Are you tired of hunkering down during the COVID shutdowns? Want to get out again, but unsure where you can go or what is safe? Well, here are some of our thoughts and insights. Some travel industries aren’t going to like this, but it’s my opinion which I would like to share with you. You can disagree if you want.
First, I am not getting into the politics of the pandemic and shutdown vs. no shutdown. That is outside of my lane. However, we have a new President that has suggested another round of shutdowns. I think that promise is still up in the air as he studies the idea and realizes what this does to the economy that he is now responsible for. So we will see next month. In addition, they are distributing the new COVID vaccine as we speak. In terms of effecting travel I believe just the availability will help. So, where does this leave us in our vacation plans?
Cruise lines continue to book passengers….and cancel their travel. It is important for them to get customers interested in cruising again; however, in my humble opinion you might as well pick another vacation. I know people that have booked twice now on Carnival, and both trips have been cancelled. It seems it will still be a while before you can hit the open seas again. If I could guess, I would say mid to late summer of 2021. When you do decide to cruise again, I think you can expect some significant changes. Look for things like mandatory masks and sanitizing, and a whole different way of dining. I wouldn’t count on those self-serve buffets. Also look for fewer passengers crowds due to restrictions and fears. Pricing for cruising is based on supplier and supply and demand. If the ships are getting booked, the prices will probably go up due to fewer passengers. However, at first you should see significant perks and discounts to generate interest and compete with other lines. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has a great publication on the state of the cruise industry.
Airlines are in full swing again, getting passengers to most destinations, although some lines are operating differently. Some route are cancelled or are very limited. All of the airlines are taking extra sanitizing precautions and requiring everyone to mask up. Some like Spirit Airlines book every seat on the plane, just like pre-pandemic. What do you expect for a $49 flight though? Others like Southwest Airlines leave the middle seat vacant (of course you can slide over next to your honey). With only 2/3 of the seats booked, you can imagine you will have to pay a little more for these flights. I personally just like not having a random stranger sharing the armrest with me. The issue with airlines is, there are more cancelations than before the pandemic. With limited seats being sold and limited travelers these days, if a plane doesn’t sell enough seats the flight may be canceled and consolidated with another flight. All you can do is be patient and flexible. Good news is, the airports are less crowded and getting through security is much easier and quicker.
Hotels and resorts are typically limited in capacity, depending on where they are. This is different by country and even by state or city. There are so many variables I won’t go into them here, but be sure you check with your travel agent about your destination. Most resorts and hotels are operating at 30-50% capacity. This is good because there are no crowds, even in ones that is booked “full.” The staff is often reduced, but fewer customers typically means better service. Trust me, now more than ever, a good tipper will get excellent service. With COVID restrictions and a reduced revenue, the downside is there is often a reduction in amenities. All-inclusive resorts may not have all of their restaurants open, or they may have fewer bars and clubs open. In June, Occidental Xcaret (Barcelo Group) has some restaurants and bars closed, and an early curfew. Hotels may limit how many people can use the pool at one time, depending on the size of the pool. Hotels that once offered free breakfast have, in many cases, shut this amenity down. Some offer pre-packaged breakfast instead of their usual fresh breakfast. This can vary from hotel to hotel, and even within the same brands. So if these factors are important to you, make sure you check on the amenities before you book. If you are flexible, then just roll with what they have. Again, be patient and kind. The clerk behind the desk did not make up the rules.
One good thing to come out of the travel industry and the uncertainty of travel today is redesigned refund policies. Most hotels and resorts offer cancelations up to the day of arrival. Bahia Principe in Mexico offers a refund right up until check-in. Airlines offer refunds too, but usually in the form of a credit for future flights. Most of these credits are good for at least a year. Southwest is currently allowing customers to convert refund credit to airline miles. That way they don’t expire and you can transfer them. The downside is, the corporations are working with reduced staff so a refund can take up to 3-4 months. So, I hope you didn't max out your card with that vacation package.
Car rental companies are suffering as well, but in my opinion you wouldn’t know it by the prices. That indistry's strategy has been to reduce inventory and selection to make up the losses. By the way, that means right now you can get a deal on a used rental car if you're into that sort of thing. If you need a car for transportation, make sure you book well in advance. If you wait until the last minute, you may not get the car you wanted or may not even get one at all.
So what countries are safe to travel to? In the US, we think of how safe other countries are from COVID. Believe me, other countries worry more about us bring it there. I won’t get into the politics of travel. Some believe you should continue to stay home. Some believe we have to get out and live our lives. A very good friend of mine has a great saying, “You do you.” If you feel it is unsafe to travel, then by all means stay home. You won’t enjoy your vacation anyway if you are worried about your health the entire time. If you feel comfortable traveling, then by all means do so. Whichever you decide, be kind. Do your research. I personally am comfortable traveling as much as I am going to any major city in the US, the grocery store, or a restaurant. In some cases, more comfortable. If you want information on restrictions in travel, the airline websites are a great resource. Southwest has a lot of information on their home page. If you want to know what the health situation is in a particular destination, ask your travel agent or check with the country's consulate or website. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issues four levels of COVID threat; red, red (again), orange and yellow. Not to be mistaken for their regular heath threat scale of red, yellow, and green. Seems complicated?
Well it is. The CDC travel alerts can be found at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices. The CDC COVID alerts are listed by destination at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/map-and-travel-notices.html. They can seem confusing and to me seem out of date. Personally, I don’t know who to believe as to these threat levels. I think you need to read and research and “you do you.” Seriously, if you have questions, just ask and we can help you muddle through the smoke.
H&K Travel started in 2019, just before the pandemic (just my luck). Travel has been very slow during this time, but that gave us time to research, study, and train. We hooked up with Inteletravel as a host, who provided experience, resources, and connections it would have taken years to build. We are certified and trained in everything from hotels and resorts to theme parks, vacation destinations, you name it (like I said, lots of time on our hands). Recently, people are starting to travel again. We are getting more and more inquiries for vacations. The deals are out there. We are ready to get you where you need to go. Let us know when you're ready to travel.