Week in Review: Acapulco, Maui Updates; Industry Events

The strongest ever hurricane to hit Mexico made landfall near the resort city of Acapulco on Wednesday. It was forecast by numerous models to hit the destination as a likely Category 1 storm, but after “explosive” overnight intensification, the storm reached land as a Category 5. “Rapid intensification” is defined by scientists as a wind speed increase of at least 35 mph in 24 hours or less; Hurricane Otis’ maximum windspeed increased by 115 mph in that span—more than threefold greater than the minimum requirement.

Otis and its 165 mph winds flooded streets, ripped roofs off homes and severed communications, road and air access. It also caused extensive damage to some of the city’s most famous shoreline hotels.

On its way back from a natural disaster of its own, Maui will continue its phased reopening on November 1. Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced that the rest of West Maui north of Lahaina—including Kā‘anapali, Nāpili, Honokōwai and Kapalua—will begin reopening at that time. Note: The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) advises that travelers interested in visiting to check with individual accommodations, activities and businesses in West Maui for their availability and hours of operation.

The island desperately needs the return of tourism as it lost more than $13 million a day in visitor spending, as arrivals dropped by three-quarters, in the weeks following the fire. Governor Josh Green, Mayor Bissen and the Red Cross have assured the public that housing for displaced wildfire survivors will not be in jeopardy because of the reopening.

Kapalua, Maui
Kapalua, Maui, one of the areas on-island that's furthering its reopening next week. (Photo by arkanto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Travel Industry Events and Network Updates

Several travel agency networks recently hosted events for its members and supplier partners. Virtuoso, earlier this month, hosted its inaugural Virtuoso Advance event October 11–13 at the Fairmont Hotel in Austin, TX, where 30 of the network’s seasoned advisors met for three days of learning and career advancement. The pilot event was open to graduates of the Virtuoso Certified Travel Advisor (VCTA) program as well as top producers from Virtuoso Communities. Attendees participated in various workshops, ideation sessions and discussions focused on how advisors can best use their time and finances to directly influence their success.

Travel Leaders Network (TLN) also recently wrapped up its Fall Regionals for 2023. Held in Houston, Denver and Atlanta this year, these one-day events were brought more than 300 TLN members together for a mix of learning and networking. Travel Leaders Network staff shared the latest updates on its programs and tools, such as the Cruise Complete and Agent Profiler lead generation tool, as well as TLN’s many marketing and engagement programs.

At its NEST Fest conference, held October 8-12, home-based agency network NEST revealed substantial sales increases. According to the network, cruise sales increases are in the double digits; foreign independent travel’s rise is also in the double digits; sun vacation growth is in the double digits; guided travel is up by double digits; and river cruising has experienced a triple-digit increase. NEST reported growth is especially strong in the premium and luxury segments, as travelers are splurging to voyage in style.

In New York, Global Travel Collection (GTC) hosted it Elevate 2023 Conference at the new Virgin Hotel. The event connected 400 advisors from the high-service premium and luxury travel division with 280 partners. Here, GTC announced several new initiatives designed to support its community of travel advisors and agencies.

New developments include a new concierge offering with exclusive lifestyle services and priority access to restaurants, hotels, shows and events around the globe; a new cloud-based platform that will help travel advisors design and manage complex trips for their clients; the creation of a Partner Solutions Team to help advisors navigate the special offers from preferred partners; a revamped air desk and enhanced support services for group bookings; and a new GTC corporate website that will support business travel services.

GTC parent company Internova Travel Group also announced its Green Circle, an eco-luxe sustainability initiative. Green Circle aims to encourage travel advisors, customers, suppliers and employees to work together to help reduce the strain on the planet’s finite resources and to enrich local communities and cultures.

Douglas Quinby_Arival
Douglas Quinby, co-founder and CEO of Arival, shared trends that are impacting the tours, activities and experiences sector. (Arival)

At another industry event, Douglas Quinby, co-founder and CEO of Arival, shared the main trends that are impacting the tours, activities and experiences sector. Among the top trends are the emergency of the affluent traveler, weather’s impact on travel and “the future of experiences.”

Tip: Trafalgar will be hosting a FAM trip created exclusively for the BIPOC travel advisor community. The "Sense of Europe Familiarization Trip," a seven-day itinerary taking place March 11-17, 2024, will travel from Prague to Vienna and Budapest. The Eastern European travel experience gives advisors the opportunity to engage and network with peers within the BIPOC community and discover the history, architecture, culture and cuisine of the region.

New Air Routes and Potential Disruptions

Airlines including American, JetBlue and Alaska have unveiled new routes this week, while others, including Delta and Avianca, shared business updates. Most of it is good news, but American Airlines could have some trouble on its hands should it not agree to a new deal with its 26,000-plus flight attendants.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) said, “[American’s] negotiators showed up to our last bargaining session in Dallas/Fort Worth with no responses to our comprehensive economic and non-economic packages.” As a result, APFA National Officers will convene on November 17 to approve a request—should no “substantial movement towards concluding these negotiations” be made—that the members of the National Mediation Board release APFA and American Airlines into a 30-day cooling-off period, after which they would be able to strike.

That timing would put a strike on target for December 18—a week before Christmas.

In more positive news for American, it is expanding its services in Jamaica with new service to Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, St. Mary, which will be operational from February 24, 2024. The new service to Ocho Rios from Miami will operate twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, utilizing an Embraer 175 aircraft with a capacity for 76 passengers.

JetBlue, on the other hand, is adding two more European destinations: Dublin and Edinburgh. Daily seasonal service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Dublin Airport (DUB) will begin March 13, 2024, and continue through September 30, 2024. Daily seasonal service from JFK to Edinburgh Airport (EDI) will begin May 22, 2024, and is scheduled through September 30, 2024. Additionally, JetBlue will launch its year-round service from BOS to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) starting April 3, 2024, and will add a second daily flight from JFK to CDG on June 20, 2024.

JetBlue Mint Suite
JetBlue's Mint service (Photo by JetBlue)

Alaska Airlines is connecting Anchorage to both New York City and San Diego with seasonal nonstop service this summer. Daily flights to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport begin June 13, 2024, and weekly flights to San Diego International Airport start May 18, 2024.

After much negative feedback over proposed changes to its SkyMiles Program, Delta announced yet another series of changes, adding several new benefits. While not as easy as it previously is, Delta made it easier than the initial changes to achieve Medallion Status and is offering greater flexibility for Sky Club access.

Separately, after nearly two years of transformation since its successful exit from Chapter 11, Avianca Airlines has unveiled its new brand. As part of the “transformation,” the airline is adding new aircraft and destinations, alongside new branding and more.

Firsthand Cruise Reports

Travel Agent is just back from several cruises. Most recently, we sailed aboard the brand-new Explora I, the first of six ships currently planned for Explora Journeys, which made its debut in August. We joined for its naming ceremony in New York before sailing up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. What’s notable are how many spaces onboard that aim to resemble a luxury hotel rather than a cruise ship. That said, many spots, like the glass-enclosed Conservatory Pool, still remind you that you are on a cruise ship.

Explora I The Conservatory pool
Explora I's Conservatory pool (Photo by Matt Turner)

A bit earlier, we joined a 10-day American Queen Voyages (AQV) journey on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, traveling from Louisville, KY, to Alton, IL, aboard the 245-passenger American Countess. Prior, we spent three nights in Louisville, checking out all there is to see and do. Among the highlights were the Kentucky Derby Museum and Frazier History Museum.

We were also very pleased with the dining, entertainment and shore excursions during our sailing. Notably, the biggest enhancement we discovered on this past cruise versus a previous sailing was an elevated dining product thanks to a partnership with Chef Regina Charboneau, the line's culinary ambassador. We were also highly impressed with the quality of the entertainment aboard American Countess and enjoyed the “Hop-On, Hop-Off” style of its motorcoach shore excursions.

In related news for AQV, Cindy D’Aoust, who’d joined as the line's president and CEO in October 2022, has left the company, according to a statement by Adam Peakes, president of Hornblower Group, AQV’s parent company. During her time at AQV, D’Aoust’s accomplishments included introducing a stronger destination storytelling focus, creating a new partnership with America’s Test Kitchen and assigning AQV’s Culinary Ambassador Regina Charboneau new responsibilities for enhancing menus and elevating the line's culinary offerings.

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