U.S. Gulf Coast tourism, already stung by pandemic, slammed by Hurricane Sally

By Devika Krishna Kumar

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on the U.S. Gulf Coast this week, dealing a blow to a popular tourist destination already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. In the storm’s aftermath, many bar and restaurant owners were breathing a sigh of relief the damage was not worse.

Sally bulled its way through this stretch of beach towns and condos in Alabama and Florida, making landfall on Wednesday as a powerful Category 2 hurricane and bringing extensive floods that destroyed numerous piers and caused two riverboat casinos under construction to break free of their moorings.

Max Murphy, general manager of Crabs, a seafood and steak restaurant in Pensacola Beach, Florida, said the hurricane’s late eastward turn left residents unprepared.

“Everyone in the community expected it to keep going straight west to New Orleans or Gulfport (Miss.), but it took that turn so we weren’t really prepared,” Murphy said. “I didn’t even get the plywood up on my windows, because I wasn’t expecting it to come here.”

The damage from Hurricane Sally could range from $8 billion to $10 billion, well above earlier estimates of $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the costs of their damage. The hit to tourism revenues may not be fully known for months.

The U.S. leisure and hospitality industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. The Gulf region is a popular driving destination for the entire Southeast and Texas, peppered with restaurants, casinos and amusement parks.

Baldwin County, Alabama, where the hurricane made landfall, was the state’s most-visited county in 2019, according to the state tourism bureau, bringing in $1.7 billion in travel-related revenue.

In the Pensacola region, approximately 22,900 people were employed in that industry in August, a 13% drop from March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mike Bose, a manager at the Flora-Bama beach bar in Perdido Key, Florida, which hugs the Alabama state line, said the damage was still being assessed. More than 24 hours after the storm made landfall, parts of the restaurant were still flooded.

“We got quite a bit of water damage throughout, which we’re working on today,” Bose said. “There’s no telling at this point what the cost is to get back on track.”

Some tourists and visitors say the hurricane has scared them away from a return visit. Toni Galloway from Kansas City, Missouri, was visiting the Gulf area when Sally struck.

“This was my first hurricane. I wouldn’t want to weather another one. It’s frightening. I will have to think long and hard about returning to the Gulf Coast,” she said.

Murphy, the Crabs general manager, said the damage from this hurricane was less extensive than others like Hurricane Ivan, which hit 16 years ago at Category 5 strength. “That’s enough damage for the season. We don’t want anymore. We got lucky, we really did.”

John Perkins, 71, got to Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Sunday night from Tennessee to attend a wedding. Instead, he found himself hunkering down with his wife as the winds blew for hours.

“I told my wife – we can mark this off our bucket list. We rode out a hurricane,” he said.

(Reporting By Devika Krishna Kumar in Pensacola, Florida; additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Timothy Gardner)

How California’s wildfires could spark a financial crisis

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Wildfires across the U.S. West are among the sparks from climate change that could ignite a U.S. financial crisis by damaging home values, state tourism and local government budgets, an advisory panel to a U.S. markets regulator found.

Those effects could set off a cascade of events including defaults and market disruptions, undermining the U.S. economy and sparking a crisis. Here’s how:

MORE FREQUENT AND INTENSE FIRES

Global warming is making the U.S. West hotter and drier, with wildfires more frequent and intense, scientists say.

Economists have traditionally seen natural disasters like wildfires as localized shocks. That’s changing, according to the report, produced by a 35-member panel for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. The group included representatives of major oil companies, banks and asset managers.

LOWER HOME VALUES

CalFire, California’s fire-fighting agency, says about 3 million of the state’s 12 million homes are at high risk from wildfires.

That designation hurts home values, which in turn increases mortgage default risk, research cited by the report suggested. More defaults would damage banks, mortgage holders and markets where mortgages are sold. Securities based on mortgages were a trigger for the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

INSURERS RETREAT FROM COVERAGE

After 2018, California’s worst fire season in terms of loss of life and property, some insurers balked at renewing homeowner policies, forcing a record number of owners to turn to pricey policies from the state’s insurer of last resort.

Expensive insurance also depresses home prices, said former California insurance regulator Dave Jones, a contributor to the CFTC report.

“You can tell the same story in terms of sea level rise and flooding and more intense storms and their impact on residential real estate value,” said Jones, now a senior director at The Nature Conservancy.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Lower home values reduce cities’ real estate tax revenue and impair their ability to repay debt, potentially leading to bond defaults, according to the report.

Fire-related business disruptions such as a drop in tourism that slashed sales and lodging tax revenue could also hurt municipal finances. Stresses could build in the U.S. financial system in what the report termed “a systemic crisis in slow motion.”

MARKET PERCEPTIONS

Climate catastrophes can make investors aware of risks not priced into markets, the report said.

“A sudden revision of market participants’ perceptions about climate risk could trigger a disorderly repricing of assets, which could have cascading effects on portfolios and balance sheets and, therefore, systemic implications for financial stability,” the report said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Berkeley, Calif.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Good vibrations? COVID quiet time soothes Earth’s seismic shakes

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide led to the longest and most pronounced reduction in human-linked seismic vibrations ever recorded, sharpening scientists’ ability to hear earth’s natural signals and detect earthquakes, a study found on Thursday.

Vibrations travel through the earth like waves, creating seismic noise from earthquakes, volcanoes, wind and rivers as well as human actions such as travel and industry.

In the study, published in the journal Science and conducted using international seismometer networks, scientists found that human-linked earth vibrations dropped by an average of 50% between March and May this year.

“The 2020 seismic noise quiet period is the longest and most prominent global anthropogenic seismic noise reduction on record,” they wrote. The work was co-led by the Royal Observatory of Belgium and five other institutions using data from 268 monitoring stations in 117 countries.

Beginning in China in late January, and followed by Europe and the rest of the world in March to April, researchers saw “a wave of quietening” as worldwide lockdown measures to slow the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Travel and tourism were all but halted, millions of schools and industries closed, and many people were confined to their homes.

The relative quiet allowed scientists to “listen in” in more detail on the earth’s natural vibrations, said Stephen Hicks, a seismologist at Imperial College London who co-led the work.

“It has yielded a new window on the natural seismic signals, and could let us see more clearly than ever what differentiates human and natural noise,” he said.

The study said its findings also showed that seismologists can help establish how long people take to react to the imposition and lifting of lockdown measures.

The largest drops in human-induced vibrations were seen in densely populated areas like Singapore and New York City, but drops were also seen in remote areas like Germany’s Black Forest and Rundu in Namibia. Barbados, where lockdown coincided with the tourist season, saw a 50% drop in seismic noise.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Philippa Fletcher)

U.S. Treasury chief says considering more direct payments in next coronavirus aid bill

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday he would seriously consider more direct payments to individuals in the next phase of coronavirus rescue legislation, adding that funds should also be targeted to help sectors struggling to reopen, including hospitality and tourism.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee, Mnuchin said the Treasury also planned to issue new guidance this week to ease rules that prohibit business owners with a criminal conviction in the past five years from accessing forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans.

That would be reduced to three years, and Mnuchin said he was open to easing the rules further.

Mnuchin said he “definitely” believed another round of federal coronavirus aid would be needed, including measures to create jobs. Congress has so far passed three coronavirus bills totaling about $3 trillion in programs, including the small- business payroll loans, payments to individuals, money for healthcare providers and Federal Reserve credit market backstops.

“We will have a significant amount of unemployment and we’re going to need to look at doing something there,” Mnuchin said. “I think we’re going to seriously look at whether we want to do more direct money to stimulate the economy, but I think this is all going to be about getting people back to work.”

The Treasury chief, who has negotiated most of the programs with congressional leaders, also said he was open to “repurposing” some of the unused funds. When asked if he would consider allowing some $130 billion in unclaimed PPP funds to be used to rebuild businesses damaged during recent protests over police brutality, Mnuchin said he would consider the idea.

He cautioned against rushing into a fourth bill as the economy was starting to reopen. But some sectors that have been slow to reopen, including restaurants and travel-related industries, may need more help, he said.

“Small business and by the way, many big businesses, in certain industries are absolutely going to need more help,” Mnuchin said.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney)

Cubans cast aside coronavirus fears to search for scarcer food

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – From the seafront capital Havana to the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubans are defying fear of the new coronavirus to search for food as global trade disruptions worsen shortages of basic goods on the Caribbean island.

Residents of all ages are trudging from store to store in the country to locate scarce goods despite recommendations from health experts to stay at home and respect social distancing guidelines to avoid contracting the highly contagious disease.

Communist-run Cuba imports more than 60% of its food, but the pandemic has forced its government to close the borders, denying it the hard currency from tourism needed to pay for goods from overseas. The leisure industry accounts for 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

With shortages biting, many residents are using apps to swarm shops when coveted products arrive – from chicken and cheese to powdered milk and tomato sauce – creating long lines on the streets of Havana where police attempt to keep order.

While Cuba has faced scattered shortages ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union began in 1989, they have worsened since a decline in aid from socialist ally Venezuela and a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now they are intensifying as the pandemic compounds Cuba’s cash crunch and disrupts international trade and food prices.

“There is a queue for everything, products are scarce,” Havana resident Luis Alberto said as he waited in a line for chicken that stretched for more than 100 meters (330 ft).

Since the first coronavirus cases were logged on the island last month, authorities have closed the borders to people and called on Cubans to only go out if strictly necessary, always wearing face masks. Disinfectant has been included on the ration cards that residents use to obtain goods.

“No one is walking around except the family doctor and nurse,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said from a medium-sized town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Granma province.

“But when some ground meat finally arrived the other day everyone emerged from their homes in masks and lined up with a policeman keeping order,” she said.

A soldier organizes a line of people to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

‘PERFECT STORM BREWING’

President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently warned citizens they would be consuming less imported food “due to the current situation.”

When ships arrived last week with corn and rice, it was big news in the state-run media.

Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or other multilateral lending institutions it could turn to for emergency funds.

Economy Minister Alejandro Gil has said the only solution is to “find in agriculture the main source of food for the people” but the sector is suffering an intensifying lack of inputs – like fertilizer and pesticides – partly due to U.S. sanctions.

“There is a perfect storm brewing. By May, the food situation here will be much worse,” a local agricultural expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.

FOOD PRODUCTION IN TROUBLE

Cuba is famous for fighting epidemics and infamous for its centralized and unproductive Soviet-style agricultural system long since jettisoned by other Communist-run countries.

Many express faith in the former and not the latter.

“Cuba has the virus under control and I am sure it will stay that way,” said Emandez Maseo, a teacher in eastern Cuba. “At the same time, we are going into a critical situation, there is nothing in the markets and it is getting worse.”

Cuba has reported 396 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths, all but a few linked to travelers entering from abroad.

Much of the economy not related to tourism remains open, but it is hard to see agricultural production making up for lower imports.

Just 40% of normal fuel supplies and even less fertilizer and pesticides were used for the winter crop, according to the government. Planting began before the pandemic in November and harvesting ended in March.

The government has not reported on the results of Cuba’s most important growing season. Agriculture ministry official Yojan García Rodas told local radio that farmers were able to plant less than half the planned acreage of beans – a local staple – because they had to use oxen to till the land due to lack of fuel.

Speaking about a plague that wiped out much of the crop, Rodas said only 15% of the 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) planted could be protected by chemical pesticides.

Luis Enrique Plutin, a farmer working the fields under a hot sun with fellow cooperative members on the outskirts of Havana, was phlegmatic.

“Through sacrifice and work we can produce something, but not much, for the population,” he said. “And we can continue to produce more, but imagine the difficulties we have.”

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity ordered closed over coronavirus fears

By Mussa Qawasma

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – The Church of the Nativity was ordered closed on Thursday and foreign tourists were banned from West Bank hotels after four suspected coronavirus cases were found in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

The measures announced by the Palestinian Authority’s tourism ministry came as a particular blow to the Biblical town, whose businesses are largely dependent on Christian visitors to the church, built on the traditional site of Jesus’s birth.

Just three months ago Bethlehem was hailing its best Christmas for two decades, the mayor and hoteliers said, even better than the 1.5 million visitors it received in 2018.

The Latin Patriarchate of the Holy Land said the Church of the Nativity, which was first founded in 339 and rebuilt and extended over the centuries, would be closed for two weeks, along with other churches and mosques in the Bethlehem area.

The ban on foreign guests at West Bank hotels will also last two weeks, the tourism ministry said.

“This affects us dramatically,” said Joey Canavati, manager of the 58-room Alexander Hotel in Bethlehem. “Our workers are essentially laid off for the next 14 days. We will be closed down completely. It destroyed our business from every perspective.”

Canavati said groups of tourists from the United States, Poland and Cameroon had already canceled their bookings.

Palestinian health officials said they were examining whether four workers at another hotel in Bethlehem had contracted coronavirus from tourists who had stayed there recently.

Police surrounded the hotel, as authorities awaited the results of laboratory tests. There have been no confirmed cases of the disease in the West Bank. Fifteen people have been diagnosed with the virus in neighboring Israel.

The Palestinian governor of the West Bank town of Nablus on Thursday ordered its Muslim and Christian holy sites shut as a public health precaution.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank under interim peace accords.

On Wednesday, Israel ordered travelers arriving from Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Switzerland to go into home quarantine over coronavirus concerns and canceled a military exercise with troops from the U.S. European Command.

The measure effectively cut off foreign tourism from those countries, whose citizens, the Health Ministry said, would not be allowed into Israel unless they could show they had made quarantine arrangements ahead of time.

Israel has already imposed the edict with regard to flights from Italy, China and Singapore.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta, Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson)

Most children in orphanages are not orphans; child trafficking

A girl writes the names of body parts on a chalkboard at an orphanage outside Gulu, Uganda, June 10, 2007. REUTERS/Edward Ou

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Millions of children around the world live in orphanages, but child rights experts say most are not orphans.

Orphanages have become a lucrative business in developing countries, attracting generous funding. This has led to the trafficking of children to fill them, according to charities Forget Me Not and Lumos.

The two charities, which will talk about orphan trafficking at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Conference in London on Wednesday, are calling for an end to orphanages which they say cause immense harm to children.

Here are some facts:

– An estimated 8 million children live in orphanages and other institutions worldwide, but 80 percent are not orphans.

– Research shows orphanages harm children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

– Institutionalisation of very young children has a similar impact on early brain development to severe malnutrition or maternal drug use during pregnancy.

– Young adults raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to fall into sex work than their peers, and 500 times more likely to take their own lives.

– Placing a child in an orphanage quadruples the risk of sexual violence.

HAITI

– The number of orphanages in Haiti jumped by at least 150 percent following the 2010 earthquake.

– Some 30,000 children live in 750 orphanages in Haiti, but Haiti’s government estimates 80 percent have at least one living parent.

– Only 15 percent of orphanages are registered.

– Lumos estimates that funding to all Haitian orphanages is upwards of $100 million a year.

– Its research suggests 92 percent of orphanage funders are from the United States, and 90 percent are faith-based.

– Institutional care is four times more expensive than providing health, education and social support to keep a child in its family.

CAMBODIA

– Cambodia has promised to return thousands of children in orphanages to their families.

– A survey published in 2017 found 16,579 children living in 406 orphanages with nearly 10,000 more living in other care facilities. Most had at least one living parent.

– The number of orphanages jumped by about 60 percent between 2005 and 2015, and the number of children in them by nearly 80 percent.

– The growth in orphanages comes despite a decline in the number of genuine orphans.

– Half of the orphanages are in the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, both tourist destinations.

“VOLUNTOURISM”

– The growth in orphanages is fuelled by tourism, including “voluntourism” where people work short stints in orphanages.

– Orphanage volunteering is a concern in at least 18 countries including Cambodia, Nepal, and Uganda.

– Countries such as the United States, Britain, and Australia are major contributors to the supply of volunteers.

– The continuous rotation of volunteers harms children psychologically, leading to attachment issues in adult life.- There is often no screening of volunteers, leaving children vulnerable to sexual abuse.

– Australia is the first country to recognize orphanage tourism as a form of slavery.

Sources: Lumos, Forget Me Not, Save the Children, UNICEF

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Exclusive: Puerto Rico open for tourists despite ‘mixed-bag’ recovery – governor

FILE PHOTO: Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello delivers remarks during a commemorative event organized by the local government a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello flew to New York this week on a mission: persuade potential tourists that the hurricane-ravaged island was ready for their return.

But Puerto Rico’s recovery from last year’s Hurricane Maria has been a “mixed bag,” Rossello told Reuters on Thursday, acknowledging that the bankrupt U.S. territory, while improving, is far from out of the woods.

Puerto Rico has received only a small fraction of the federal funding it needs to get back on its feet, Rossello said in a 75-minute interview, and getting access to the rest could take more than a decade.

His administration estimates that fixing Puerto Rico fully will require $139 billion, but the federal government has earmarked only about $60 billion to $65 billion for the recovery, he said. Of that, only about $3 billion to $4 billion has actually flowed into the island’s coffers. Obtaining the remainder could take 10 to 11 years, he said, adding that his team is lobbying the U.S. Congress for more money.

Compounding the problem is Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy in U.S. federal court, where it is trying to restructure $120 billion of debt and pension obligations. There are also ongoing spending disputes between the government and a federally appointed fiscal oversight board.

In the year since Hurricane Maria, Rossello has at times been diplomatic regarding the federal government’s response, while at other times – especially lately – adopting a more critical take. He has also been criticized for sticking with an estimated death toll of 64 early-on, when strong evidence suggested it could be higher. A government-commissioned study by researchers at George Washington University eventually pegged the toll at around 3,000.

When asked whether his administration’s messaging strategies have been tied to an effort to maintain good relations with President Donald Trump, Rossello said a “critical part” of the island’s recovery “is making sure the federal government responds to our petitions.”

“So yes, I have opted for a path that involves dialogue, that involves collaboration,” Rossello said, adding that he has not been afraid to be critical.

If Trump does not sign the island’s request to extend the federal government’s 100 percent coverage of repair costs, “I’ll be the first one to fight it,” Rossello said, “and I’ll be the first to point out that action, or lack of action, is one of the main obstacles to our recovery.”

Rossello said Puerto Rico still has as many as 60,000 homes with temporary tarp roofs. It also has hundreds of thousands of informally constructed homes with many owners lacking title to their property.

Rebuilding will require the current ranks of about 45,000 construction workers to grow to 130,000, according to Rossello, who recently signed an executive order increasing the minimum hourly construction wage to $15 despite opposition from the oversight board and the private sector.

POWER SHIFT

The island’s government is still considering initiatives that could make the island’s troubled electricity grid more resilient, Rossello said. Ultimately, the island hopes to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewables and steer away from fossil fuels. The shift would require a new regulatory policy, approval by the bondholders, and, potentially, investment from outside companies or organizations.

“We have received 10 to 12 unsolicited proposals for generation,” he said, while acknowledging the government has yet to find a private operator for the power utility’s transmission and distribution operations.

But changes at the electric agency known as PREPA, which Rossello called one of the most troubled organizations in modern history, will be gradual. The governor said he is working with a search firm to identify outside board members for the utility, after nearly the entire board quit in an uproar over appointment of a new CEO.

Limited electricity was a major problem for the island’s small business sector, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report on Thursday. A survey of more than 400 businesses with fewer than 500 employees found 77 percent suffered losses as a result of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

ISLAND BECKONS TOURISTS

Meanwhile, Rossello is trying not only to restore tourism, but to expand it in such a way that it incorporates hundreds of square miles of seaside and mountain communities that are largely unvisited. Puerto Rico’s tourism is small compared with other Caribbean locales and tends to be centered in San Juan.

The island’s visitor lodgings hit a 2017 high of 204,025 in July, but fell to just under 30,000 in October following the hurricanes, according to Puerto Rico Tourism Company data.

Convincing tourists to leave the capital, though, will require easier travel. “Puerto Rico should be a multi-port destination,” he said, discussing plans to beef up airport capacity in the south and west of the island.

He emphasized the possibility of capitalizing on Puerto Rico’s near-constant spate of community festivals. “We have flower festivals, orange festivals, plantain festivals, coffee festivals, music festivals.”

Rossello pointed to so-called chinchorreos as a possible draw, events in which Puerto Rican foodies move from one inexpensive eatery to the next.

“A bar crawl for food – that’s the best way to put it,” the governor said, “and the island is small, so you start in one place and you’re on a beachfront, and 15 minutes later you’re in the mountains.”

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown in New York, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan; Editing by Daniel Bases and Matthew Lewis)

T-shirts, tacos, and tourism: Singapore businesses cash in on Trump-Kim mania

The Rocket Man Taco and the El Trumpo Taco is pictured at Lucha Loco in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

By Dewey Sim and Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – From summit-themed burgers and online scalpers peddling “World Peace” medallions and “Peace Out from Lion City” T-shirts, Singaporeans are cashing in on a historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

The buzz around the Trump-Kim summit on Tuesday has stirred Singaporeans’ entrepreneurial spirit, and raised hopes of a tourism dividend long after the summit dust settles.

A bartender presents a pair of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un cocktails called The Bromance at Hopheads Craft Beer Bar and Bistro in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

A bartender presents a pair of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un cocktails called The Bromance at Hopheads Craft Beer Bar and Bistro in Singapore June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim

One person is trying to sell his weekend reservations at the Shangri-La Hotel, mentioned in media as the possible lodging of one of the leaders – at three times the price.

“It was for a personal ‘staycation’, but I reckon that because of the summit, people might actually offer to pay a higher price,” Joel Lin, who is asking for S$1,600 for each of two rooms he has booked, said by telephone.

The Singapore Mint, which this week unveiled a commemorative medallion for the summit, later raised the mintage for the gold and silver medallions after an overwhelming response.

At more than S$1,000 ($750) a piece for the gold version, and more than S$100 for the silver one, the issue could yield upwards of S$5 million if they are all sold.

Scalpers are preparing to sell the medallions they get in an online sale.

An Australian Kim impersonator, who goes by the name Howard X, has also been cashing in but said he got an unpleasant surprise on Friday when he was detained for questioning on arrival back in the country for a second time in two weeks.

He said he was allowed on his way after being told to stay away from summit venues.

A Singapore burger chain, Wolf Burgers, urged the two leaders to #settlethebeef and invited them to try its “Burger for World Peace”, with American sharp cheddar cheese and Korea’s marinated Bulgogi shabu brisket.

Mexican restaurant Lucha Loco is selling “Rocket Man” and “El Trumpo” tacos and guests stand a chance to smash Trump-Kim piñatas.

FILE PHOTO: Special red and blue shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, are displayed on a table in Singapore June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Special red and blue shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, are displayed on a table in Singapore June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Trump called Kim “little rocket man” last year, when the two were exchanging threats of nuclear war and the prospect of a summit was nothing but a distant dream for even the most optimistic marketing man.

More than 3,000 journalists are due in town, along with delegations and security entourages.

Those who enjoy a tipple might seek out a bar offering cocktails featuring the Korean spirit soju. One bar has named its special summit drink – which mixes beer, tequila, diet Coke and soju – the Bromance.

Singapore, which welcomed a record 17.4 million international visitors last year, is likely to see a bump, albeit small, in retail spending because of the summit.

Every tourist to Singapore spends an average three-and-a-half days and contributes about S$1,500 to overall tourism receipts, said brokerage CGS-CIMB.

Assuming a seven-day stay and about 4,000 people coming for the event, a CGS-CIMB analyst estimated they could spend about S$12 million ($9 million).

That’s a drop in the bucket in the short-term – the Singapore Tourism Board has forecast tourism receipts of between S$27.1 billion ($20.3 billion) and S$27.6 billion this year.

But a glitch-free summit will increase the chances of more big-ticket events.

“As with all high-profile visits, it places Singapore on the map for international audiences and showcases Singapore as an ideal destination, especially for business and meetings,” said Oliver Chong, executive director of communications and marketing capability at the tourism board.

($1 = 1.3330 Singapore dollars)

(Reporting by Dewey Sim and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Eleven injured in car crash near London museum, terrorism ruled out

Police officers stand in the road near the Natural History Museum, after a car mounted the pavement injuring a number of pedestrians, police said, in London, Britain October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Eleven people were injured on Saturday when a car collided with pedestrians near London’s Natural History Museum, in one of the capital’s busiest tourist areas, but police doused fears it was a terrorist attack, saying it was a road traffic incident.

Police said it was believed the car had mounted the pavement outside the popular attraction in west London and collided with a number of pedestrians. Officers had arrested a man at the scene and he was now being questioned.

Britain has suffered five attacks blamed on terrorism so far this year, three of which involved vehicles, and the incident in an area packed with tourists at the weekend had prompted concerns that the collision had been a deliberate act.

“The incident is a road traffic investigation and not a terrorist-related incident,” a police statement said.

London’s ambulance service said they had treated 11 people, mostly for head and leg injuries, with nine taken to hospital. Police said none of the injuries were life-threatening or life-changing.

Unverified footage from the scene showed a man being pinned to the ground by what appeared to be four security guards or police officers.

The Natural History Museum is located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, one of the British capital’s most upmarket districts and home to a host of other museums, restaurants as well as university buildings.

It is the fourth most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, with 4.6 million visits during 2016, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

The collision brought the area to a standstill as police cordoned off a wide area whilst they carried out their investigation.

“My thanks to the first responders at this incident this afternoon and the actions of members of the public. My thoughts are with the injured,” Prime Minister Theresa May said on Twitter.

Britain is on its second highest security alert level, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

In March, a man drove a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge killing four before stabbing a police officer to death in the grounds of parliament.

Three Islamist militants drove into people on London Bridge in June before stabbing people at nearby restaurants and bars, killing eight. The same month, a van was driven into worshippers near a mosque in north London which left one man dead.

(Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)