Tag Archives: coronavirus pandemic

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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© 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

Hotel Industry Pleads for Government Help against Crippling Unprecedented Covid-19 Crisis

America’s hotels, supporting one out of ever 25 jobs, face catastrophe because of the coronavirus health crisis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Leading hotel CEOs met with the White House on March 17 to discuss urgent economic recovery solutions needed to protect millions of U.S. hotel employees and 33,000 small businesses as travel grinds to a virtual halt across the country because of the coronavirus health crisis.  From Main Street to major cities across the country, hotels everywhere are on the verge of shutting their doors in the coming days – many by the end of this week. With 1 in 25 jobs supported by the hotel industry, the rapid pace of booking cancellations is having an immediate, negative ripple effect that risks seeing mom and pop hotel owners shutter, furlough their employees, hurting community businesses.  

The hotel industry is an industry of people and the current human toll is proving to be catastrophic. Based on current occupancy estimates, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) says four million total jobs have been eliminated already or are on the verge of being lost in the next few weeks. In certain affected markets, including Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Boston, hotel occupancy rates are already down below 20 percent and individual hotels and major operators have already shut down operations. 

The AHLA, the nation’s leading and largest trade association for hotel industry, made the case that the economic impact on the hotel industry is already more severe than 9/11 and the 2008 recession, combined. “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our 33,000 small business owners who operate 66 percent of hotel properties across the country has been extremely severe with many considering shuttering and closing their doors for good within days if they haven’t closed already.”

Chip Rogers, AHLA President and CEO, said the burgeoning COVID-19 health crisis is unprecedented in its size and scope, and it represents the single largest decline in travel in modern times.

“The impact to our industry is already more severe than anything we’ve seen before, including September 11th and the great recession of 2008 combined,” stated Rogers. “The White House and Congress can take urgent action to protect countless jobs, provide relief to our dedicated and hardworking employees, and ensure that our small business operators and franchise owners – who represent more than half of hotels in the country – can keep their doors open.”

According to an Oxford Economic Study, a 30 percent decline in hotel guest occupancy could result in the loss of nearly 4 million jobs, with $180 billion of wages and a $300 billion hit to the GDP – crippling the hotel industry, the local communities they serve and the U.S. economy.  

“This unprecedented public health crisis has quickly become a catastrophic economic crisis as well,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association President. “The losses for the travel industry alone are projected to double the unemployment rate over the next two months and plunge the country into recession. Small businesses, which make up 83% of travel businesses, need relief right now if they’re going to be able to keep paying their employees.”

The Oxford study estimates the hotel industry supports 1 in 25 American jobs, totaling 8.3 million jobs, paying more than $97 billion in wages and salary income, and contributes nearly $660 billion to the U.S. GDP annually.  In addition to major hotel brands, the hotel industry includes more than 33,000 small businesses, which represent 61 percent of hotel properties in the U.S.

Top hotel industry leaders laid out several immediate actions the White House and Congress could take to help the hotel industry protect jobs and help small business operators. The group focused on two critical goals – retaining and rehiring employees and keeping hotels from shutting down through access to liquidity and low interest loans, including for small businesses. 

Hotel CEOs who participated in the roundtable discussion today at the White House were hopeful that President Trump and Members of Congress will work together urgently to provide relief and ensure the industry is positioned to rebound from the unprecedented impact from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Best Western Hotels & Resorts President and CEO, David Kong said, “For nearly 75 years, Best Western has been a brand with small family businesses at our core. Most of our hotels are owned and operated by hardworking men and women with their children growing up in the business. For them, their hotels represent their families’ legacy and their future. Many are being forced to close their doors with no assurance of when they will be able to reopen. Their employees are left with no gainful employment and the resultant financial hardship. It is imperative that the government step in immediately with loan programs that provide capital and liquidity to help small businesses survive as well as other employment programs to help the impacted employees. The situation is dire.”

Choice Hotels International President & CEO, Pat Pacious said, “The majority of our 13,000 franchisees are small business hotel owners who have to meet payroll, pay their mortgages every month, and support their families during this crisis – as well as take care of their guests. As I told the Administration today, while Choice Hotels is acting to assist our franchisees, the federal government has a critical role to play in helping minimize the impact and disruption to the livelihoods of small business hotel owners and their employees, as well as stabilizing the economy during this difficult and unprecedented time.” 

Hilton President and Chief Executive Officer, Christopher J. Nassetta said, “In Hilton’s 100-year history, we have never seen anything like the current situation. I am hearing directly from hotel employees concerned about their mortgage payments and hotel owners worried about making payroll. Nearly eighty percent of the hotels in our U.S. network are franchise properties that employ less than 50 people, and we are using every tool in our toolkit to keep these small businesses viable. Ours is an industry of people serving people, and that’s why we’re asking Congress and the Administration to help shield them from the economic impact of the coronavirus, so they can be part of the recovery that will follow.”

Hyatt president and CEO, Mark Hoplamazian said, “In our industry, success depends entirely on the passion and dedication of our people. It is critical that we take swift action to ensure that our workforce is protected with the proper healthcare and financial support so that the industry can return in full force following this unprecedented degree of business interruption.”

InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Americas, Elie Maalouf said, “The coronavirus represents a global economic emergency as well as a global health emergency, and the impact it will have on the hospitality industry is unprecedented. Even as we’re currently managing this issue to keep our guests and colleagues safe, and hotel owners secure, we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect the future of the millions of Americans employed by the hotel industry and prepare to expedite a return to normal once this crisis passes. We appreciate the administration’s engagement in this issue and look forward to continuing this important discussion in the weeks ahead.”

Marriott International President and CEO, Arne Sorenson said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented decline in demand impacting our hotels and our associates. We are looking to government to support the hospitality industry through this period of time so we can assist our associates and hotel owners, many of whom are small businesses.”

MGM Resorts International Chairman & CEO, James Murren said, “Within days we have transformed from a vibrant industry welcoming people from around the world, to one experiencing a total shutdown of business.  Addressing this public health emergency required major collective action which is why MGM shut down our operations. But it comes at a cost to our tens of thousands of employees, small businesses and communities who depended on us.  We look forward to a productive dialogue on how to ensure that when it is safe, the gaming industry can be in a position to open our doors so that we and the 2 million jobs that depend can be part of the economic recovery that is to come.”

“Pebblebrook Hotel Trust is a REIT with 54 hotels with over 13,000 rooms and over 8,000 employees around the country. Our hotels are in most of the hardest hit cities – Seattle, San Francisco, here in Washington, DC, NYC, Boston, Chicago and more. As of today, we have had to make the difficult decision to let go over 4,000 employees,” noted Jon Bortz, Board Chair, AHLA and Chairman & CEO, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust.

“By the end of the month, we expect another 2,000 employees will also be let go, representing over three quarters of our employees. We are looking at closing the doors at more than half of our properties. This is the reality we, and countless other owners and operators around the country are facing in the wake of this public health situation.”