Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Rail

Amtrak Indefinitely Suspends Trains on Busy California Route

12 hours ago

Amtrak has indefinitely suspended trains to San Diego on the Pacific Surfliner, the second busiest route in its network after the Northeast Corridor that connects Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The suspension of all trains south of Irvine, Calif., on the line that connects Los Angeles and San Diego was due to “safety concerns to the right-of-way” related to erosion, according to the Pacific Surfliner’s website and twitter feed. The Southern California regional rail operator, Metrolink, that shares the tracks added that “movement to the right of way” in the vicinity of San Clemente, Calif., was at fault for the suspension.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner California
(prayitnophotography/Flickr)

Amtrak’s latest schedule shows 11 daily trains between Los Angeles and San Diego along the corridor impacted by the closure.

The Pacific Surfliner operates on 100-plus year-old tracks that sit on bluffs along the beach in San Clemente. While these offer impressive views to riders, it also presents risks, like erosion, to the right-of-way and the ability to operate large passenger trains.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was enacted last year includes $66 billion in funding to both upgrade and expand the U.S. passenger rail system. Potential uses of those funds include hardening rail infrastructure against climate change, and threats like coastal erosion.

“Amtrak is working to restore limited service between Irvine and San Diego,” a spokesperson for the railroad said.

Airlines

United Airlines to Leave New York JFK, Again

14 hours ago

United Airlines is leaving New York’s JFK International Airport again just 20 months after it returned to the New York City gateway.

“Given our current, too-small-to-be-competitive schedule out of JFK — coupled with the start of the winter season where more airlines will operate their slots as they resume JFK flying — United has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend service at JFK,” the Chicago-based carrier told staff in a memo on Friday viewed by Skift. United will operate its last flights to and from the airport on October 29.

The move comes despite pressure by United on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to ease capacity constraints at JFK so the airline could operate more flights. The carrier says that its four daily flights — two to Los Angeles and two to San Francisco — are not enough to offer a competitive alternative to the likes of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue Airways that all operate the routes.

United resumed flights to JFK in March 2020 five years after it first suspended flights to the airport. In 2017, the airline’s then-president Scott Kirby (now CEO) called the move the “wrong decision,” even as he took responsibility for it in his prior role at American.

United continues to fly between Newark Liberty airport to the west of Manhattan and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Tourism

House Adopts Bill To Establish Tourism Leadership Within the U.S. Commerce Department

18 hours ago

Long on the travel industry’s wish list, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday that would establish an assistant secretary of travel and tourism within the U.S. Department of Commerce for the first time.

Hikers on the move. Source: AdobeStock

The vote was 325-93, and the measure, introduced in March, would now be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

“Creating a high-level leadership position within the federal government focused on industry concerns, as the Visit America Act does, would protect the industry from unnecessary setbacks due to conflicting and confusing policy decisions,” said Evan Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Advisors in a statement.

In June, the travel agent association had around 200 travel advisors and suppliers lobbying Congress in favor of passage of the Act.

The association said the U.S. is the only country in the G20 without a federal agency or official of cabinet rank dedicated to tourism.

In addition to creating the assistant secretary of travel and tourism position, the legislation would mandate that the Commerce Department set annual goals for international visitation as part of a decade-long travel and tourism plan.

Like most industries, the travel sector wants to increase its influence over governmental policies.

Online Travel

Indonesia’s Traveloka Lands $300 Million Funding

1 day ago

Indonesia’s leading online travel agency Traveloka will be receiving a fresh round of funding of $300 million from Indonesia Investment Authority — the newly-formed sovereign wealth fund of Indonesia, investment management agency — BlackRock, Allianz Global Investors, Orion Capital Asia and other global financial institutions.

The financing round is said to have attracted significant interest from a number of long-term capital providers, resulting in an oversubscribed transaction, according to an Indonesia Investment Authority release on Thursday.

A Skift article in June had mentioned that the online travel unicorn had been looking to raise over $200 million, having already raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding across six rounds.

The financing would allow Traveloka an opportunity to further strengthen its balance sheet and enable the online travel company to continue to focus on its core business while also building for the future, Ferry Unardi, CEO and co-founder of Traveloka, said.

The pandemic has heightened the expectation for digital products, Shirley Lesmana, chief marketing officer of Traveloka, had said while speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York last week.

With online travel agencies in Indonesia seeing their share of gross tourism booking increase from 24 percent pre-pandemic to 33 percent in 2021, the expectation is to reach 36 percent by 2024, said Ridha Wirakusumah, CEO of Indonesia Investment Authority.

With the pandemic having accelerated digital transformation, the financing would support Traveloka’s digital ecosystem growth in the travel sector while allowing the company to grow further, the release from Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund stated.

“The financing aligns with Indonesia Investment Authority’s mission to create prosperity for Indonesia in the long term, by laying down the foundation for a sustainable digital ecosystem, including digital infrastructure, digital services and digital platforms — which will go a long way to drive economic recovery and growth,” Wirakusumah said.

Representatives from the financial institutions commended Traveloka’s resilience in navigating the Covid crisis and called the online travel company Indonesia’s national and regional champion and a key catalyst toward digitalization of travel and accommodation in the country and the region.

Coronavirus

Qatar Requires World Cup Visitors to Produce Negative Covid Test Upon Arrival

2 days ago

Fans attending soccer’s World Cup in Qatar this November and December must show proof of a negative Covid test upon arriving in the country, event organizers said on Thursday.

All visitors above the age of six must produce a negative result from a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure or a rapid antigen test taken in the 24 hours prior to their arrival, the event’s organizing committee said in a statement. Travelers older than 18 will also be required to download Qatar’s government-run contact tracing app Ehteraz. A green Etheraz status, which shows the user does not have a confirmed Covid case, is necessary for entering any closed indoor spaces available to the public.

However, fans traveling to Qatar for the World Cup aren’t required to be vaccinated. In addition, Qatar does not mandate travelers take a Covid test prior to departing the country. Roughly 1.5 million fans are expected to travel to the Gulf State for the tournament, which starts on Nov. 20.

Doha
Visitors to Qatar must produce a negative Covid test upon arrival in the country (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Business Travel

Tripbam Doesn’t See Recession Signs in Business Travel Data Yet

2 days ago

The research arm of investment bank Truist reported on a conference call it held with corporate travel data company Tripbam. Takeaways included that any indications of a recession have not yet shown up in business travel bookings and pricing data.

Tripbam believes 15 percent of business travel may never fully recover but that is better than the 20% they had forecast back in January.

Global booking volumes as of mid-September have been stagnant the past several months and are running down 15 percent versus comparable 2019 levels and closer to down 25 percent for the US. Room rates are tracking up 5 percent from 2019 levels.

Looking forward to 2023, Tripbam thinks corporate rate negotiations could wind up with a 5 percent to 8 percent year-over-year increase.

Finally they think the technology sector remains a substantial drag on the overall pace of recovery, especially in the US and even more specifically for the San Francisco hotel market.

This summary appeared today in Daily Lodging Report, which offers essential industry news for hospitality and lodging executives. Subscribe here.

Startups

Startup Volantio Closes $6 Million Funding Round With Help From Alaska Airlines and JetBlue

2 days ago

Volantio, an optimization startup that has many airline customers, said on Thursday it had closed a $6 million Series A fundraising.

DiamondStream Partners, an aviation and aerospace venture capital firm, led the round in the Atlanta-based company. Alaska Airlines, one of Volantio’s customers, also took an equity stake. JetBlue Technology Ventures, IAG, Amadeus Ventures, and Ingleside Investors also made follow-on investments.

“Volantio has already delivered well over $20 million in annual benefit to Alaska Airlines, and that number continues to grow,” said Shane Tackett, Alaska Airlines’ chief financial officer.

Volantio’s software uses deep learning to tackle optimization challenges. Airlines have been its flagship customers so far. Its software helps airlines pinpoint flexible passengers on full flights using data. It then prompts these flyers to switch, in return for vouchers and other incentives, to other flights, thus making seats available for more profitable last-minute bookings.

Volantio said it “recently expanded into the live events industry through a first-of-its-kind partnership with Disney Theatrical Group.”

The startup won Skift’s Air Pitch competition at Skift Global Forum in 2018.

Airlines

Southwest CEO Robert Jordan to Become the Airline’s President, Too

2 days ago

In a securities filing on Thursday, Southwest Airlines said Bob Jordan would succeed to the position of President of the company on January 1, 2023, while also retaining the role of CEO he has had since earlier this year.

Jordan, a 34-year-old veteran of the company, will step into a role being vacated by Michael G. Van de Ven, president and chief operating officer, who submitted his resignation.

Andrew M. Watterson will rise to the position of chief operating officer as of October 1. 

Rail

Portugal Plans $4.7 Billion Lisbon-Porto High-Speed Rail Line

2 days ago

Portugal is getting in on the high-speed rail bandwagon. The country’s prime minister, António Costa, unveiled Wednesday plans for a new $4.7 billion (4.9 billion) passenger rail line that, when it opens in 2030, will cut travel train times between Lisbon and Porto by an hour-and-a-half to one hour and 19 minutes.

The planned line will connect Lisbon’s Oriente station to Porto’s Campanha station a little over 185 miles to the north. It will include four intermediate stops at Leiria, Coimbra, Aveiro and Gaia. In addition, Costa said the new line will eventually extend from Porto to the Spanish city of Vigo, about another 100 miles to the north, where it will connect with Spain’s AVE high-speed rail network. The extension will include stops at Porto’s airport, Braga, and Valença.

Lisbon Oriente Train
A train at Lisbon’s Oriente station. (Chester025/Flickr)

In comments posted on Twitter, Costa highlighted the importance of connecting Portugal’s two largest city as well as the country’s international competitiveness for the investment. The high-speed rail line will also help move the country to “the forefront of the fight against climate change, [and] changing the mobility paradigm.”

Trains have taken on a renewed importance across Europe amid the push to cut carbon emissions, and the spike in energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. France, for example, banned domestic flights on routes where a train makes the journey in two-and-a-half-hours or less. And, in Germany, a so-called “9 euro ticket” local and regional rail pass this summer exceeded expectations — and proved doubters wrong — in boosting rail travel and helping ease the pain of high energy prices.

Tourism

Taiwan to End Quarantine for Inbound Arrivals From October 13

2 days ago

In the latest round of easing travel restrictions, tourists coming in to Taiwan will not be asked to undergo mandatory Covid-19 quarantine from October 13, the ministry of health and welfare announced on Thursday.

From October 13, inbound arrivals to Taiwan would require to self-monitor for seven days instead of undergoing mandatory quarantine.

While the government has scrapped the requirement for polymerase chain reaction tests for inbound travelers, passengers aged two and above would receive four rapid test kits on arrival and are advised to test on the day of arrival or the next day.

Travelers seeking to step out during the seven-day self-monitoring period would be required to take a rapid antigen test.

While opening borders to travelers from all countries, the government has also raised the weekly limit for international visitors from 60,000 to 150,000, and announced the resumption of group tours.

On September 12, Taiwan restored visa-free entry for visitors from 54 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and diplomatic allies. From Thursday onwards, 11 more countries were included in the visa exemption list, which includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Following last week’s announcement of the Mainland Affairs Council, entry requirements for select categories of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Macau nationals have also been relaxed from Thursday onwards.

Even as many Asian destinations have scrapped most of the Covid-19 related entry restrictions, Taiwan had resorted to a strong zero-Covid policy for more than two years, where arrivals were still required to undergo a mandatory three-day quarantine at home or at a hotel, followed by four days of self-monitoring.

Taiwan had also banned inbound and outbound tour groups for more than two years.