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Ocean shipping shrinks as pandemic pummels retailers

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LONDON/LOS ANGELES/MADRID (Reuters) – The $1 trillion container shipping industry is in a slowdown. Literally.

Some shipping lines, whose retail customers are being hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, are reducing sailing speeds and taking longer routes around Africa, avoiding Suez canal passage fees, according to the companies and ship-tracking specialists.

Many are also cutting down the number of voyages and providing short-term storage for clients as the industry, which includes heavyweights like Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), MSC and Hapag-Lloyd (HLAG.DE), faces its biggest downturn since the 2008 financial crisis.

The new tactics not only save on costs, but also help adapt to the needs of cash-crunched retailers – among their biggest customers – who are stuck with huge inventory surpluses thanks to COVID-19 store closures and a collapse in consumer demand.

Slower shipping times also means importers can delay payments made on delivery.

From sportswear maker Puma (PUMG.DE) to mall stalwart Gap (GPS.N), many retailers have been forced to reduce or slow down shipments of new merchandise. Civil unrest in the United States has compounded their problems by further clouding the prospect for a recovery in the world’s biggest retail sales market.

Puma’s Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden, for example, said it was managing some of its excess inventory by stowing it on slow-going ships as stores in the United States and Europe tentatively reopen.

However, at the same time, the shipping slowdown has created headaches for those retailers, from Walmart (WMT.N) and Amazon (AMZN.O) to shoe seller Rothy’s, who have never stopped selling products to homebound consumers, ranging from books and shoes to exercise equipment, much of it sold online.

Now those retailers are fighting for space on the fewer, faster-moving ships on the high seas.

“What we are seeing is quite a mixed situation from cargo owners, some of which are resuming normal shipment of their cargoes, others are requesting routings via longer transit times,” said Marcus Leaver, chief operating officer of sea freight at Hellmann Worldwide Logistics, which organises shipments for companies such as retailers.

A lack of space on ships is leading to more “rollovers”, where containers are bumped from packed vessels to later ones, like passengers on oversold flights, according to importers.

Spanish retailer Mango, which has continued to sell online during the pandemic, told Reuters it was seeing an increase in service cancellations by shipping companies, which caused instability and “space problems”.

It added that 99% of its imports from Asia were now coming by sea because air costs had gone up due to a lack of flights and the priority given to medical equipment.

‘A lot of trouble’

The stakes are high for the container industry. Retail goods such as clothes, luggage and furniture represent about 15% of shipped volumes, a Reuters analysis of industry data shows.

Soren Skou, CEO of Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping group, said many of its big customers were retailers or suppliers to retailers.

“There are some traditional retailers in a lot of trouble and, as you know, some have started to go bankrupt,” Skou said last month. “Some customers ask us to delay shipments and we have found extra storage and warehouse facilities for them.”

Shereen Zarkani, Maersk’s global head of sales, told Reuters: “One customer told us: If you make my container go around the world a couple of times that would be good.”

The volume of apparel arriving in the United States by ship dropped nearly 20% in January-May versus the same period last year, and reached 379,910 TEUs (20-foot equivalent container units), data from logistics technology company Descartes showed.

Furniture volumes fell over 12% in the same period, while luggage dropped over 34%.

The first blow landed when the novel coronavirus forced China to shutter factories in February, cutting off supplies of apparel, electronics and other retail goods to the world. The second came when stores in Europe and the United States closed, leading companies like Topshop owner Arcadia Group, Gap and off-price retailers Marshalls and TJ Maxx (TJX.N) to cancel orders.

“When you look at the East-West trades we are right now looking at 15% to 20% (taken out) across the industry,” Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of German-based Hapag-Lloyd, said last month pointing to the fall in capacity in recent weeks.

Outlook: Stormy

There does not appear to be any let-up in sight for container shipping companies as their retail clients could still be feeling acute financial pain in July, when they begin placing orders for holiday and winter merchandise.

Jay Foreman, CEO of Florida-based toy supplier Basic Fun, which sells to retailers including Walmart and Target Corp (TGT.N), said he expected a 20% decrease in business this year.

Indeed, the outlook for retail is dim: Euromonitor forecasts that U.S. retail sales will fall more than 6% this year.

James Conroy, CEO of California-based clothing company Boot Barn Holdings (BOOT.N), told analysts it faced “several headwinds”.

“High unemployment, extremely depressed oil prices and a shift toward online shopping will present challenges for us as we progress through the next six to 12 months,” he said.

Reporting and photo: Reuters

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Maldives celebrates arrival of 2024’s 1 millionth tourist

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Maldives on Thursday welcomed the one millionth tourist to visit this year.

The one millionth tourist is a Thai named Sutapa Amonwivat, who arrived from Singapore with her husband and two children. This is her second visit to Maldives.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and the Ministry of Tourism gave a warm welcome to Sutapa at the Velana International Airport (VIA) Thursday afternoon. She was welcomed at the VIA by tourism minister Ibrahim Faisal, MMPRC Managing Director Ibrahim Shiury and senior officials of various relevant agencies.

After welcoming her with traditional offerings, she was presented with various gifts by the ministry, MMPRC, customs, immigration, Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA).

Maldives reached one million tourists in June, three weeks earlier than last year. The number of tourists reached one million on July 16, 2023.

Maldives expects to reach 2 million tourists this year.

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New air route connects Chongqing to Maldives

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Chongqing Airlines on Monday began its inaugural flights to Maldives.

The Chongqing-Male route, scheduled three times a week, is expected to strengthen the bonds between China and the Maldives, opening up exciting new opportunities for tourism and cultural exchange.

The inaugural flight was welcomed upon its arrival at Velana International Airport (VIA) in Maldives, where local officials and tourism representatives expressed their enthusiasm for this new development.

“We warmly welcome our friends from China to our beautiful islands. This new connection strengthens our bonds and opens up new opportunities for tourism,” the tourism ministry said on X.

Maldives currently welcomes four airlines from China, including China Eastern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Xiamen Airlines.

In January, Maldives government urged tourism stakeholders in both Maldives and China to ramp up efforts to restore China’s position as the primary source market for Maldives tourism, a status held before the onset of Covid-19.

China, being the largest source market for Maldives tourism before the pandemic, saw a resumption of tourist arrivals from January 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In 2023, the Maldives welcomed 187,118 Chinese tourists, marking a significant recovery in numbers. This year, the Maldives has welcomed the most number of tourists from China, with over 107,940 or 11.5 percent of total arrivals by June 12. 

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CROSSROADS Maldives Introduces Weixin Pay at resorts for seamless guest experience

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CROSSROADS Maldives has introduced WeChat Pay, widely known as Weixin Pay in China, across its world-class resorts, SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives. This payment option is made available to enhance the convenience and overall experience for guests from China, making their stay in the Maldives more enjoyable and hassle-free.

Understanding the needs of the diverse guests, CROSSROADS Maldives has integrated WeChat Pay into operations, allowing guests from China to easily and securely conduct transactions using a payment method familiar to them. The introduction of WeChat Pay is a testament to CROSSROADS Maldives’ dedication to enhancing guest satisfaction by offering exceptional experiences at every turn. What is also expected through this initiative is that the guests could benefit from better foreign exchange rates, translating to better savings on their expenditures during their stay.

The option is available for guests in-house conveniently at both resorts as well as across the Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives where a wider variety of unparalleled dining and retail experiences are available for all guests. The day visitors from China will also therefore equally benefit from this new introduction at the Maldives’ premier multi-island integrated leisure destination.

SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a vibrant tropical escape that offers unique and locally inspired experiences. The resort features spacious rooms and villas, a variety of dining options, and an array of recreational activities designed to cater to the desires of modern travellers. Guests can escape to the island’s SAiisational natural beauty, enjoy water sports, and indulge in spa treatments, all while relishing the personalised service that defines Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Hard Rock Hotel Maldives brings the iconic Hard Rock spirit to the tranquil shores of the Maldives. This family-friendly resort offers a perfect blend of relaxation and entertainment, featuring music-inspired experiences, live performances, and the brand’s signature amenities. With luxurious accommodations, diverse dining options, and a plethora of activities for all ages, Hard Rock Hotel Maldives ensures an unforgettable holiday experience for every guest.

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