Wednesday, 25 March 2020

NETHERLANDS: Tourists Stuck In Various Countries As Countries Shutdown

The some 200 thousand Dutch tourists stuck abroad are running out of time and possibilities to get home as more and more countries close their borders and global air traffic gets closer to being shut down.

Some 150 thousand people are at risk of getting stranded for a long time, travel agencies and airlines say.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to bring as many stranded tourists home as possible, Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs said.

But it involves hundreds of thousands of people, and that takes time, he said. One of the very concrete things we do is ask for extra landing possibilities, so that as many as possible planes with Dutch can fly back and forth.

Many countries are keeping their airspace closed, meaning that repatriation flights need to require special permission from the authorities.

The Ministry is currently trying to keep the airspace at the borders of South European and North African countries open.

Around 30 thousand Dutch people were stuck there, half of whom were brought home during the week, the association of travel agencies ANVR said.

Airlines are flying extra flights to bring tourists back. This is the only type of flight Transavia is currently still performing. The airline performed 36 such flights over the past days.

TUI and Corendon are also deploying additional planes. KLM is focused on popular holiday destinations, according to the newspaper.

One such KLM flight was prevented from landing in Ecuador on Wednesday evening. The plane had picked up 185 travelers in Quito, and was scheduled to pick up another 164 in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

But when the plane approached, it was told it could not land. The runway was occupied by a worried mayor and a group of people.

The mayor thought the plane was bringing tourists from Europe who may be infected with the coronavirus.

This while we only had travellers on board who had to go to Europe. We were therefore unable to pick up the 164 travellers in Guayaquil. The plane flew directly to Amsterdam. KLM will again try to pick up travellers in Ecuador on Friday.

An estimated 100 thousand Dutch people are in distant locations around the world, according to the newspaper. Travellers in Asia, Australia and Africa can still try to fly home through the Gulf States, where air traffic has not been completely halted yet.

KLM is also planning repatriation flights to Peru, India, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Philippines in the coming days.

The outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19 means that tourism from China to the Netherlands will decrease even more than previous estimations, according to the Netherlands' office for tourism and congresses NBTC.

Last month the agency said that the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Netherlands would decrease from around 380 thousand last year to 300 thousand this year. Now NBTC expects the decrease to be even stronger, NOS reports.

The Covid-19 outbreak resulted in travel restrictions and measures from the market. Airlines like KLM are no longer flying to China.

Every month that air traffic to and from China is halted, the European tourism sector misses out on 1 billion euros, the European Commission calculated this week. According to ING, the Dutch tourism sector misses out on around 40 million euros a month.

While that is a lot, it is not massive compared to the total amount of tourism spending in the Netherlands, at 13.5 billion euros, Thijs Geijer of ING said to NOS.

Around two percent of the total hotel stays booked by foreign tourists in the Netherlands are booked by people from China. That is really only a small share, he said.

While entrepreneurs from other sectors may eventually be harder hit by the virus, its effect on the tourism sector is immediately noticeable, Geijer said.

Travel agencies are already noticing that Dutch people are delaying vacation plans.

NETHERLANDS: China Airlines Support KLM

KLM works with three Chinese airline partners: China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. These partners have now stepped in to generously support KLM and the Netherlands by donating many tens of thousands of face masks and gloves to KLM in our struggle against the coronavirus outbreak.

In light of scarce resources at Dutch hospitals, KLM will in turn be helping the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam and other Dutch healthcare institutes.

Today, in the early hours of the morning, the first shipment arrived at Schiphol carried by one of Xiamen Airlines' aircraft.

On behalf of the employees of the three Chinese airlines, KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers accepted this first shipment of in total around 90,000 face masks and 50,000 pairs of gloves.

KLM's CEO was accompanied by Ernst Kuipers, Chairman of the Boards of Erasmus MC and the Dutch Network for Acute Medical Care (Landelijk Netwerk Acute Zorg -- LNAZ), and Brinio Veldhuijzen van Zanten of KLM Health Services.

Over the past 20 years, KLM has established a broad-based route network, coupled with especially close relations in China.

Before the outbreak of the corona crisis, KLM and its partners operated 59 flights a week from Schiphol to mainland China. Shipments of this nature serve to underscore the enormous significance of connections by air in general, and those with China in particular.

Medical supplies like this can only be transported swiftly and efficiently to the other side of the world by aircraft. This is especially important in times of scarcity and interdependence.

KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers highlighted that: "Help of this nature from our Chinese partners China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines is both incredibly generous and much appreciated.

Help like this from our Chinese friends serves to highlight just how close the ties are between China, the Netherlands and KLM. These are incredibly difficult times for our country and our company, so we are very pleased with this support for KLM and for the Netherlands.

Less than two months ago, we at KLM made a donation to China and now we have received fantastic and generous help ourselves. This certainly feels good."

On behalf of all Dutch healthcare institutes, LNAZ is coordinating the stocks of personal protective gear for healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ernst Kuipers, CEO Erasmus MC thanked KLM and said, "This donation will help all Dutch healthcare institutes at a critical phase of caring for patients across the Netherlands. We are also incredibly grateful to KLM's Chinese partners for this."

KLM will be flying from Hong Kong to Amsterdam at 1:35 p.m. on Tuesday, local time. The airline has been granted an exemption from the Dutch aviation authorities for the landing ban that applies to flights from the Chinese city, the Consulate General in Hong Kong announced.

Dutch and residents of other EU or Schengen countries stuck in Hong Kong are advised to contact the Dutch airline.

KLM is flying two final flights from Seoul, South Korea this week. The first will be on Tuesday, the second on Thursday, and both flights may be booked on KLM's website.

Cabin crew members of various airlines are deeply concerned about the risks of flying, especially on repatriating flights filled with passengers. "People are afraid," Chris van Elswijk of the Dutch Cabin Crew Association said to Hart van Nederland. "People are concerned about the distance and contact moments with passengers."

According to Van Elswijk, who is a purser for KLM, cabin crew members are trying to stick to the government guidelines of staying 1.5 meters from others, but that is not always possible. "If you work in a full aircraft with 300 passengers, you cannot meet the guidelines that are set," he said.

Airlines are working on measures to increase the safety of passengers and crew, he said. KLM, for example, adjusted the onboard service schedule so that there is less physical- or close range contact between passengers and crew.

And if crew members do not want to fly on a certain flight, their employers are open to discuss their concerns and alternatives, he said.

Because halting all air traffic is not yet an option, Van Elswijk said to Hart van Nederland. There are still many Dutch people abroad. They still have to be picked up.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Rwandans who were stranded abroad amid the novel coronavirus outbreak arrived in Rwanda Sunday, thanks to the Government’s partnership with Dutch airline KLM.

Most governments placed their countries into lockdown with no flights allowed to fly in as a measure to contain Covid-19, which left many people stranded in other countries, including Rwandans.

Rwanda itself put a stop to passenger planes and only emergence landings and cargo transporters are allowed into the country.

Rwandan nationals especially students who study abroad and other diaspora communities had expressed concern recently after failing to find a way to come back home.

The Government had promised that it was working out an alternative to rescue nationals and legal residents who were facing travel difficulties as a result of restrictions imposed by different countries.

“It’s true there is an arrangement between the Government of Rwanda and KLM! The 1st flight was yesterday, another departed today!” Jean Pierre Karabaranga, Rwanda’s Ambassador to The Hague said.

Karabaranga added that the last flight is expected Wednesday 25.

The Ambassador indicated that they have been spreading information regarding the arrangement by informing the diaspora members.

The Minister in charge of East African Community at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Olivier Nduhungirehe, said this follows a conversation with ambassadors to facilitate all Rwandans abroad.

We had a video call with all ambassadors on Friday and they are facilitating everyone who wants to come back to Rwanda to be able to get here, he noted.

Rwanda has so far registered 19 Covid-19 cases as of Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health.

QATAR: Qatar Airways Persists With Flights While Other Airlines Are Packed

With an unprecedented amount of airlines grounding fleets and countries imposing border restrictions due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways has affirmed its commitment to keeping a large part of their route network connected.

An update from the Doha-based carrier says: We appreciate this is a difficult time and that many people around the world are trying to find a way to get home.

At Qatar Airways we continue to operate more than 150 flights per day so that as many people as possible can get home safely to their loved ones.

“As of 24 March, we are operating services to over 70 cities worldwide. We are constantly reviewing our operations to see where there is more demand and requests, and wherever possible we will add more flights or bigger aircraft.

This is a challenging time for the aviation industry and we are thankful to airports and authorities and their staff around the world for their incredible efforts to help us get passengers home.”

Many other airlines have grounded their entire fleets around the world, but Qatar Airways retains considerable flexibility to adjust its aircraft type on certain routes, particularly those to Europe.

The middle eastern carrier operates a wide-body fleet that consists of a350s, a380s, a330s, Boeing 777s and the 787 Dreamliner. However, unlike other airlines who operate a less diverse fleet, Qatar has been able to adjust operations with reduced demand and even has the option of placing narrow-body aircraft on certain routes.

The airline also operates every variant of the smaller a320-family aircraft, allowing for potential future equipment flexibility to keep certain low-demand operations running.

Qatar Airways has amended its ‘Travel with Confidence’ and flight disruption policies and has taken the unprecedented move of not only offering customers the option of a ticket refund but for those who choose to receive a travel voucher for future use, passengers will receive the full unutilized value of their ticket plus an additional 10% of the fare cost as an added value offer.

The airline is reinstating some previously suspended flights to France and Germany in addition to upgrading existing flights to larger aircraft with the tag #TakingYouHome.

Qatar Airways is operating over 150 flights every day to help its passengers reach their destination safely. In a statement issued yesterday, Qatar’s national airline said that it is operating services to over 70 cities worldwide.

Qatar Airways has taken a series of steps to help travellers in challenging times. Last week, the airline announced that it would offer future travel voucher for passengers.

The passengers affected by changes in its services can opt for a future travel voucher that will be valid for one year from its issuance date.

Qatar’s national airline had also said that it would allow its passengers to get refund or re-book their tickets to alternative dates or destinations without any charge.

Qatar Airways is also working closely with the World Health Organisation and local authorities worldwide to safeguard the health and safety of its employees and passengers.

Its modern fleet is protected with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration systems, eliminating 99.97 percent of fine airborne particles from circulating air in cabins, greatly restricting the spread of airborne fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Even in these tough times, the airline is transporting goods to several countries. The multiple award-winning airline, through its freighter and passenger aircraft, is transporting commodities ranging from fresh food items to healthcare products to Qatar and countries around the world.

More than 320,000kg of general cargo, perishables, pharmaceuticals, courier and other products are flown on Qatar Airways flights every day.

MALAYSIA: Prime Minister Announces Closedown

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on national TV emergency lockdown measures that came into effective 18 March and continue to the end of the month.

Just hours earlier, the Malaysia Travel and Tourism Association’s president, Datuk Tan Kok Liang, called on the government to take drastic action and “press the reset button” after the confirmed cases tally soared to 566 at the weekend.

In his TV statement, the Prime Minister said mass events would be cancelled, including cultural, social, sports and religious events. All places of worship and businesses will close, except for markets, supermarkets and shops selling essential goods.

Muhyiddin stated that all Malaysians currently overseas would undergo self-quarantine for 14 days when they returned home. Foreign travellers are barred from entering the country and Malaysians must stop all overseas travel.

Essential services will remain open, such as pharmacies, power plants, telecommunications and transportation facilities.

Malaysia has 566 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of 16 March, with 511 in hospital, and 42 recovered cases.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents is urging the government to declare an all-out war against Covid-19 instead of continuing with protracted battles on a piecemeal basis with no end in sight.

MATTA President, Datuk Tan Kok Liang commented: “An all-out war requires the entire country to be locked down and this is what many European nations have already done, and more countries are expected to follow suit.

The global outbreak of the coronavirus has reached a scale where nations have to take bold and drastic measures.

As of noon on 15 March 2020, 190 new cases were recorded in Malaysia, taking the total number of positive Covid-19 cases to 428. Our initial response to contain the outbreak was successful but no longer so.

Hence, more effective measures are needed, and we could adopt some from overseas, as the novel coronavirus has now spread to over 155 countries around the world.

The lockdown should provide sufficient notice and be clearly spelt out and not perceived as 24-hour curfew, which will result in panic buying and hoarding.

Also, mechanisms must be in place to prevent or reduce unnecessary hardships to the rakyat as well as remaining tourists still holidaying in Malaysia.

As for the tourism industry, there is little left to salvage. It would be better to press the reset button and start all over again on a clean slate by placing hygiene, safety and security as top priorities and restore confidence for holidaymakers.

When our country is all set, Malaysia will be recognised as one of the safest destinations to visit, and Malaysians too would be welcomed in many countries when the situation normalises.

For countries that are proactive in dealing with this crisis, tourism may rebound as fast as it had plunged, while others that take piecemeal actions will somewhat find it difficult to rebound.

He reminded members to heed the many guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, such as adopting social distancing by standing at least a metre away from another individual.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced earlier that all gatherings, including international meetings, sporting events, social and religious assemblies, would be postponed or cancelled until 30 April.

Instead of endless running battles, it would be better to take the bull by the horns, and it is an opportune time for the new government to rally the people together to fight and win this war.

To rejuvenate our economy, we may have to start with a temporary lockdown, the MATTA chief conjectured.

As it is our moral and social responsibility to place human lives first, all MATTA Fairs scheduled in Kuala Lumpur and various states throughout the country have been deferred until the country return to normalcy.

They include Cuti-Cuti Malaysia By MATTA Fair that will not be held on 4 to 5 April 2020, and MATTA Fair Kuala Lumpur will not be held 1 to 3 May 2020.

He noted that the Malaysia Travel Fair held recently at the Kuala Lumpur World Trade Centre from 13 to 15 March 2020 was organised by a different association registered as Persatuan Agensi Pelancongan Malaysia and calling itself as MATA.

It has nothing to do with the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) or MATTA Fairs”
, concluded Tan.

ASIA: Association Of Asia Pacific Airlines Cries Out To Government For Financial Bailout

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines calls on governments to provide financial support for airlines to weather the Covid-19 storm.

APPA says air travel in the Asia Pacific is virtually grinding to a halt due to the travel bans, border closures, lockdowns, quarantine and isolation orders imposed by governments.

Representing the interests of hundreds of airlines in the Asia-Pacific, APPA calls on governments to rapidly implement emergency relief measures.

Association of Asia Pacific Airlines Advice

Suspend payroll taxes, defer or reduce income taxes, the extension of payment terms, waiver of ticket taxes & other government levies, taxes, dues and charges for 2020.

Direct financial support for reduced revenues and liquidity support due to travel restrictions

Extend interest-free loans or loan guarantees, and support for corporate bond markets either directly or to commercial banks to extend credit for affected companies.

Direct financial support needed for individuals facing the loss of livelihood.

AAPA urges all Governments to take immediate action to address the societal impact of the world’s worst public health crisis in a century.

Asian airlines are facing revenue shortfalls of upwards of USD60 billion this year as a result of sharp falls in demand which have already forced the grounding of over half of the fleet.

Many of the 1 million workers employed in the Asia Pacific airline industry are unable to work because of the drastic reductions in operations. Many are facing the threat of a loss of their livelihoods.

The sharp reductions in passenger services have also drastically reduced available air cargo capacity affecting critical supply chains, including getting food and medical supplies to affected communities worldwide.

Asian airlines are continuing to operate dedicated freighter services but need help in streamlining operations, scheduling, and crew clearances to keep critical goods moving as a lifeline.

APPA claims the World Health Organisation (WHO) is providing strong leadership in coordinating the global public health response and notes that this is the first pandemic we can control if all countries and sectors come together.

THAILAND: Thai Airways International Halts Flights

Thai Airways International will ground all services in Asia, 25 March, followed by Australia on 27 March and Europe
on 1 April, the airline announced Tuesday evening.

According to the airline’s announcement flights will remain grounded
until 31 May.

Blaming travel bans and country lockdowns that battle the Covid-19 outbreaks across Europe and Asia the airline is embarking on an unprecedented shutdown of flights that will last through to 31 May.

Starting on 25 March 2020 services are suspended to Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo (Narita and Haneda), Osaka, Nagoya, Seoul, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Yangon, Singapore, Jakarta, Denpasar, Kunming, Xiamen, Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Karachi, Kathmandu, Lahore, Dhaka, Islamabad, and Colombo.

Domestic flights to Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Krabi will be transferred and operated by THAI Smile.

Starting on 27 March 2020 services are suspended to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth in Australia.

Starting on 1 April 2020 THAI will cancel most of its flights to Europe serving London, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Moscow
and Stockholm.

The airline had earlier suspended flights to Sendai, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Busan, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Rome, Milan, Vienna, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Muscat, Dubai, and Auckland.

Passengers who hold THAI and THAI Smile code-share tickets, issued before 25 March 2020 with the following travel periods, can convert unused tickets to one-year valid travel voucher without fees or surcharges:
Asian Routes 25 March to 31 May 2020; European, Australian and New Zealand Routes 1 April to 31 May 2020.

Royal Orchid Plus (ROP) members holding award tickets issued for travel during 25 March to 31 May 2020 are eligible for a full re-credit mileages, or they can opt to change the travel date without any fee or charge with expired miles extended until 30 September 2020.

Passengers can check flight schedules and make itinerary changes themselves on website. For ticket adjustments or more information, ROP members can contact THAI Sales Offices or visit

THAI will still operate cargo service on some routes and will operate charter flights if there are stranded passengers or government agencies that make a request.

UAE: Emirates Temporarily Suspends All Passenger Services

Emirates confirmed Tuesday it would temporarily suspend all passenger services from 25 March to comply with the UAE government’s directive.

Claiming the measures are in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 the airline said it hoped to “resume services as soon as feasible”.

Cargo and emergency repatriation flights are exempt.

An earlier post issued by the airline on the evening of 22 March suggested that it would be able to keep some flights operating and even identified cities in Asia and Europe.

However, that post was superseded by a statement on Tuesday, 24 March that confirmed all flights to and from the UAE would be cancelled 25 March.

The airline assured passengers they do not need to call to cancel bookings as the airline deactivated its no-show fees. It did advise passengers to complete a travel voucher request form to rebook flights later.

The airline is facing an overload of calls to customer service centres. It said passengers not travelling in the next 48 hours should call closer to the departure dates.

Customers with flight bookings for travel on or before 30 June 2020 can rebook their flights to any Emirates destination within the same region without a rebooking fee or paying any fare difference.

Customers who booked directly with Emirates can visit the Travel Voucher webpage and add “Refund request due to Coronavirus” in the comments section. Customers who booked with a travel agent must contact them for further assistance with their bookings.

UAE authorities announced on 23 March that all passenger flights, including transit flights, would be suspended 25 March for at least two weeks. Visitors are not allowed to enter the UAE until further notice.