox, who discusses how choices big and small can have an impact.

“People generally assume sustainable travel will dampen their travel experience or make their vacation stressful, so my goal is to inspire people to come up with their own ways to make a positive impact,” said Fox. “My tip for travelers would be to research their options and choose conscious companies while learning to get really honest about the impact they are making. Accountability matters.”

Travelers can use the TreadRight’s Make Travel Matter checklist to ensure they are doing the right thing. The list includes advice to make follow the steps to making conscious travel decisions and includes ways to research companies, packing suggestions to be prepared. The checklist also includes ways to make less of an impact on the environment and how you can help when you return.

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ASTA Encourages Increased Airline Flexibility for Consumers

The fight for airline refunds is heating up.

Airlines are desperate to hold onto their liquidity in the face of an unprecedented grounding of aircraft due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this means that cash-strapped consumers unable to take their vacations are not receiving the refunds that they are due.

Yesterday, IATA said in an open letter to travel agents that airlines deserved flexibility.

“We believe the best answer for both airlines and travel agents is for regulators to ease requirements for cash refunds and allow airlines to issue vouchers instead,” read the letter. “…This would remove the pressure that is currently on agents to issue cash refunds at a time when airlines are making decisions based on their own need to preserve cash. IATA is willing to engage in open and collaborative discussions with the travel agency community represented in the Passenger Agency Programme Global Joint Council to formulate a structure for these vouchers that will bring value for airlines, travel agents and consumers.”

However, earlier today, the Department of Transportation (DOT) ordered airlines to pay out refunds for canceled or severely delayed flights rather than giving out vouchers.

“The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control,” said the DOT’s order. “The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.”

ASTA supports the decision of the DOT saying in a statement that it is a “first step in the right direction.”

The organization called on airlines to follow the order and provided several ways to move forward:

—Relaxing existing fare rules to accommodate requested refunds for any flight through the end of 2020

—Refraining from issuing agency debit memos for credit card chargebacks on canceled flights/trips for which the airlines are refusing refunds today

—Ensuring travelers who have booked through an agency are advised to contact their advisor to process refunds and exchanges rather than directly on the carrier’s website

—Ensuring all tickets are fully refundable and not merely credited for future travel

—Permitting travel advisors to process all refunds via their GDS and ARC

—Protecting original agency commissions/incentives on air bookings should the tickets be exchanged or rebooked

—Protecting advisor commissions on refunded tickets

—Confirming and/or clarifying that penalty charges or change fees will not apply for canceled or rebooked flights during the current crisis

—Providing travelers the opportunity to use any credit issued for unused tickets for a minimum of two years from the original departure date

—For those tickets booked on or after March 1, extending the window for rebooking flights to a minimum of one year from date of travel with no change fees

—Ensuring that ancillary fees for any flight booked in 2020 that is subsequently canceled are fully refunded to the traveler

ASTA points out the value of the travel agency community to air carriers in its statement, noting that the U.S. travel agency community generated $97.4 billion in ticket sales in 2019 and that an additional $84.6 million was generated in ancillary fees.

“Clearly, the U.S. travel agency community represents an extraordinarily significant source of revenue to the airline industry, and as such its views on the harsh impact these refund and exchange policies have on both advisors and the traveling public should be given the most thoughtful and serious consideration,” ASTA’s statement noted. “Doing so will help promote and solidify brand loyalty as the agency and airline world continue to align and grow in support of the traveler in a post-pandemic world.”

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Cruise Ships With Sick Passengers Allowed to Disembark in Florida

Update: April 3, 2020 at 8:10 a.m. ET

Port Everglades finally welcomed the Zaandam and Rotterdam ships into port Thursday afternoon at around 4:50 p.m. local time, ending an ordeal that left sick passengers stranded at sea for weeks.

When the two Holland America Line cruise vessels arrived at the port as part of a deal with local authorities, ambulances and emergency personnel were waiting to take care of sick passengers and crew members.

“They are representing to us that these protocols are intended to protect our community by ensuring there is no contact with local residents,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said in a Facebook post. “They will be placed on private chartered buses, taken directly to the airport tarmac and board chartered flights out of our community.”

“A small number of critically ill passengers will go to local hospitals. Others who are mildly ill or have symptoms will be quarantined at sea on the ships until they recover,” Trantalis continued. “Given the county’s decision to allow the ships here, I believe these regulations present a humanitarian solution for those on board while providing strong safeguards for our community.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference Thursday evening that all parties worked hard to handle the “tough situation.” DeSantis also said the other ships at sea would not be welcomed to Florida since there are no citizens from the state onboard.

After much uncertainty, the two Holland America Line cruise ships that had been denied access to multiple ports have approved to start the process of docking and disembarking sick passengers and crew members in Florida.

According to NBCNews.com, the Broward County Commission in Fort Lauderdale is expected to approve a plan to allow the Zaandam and Rotterdam ships to dock at Port Everglades on Thursday afternoon.

The Rotterdam is scheduled to dock at 1 p.m. local time and the Zaandam will dock at 1:30 p.m.

The Holland America vessels arrived off the coast of Fort Lauderdale early Thursday morning with around 230 passengers and crew members who experienced flu-like symptoms. There have been four deaths on the Zaandam and at least eight confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Previously, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said they would not allow the Zaandam and its sister ship, the Rotterdam, to dock in the state due to concerns about the strain the coronavirus patients would have on the region’s medical facilities.

The Rotterdam was sent on March 22 to rendezvous with the Zaandam to deliver supplies and COVID-19 testing kit, but both vessels were left stranded at sea as ports turned them away. The Zaandam has been at sea since March 7.

United States President Donald Trump intervened earlier this week when he told the Florida Governor to do what was right for humanity, as there were Americans dying on the ships.

The tentative deal to permit the ships to dock in Florida had been reached with the Carnival Corporation, which owns the Holland America Line, on Thursday morning.

Earlier this week, the United States Coast Guard announced all cruise ships would be forced to stay at sea indefinitely and treat any passengers and crew members with coronavirus offshore.

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Cruise Bookings on the Rise for 2021

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought the cruise industry to a virtual standstill, forcing cancellations into May and stranding more than a dozen ships at sea.

Nonetheless, analysts at investment banking company UBS have reported some encouraging findings.

“Booking volume in the last 30 days for 2021 is actually up 9 percent versus the same time last year,” UBS equity analysts wrote in a report on cruise lines Tuesday, according to Quartz. “That includes people applying their future cruise credits from sailings that were canceled this year, but still shows a surprising resilience in desire to book a cruise.”

The analysts also found that 2021 bookings for voyages to and in places like Asia and Alaska are higher than usual. What’s more, the Caribbean remains resilient. The Mediterranean Sea was the lone underperforming destination, the analysts found.

While the report is undoubtedly encouraging for an industry that wasn’t included in the U.S. government’s $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, it’s unknown how much of the spike in booking volume can be attributed to guests rebooking canceled trips.

For now, many cruise lines have provided passengers the option to cancel up to 48 hours before their sail date and put their funds toward future cruises.

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Las Vegas Sands Donating Two Million Pieces of Personal Protective Equipment

WHY IT RATES: With the Palazzo and Venetian shuttered in Las Vegas, parent company Las Vegas Sands continues to pay some 10,000 furloughed Team Members and provide full health-care benefits, and has just announced a fresh donation of two millions pieces of personal protective equipment to support the work of those battling coronavirus on the ground in New York and Nevada. — Laurie Baratti, TravelPulse Associate Writer

Las Vegas Sands today announced it will donate two million medical masks and 20,000 protective suits to help health-care professionals, first responders and nonprofit organizations in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical mask donations will be distributed in the company’s corporate headquarters of Nevada as well as New York, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Each state will receive one million masks. The 20,000 protective suits will be donated to hospitals and first responders in Nevada.

“Hopefully our donations will help protect people on the front lines so they can continue their invaluable work, and we can start to see the numbers of people affected begin to diminish,” Sands Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon G. Adelson said. “Our properties in Las Vegas may be empty right now, but our hearts are full of hope for the future. The determination and courage I have seen in our Team Members, which I know is the same throughout this country, gives me every confidence we will get through this unprecedented crisis.”

This contribution marks the second round of personal protective equipment donations Sands has made. The company previously provided 100,000 masks to the Las Vegas health-care community and 5,000 masks to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. It also donated 1,900 coronavirus test kits to the state of Nevada.

Mr. Adelson said the one million masks being sent to New York will help health-care professionals and first responders in the state currently with the most cases of coronavirus.

“People are looking to New York as a bellwether for what comes next, both in terms of the pandemic’s impact and for how quickly the region, particularly New York City, is able to recover from the aftermath of the virus,” he said. “It’s important we steer resources to the places where the need is the greatest and most urgent.”

We continue efforts to ensure those on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight have the protective equipment they need, donating 2 million masks and 20,000 protective suits to NV and NY. Read the press release: https://t.co/eZzF3VOMwi pic.twitter.com/TxlIXyAiig

In addition to the protective gear donations, Sands is fulfilling its pledge to give $250,000 to several important local organizations during this time of need. The company is making contributions to ‘Three Square’, Southern Nevada’s largest hunger-relief organization; ‘Communities In Schools’, which is helping provide meals to students who would otherwise be participating in their school’s free and subsidized meal programs; and ‘Share Village Las Vegas’, a veterans assistance organization that also runs a community food pantry.

Sands also has donated 60 pallets of food and more than 55,000 bottles of water to local organizations. In addition, the company is currently paying each of its nearly 10,000 Las Vegas Team Members, along with providing full health-care benefits, while its properties remain closed.

For more information, visit sands.com.

SOURCE: Las Vegas Sands Corp. press release.

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Cruise: Cruisers could be shelling out an extra £10 per day on cruises due to this policy

The cruise industry has been expanding rapidly in recent years, offering a whole host of cruise opportunities. While there is something for everyone, a luxury experience tends to remain the central theme for most cruises.

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It’s no surprise, then, that many holidaymakers spend months, if not years, saving up for their dream escape.

However, it seems that even once the holiday bill has been paid, passengers could have yet more cash deducted from their accounts.

In fact, cruise experts estimate cruisers could be seeing anywhere between £9 ($12 USD) and £11 ($14 USD) charged to their accounts every day, but why is this?

Well, it comes in the form of cruise gratuities.

According to cruise experts and Youtube creators Ben and David, these are a necessary cost which benefits the hardworking crew.

In a recent Youtube video, Ben explains: “Gratuities is an automatic tip or what we would say is a service charge that’s charged to your account every single day.

“So it’s a set fee per person per day that is automatically added to your account.

“In addition to the automatic daily charges, you’ll find an 18 to 20 percent gratuity on things like drinks packages, meal packages, speciality restaurants, the spa or if you buy drinks without a drinks package you’ll pay that gratuity per drink.”

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Unlike regular tips, these fees are automatically deducted from your account.

David adds: “On average gratuity costs around $14 US per person per day but this can vary depending on the cruise line and the type of cabin that you’re in.

“Somewhere between $12 and $14 per person. Suites and cabins above the suite category are usually more expensive than a regular balcony cabin.

“But as you can imagine this can add up, particularly if you are a family. Say you are a family of four with two adults and two children, that’s going to cost you around $500 for a week’s cruise.”

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As you might expect, many budget-conscious cruisers aren’t too keen on having this money come out of their accounts, especially if they don’t know where the money is going.

Although some cruise lines make it their duty to inform passengers exactly how gratuities are broken down, it remains a grey area for others.

David explains: “Each cruise line differs in this respect but its usually split between the crew. Things like room attendants, dining staff, wait staff and people behind the scenes.

“Dining staff usually get the biggest chunk of this, but there are some grey areas around this because we don’t know whether or not cruise lines take a cut of this so we don’t know exactly what proportion is going to each person and how much the cruise line, if any, are taking off the tip.

“But the crew work incredibly hard with ridiculous hours.

“You’re talking 15+ hours a day, barely any breaks, seven days a week for months on end and cruise passengers are really demanding so it is a really tough job to be crew on a ship.”

It is also thought that gratuities can actually make up wages which are traditionally low on some cruise lines or for some workers.

Cruise Critic explains: “Most cruise lines are based in the US, where the crew members’ pay structure is based on tips – whether you like it or not.

“If you refuse to tip on principle, you are impacting the salaries of the people who have served you well onboard.”

This is why the cruise experts say passengers should not remove gratuities, even if they have a negative experience on board.

Instead, they recommend speaking up about a negative experience and allowing the cruise staff to make up for any bad service.

“At least give them the opportunity to make it back up to you and have your voice heard as well,” says David.

“By just removing your tip you’re not actually saying there’s an issue and that means they can’t resolve it for future cruises as well.”

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Caribbean Resorts Supporting COVID-19 Fight

Caribbean hotels are stepping up to aid in the fight against COVID-19, providing accommodations for quarantine centers and housing for essential personnel during the outbreak.

Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International (SRI), is providing Jamaica’s government with the 52-room Carlisle Inn hotel in Montego Bay as an incubation center, said company officials in a Jamaica Observer report (the newspaper is owned by Stewart).

The SRI chairman has additionally helped finance the purchase of 40 ventilators for $20 million, “to be used to treat COVID-19 patients,” the report said. “The hotel will be at the disposal of the Government for as long as it takes to bring this COVID-19 disease under control,” said Adam Stewart, SRI’s deputy chairman.

Dr. Christopher Tufton, Jamaica’s minister of health and wellness, had earlier this week appealed to Jamaican hoteliers to provide emergency accommodation for patients recovering from COVID-19. Jamaica had 27 confirmed coronavirus cases through March 27, with one death and two recoveries.

Tufton said SRI’s offer “[is] the kind of response that we are very appreciative of as part of the national plan to respond to this COVID threat,” in the Observer report. The hotel is “very appropriately positioned to assist, in that it has its own rooms with bathrooms, a common area from which our staff can manage the process, and the location is strategic to Cornwall Regional Hospital,” Tufton added.

Although the company’s Caribbean resorts remain temporarily closed, Stewart is also retaining Sandals’ permanent workers rather than instituting layoffs, opting to pay 40 percent of employee salaries fortnightly. SRI workers will also receive health insurance benefits and paid vacation leave.

SRI also distributed food and vegetables from its freezers to create care packages for employees. “We were very proud to have done it,” Stewart said. “It shows the relationship we have with our team members who are at the center of who we are as a brand.”

Meanwhile, several U.S. Virgin Islands hotels are keeping their doors open to essential personnel during the COVID-19 outbreak, said officials at the USVI Hotel & Tourism Association and the St. Croix Hotel & Tourism Association.

The territory’s government has authorized hotels and resorts to remain open to provide housing for essential personnel including government workers, relief workers, business travelers and airline associates, officials said.

The properties remaining open include St. Thomas’ Bluebeard’s Castle, Calypso Realty, the Green Iguana Hotel and St. Croix’ Buccaneer Hotel, Carambola Beach Resort & Spa, Hotel Caravelle and Tamarind Reef Resort.

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