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Ocean shipping shrinks as pandemic pummels retailers



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


Atmosphere Core expands in South Asia with Atmosphere Living ultra-luxury residences



Atmosphere Core, a globally renowned name in hospitality, has announced the launch of Atmosphere Living as part of its continued expansion in South Asia. Headquartered in India, this new company will offer branded ultra-luxury residences with customised end-to-end amenities and indulgences, including coffee lounges, wine cellars, private transport, and bespoke concierge services.

The global branded residences market has experienced a remarkable 150 percent growth over the past decade, and projections indicate a surge in demand. With the real estate veteran Sandeep Ahuja at the helm as Managing Director, Atmosphere Living is strategically positioned to capitaliSe on this demand.

Atmosphere Living will focus on a conscious design philosophy. All properties will be built in harmony with the environment and will incorporate features such as smart recycling, efficient waste and water management, and green energy solutions.

Sharing his insights on the launch, Salil Panigrahi, Managing Director, Atmosphere Core, said, “Atmosphere Living will bring a distinctive offering to India, and is a brand to watch out for. It will combine Ahuja’s decades of experience, knowledge, and industry network in real estate with Atmosphere’s hospitality expertise, introducing unparalleled serviced residences in India.”

Positioned in major metropolitan areas, established second-home destinations, and undiscovered scenic locales nationwide, these projects will also present lucrative investment opportunities. Elite homeowners will have the option to lease their residences back to Atmosphere Living, allowing them to be rented out for income generation.

Sandeep Ahuja, Managing Director, Atmosphere Living, said, “There is currently a gap in the Indian realty landscape for ultra-indulgent serviced homes catering to affluent consumers. We aim to bridge this gap by curating serviced homes that offer indulgences such as entering homes using smart key cards, 24/7 butler services, fine dining, and co-working spaces, among others. Our ultimate desire is to enable our customers to experience a life of true luxury and exclusivity.”

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A night of celestial wonders, luxury, and cosmic inspiration at Anantara Kihavah SKY Observatory by British astronaut Tim Peake



Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas celebrated a historic  milestone with the exclusive visit of the renowned British astronaut, Tim Peake. On the evening of November 2, Astronaut Peake hosted an exclusive space talk at SKY Observatory, the finest  overwater observatory in the Indian Ocean, housing the most powerful telescope in the Maldives. 

Perched gracefully over the pristine Maldivian waters, SKY Observatory provided an idyllic setting for  this extraordinary event, complemented by a stunning sunset. The exclusive gathering attracted a full  house of eager guests to a delightful evening that seamlessly blended science, luxury, and natural  beauty. 

The evening commenced with a lovely cocktail reception, where guests were serenaded by the soulful  tunes of a live saxophone band. Attendees savoured exquisite cocktails and canapés as they eagerly  awaited Tim Peake’s presentation. 

Tim Peake’s talk unveiled his personal journey, where he shared his path to becoming an astronaut  and narrated the rigorous training that astronauts undergo. He provided insights into life in space, the  daily challenges faced by astronauts, and the awe-inspiring experiences he encountered during his 

historic mission. He also offered a glimpse into his exciting future projects, leaving the audience both  inspired and spellbound. 

Following Tim’s presentation, an interactive Q&A session allowed guests to engage directly with the  British astronaut. The audience posed thoughtful questions, deepening their understanding of  astronauts’ unique experiences and the intricacies of space exploration. 

The event was further enriched by the presence of the resort’s three SKY gurus, Hammadh Rasheed,  Zunnoon Ahmed, and Ali Arushal, who conducted a stargazing session for the guests afterward. 

The success of the event was evident in the overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, who  left with a deeper appreciation for space exploration and a memorable evening to cherish. 

The evening marked a significant moment in Anantara Kihavah’s history, showcasing the resort’s  commitment to offering unique and memorable experiences for its guests. The presence of Tim  Peake, a celebrated astronaut and highly accomplished author, added an extraordinary dimension to  the resort’s already spectacular offerings. 

Tim Peake is a renowned British astronaut who made history as the first official British astronaut to  visit the International Space Station (ISS) and conduct a spacewalk during his six-month mission. He  also achieved the remarkable feat of running the London Marathon from space. Beyond his  extraordinary space endeavours, Tim is also a bestselling author with his most recent book Space: A thrilling human history published earlier this month. 

An astronomer’s paradise, Baa Atoll in the Maldives, is one of the best places on earth to enjoy  stargazing due to its proximity to the equator. Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas promises a voyage of  discovery on a private Indian Ocean Island, with Sky—an overwater observatory and luxury cocktail  bar—providing guests a chance to sip champagne under the stars and explore the Universe.

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Visit Maldives website adds atolls segment to showcase diverse regions



Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation’s (MMPRC/ Visit Maldives) has added a new segment to the official Visit Maldives Website specified for atolls showcasing the diversity of the Maldives.

The segment, now live at provides in depth information regarding the different regions of the Maldives, divided by atolls, to refine the traveller’s experience, commencing with an in-depth exploration of Addu Atoll and Fuvahmulah Atoll.

With 26 atolls, the Maldives offers a wide array of unique accommodations and awe-inspiring travel experiences, and this informative section of our website will serve as a gateway to discover the hidden treasures unique to each area. This falls under MMPRC’s initiatives to encourage tourism growth in all regions of the Maldives, broadening exposure to the diverse tourism products available in the Maldives.

The goal is to elevate Visit Maldives’ digital marketing landscape by showcasing the Maldives as more than just a honeymoon destination with various accommodation options. This initiative is driven by a desire to increase awareness about the distinctive offerings within each of the Maldives’ atolls. It aims to positively shape their perception of the Sunny Side of Life brand by curating engaging content that highlights the unique features of the atolls and diverse experiences available in the islands.

Additionally, the initiative will target the affordable luxury market to promote the Maldives as the most appealing option for short holidays and weekend getaways under a unified Maldives brand umbrella.

MMPRC aims to continue exploring other atolls in the Maldives as well, encouraging growth and tourism development in all regions of the Maldives, building on the foundation we have created to promote the destination beyond the traditional paradigms of sun, sand, and sea.

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