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China’s ‘Golden Week’ Kicks Off in Boost to Battered Tourism Industry

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Along the Great Wall, extra security guards have been deployed to deter rowdy tourists. Hotel bookings in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, have risen 600 percent from the same period last year. In Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began late last year, visitor demand for the city’s Yellow Crane Tower has been so high that the landmark sits atop a major travel agency’s list of the “Country’s Hottest Scenic Spots.”

China has kicked off Golden Week, the annual spree of shopping and travel built around the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations, and the first major holiday since the country brought its epidemic more or less under control.

In any year, the outlay of the weeklong holiday is a closely watched barometer of the country’s economic health. This year it may be especially so, offering the clearest measure yet of China’s recovery from the pandemic as people squeeze into train cars, crowd into ancient temples, and do everything else that people in many other countries can still only dream of.

The early signs seem to confirm two trends. First: China has returned to near normalcy with remarkable speed. And second: Even so, the ripple effects of the pandemic are hard to shake off.

The week will also reflect how the pandemic has reshaped travel, turning China’s increasingly global tourists back inward. Most years, millions of Chinese go overseas during the holiday, but this year, they have little option but to stay closer to home.

China’s official tourism research institute has predicted that 550 million domestic trips will be made during the eight-day holiday, which this year coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Though impressive, that is still only about 70 percent of the number in the same period last year, reflecting the sizable number of people being kept home by economic insecurity or lingering fear of infection.

Official restrictions, though loosened, also remain. Tickets for Beijing’s Forbidden City are sold out, but capacity is limited to 75 percent. And even as the authorities encouraged people to get on the road, some schools said they would grant only half the week off, or required students to obtain advance permission to leave campus.

Still, the tourism industry was bracing for an onslaught.

“The energy has been pent-up for too long,” said Lisa Li, a manager at a Shanghai travel agency. “So we can predict that this National Day will not be relaxing at all.”

While the rest of the world still struggles to tame the virus, China has not reported any locally transmitted symptomatic cases since Aug. 15. Most foreigners are not allowed to enter the country unless they have valid residence permits, but inside, factories, shopping malls and even luxury auto shows have whirred back to life. Beijing recently stopped requiring people to wear face masks at all times; in Wuhan, a massive elbow-to-elbow pool party grabbed international attention.

The recovery has been enabled in part by the same strenuous, top-down tactics that Chinese officials used to control the virus. The authorities were already urging companies to get back to work in February and March, though the virus was still spreading domestically. Factories dutifully fired back up, though few consumers were buying.

Gradually, though, people’s confidence revived, and officials turned their attention toward restarting the retail and tourism sectors. Over the summer, several airlines advertised passes that would grant passengers unlimited flights within a fixed time period. Tourist attractions, especially in Wuhan, offered free admission.

The central government declared the period from Sept. 9 to Oct. 8 “National Consumer Promotion Month,” with the slogan, “Enjoy consumption for a beautiful life.”

As the holiday begins, those efforts seem to be paying off. While many lower-income people, especially migrant workers, are still struggling to find work, the middle-class and affluent Chinese who drive the country’s economy are eager to let loose.

Last year, more than seven million people left the country during Golden Week, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This year, demand for hotels in remote locations like Lhasa has soared, reflecting a desire to still find “faraway places,” according to a report by Ctrip, an online travel agency.

Moran Li and her family have not left their home city of Hangzhou, in eastern China, this year. So as Golden Week neared, Ms. Li, who works in the hotel industry, had hoped to finally make an outing. She set her sights on Sanya, a palm-tree-laden city in China’s tropical island province of Hainan.

But every hotel she checked was sold out for the holiday as well as the two weekends after. She eventually booked a room for the weekend of Oct. 30. This week, she, her husband and her 22-month-old son plan to visit her husband’s hometown not far from Hangzhou instead.

Ms. Li said she did worry about her son catching the coronavirus, but that the situation within China felt manageable. “In the end, we have to take him out eventually,” she said.

Others like Liu Zihan, 23, didn’t wait for Golden Week to set out. After graduating from college this year, Ms. Liu spent two months crisscrossing the country, taking advantage of the unlimited flights package.

She visited 17 cities, flitting from the industrial metropolis of Shenzhen in the southeast to the walled old town of Dali in the southwest, from humid Hangzhou to the arid Tibetan plateau. She recently finished her trip in Hainan, where she took advantage of duty-free policies to load up on Kiehl’s face masks and Armani lip gloss.

For the holiday, though, she planned to visit her boyfriend in the eastern city of Changzhou and stay put for the week. “There are too many people on National Day to go anywhere,” she said.

Still, the frenzy to get out belies some less rosy realities. Though the number of domestic flight passengers during Golden Week is expected to increase 10 percent from the same period last year, the average price of tickets on many routes was lower than in previous years, according to Chinese news reports citing Qunar, an online travel company.

While five hotels in the semiautonomous Chinese city of Macau were sold out for Golden Week in the beginning of September, a week later only three still were, reflecting a high volume of cancellations, according to a survey by Morgan Stanley analysts. The drop may have reflected overly optimistic projections by tour groups, the analysts said.

Ms. Li, the Shanghai travel agency employee, said that even when tour groups do go out, many are made up of older travelers, who tend to spend less money and often qualify for reduced admission prices.

Full recovery for the travel industry is still far off, she said. “Every company is desperately trying to think of how to survive, not about how to make money.”

Compounding difficulties has been many schools’ reluctance to let their students travel. Nearly 200 million Chinese students have returned to in-person learning.

Gon Hong, a Hangzhou resident, had planned to take his 10-year-old son to either Guangzhou or Chengdu for the holiday, especially because he had a coupon for a Chengdu hotel that would have included cheaper room rates and in-room dining.

But word soon circulated in a chat group for parents at his son’s school that they would need to seek permission from the school in order to take their children out of the city. Mr. Hong decided to take his son roller-skating closer to home instead.

Universities also introduced measures to limit students’ movement, sometimes at the last minute. China West Normal University, in Sichuan Province, announced on Monday that the eight-day holiday would be reduced to five nonconsecutive days for public health reasons. The first of those days, the announcement said, was Sept. 27 — the day before.

“I don’t know if I’ve been time traveling or lost my memory — how did I not know on the 27th that I was already on vacation?” one student wrote in response on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.

Still, China’s experience suggests that consumption can bounce back fairly quickly once the virus is under control, said Zhang Tianbing, who leads the Asia-Pacific consumer products and retail team at Deloitte, the global consulting firm. “That probably gives you a bit of hope and optimism for other countries,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Zhang, who lives in Shanghai, said he had no plans to travel during the holiday. He had spent much of the year stuck in Britain because of the pandemic and returned to China only recently.

He planned to spend the next few days, he said, trying to revive his garden.

Coral Yang contributed research.

By: Vivian Wang
Title: China’s ‘Golden Week’ Kicks Off in Boost to Battered Tourism Industry
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/01/world/asia/china-tourism-covid.html
Published Date: Thu, 01 Oct 2020 11:38:06 +0000

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Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!

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During normal times, points transfer bonuses by Amex or any other issuer gain a lot of traction. However, we live in unusual times. Travel is nowhere close to normal and only a small minority is actively looking to book travel. Amex Membership Rewards points, along with Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of my favorite transferable points currencies. Amex, in particular, has the edge over Chase when it comes to international airline partners. At the moment, Amex is running two lucrative points transfer bonuses with their Membership Rewards points. However, if you’re looking to travel any time soon then now is a good time to transfer time as these limited time bonuses end on October 31.

Amex Points Transfer Points Bonuses

Amex is currently running points transfer bonuses for Hilton and Marriott. These limited time offers expire on October 31, 2020.

Hilton Honors

The standard points transfer ratio for Hilton Honors is 1:2. With this bonus, you’ll get a ratio of 1:2.8. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 2,800 Hilton Honors points.

Marriott Bonvoy

The standard points transfer ratio for Marriott Bonvoy is 1:1. With this, bonus you’ll get a ratio of 1:1.4. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Crunching the Numbers

During normal times, many frequent travelers tend to jump on these limited time transfer bonuses. However, how lucrative are these bonuses during the current situation?

For example, let’s say you want to book a top tier Hilton hotel. One night will cost you at least 95,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 39,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 48,000.

Similarly, let’s say you want to book a top tier Marriott hotel. One night will cost you at least 85,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 61,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 85,000.

In short, the higher the category of the hotel, the more lucrative these transfer bonuses become for you.

Credit Card Bonuses

If you’re falling short on Marriott or Hilton points, another option is to sign up for co-branded credit cards from Marriott and Hilton. Currently, many of these cards are running limited time offers. Please note that Amex and Chase restrictions may apply to these credit cards.

Card Name Sign-up Bonus Application Link
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 30k points
Apply Now
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold 5 free nights (up to 50k points each)
Apply Now
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card 125k points + Platinum Status for 2021
Apply Now
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business Card 100k points + $150 in credits
Apply Now
Hilton Honors Business Card 130k points
Apply Now
Amex Hilton Honors Card 95k points
Apply Now
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 140k points
Apply Now
Hliton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150k points + 1 free night
Apply Now

The Pundit’s Mantra

In most cases, I don’t recommend transferring points speculatively. However, if you do have a trip on the horizon, then it makes sense to use these Amex points transfer bonuses to your advantage.

In the past, I’ve used transfer bonuses to book some really cool trips. For example, I used a transfer bonus to British Airways in order to book a last minute trip to Colombia. However, given the current scenario, not many of us are planning such trips on the go.

Do you plan to make use of either of these points transfer bonuses before the end of the month? Tell us in the comments section.

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The Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering a limited time welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 2x points all on all travel and dining spend and 5 x on Lyft rides.

Apply Now

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Disclosure: The Points Pundit receives NO compensation from credit card affiliate partnerships. Support the blog by applying for a card through my personal referral links. This article is meant for information purposes only and doesn’t constitute personal finance, health or investment advice. Please consult a licensed professional for advice pertaining to your situation.

By: The Points Pundit
Title: Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/limited-time-amex-points-transfer-bonuses-ending-soon/
Published Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 12:10:32 +0000

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Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast

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The Carnival Sensation was sailing in international waters off the Florida coast on Saturday when crew members spotted a crowded 36-foot boat that appeared to be in distress.

The ship maneuvered alongside the boat and crew members handed over blankets, life jackets, food and water to the 24 people onboard the smaller vessel, including two children, according to the Carnival Cruise Line.

As it floated 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, the boat began to take on water. The passengers were quickly ushered aboard the cruise ship through a side hatch that is typically used in port to load supplies via a gangway. The boat sank after the rescue, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The rescued passengers were the first guests to board the cruise ship in months, Carnival said. They were evaluated by the cruise ship’s medical staff and quarantined away from crew members, the cruise line said. They were picked up by the Coast Guard after about six hours, the spokeswoman said.

The rescued boat was coming from Freeport, Bahamas, said Nicole J. Groll, the Coast Guard spokeswoman. It was not clear where the boat was headed, she said, nor was it clear what had happened to the boat that caused it to sink.

“The disabled vessel sank and actions are currently being taken to coordinate the transfer of the individuals ashore,” Ms. Groll said in a statement Monday.

The $45 billion global cruise industry serves 20 million passengers in a typical year. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ships have been roaming the seas for months without guests, staffed by skeleton crews. Operations have been suspended until Oct. 31, and some lines have canceled cruises into next year.

Carnival operates 23 ships. While they are idle, they maintain a “minimum nonoperational manning status,” according to a spokesman. That means they are staffed by 75 to 100 crew members, including marine engineers, technicians and officers, as well as housekeeping, culinary and other staff members.

Occasionally, they perform rescues, the spokesman said. In July, the Carnival Legend responded to a call for help from a boat that had run out of fuel off the coast of the Bahamas. The Legend gave the boaters 25 gallons of gas to help them make their way back to Jacksonville, Fla.

Ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to vessels in distress, said Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer.

The duty to rescue a derelict vessel falls to a ship’s captain, who “has both a moral and a legal obligation to help,” he said.

There are typically three or four such rescues every year, some of which involve migrants, Mr. Walker said.

“Often there is no true ‘rescue’ of foreign immigrants at sea because the cruise ship will call the U.S.C.G. who will pick them up and then return them to their home countries,” Mr. Walker said in an email, referring to the Coast Guard. “It is not so much a ‘rescue’ but an ‘interception’ at sea.”

In some cases, he said, a ship’s captain or the captain’s employer could face criminal charges for ignoring a cry for help.

In 2012, Princess Cruises was sued after one of its cruise ships, the Star Princess, failed to help a disabled fishing boat that had been adrift for days when it was spotted by crew members and passengers. Two of the people on the fishing boat died.

The cruise industry has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly early in the outbreak as passengers and crew members were trapped aboard ships where the virus spread rapidly.

In February, more than 700 passengers were infected on the Diamond Princess as the ship idled off the coast of Japan. Nine of the infected passengers died.

In August, the cruise industry voluntarily suspended operations until Oct. 31, following the extension of a no-sail order for cruise ships through Sept. 30 issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that from March to July there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on cruise ships in U.S. waters.

The Carnival Corporation, which operates Carnival, Princess and other brands and serves roughly 50 percent of the global cruise market, has dealt with outbreaks on several of its ships, including Holland America’s Zaandam, which tried to unload sick passengers in Florida in April. Last week, Carnival Cruise Line canceled several cruises that were scheduled for November and January.

By: Marie Fazio
Title: Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/us/carnival-cruise-rescue.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:51:45 +0000

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2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru

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The image, stretching for 40 yards on a hillside in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, orb-like eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.

Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while remodeling a section of a UNESCO heritage site known as the Nazca Lines, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last week.

The catlike geoglyph — which experts say dates to 200 B.C. to 100 B.C. — is the latest discovery among the carvings of larger-than-life animals and plants previously found between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian aerial surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were unearthed at the site. UNESCO has designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa a World Heritage Site since 1994.

The cat etching is believed to be older than any of the prehistoric geoglyphs previously unearthed at Nazca.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.

The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. Researchers believe that the figures once served as travel markers.

Drone photography has led to several discoveries in recent years, Mr. Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan, aided by satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging, unearthed more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site.

Research and conservation work had continued at the site even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most tourist sites have been closed. Archaeologists and employees were working on the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began unearthing something intriguing. When they cleaned the mound, clear lines showing the sinuous body of a cat emerged.

“The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear because it is situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” the culture ministry said in a statement.

The authorities said that even a stray footprint could mar the fragile grounds, and have imposed strict rules against trespassing at the site. Before the pandemic shut down tours, visitors were permitted to view the lines and figures only from planes and lookout points.

But disturbances at the Nazca lines have occurred, drawing widespread condemnation.

In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they placed a sign that promoted renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer across three lines of geoglyphs.

Even as Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month for one lucky tourist after he became stranded during the pandemic and waited seven months to see the 16th-century Inca citadel.

By: Tiffany May
Title: 2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/world/americas/peru-cat-nazca-lines-nasca.html
Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:48:43 +0000

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