Greetings travelers! I hope you’re enjoying the summer as much as possible during this very strange time. This past week, I’ve been talking to people in different life stages – parents of school-aged children, people with teens and elderly parents who are “sandwiched,” couples with empty nests/adult children, and newly engaged couples. Despite having different challenges and months of shattered plans, they all are working hard to adapt the current “normal,” and I give them so much credit for doing their best to not only survive but thrive as best they can safely.
Not surprisingly, I’ve been fielding loads of questions about how to travel safely in our new environment. Most people aren’t traveling far from home right now, but the safety question applies even when taking a single overnight trip. I received an email from a client asking questions that are sure to be on everyone’s minds; with their permission, I share a section of the email:
…Thanks again for your help with rebooking our April vacation… Wondering if you can help with a couple of things. We want to drive to Maine and stay for a few nights this summer somewhere where we won’t have to be too worried about the quality of the cleaning. Also, before the virus hit, we were planning to travel to Colorado for Thanksgiving and now aren’t sure how risky it will be to fly and where would be a good place to stay. What do you think?…
First, traveling in the near term is a personal decision. Especially now, I see my role as a resource to help people make informed choices by providing relevant, timely information from my industry sources and the Virtuoso network. To that end, I outline what I know to be accurate now (meaning at the time of publishing this newsletter) so that the information may be helpful to you whether you are hoping/planning to travel later this year or in 2021. Note that this overview is in no way comprehensive (that would take a book) so contact me if you have specific questions. Read on for the scoop….
Airlines & Airports
Reports from people flying vary widely, and it depends upon the carrier. For example, industry resources say that Delta and Southwest are keeping middle seats open where American and United are not following that practice. I recently booked a flight for someone that was business-related, and I not only visited every airline website that offered a flight that worked, but I went to the airport sites where the person would have a layover. After doing that due diligence and reading the fine print about changes, cancellations, and safety protocols, we were able to find a flight that was in their comfort zone.
Policies are frequently changing and evolving with the airlines. I read an interesting article in Conde Nast Traveler last week about how some of the major airlines plan to respond to temperature taking at the airports:
“Today, Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, announced that its member carriers will voluntarily pledge to refund tickets for any passenger who is found to have an elevated temperature—as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines—during a screening process conducted by federal authorities prior to travel,” said A4A in a press release.
Also, according to A4A last week, its member carriers are implementing temporary health acknowledgment policies and procedures. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines now or will require passengers to complete a simple health acknowledgment during the check-in process. Health acknowledgments typically cover three primary areas and will be assurances from the traveler themselves about face coverings, symptoms, and exposure.
Finally, expect changes without much notice. Flights and schedules have been changing (i.e. nonstop flights changing to adding layovers), so if you have plans to fly make sure your carrier can text or contact you with updates. And as you likely heard in the news this week, states like New York and Connecticut have started requiring that travelers from hot spot states complete a form with their contact information, and further they might be met at their arrival gate to ensure the form’s completion or possibly face a fine.
If you have a flight coming up and want to know someone’s experience (from late June 2020 on Alaskan Airlines from Seattle to Boston), here’s an overview of what they encountered: https://nyti.ms/302yLtw.
Like the airlines, policies, procedures, and protocols vary by type of accommodation. I’ve been on calls recently with the big chains including Marriott and Hilton. Their updated policies are posted on their websites and are rather impressive with UV cleaning technology, disinfecting sprayers, and complimentary hygiene kits for guests. However, in franchise ownership situations, corporate sets the guidelines but it’s up to the individual hotels to comply. Hotels not only have lost enormous amounts of money over the last 5 months, but they now are being asked to invest heavily in cleaning supplies, staff, and training. Not all can afford it. My recommendation is to call the hotel and ask what they are doing. Don’t rely on the website for chain hotels.
High-end hotels who rely heavily on their reputation and guest recommendations are good bets. They may also have favorable change and cancellation policies. Some of these accommodations offer villas or rooms with private entrances which limit the need to be in public spaces and elevators.
As mentioned in a previous newsletter Airbnbs, VRBOs and the like are individually owned properties, and each owner hires cleaning staff. You should ask the owner how the property is being cleaned, and if there is a 24-hour gap between guests – it’s a matter of trust. If you’re concerned, I recommend arriving a day later than your reservation to ensure there’s a buffer between you and the previous guests and bring cleaning supplies so you can clean areas of concern yourself upon arrival.
Bottom line: call the accommodation to find out about the current travel restrictions for their state from your state, updated health and safety protocols they have implemented and make sure you know what is open and available for use (i.e. onsite restaurant, pool, spa, etc.) so you won’t have any unwanted surprises. Also, know the change/cancellation policy in the case that state or local guidelines change. This is what I’m doing for clients.
Traveling Outside Your State Within The US
If you are traveling out of your home state be sure to visit the destination state’s official website for the most up-to-date travel information and restrictions before you leave home. There are quarantine rules for many states right now, and they are changing frequently. For example, for New York state check https://forward.ny.gov/ and Rhode Island https://health.ri.gov/covid/travel/. If you’re staying overnight, your hotel should also have this information and be able to tell you if you need to sign a form, provide test results (and the time period within which the test needs to be taken – most commonly 72 hours before you travel), etc. These policies are also changing without warning so double-check a few days before you leave. I also refer to a website from John’s Hopkins which provides state by state information on coronavirus statistics and trends: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/state-timeline and the CDC website as well https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-in-the-us.html.
Sadly, there aren’t many countries opening their doors to Americans right now, and those that are may require documentation that you are healthy among other requirements; suffice it to say it’s confusing with every country having different protocols and gray areas within those protocols. When we get our numbers under control this will hopefully change. Canada, a drivable destination for many of us, continues to extend their border closures (now August 21st for US citizens but I bet it will be extended again into the fall), including within Canada for their own citizens. St. Lucia has designated 7 hotels that are approved for international visitors, and this trend is being seen on other Caribbean Islands. Further, each island in the Caribbean has its own entry requirements. For those of you who have a trip to the EU planned later this year, this link will prove helpful: https://reopen.europa.eu/en/map/HRV. Note due to Brexit, EU travel rules don’t apply to the UK, and they have their own rules and regs. We have travel suppliers around the globe who are keeping us updated, so if you have questions about a particular country, please reach out.
When I introduce the idea of an organized tour to clients who unfamiliar with this style of travel, they are often skeptical. Now is the time to take a closer look at that option. Why? Because in the post-Covid world, quality tour operators who offer small group experiences (meaning less than 20 in a group) will become much more popular. You have an added layer of protection and support from local staff, extra-closely vetted accommodations, and proven crowd avoidance techniques. We work with some amazing tour operators who go above and beyond for our clients – both couples and families with a range of budgets. Some suppliers will allow you to fill your own group with only 10-12 people (i.e. 2-3 families or one extended family). And some cater to families with teens! Imagine a vacation where everyone is happy because there is a guide whose job it is to make sure their needs met — heaven!). Tour operators are available in the US and abroad. Note – this is an amazing way to see the National Parks without the crowds. We love working with Austin Adventures, for example. They are a family-run tour operator that is currently having a contest for ESPs (Essential Service Providers) to win a future family trip to Yellowstone! Check out this link to nominate someone you know: https://bit.ly/32bJB3d. More on the benefits of these kinds of excellent tour operators in a future newsletter.
Cruises: Ocean, River, Expeditions
I’m always surprised that some people think that cruising occurs only on enormous ships with thousands of people. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Options for cruising are remarkably diverse and offer many benefits depending upon your vacation goals. I’ve been on cruises I’ve absolutely loved and some that the sooner I was off the boat the better. Right now, the industry is reinventing itself to ensure passenger safety from all illnesses, not just Covid. For example, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have jointly put together with an extremely impressive board of advisors in a “Healthy Sail Panel.” I’ll be keeping a close eye on their findings! Many people who had cruises canceled in 2020 rebooked for 2021 which has made availability limited for some itineraries. Cancellation policies and promotions are very generous right now in the cruise industry, so people are booking with multiple fingers crossed for 2021 and 2022.
It’s more important than ever to seriously consider purchasing travel insurance. Comprehensive travel insurance typically covers a range of unforeseen events from lost or delayed luggage to medical emergencies. What is considered a ‘covered event’ varies by the policy which makes it critical to carefully read the details and ask the insurance company questions to clarify where needed. Within the next 6 months, there will be major changes to travel insurance offerings. Our preferred suppliers keep us informed so we have the most updated information when you need it. Tip – I often say that travel insurance reimbursement is complicated and based on facts, not fears, so you can’t get reimbursed for a canceled trip because you are afraid to travel whether that be for illness, weather or anything fear-based, unless you have a CFAR plan (cancel for any reason). I believe that CFAR plans won’t be as widely available in the future, and much more expensive if they are offered.
Just like you consult with your doctor for medical information and your attorney for legal advice, travel advisors are a valuable resource. Travel is complicated now more than ever. The best deal may not be the right one for you, and many google searches won’t show you all the available options nor highlight the fine print. Optimizing and protecting your investment is at the core of what we do, and we happily share our expertise because we have a deep passion for travel and its extraordinary ability to bring meaningful and memorable experiences into your life. As you can probably tell, I can’t wait for its safe return!
Still have questions? Or do you know someone who is contemplating future travel and would appreciate some professional advice? Hit reply to schedule a call/virtual coffee chat or jump over to www.facebook.com/hiddengemtravelconsulting and comment on today’s post about this newsletter.
Hidden Gem Tip: Not safety related but important – if you have future travel credits with the airlines, cruise lines or any other travel company make sure to note the expiration dates and details. Make a highlighted note on your calendar as we all suffer from “blursday” from time to time these days! For my clients, I use an automated system that tracks this type of information, so nothing falls through the cracks.
Wishing you and your family continued good health,