As the world emerges from its prolonged slumber and governments begin to ease restrictions, many travelers are wondering when they can safely begin to travel and how to plan a trip in a post-Coronavirus world. While there are many nuances in travel and ultimately much will depend on government regulations regarding opening the borders and safety measures required, there are many ways for savvy travelers to begin travel planning now. Following months of quarantine and stay-at-home orders, people around the world have started to feel a yearning to venture out of their homes. Late summer and fall trips are already taking shape for many US residents eager to experience nature, the outdoors, and celebrate the arrival of beautiful summer weather.
Airlines and Hotels
Travelers who remain optimistic about the future have started to take advantage of favorable rates and cancellation policies for travel in 2021. Most major airlines have significantly modified their policies and begun to offer favorably priced flights with flexible terms and conditions never before seen. The Points Guy provides a great breakdown of US airlines and the changes they are making to their policies.
After months of empty rooms and lost revenue, many hotels are providing flexible cancellation terms along with extremely competitive prices. For US citizens, domestic travel will be the first to recover as many people interested in taking vacations will opt to drive to their destination, avoiding airports and commercial airlines. With a plethora of excellent options for resorts located in remote destinations around the US, travelers can continue practicing social distancing while enjoying a much-needed mental break from the stress of the past several months.
There are many properties such as The Resort at Paws Up and The Ranch At Rock Creek, located on thousands of acres of open land, providing privacy, seclusion, and relative safety from a social distancing perspective. They may be the most attractive options for post- COVID 19 travel.
Luxury properties with a focus on wellness, including the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Canyon Ranch, and Post Ranch Inn are already preparing for how they will receive visitors in the coming months. Remote lodges located in national parks that will reopen this summer, such as LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains and Lake McDonald lodge in Glacier National Park, remain at the top of adventure travel and outdoor enthusiasts wish lists.
Reputable hotels and resorts with highly refined sanitation practices will likely see travelers return sooner than non-vetted vacation rental properties as their standards for cleanliness, staff safety, testing, and precautionary measures will be strictly enforceable and protocolized. To establish international standards, Hyatt Hotels Corp. has announced a formal Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment to “further enhance its operational guidance and resources around colleague and guest safety”.
International travel requires an understanding of both US government regulations, CDC recommendations, and the border restrictions and policies of destination countries. As Covid-19 cases decrease and countries feel safe to welcome visitors, procedures and regulations will likely change frequently. While many countries currently remain closed to international travelers with no scheduled date to ease restrictions, others are opening hotels and preparing for summer travelers.
Europe started seeing a decrease in the number of infections and certain countries within the EU have begun relaxing restrictions for their citizens related to entry bans and travel, taken to stop the spread of the Covid-19. However, border closures and mandatory 14-day quarantines remain in effect throughout much of Europe, especially for non-Schengen and EU residents, even as some countries make an effort to bring back tourism dollars. Last week, the European Commission announced a plan to save summer tourism including opening borders and putting health measures and testing in place. Certain countries whose GDP relies more heavily on tourism have made ambitious plans to reopen, while others remain skeptical and cautious.
In Italy, on May 16, prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree to enable foreign tourism to resume June 3 for residents of the EU and Schengen Areas. Between June 3 and 15, travel to and from countries outside Europe is still largely prohibited.
The Greek government has laid out an ambitious plan to welcome back tourists beginning on June 15 when seasonal hotels can reopen. Starting July 1, the mandatory Covid-19 test and 14-day quarantine will no longer be required, making Greece one of the first European countries to fully embrace international tourism again.
Likewise, Iceland’s prime minister said that the island nation hopes to open to tourism by June 15. The country plans to test all arrivals for Covid-19, allowing those who test negative to bypass quarantine.
Travel bubbles have also begun to emerge with countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, allowing their residents movement across borders.
Other countries like France, the UK and Spain have remained cautious and will reopen more gradually. France will start easing travel restrictions on June 15, initially with Switzerland and Germany. Further reopening will happen in stages based on data and disease containment.
Canada and Mexico
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced that travel restrictions, imposed in March and previously set to expire on Wednesday, would be extended until June 22 for both Canada and Mexico.
According to reports, Cancun and Riviera Maya plan to reopen for international travel in June while Los Cabos is rolling out a phased reopening plan. The program has five steps, with Phase 2 seeing the reopening of the international terminal at the airport by July and hopes to be fully open for business in 2021.
With crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, and spectacular resorts, many US travelers are hopeful of returning to the Caribbean islands as soon as possible. Like most of the world, each of the islands must make the decisions to reopen borders based on their own statistics, access to healthcare, and testing/tracing capabilities.
St. Lucia plans to reopen to tourism on June 4 with heightened protocols. Visitors to St. Lucia are required to present certified proof of a negative Covid-19 test, taken within 48 hours of boarding their flight and will be subject to screening and temperature checks by port health authorities.
Aruba has also set its sights on reopening with plans to welcome visitors between June 15 and July 1, according to a “tentative” estimate by the Aruba Tourism Authority.
The Bahamas is preparing for inter-island travel and plans to reopen to tourists by July 1.
Travelers in the luxury and ultra-luxury market are choosing to plan travel while maintaining social distancing in private, luxury villas with certified personal staff including chefs, housekeepers and childcare. Luxury yachts and private jet travel is also gaining popularity as it allows for flexibility and last-minute adjustments and changes.
Other islands such as Jamaica, St Maarten, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos have yet to specify when their borders are reopening or when tourism can resume.
While international border restrictions remain complicated, travelers also need to be aware of limitations within the US. Although most states are relaxing restrictions, “stay at home,” orders remain in effect throughout parts of the country. States such as Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, and others require visitors to “self-quarantine” for 14 days upon arrival, which makes leisure travel challenging.
While the virus has devastated the world’s tourism industry, it has also led to the loss of millions of jobs, furloughs, and pay cuts across a multitude of sectors. If discretionary spending is affected, leisure travel practices will be impacted. After months of quarantine and isolation, travelers are seeking more meaningful, sustainable, and mindful travel experiences to connect with family members and friends. Aside from the cost, travelers prioritize health and safety, and many are willing to pay a premium for privacy.
The risk of default remains high within the travel industry. While some airlines and large hotel chains have received government assistance, the prolonged shutdowns are sure to have lasting effects, many of which are still unclear. Booking trips post Covid -19 requires travelers to take enhanced precautions and actively research the suppliers they are using. Many insurance companies that previously offered cancel for any reason policies have removed those options and most labeled Covid-19 a “known event” in January 2020.
Given the extent of uncertainty around the world, it is critical for travelers to understand cancellation terms and book travel through reputable suppliers or travel agencies. Credit cards may offer travelers added protection against fraud and possible default, but benefits vary, and travelers should check with their banks before making any significant transactions.
Ultimately travel will now require an even higher degree of research and understanding for the consumers. Finding reputable companies, trusted suppliers, and travel agencies will allow travelers to regain confidence sooner. Once travelers begin to feel safe, the desire to explore beautiful destinations will once again take hold.
Janet Semenova is the co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors, LLC, a luxury travel agency, specializing in customized and highly curated itineraries around the world.