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CDC imposes new travel restrictions

I started this week writing an article about the beauty of vacationing in Belize and the restrictions on travel that Belize has imposed. Then yesterday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) decided that the United States needs more restrictions on travel coming into the US. Hopefully all this is temporary, but body scanners and removing your shoes hasn’t gone away, so maybe we should just prepare to deal with this for the long haul.

For those of us in the travel industry, this is another setback and a blow to our income stream. I noticed on all of the pages and blogs that I follow that the topics of conversation went from “How do I book a group” to “How do I cancel a reservation that I just booked?” I think this will once again slow down the travel industry. Here is what is happening.

Starting January 26th, anyone coming into the United States that has been outside the country for more than 72 hours will have to have proof of a negative COVID test or recent documented recovery (I think the latter will be rarely accepted). The fact that you had the vaccine is NOT acceptable. The CDC says there are strains of COVID now that the vaccine won’t protect us from. It must be a COVID test, and it must be within 72 hours of travel into the US. The one you had a week ago won’t count. This applies to anyone over the age of two. The CDC will “consider” waivers of compliance for some countries, including some Caribbean countries, that do not have the infrastructure to do the testing. You can imagine what a hassle that will be getting that straight. So far, this only applies to travel outside the US, but it is already being considered for intrastate travel as well. Places like New York already have their own travel restrictions and quarantine protocols in place. Restrictions still remain at this time on certain countries, like Great Britain, that will not allow travel into the US at all.

So basically, if you live in a foreign country and want to travel to the US, you must have a negative COVID test within 72 hours prior to boarding a plane. For those of us who live in the US and want to travel outside the country, assuming the country you are traveling to doesn’t have restrictions, sometime in the last 3 days of your vacation you will have to find a testing facility and get a COVID test… and test negative.

For those of us who love the Mexican Riviera Maya area, the Governor of Quintana Roo (the state where Cancun is) says that his state will provide the COVID tests to tourists at a projected cost of $100 per person. So for you, your spouse, and two kids, budget an extra $400 into your vacation, along with an extra half day to find a facility to get the test. Some major resorts say they will offer the testing as well. You can imagine that this will come at a premium price. Two prices I have heard so far are $300 and $400 per person. On the other hand, many resorts are recognizing this issue and stepping up. Amresorts, The Excellent Collection, Sandals, Beaches, and Playa Hotel Resorts all offer onsite testing free of charge. In any case, assuming you test negative, then you can board the plane and return home.

What if you test positive? Well then you will have to quarantine where you are. You cannot board a plane into the US. So, if you were on a 4-day vacation, it just turned into a 2-week stay, probably in a very plush hotel where you cannot leave the room. Hope you have some wiggle room on that credit card. Most travel groups have now added coverage for quarantine events to their travel insurance. Classic Vacations says that any positive COVID test would be covered under their Sickness coverage. They also say that quarantine and meals would be covered under Travel Delay and Trip Interruption. Buy the insurance, but know what is and is not covered. There are many levels of coverage. I've said it before, this is why you need a travel agent. Don’t risk losing thousands of dollars planning a vacation and 2 days before you leave your vacation you test positive and cannot get home.

Let me give you another example from my research on Belize (spoiler alert – that article is coming very soon). Needless to say, I am over simplifying, but you get the point. Let’s say you are vacationing in Belize for a week. Before you can enter Belize, you must download their app, pass a COVID test, and present yourself and test results to the “health official” at the airport. If you haven’t had your COVID test, they will give you one at the airport for $50 each. You may also be subjected to a “random” COVID test at the airport. They will then notify you within 24 hours whether you are positive or negative. While in Belize, you can only stay in a “Gold Standard” hotel. I assume that means they meet some protocol for sanitizing. If your test results are negative, you are good to go. If they are positive, you will have to quarantine at your Gold Standard hotel. Now, no more than 3 days before you leave your vacation paradise, you will have to get a COVID test, and get a negative test result, to get onto the plane to get back into the United States. Sounds complicated? Yep, it is. So many variables that could make a dream vacation a nightmare. And that’s why many people are canceling their vacations.

So what do you do? I don't mean to sound all gloom and doom. Just be prepared and know what you are getting into. As it is written, this too shall pass. So far travel within the United States is primarily unrestricted, so take that trip to the Grand Canyon, or Vegas, Disney, or the Rocky Mountains. As for international travel, I think a lot of people are going to be on a wait and see basis. It won’t last forever. I hope that by summer things will open up again. On the other hand, you are probably going to see even more great deals out there. AS fewer people travel, resorts have to do things to attract your business. If you want to take advantage of these, I suggest that you book them as far in advance as you can and make sure that you buy good insurance that allows you to cancel up to the day of arrival. I have a resort booked for this summer that allows a 100% refund up to the time of check in.

Don’t give up on your dream vacation. Plan ahead. This country will get back to business soon. It always has. In the meantime, if you understand the restrictions and can deal with it as a means to an end, then take that vacation and get a great deal. Or stay local and see that mouse, take an Amtrak cross country, or rent an RV and really practice your social distancing (there’s an article coming for that too). Keep watching our posts on Facebook for up to date information and look for our blogs. Let us know if we can help or answer any questions you may have.

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