Category Archives: Benefits of travel’

Hotel Industry, Most Hurt by Coronavirus Pandemic, Looks to Help with ‘Hospitality for Hope’

San Francisco, California hotels are among the 15,000 to sign up for American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) “Hospitality for Hope,” providing temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows. Over 1,300 California hotels have signed on. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel industry has been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but is also an industry in position to be a crucial help to break the logjam between the public health emergency and the economic devastation. As the focus shifts to the dire need to test, trace and then isolate people who are positive for COVID-19, the empty hotels, facing bankruptcy, can be used to house both front line workers including health care workers who now have the daily anxiety of passing the virus to their loved ones, and the people who need to be separated from their own families.

The incidence of the disease has already shown to be disproportionate among communities of color, immigrant communities and low-income neighborhoods where people are likely to be crammed into close quarters, unable to be quarantined.

Similarly, the out-of-work restaurant and hotel workers could be hired as tracers; indeed, the call-centers used for hotel reservations companies hired to do the tracing.

The travel industry can also be put into a wartime footing to solve many of the other problems: farmers destroying their produce because they don’t have the commercial markets of hotels, restaurants and schools? Well, rather than throw bailout billions to farmers (already facing 8 percent bankruptcies because of Trump’s tariff wars), could sell their produce to the government, which could distribute to the very same hotels, restaurants and schools, to be hired to produce food for food pantries and shut-ins.

In fact, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is doing this – organizing dairy-products producers to purchase the excess milk and converting it into products that the state will purchase and supply to food pantries and needy people.

Meanwhile, places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California that have been hardest hit and most restrictive, need to make accommodation for getting people out in the summer. You simply cannot confine people in tiny New York apartments with three kids when the summer temperatures (the last several years have been the hottest on record thanks to Global Warming) hit 100. Communities – especially urban ones – will need to reopen pools (probably mitigating the risk of reigniting infection rates by restricting admissions to two-hour segments), reopen beaches, state parks, hiking areas; fishing and marinas; kayaking and canoeing; even golf courses; and shut down some city streets for walking, biking, and while promoting grab-and-go style eateries and dining al fresco. If ever there was a time for summer concerts in the parks, it is now. People should be conditioned to maintaining social distance as a new cultural norm.

Cyclists take over Park Avenue, New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we visited Central Park we saw people carefully respecting the new safety precautions, very possibly out of fear that if they didn’t, the city would close Central Park. We saw people walking on Jones Beach boardwalk, and on the sand also doing their best to maintain precautions (a couple of the bathrooms were open but closed frequently for cleaning, which is the pattern that other parks and facilities should use).

Governor Cuomo, looking ahead to reopening businesses at least the regions of the state least affected by the coronavirus (with infection rates below 3%), was careful to warn against reopening “attractions” that could become “nuisances” in the sense of attracting people into the area from downstate or neighboring states (the very definition of “travel”). But Cuomo’s reopening/”reimagining” strategy involves individual businesses to come up with plans that take into account the need for properly distance and that should hold true for places that give people necessary respite. Certainly you don’t want areas overwhelmed, but there should be a way to properly allow for people to enjoy – perhaps because parking lots have limits; restaurants that reopen to reduce their capacity (and take reservations) or do grab-and-go eating with outdoor tables for picnicking. And we are hearing about a revival in drive-in movie theaters.

A culture of social distancing seems to be taking hold as New Yorkers are desperate to keep access to the outdoor venues like Central Park (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Hotels and attractions should also be part of that Reopening/Reimagining Strategy to submit business plans that address the needs to continue to control the spread of the infection. This would include changes to working conditions, use of masks and gloves, taking temperature of employees as well as guests, more intense and frequent cleaning, providing hand sanitizer, limiting occupancy in order to maintain adequate social distancing.

Maintaining social distancing on the boardwalk at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Crisis in Hospitality

Let’s be clear: many communities depend upon the very existence of hotels as a mainstay of their economy – quite literally putting their locality on a map. Local hotels not only bring business travelers in to do their deals and establish connections, but enable local businesses to sell their products; local hotels accommodate tourists who bring an infusion of spending – every $1 a tourist spends generates $4 for a local economy. Hotels provide the venues for family milestone events. Moreover, hotels are a mainstay of the economy, an economic engine that contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. All of this has shut down because of the coronavirus crisis.

As COVID-19 continues to devastate the hotel industry, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released new data  showing that 70 percent of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed as eight in 10 hotel rooms across the nation remain empty.

As this crisis progresses beyond what anyone could have projected, the impact to the travel industry is nine times worse than 9/11, with forecasted occupancy rates for 2020 hitting record lows worse than rates in 1933 during the Great Depression.

“With the impact to the travel industry nine times worse than September 11, the human toll of this public health crisis has been absolutely devastating for the hotel industry. For the hotel industry our priority is rehiring and retaining our hardworking employees who power our vibrant industry,” said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA. “Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic and will be one of the last to recover. The CARES Act was an important first step with a lot of supportive measures for the hotel industry, but we need Congress to make important changes to the program to reflect the current economic reality and help the employees in the industries that have been impacted the most.”

Clearwater Beach, Florida. America’s hotels, supporting one out of every 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis. Over 1,000 Florida hotels are participating in the “Hospitality for Hope” initiative, providing lodging for healthworkers and first responders. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Due to the dramatic downturn in travel, properties that remain open are operating with minimal staffing. On average, full-service hotels are using 14 employees, down from 50 before the crisis. Resort hotels, which often operate seasonally based on the area’s peak tourism months, averaged about 90 employees per location as recently as March 13, are down to an average of five employees per resort today.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Impact to travel industry 9x worse than 9/11. (Tourism Economics)
  • 50% revenue decline (projected) for entirety of 2020 (Oxford Economics)
  • Eight in 10 hotel rooms are empty. (STR)
  • 2020 is projected to be the worst year on record for hotel occupancy. (CBRE)
  • Forecasted occupancy rate for 2020 worse than 1933 during the Great Depression. (CBRE)
  • 70% of hotel employees laid off or furloughed. (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • $2.4 billion in weekly lost wages due to the crisis (Oxford Economics and Hotel Effectiveness)
  • Nearly 3.9 million total hotel-supported jobs lost since the crisis began (Oxford Economics)

As travel halted in late February, the hotel industry took immediate action to work with the White House and Congress to help hotel industry employees and small business operators, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

“The hotel industry is at a critical juncture. We need more resources to survive this unprecedented time,” said Rogers. “Additional funding is vital for small business owners across America, including tens of thousands of small business hoteliers, to help them keep their doors open and rehire and retain millions of employees.”

Hotel Industry Supports COVID-19 Effort

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hotels have signed up for a new initiative, “Hospitality for Hope,” which identifies hotel properties that have offered to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the COVID-19 public health crisis grows.  While the program primarily focuses on housing for the healthcare community, some hotels could potentially be used as “Alternative Care Sites” such as an emergency hospital or a place for those quarantined to stay if needed.

(New York City has contracted for some 11,000 hotel rooms for this purpose and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the testing-tracing-isolating campaign would also involve using hotel rooms to quarantine people.)

AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope Initiative” was created to boost collaboration between the hotel industry and local, state and federal governments to help employees, communities across the country, and the industry during this unprecedented health crisis. In the short time since the initiative was announced, participation has grown to more than 15,000 properties. Already, this initiative has identified a total combined 2.3 million rooms located in close proximity to established healthcare facilities.

To help match and streamline the process for willing hotel properties to connect with federal, state, and local governments, AHLA and its state association partners are working to create a national “Hospitality for Hope” database to assist the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local emergency management and public health agencies. AHLA has also provided a number of resources for members, which can be found here.

“It has been so impressive to see hotel after hotel join this important initiative as a way of giving back to the communities in which they operate,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO said. “As an industry of people taking care of people, the hotel industry is uniquely positioned to support our communities by caring for the first responders who are on the frontlines of this public health crisis. Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities, and this time is no different. We are proud to work to facilitate partnerships with federal, state and local governments to support the health community during this critical time.”

Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location. (Click here for a state by state breakdown of the number of hotels signed up).

Hotels partnering with local and state officials offering housing to doctors, nurses, homeless families and quarantined individual are being reported across the country including in Chicago, California, New York, Dallas, Portland and New Orleans.

“The number of hotels wanting to be part of the program is growing by the hour,” Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association said. “Our hotels are answering the call to action, and they want to be helpful to the city and the state.”

“‘Hospitality for Hope’ is just one of the many ways that our hotels are helping those in need in our communities during this time of crisis,” said Kim Sabow, President and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association. “We look forward to working with all interested parties, including local and state officials, and the federal government to find innovative solutions to make it through this critical time together.” 

Given the unprecedented public health and economic crisis, hotels and the industry as a whole are coming together to support the community and their furloughed employees, as well. 

In expanding “Hospitality for Hope Initiative”, the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation, AHLA’s charitable giving arm, rolled out free resources to help industry employees continue their education during this difficult time including free hospitality management online courses, professional development scholarships for AHLA certifications and continuing education online programs. (Learn more about additional training and education efforts through AHLA’s “Hospitality for Hope” by visiting  AHLA.com/ahlas-hospitality-hope-initiative)

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry which contributes nearly $660 billion to U.S. GDP and supports 8.3 million (1 in every 25) American jobs. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AHLA focuses on strategic advocacy, communications support and workforce development programs to move the industry forward. Learn more at www.ahla.com.

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of Pandemic: Tour Operators Tread Uncharted Territory

Biking in Albania with Biketours.com President Jim Johnson: “Bike touring is simply our chosen mode of world diplomacy. We believe travel brings us all closer together, fosters understanding and growth, and makes the world a better place. We’re also keenly aware of the positive economic impact tourism has on so many places.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With travel all but shut down, tour operators are doing their best to keep travelers engaged and protected.

Tour operators are the facet of the global travel industry – which accounts for 10.4 percent of the total GDP worldwide and one out of every 10 jobs – most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic that has brought travel to a standstill and the least resilient. These tend to be small businesses operating on tiny profit margins. And like restaurants which are looking to supporters to purchase gift cards for future visits in order to stay afloat, many tour operators which are juggling booked clients’ trips, are taking reservations for future travel, offering incentives and waiving cancellation penalties, reissue and change fees if destinations become impacted.

“We haven’t been here before,” writes Gabriella Ribeiro, CEO of Explorateur Journeys, a Virtuoso agency that specializes in planning immersive travel itineraries. “Yes, we have seen health challenges in the world such as H1N1 and Ebola and we have weathered them but COVID-19 seems more challenging, more widespread and overall, entirely more concerning to everyone in the world and understandably so. It’s a new time, a new world, a new place, a new destination and just like any new location we find ourselves in, we all need time to explore it and get used to it temporarily.”

Explorateur is representative of travel advisors and tour companies who are constantly restructuring programs and accommodating guests who may already have booked or are looking to book.

“We are inundated with information that changes by the hour and we are doing our level best to keep our clients updated as frequently as possible in line with the world’s leading health organizations.

“The bottom line is that whatever you choose to do, we are here to support you. Changing your travel dates of your bookings with us, converting to new destinations that you may not have thought of for later in the year, or simply just opting to look at 2021. The world is big, bright, beautiful and will be ready for us all to return at our normal pace. In the meantime, we are here to help answer any of your questions and help share information if you’re still daydreaming about the days you can return to your normal Explorateurean pace. Here for you 24/7/365 at info@explorateurjourneys.com.”

Explorateur is enticing travelers to fulfill their wishlist of destinations to explore, taking advantage of booking incentives, flexible change policies. (http://explorateurjourneys.com/, .973-420-8343)

Pure Adventures president and founder Loren Siekman writes, “Clearly, this is a dynamic situation and the outlook changes daily. Therefore our first recommendation is to take a ‘watch and wait’ approach. While some of our destinations are currently unaffected, others like Italy are under travel advisories. If you have concerns about a trip you’ve booked, we remain hopeful that the efforts of public health officials and governments will bring the spread under control and restore order to a point where travel to affected destinations is once again responsible, relaxing, and fun.

To make the waiting easier, we have been working with our partners abroad to adopt a thirty-day advance notice rebooking and modified cancellation policy. Some airlines too are recognizing the wisdom of this approach and relaxing their rebooking fees. What this means simply is that you can watch and wait up to 30 days prior to the scheduled start of your trip to see if things are good to go as scheduled, or rebook your tour to start later in 2020 or 2021, with no fees. We can in some cases issue a full refund should you wish to cancel altogether.

Our primary hope is that you rebook your trip in the future. This shows support for the many small businesses that contribute to the operation of a trip, across many destinations, and that are adopting more flexible cancellation policies during this challenging time.

If you are considering travel this year and are holding off because of the current uncertainty, we are fortunate that our self-guided model gives us flexibility, so we can work on scheduling trips at the last minute once things clear up, and if you are rescheduling your trip that is already booked we can move it forward even if exact dates are unknown right now.

We are concerned of course for our travelers’ personal safety, but also for your experience of travel to a destination, and in that destination, as well as the return home. If you are to book now for some time in the near future, you have the option of getting added travel insurance, which is time-sensitive from the date of booking. We always recommend travel insurance to our guests, but for added cost and peace of mind, you can add the Cancel for Any Reason option offered by our partners at InsureMyTrip.

While we stay in close contact with our partners on the ground, we’d also like to recommend that people watch credible and reputable sources of information:

 The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers Covid-19 travel updates by country and also has hygiene and prevention tips

The World Health Organization has daily situation reports

The United States Department of State offers travel advisories by country

“We’re travel experts, not doctors, so the best we can do is to help you make an informed decision, and give you the most flexibility we can for you to make a change if necessary. We have been at this for over 25 years and have been through Sept 11, the 2008 economic crisis, and other smaller events. This too shall pass, and we will be here to help you get out and experience the world!”

Pure Adventures offers cycling (including self-guided), hiking, multisport, foodie tours and the opportunity to build your own trip (https://pure-adventures.com/, 800-960-2221)

The satisfaction at arriving at the end of BikeTours.com’s eight-day Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided bike tour in Porec, Croatia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jim Johnson, president of Biketours.com which brokers guided and self guided bike tours and bike/boat tours primarily in Europe, stated, that besides exercising caution, “we also want to encourage everyone to exercise patience. This is the seventh coronavirus to be identified since the 1960s, and we’re learning more about it every day. We’ve experienced similar situations before, such as SARS and MERS. We hope that this coronavirus is soon a distant memory, too.

“For those of you with pending travel plans, loved ones in distant places, or any other number of less-than-ideal scenarios, we empathize with you. The fear and discomfort of the unknown are unpleasant and stressful, to say the least.

“For those of you who have booked travel plans with us, know that as we continue to monitor the situation, we will advocate for you and keep you informed if your departure or destination is impacted. We want you to be confident and comfortable with your travel.

“Finally, bike touring is simply our chosen mode of world diplomacy. We believe travel brings us all closer together, fosters understanding and growth, and makes the world a better place. We’re also keenly aware of the positive economic impact tourism has on so many places. We’re hoping we don’t see destinations hit twice: first by the virus itself, second by devastating drops in tourism numbers.

“Thank you for being a traveler — an ambassador by bike, as we like to say — for seeing the big picture, and for being part of the BikeTours.com family. We hope that you are safe and healthy. And we hope to see you traveling soon (as soon as it makes sense for you!).” (biketours.com, 877-462-2423)

Butterfield & Robinson suspended all European scheduled small group departures with start dates before May 30.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the virus since it started, reacting to local developments with appropriate local responses in order to protect the safety of all our travelers,” Luc Robinson, President and CEO, writes. ”But now we need to go a step further. As a company, we believe that travel should enrich the soul not foster anxiety. Suspending these trips ensures this ideal continues for all of our travelers.

“Our team of travel advisors is currently getting in touch with everyone booked on impacted departures to review their options. You can transfer your booking to a scheduled small group departure later in the year or in 2021. If you would prefer to cancel outright, we will provide a full refund. Further, if you still do wish to travel, we can discuss options to do so privately – our team is ready to support you with your safety top of mind.

“If you are booked to travel privately before May 30th, the decision on how to proceed with your trip is yours. Your trip planner will be in touch with you shortly to discuss your options.

“As of now, we are planning to run trips beyond May 30th as usual. We will continue to closely monitor all travel advisories from the WHO and the CDC, as well as coordinate with our teams on the ground, and revise our plans as necessary. We’ll communicate any revisions on our website and by email.

“Butterfield & Robinson has weathered many crises since we started running trips in 1966. Through decades of experience, we’ve grown to understand that these global events are unavoidable. We are financially prepared, and we will get through this.

“To our dedicated travelers who share our passion for seeing the world, thank you for staying committed to taking the slow road with us. We truly look forward to helping you explore the world again soon. And to all our partners in the travel industry, thank you for rallying together in these tough times. With our communities we remain long-term, steadfastly optimistic.”

Butterfield & Robinson offer programs around the world including biking, walking, hiking, family, small ships, wine, active, safari, wellness, expeditions, self-guided (butterfield.com, 866-551-9090)

Western River Expeditions, which specializes in outdoor adventures – rafting, hiking – in Utah, so far is planning to continue to operate its programs this summer.

“At Western River Expeditions, there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our guests and staff. As an organization, we are continually monitoring developments to make the best decisions regarding our trip offerings and policies.  We are sensitive to the impacts the COVID-19 news is having on all facets of our lives, and want to reassure you that we are doing everything possible to prepare and to focus on your safety and welfare,” writes Brian Merrill, Chief Executive Officer.

“It is our goal to operate all trips scheduled for this season. At this time, when we are advised to avoid crowds and enclosed spaces, getting out into the backcountry may just be the perfect way to spend your vacation. As our clients, guests, friends, and family, you have our pledge that we will continue to do everything both prudent and possible to keep you safe and healthy while you enjoy the trip of a lifetime.”

Western River Expeditions is taking care to assure clients of measures to provide sanitary conditions:

“On our river trips, each of our guides holds a backcountry food handler certification. We have thorough and comprehensive sanitation practices. 

“In each camp, we set up two hand-washing stations.  One near the toilet facility and the other near the kitchen.  These stations allow a person to wash their hands without the need to touch any surfaces after the washing is completed.  It is our policy that no one may come to the meal table without having first washed their hands with soap and water followed by the use of hand sanitizer.

“Of course, due to this specific virus, we will be even more vigilant in our efforts to keep surfaces clean, require frequent hand-washing, and practice safe handling of food and anything else that has the potential to spread viruses.  In addition to our on-river sanitation protocols, all of our equipment is sanitized (including our boats) between trips.

“Our trips occur in remote, backcountry locations. This gives our trip two distinct advantages: 1. We operate in an “open air” environment.  Potential contaminants are more naturally dispersed.  2. We rarely interact closely with other groups. These factors give us great control over our immediate environment.”

If a guide or guest develops flu-like symptoms during a trip, per CDC guidelines, the individual will be kept away from the rest of the group, any suspected areas of contamination will be disinfected, and, where applicable, the individual will be evacuated as soon as possible.

If an official travel ban has been issued that does not allow you to travel to or from your point of origin, Western River Expeditions will allow you to use the full value of your non-refundable payments as a credit for a future trip. Credits may be applied to the same trip for any available departure through 2022. No refunds for any unused portion of credit will be given.Once an alternate trip is booked, it will be subject to standard cancellation policies.

As you weigh the possibility of future flight restrictions, you may also want to consider the option of driving to the starting point of your trip.

If Western chooses to cancel a launch due to any reason(s), including closure by a federal agency, governmental intervention, health department requirements, or the decision on our part, Western River will issue a full refund or allow you to use the full value of your non-refundable payments as a credit for a future trip. Credits may be applied to the same trip for any available departure through 2022. Once an alternate trip is booked, it will be subject to standard cancellation policies.

These policies will also apply to new reservations for the 2020 season. Check availability online. Purchasing travel insurance is recommended; you may wish to consider the “cancel for any reason” policy.

The 2020 season along with much of the 2021 season is currently sold out for Grand Canyon, but there is an online waitlist available (add your name to the 2020 waitlist here).

“Thank you for your support and trust. Western River Expeditions has been family owned and operated for 59 years. We consider our employees and our guests to be part of our extended family.  These are challenging circumstances, and like any family, we will endure this and any other challenge we face together.”

Western River Expeditions (gorafting@westernriver.com, westernriver.com, 801-942-6669).

Discover France Adventures CEO Thomas Boutin writes, “The impact of the virus goes far beyond the persons infected by it. As you may know, some of the hardest hit industries are travel and hospitality. We are no exception.

“Many of you have been very understanding and rescheduled your trips, instead of canceling. This allows us to get through this period with minimal implications to the everyday lives of our team and partners. 

“As the situation changes frequently, we want to ensure that you can modify your travel plans accordingly. To this effect, special terms and conditions are applied until the end of June 2020. All you have to do is to get in touch with your dedicated tour consultant, and he/she will take care of the rest.

“Our self-guided tours give you the freedom to choose your departure date, without restrictions – our tour consultants will adapt the practical details to your needs. (Even for last minute bookings)”

Special terms until the end of June 2020:

Groups that re-schedule more than 30 days before the start date, get a travel credit of the full amount paid without any change fees. (normally there is a 200 euro per person fee for changes after a tour is confirmed)

Groups that re-schedule less than 30 days before the start date get a travel credit of the full amount paid minus hotel cancelation fees (if any).

The travel credit does not expire to give you the peace of mind to do your trip when you want.

“With these changes, our aim is let you keep your options open and see how the situation evolves.

“To make informed decisions about your travel, we advise you to follow reliable information from the World Health Organization, and official government travel advisory for your destination. 

“We do encourage you to remember the physical and mental benefits of cycling, as well as the joy of discovering new places. 

“Stay active and keep dreaming about cycling through exceptionally beautiful natural, historical and cultural regions!”

“While our regular season activities are on hold, other areas are moving ahead rapidly. Our teams are busy working on improving our offering and preparing the company for a comeback in due time.  

“Our tour planning team members, Valentine and Sebastien, have been busy on two main projects: Updating existing tours based on your feedback; Creating new tours that are available as soon as traveling is possible again. 

“Our tour consultants are staying in touch with all clients with travel impacted by travel restrictions. 

“While we are in exceptional times, we are still here for you, ready to answer any questions about travel.” (discoverfrance.com, 800-929-0152)

A source to find well-established tour operators is the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA).Representing nearly $19 billion in revenue, the member companies provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow 9.8 million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business. (ustoa.org).

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travel in a Time of Pandemic – Phase 1: Armchair Travel, Staycations, Planning Bucket List Trips

To think: exactly a year ago I was embarking on a Global Scavenger Hunt which brought me to the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Use this time of enforced isolation to plan a trip on your bucket list, take advantage of airline, tour operator and hotel flexible booking, change and cancellation policies as well as discounts and incentives © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel is vitally important to rejuvenating one’s body and soul, not to mention providing life-enhancing, experience, new learning and new understanding; it offers a chance for bonding with loved ones, building new relationships. But to mitigate the spread and consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, travel has all but shut down around the globe, creating an unprecedented situation for the worldwide travel industry.

But eventually, it will be safe to venture out, and because travel offers a universe of possibilities, there are options that might better suit the circumstances. Travel suppliers are doing their best to accommodate, offering flexibility in making changes, eliminating cancellation fees, offering credits for future bookings. And with many offering sharp discounts and other incentives for putting deposits down on future bookings, this may well be the opportunity to fulfill that travel bucket list. Indeed, many travel companies are bringing destinations and experiences to you, virtually, to inspire and inform travel planning.

There will be phases and stages of re-entry that will parallel the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, the wider availability of testing and significantly, for antibodies, and the availability of vaccine. The stages might follow in this way: just venturing outside for a walk, run or bikeride in your immediate area; a staycation; getaways within shorter then longer driving distance; a domestic trip by air; longer-haul trips abroad and finally returning to those bucket-list travel experiences.

The situation changes frequently and planning can be for trips months from now. And be aware: once the “all-clear” is given, there will be a surging release of pent-up demand to get out and cure the burning cabin fever; to explore, discover, experience and make up for lost time by building memories for a lifetime. Putting down a deposit on a future booking not only secures a place, but also does your part to assure that the travel companies can weather these uncharted waters.

So make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant, and if traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage) and for added protection, insurance that allows for “cancellation for any reason” (New York State just made this kind of insurance available). US Tour Operators Association is an excellent source (ustoa.com).

Conditions are constantly changing – some communities are telling AirBnB hosts not to take bookings, Florida’s Governor (who did nothing to stop Spring Breakers from frolicking on the beaches) threatened to turn back New Yorkers at the I-95 border – but there are still places that are taking guests, recognizing the extreme need for release. For example, the Southhampton Inn on Long Island is inviting guests needing respite (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY 11968, 631-283-6500, reservations@southamptoninn.comhttps://southamptoninn.com/).

If ever there was a time to rely on travel professionals who are clued in to what is happening on the ground, how to alter and change in order to address changing circumstances, this is it.

Protect your travel investment as you would any other – by seeking professional advice, says Virtuoso. A leading luxury and experiential travel network, Virtuoso has been closely monitoring the impact of coronavirus, collaborating and consulting with its travel agency members across the world as well as its preferred partners. 

“It’s important to give my clients all of the facts about their trip, their destination, and the policies of their travel supplier,” says Virtuoso agency executive Amanda Klimak. “I then help them make a decision about travel based on the facts. I also recommend they speak to their personal physician to discuss the risks based on their medical history. Then I let them know I’m here to help, no matter what they decide.”

A travel advisor knows if or when airlines, hotels, cruise lines and tour operators have waived change and cancellation fees (many have): “The entire travel industry is in uncharted territory now due to coronavirus,” says Virtuoso agency executive Mary Kleen. “As travel advisors, our current role is to listen to travelers’ concerns and provide the most up-to-date options so they can make informed decisions at a minimal cost.”

To avoid losing out on future travel opportunities, Virtuoso agency executive Ange Wallace reminds her clients to start planning now. “Book 2021-2022 trips now, because everyone else is and you will have trouble finding space. Many travel companies have relaxed deposits, cancellation penalties and cancel for any reason waivers to encourage those willing to start thinking about the next window of opportunity.”

Grand Canyon: Once the “all-clear” signal is given, there will be an enormous rush to counter cabin fever of enforced isolation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel insurance is always a good idea. While “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) travel insurance policies may partially cover trip cancellations and adjustments related to the coronavirus outbreak, there are some restrictions, and the policy has to be purchased within 21 days of making an initial trip deposit. Make sure you have travel insurance that will cover medical expenses should you become ill while traveling,” Klimak advises. (My go-to travel insurance is worldnomads.com)

Practice good travel hygiene. Wash your hands! As soon as you get through security at the airport, make a beeline to the restroom to scrub, Virtuoso agency executive Tania Swasbrook advises. Cash frequently changes hands, so she also recommends using credit cards that you can wipe down with a sanitizing cloth. While at it, wipe down airplane surfaces and wash your hands before and after using the restroom on the plane.

As a rule, Wallace recommends taking veranda accommodations on any cruise and requesting hotel rooms with a balcony or outside terrace so that you have access to fresh air.

Be prepared. Virtuoso agency owner Cristina Buaas refers travelers to the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites for the latest travel advisories (including health, natural disasters, crime), and Klimak recommends travelers sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling – and while you’re at it, swipe that phone with an antibacterial wipe. 

Plan now, travel later. “Traveling is meant to be fun and educational,” says Wallace. “If you’re going to be worried and anxious about your trip, find something that you’ll be comfortable with and enjoy. If that means you sit out travel in the short term, that’s fine. But while you’re waiting, look forward to the recovery, because it will come, and you’ll need to be ready to jump on that trip you’ve been drooling over.”

(For more information or to find a Virtuoso travel advisor, go to www.virtuoso.com/travel-advisors.)

Create a “staycation”: Jones Beach State Park is open, but be sure to maintain six-foot separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Context Travel, which specializes in walking tours, is, in addition to new itineraries, is offering virtual travel:  “As dedicated lifelong learners, we don’t see any reason why the world has to be off limits when you stay at home. We’re keen to keep our minds lively by bringing Context to you—wherever you may be—through online seminars with our scholars (seminars.contexttravel.com/), podcasts (coming soon!), and ongoing contributions to our In Context blog.”

“Now more than ever, developing a shared understanding of the world around us and recognizing our role in the broader community is critical in being a curious traveler—and a responsible global citizen. We wish you health and understanding, in any form that your travel takes. We’re all in this together.” (800-691-6036, contexttravel.com)

In the immediate term, create your own “staycation.” Find local trails to bike or hike for example Bethpage State Park which has fabulous bike trail and Jones Beach State Park which at this writing was open – being careful to maintain six-foot separation.

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