Skift Breaking News Blog

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

Airlines

Etihad CEO Poached by Saudi Arabia’s New Airline: Reports

4 days ago

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas has agreed to join RIA — Saudi Arabia’s newest airline, according to reports.

It had been earlier reported that RIA, the multi-billion-dollar international carrier, had approached Douglas for the top job. Douglas has apparently agreed and other senior Etihad executives may follow him, according to Arabian Business.

Global consulting firm Korn Ferry has been tasked with the job to find a replacement for Douglas, the publication added quoting sources.

The head hunting firm is said to be in preliminary talks with three senior aviation names for the top job at Etihad, even though employment offers haven’t yet been made, according to Bloomberg.   

Douglas has been leading Etihad since 2018. He had also served as the CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company and Abu Dhabi Ports Company, prior to which he was the chief operating officer and group chief executive designate of UK’s largest privately-owned construction company Laing O’Rourke.

Under Douglas’ leadership, Etihad had reported a record-breaking core operating profit of $296 million for the first half of 2022, despite fuel costs increasing by almost 60 percent compared to the same period in 2021.

“Etihad is emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever, with a world-class fleet, an unmatched customer proposition and sustainability woven into every fibre of our business,” Douglas had said while announcing the financial results.

As Saudi Arabia pivots from its oil-based economy, the tourism sector has been a strong focus for the country that was closed to tourists till 2019.

The introduction of tourist visas in September 2019, was followed by the introduction of electronic tourist visas this month for residents of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

With an ambitious goal to reach 100 million tourists per year by 2030, the kingdom has been hard working to expanding its international air connectivity. 

Riyadh-based RIA will be the second airline for the kingdom, national carrier Saudia operates from Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has reportedly invested $30 billion to get the airline off the ground. 

Tourism

Japan to Reopen to Visa-Free Independent Tourists From October 11

5 days ago

It’s official — Japan has finally announced that it would allow visa-free entry to independent tourists, removing the daily cap on arrivals from October 11 onwards, after almost two-and-a-half years of stringent restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement on Thursday in New York while attending the UN General Assembly.

Inbound arrivals would need to be vaccinated three times or would have to submit a pre-arrival negative result for a Covid-19 test, according to Kyodo News.

Before the pandemic, Japan allowed visa-free entry for short-term visitors from 68 countries, including the U.S.

To encourage domestic tourism, the Japanese government will also be bringing back the nationwide travel discount program that had been discontinued after the rise in Covid cases.

Dubbing the step an effort to support the tourism, entertainment and industries that have been the worst-affected during the pandemic, Kishida hoped news of the full reopening would encourage more people to be a part of the program.

While Japan had been easing restrictions in a phased manner even since it reopened to foreign tourists in June, the government still required tourists to apply for a short-term visa enter the country as part of approved package tours through a recognized travel agency.

Tourism

Taiwan to Resume Visa-Free Entry for Canada, U.S. and Allies from Next Week

3 weeks ago

Taiwan will be reinstating visa-free entry for visitors from U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and its “diplomatic allies,” from September 12.

However, visitors would still need to quarantine at home for three days and would need to get tested on arrival. The current cap of 50,000 inbound passengers per week would also remain in place. The prevention measures issued by the Taiwan government also includes four days of self-health monitoring for inbound arrivals.

Taiwan plans to extend the visa exemption to more countries. Inbound group tours are still not allowed in the country.

In June, Taiwan shortened the duration of home isolation to three days from seven days, while increasing the cap on inbound arrivals to 25,000 per week. From August 15 onwards, the country lifted its requirement for a pre-arrival polymerase chain reaction test from inbound arrivals. 

Monday’s announcement of the resumption of visa-free free entry by Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center signals the country’s efforts to relax restrictions put in place during Covid while keeping pace with reopening mesaures of Asian destinations.

The center highlighted the need to balance disease prevention efforts and promotion of economic and social activities.

The decision has been made after a comprehensive assessment and in light of the fact that most countries in the world have opened their borders, Victor Wang, head of the Central Epidemic Command Center, said during a press conference on Monday afternoon.

“Border control measures and epidemic prevention measures would be adjusted in a rolling manner depending on the changes in the epidemic situation,” the Taiwan government noted in a statement.

Even as Taiwan has been slowly relaxing restrictions for inbound arrivals, escalating differences with China has had a bearing on its tourism industry.

Sparked by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last month, China, in its biggest-ever military drills in the Taiwan Strait, had deployed scores of planes and fired live missiles near Taiwan.

Some airlines had cancelled flights to Taipei and rerouted others using nearby airspace that had been closed to civilian traffic during these military exercises. While the airspace involved had been comparatively small, but the disruption had hampered travel between Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia.

An earlier Skift story had also highlighted that the Taiwan tensions could drive up travel costs significantly.

Tourism

The UK and Portugal Hope New Visa Fixes Can Fix Persistent Labor Shortages

4 weeks ago

Staffing problems in the hospitality industry continue to linger. Now, two countries are aiming to amend visa regulations to counter them.

A petition has been launched in the UK that seeks to allow European Union nationals to come to the UK to work in hospitality for up to two years.

“The government should create a special visa for people from the EU countries to come to the UK to work in the hospitality industry for a period of up to 2 years, similar to the Seasonal Work visa for horticulture workers. Some countries have visas like this to support the hospitality sector,” the petition says.

“There is a massive shortage of qualified labour in the UK to fill vacancies that were in many cases previously filled by EU staff. For years people from the EU countries were the backbone of the hospitality industry and many were affected by COVID and subsequently by Brexit’s final terms. Many restaurants are struggling to find people with experience and willingness to work.”

As of Sept. 2 it had secured more than 16,400 signatures. Once a petition reaches 10,000 the UK government is obliged to respond. At 100,000 signatures, the topic is considered for debate in Parliament.

The UK left the European Union on 31 Jan. 2020, with free movement between the UK and the European Union ending on 1 Jan. 2021, when a new points-based immigration process was set up that is far more restrictive than before Brexit.

Brexit is being blamed for many things, but staff shortages seem to be the biggest bugbear.

“Supplier labor will continue to be an issue,” Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said in May this year. “The UK will continue to be very challenged. The labor market is very inflexible post Brexit. You can’t bring in young Europeans.”

Portugal, meanwhile, is to speed up the time it takes to grant visas to citizens of other Portuguese-speaking countries, including Angola and Brazil, according to reports.

The other countries in the Community of Portuguese language countries are East Timor, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe.

Immigrants from these countries have had to get a visa if they plan to stay in Portugal for more than 90 days, Reuters reported, and often have to wait many months to get visa approval.

Employers’ confederations have said there are no workers available in key sectors such as hotels, agriculture and construction.

Tourism

Saudi Arabia’s New Visa Rules Could Open Up Travel for Millions of Visitors

4 weeks ago

Saudi Arabia is making it easier for millions of tourists to enter the Kingdom by streamlining and relaxing its visa options for residents from multiple countries, effective September 1.

Residents from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates —the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries— can now apply for electronic tourist visas (eVisas), according to the Ministry of Tourism of Saudi Arabia. 

Residents of the UK, US, and EU can now apply for a visa on arrival. In addition, holders of a v​​alid tourist or business visa to the UK, U.S. or the Schengen area countries will be able to apply for a visa on arrival, provided that the other visa has been used at least once to enter the issuing country. 

Furthermore, potential visitors who meet Saudi Arabia’s visa requirements no longer have to report to their country’s embassy before entering Saudi Arabia. 

“Through harnessing digital innovation and streamlining the traveller journey, Saudi Arabia is welcoming more and more visitors from all corners of the globe,” said Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al Khateeb.

The new visa rules is another step the Kingdom is taking toward achieving its ambitious goal of becoming a top global leisure destination. The Saudi government intends to invest $1 trillion in the tourism sector over the next 10 years. 

“The facilitation of a tourist visa for millions of GCC residents and the visa on arrival extension supports our ambition to welcome 100 million visitors a year by 2030, to the world’s biggest new leisure tourism destination,” said Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin.

To achieve its ambitions, the Kingdom has been hard working to expanding its international air connectivity. Its goal is to increase the number of direct international flights from 99 to 250 and become a leading Middle Eastern aviation hub. To get there, Saudi Arabia has offered financial incentives to airlines, expanded existing airports, launched a new airline, invested millions and slashed airport fees.

Tourism

Indians May Have to Wait Till 2024 to Secure U.S. Visa Appointments

4 weeks ago

Indians wanting to visit the U.S., may have a long wait ahead of them as appointment slots for visas are not available anytime sooner than 2024. You heard that right — almost a two-year wait for visa appointments!

A backlog of visa applications at the U.S. embassy coupled with consular staffing gaps created by the pandemic have led to the increased waiting time.

Skift accessed the website of the U.S. State Department on Thursday and discovered that the average wait time for visa appointments for a tourist visa was around 1.5 years across all five consulates in India.

At the consulate’s New Delhi and Hyderabad offices the waiting time for a tourist visa appointent was more than 600 days while the wait for a student visa appointment was 458 days for both cities.

In Mumbai and Kolkata the visitor visa waiting period is a little under 600 days, while the waiting period would be more than 450 days for those seeking student visa appontment from these cities.

The tourist visa appointment wait was the shortest in Chennai — 491 days, while for student visa applicants the wait time was 465 days.

And if that wasn’t enough the website went on to note that while the estimated wait time for an interview appointment can change weekly, the estimates do not guarantee the availability of an appointment.

An earlier Skift interview had noted how the time being taken to process visas is creating a problem for travel agents and tour operators.

The U.S. embassy in India in a statement noted that efforts are being made to reduce wait times and backlogs by onboarding and training new employees. “The U.S. State Department has doubled consular hiring of US officers this fiscal year over last year, and newly trained employees are making their way to overseas consular adjudicator positions, including in India,” read the statement.

Tourism

Thailand Ups Visa Game by Granting Longer Stays to Tourists and Digital Nomads

1 month ago

Keen to offer a boost to the country’s tourism sector, Thailand will allow longer stays for foreign tourists from October 1 to March 31. The Southeast Asian destination has also proposed a 10-year golden visa program mainly targeted at wealthy digital nomads.

Foreign arrivals from 18 countries entering Thailand under the visa-on-arrival scheme, including India, will be allowed to extend their stay from 15 days to 30 days, while those from 50 countries, including Canada, U.S. and UK, who are currently eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival will be able to get a 45-day visa stamp.

From September onwards, Thailand will also be extending a 10-year golden visa option to four categories of travelers with an annual income of $80,000 and at least $1 million in assets. The visa also comes with a work permit and travelers would not need a Thai sponsor to live long-term in the country. 

The processing fee for the 10-year visa with multiple entries is around $1382.

The Thai government expects the 10-year residence visa to generate around $27 billion worth of revenue.

The visa extension is crucial as Thailand prepares to transition to a post-pandemic era with the return to normalcy. The visa programs are also timed perfectly with the Thai government planning to declare Covid-19 endemic in October.

Thailand plans to welcome around 10 million tourists this year and has been working hard to lure tourists back to the country. In its latest effort, Thailand had been looking to legalize casinos.

Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration will also meet next month to consider lifting the state of emergency, put in place to control the spread of the disease since March 2020.

Airlines

New U.S. Tourism Strategy Calls for More Touchless Tech

4 months ago

From facial biometrics at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints to visas that don’t require boarding foils, the new U.S. Department of Commerce strategy to boost international arrivals calls for tech improvements to better verify identities and expedite the travel process.

Passport kiosks. Department of Homeland Security. Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dhsgov/16460568027/in/photostream/

Among the recommended tech-oriented actions citied in the strategy are:

  • The Department of Homeland Security should rework its systems to handle digital travel credentials, including touchless tech like facial recognition.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection should deploy facial comparison tech to verify visitor identities.
  • Facial recognition tech should be implemented at TSA security lanes and airline boarding gates.
  • Digital visa processing using foil-less visas for verifying traveler identities should be pursued.
  • The State Department “should explore the direct capture of photographs for passports and visas to standardize image quality for improved comparison against travel documents, reduce the probability of false rejections, and combat fraud,” the Commerce Department stated.

Tourism

Spain to Ease Visa Rules to Find Workers to Clean Hotel Rooms

4 months ago

Spain’s economy was among the worst hit in Europe during the pandemic, and now the government plans to make it easier for foreigners to obtain work visas so they can fill tourism-related jobs, including cleaning hotel rooms and waiting on tables in restaurants.

canary islands source reuters
Waiter Yamilca from Cuba attends tourists in a terrace of an almost empty restaurant Celso at La Caleta beach in Adeje, in the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife, Spain March 5, 2020. Reuters/Sergio Perez

“We are evaluating different aspects of the migration law and where there is room to improve it … in order to address bottlenecks in Spain’s labor market,” Social Security and Migration Minister Jose Luis Escriva said Friday, Reuters reported.

The government doesn’t intend to merely target tourism with the work visa easing, but it was among the sectors the minister cited, along with tech, agriculture, and construction.

Among the plans is to permit some 50,000 students in the country from outside the European Union to combine their studies with working.

Spain projected earlier that its international arrivals would reach around 80 percent of pre-Covid numbers by June 2022.

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