I feel as giddy as a child. Travel is back. We’ve had some false starts, but this time I am sure of it. Why? Because for the first time in a year COVID-19 isn’t dominating the 24-hour news cycle. We reached a tipping point about two weeks ago, right about the time Tiger Woods wrecked his car. Again. That story bumped COVID out of the headlines…at least until it became clear Tiger wasn’t going to die. Then it was Cuomo…did he or didn’t he? After that Dr. Suess. And after all that…Oprah, Harry, and Meghan. All the usual vapid headline generating celebrity and public figure shenanigans that enthrall Americans and keep social media in business have been keeping COVID in the background, mostly because the COVID news has been universally good and good news doesn’t generate clicks.
To be fair, the occasional COVID-19 Debbie Downer story is still out there. Most of these are stories the media generates by exploiting ambiguity in the science to continue fear mongering over the effectiveness of vaccines against viral mutations. If you can’t prove something isn’t true, then that must mean it is true. Doesn’t it?
I don’t expect the CDC or the WHO to be quick to announce an end to the pandemic. For better or worse the public in this country has ceded an unprecedented amount of power to the CDC, a level that goes well beyond their chartered authority. The CDC will be loath to give up any of that power, but that doesn’t change the reality that COVID is endemic, and that the public is well on the way to accepting that and all it means. We have effective vaccines to combat the virus, increasingly effective treatment measures, and a public ready to put the pandemic behind us. All of that is good news for travel.
Janet and I have participated in zoom meetings, webinars, Facebook live events, and other industry information events on a weekly basis since the beginning of the pandemic. Until recently the mood within the travel industry has been pretty gloomy, but I have to say for about the past couple of weeks there has been a growing level of excitement. Travel is coming back. It won’t be without some risk, it never is, and working with a travel agent is one of the most effective risk mitigation measures you can take when it comes to planning your travel. Here are just a few thoughts I want to share about those risks as you contemplate your own return to travel. I’ll follow up in the coming days with more of what to expect when it comes to specific modes of travel and destinations, starting in a few days with an update on cruising. I’ve missed it.
- Inherent Risk. As I’ve said all along, travel carries inherent risks. You are the only person capable of determining your personal risk posture. Part of our job is to help make sure you can make an informed decision.
- Schedule Risk. If you are ready to travel anytime through the end of 2022, book now. That isn’t me pushing a false sense of urgency on you. It is the current state of play. Demand is high and supply is low…the only way to ensure you get the trip you want, when you want and where you want, is to book early. We have already encountered trips that are fully booked well into 2022 so don’t wait. Give us a call.
- Cost Risk. You are going to pay more to travel than you did in 2019. And if you wait to book hoping that will change, you’re going to pay even more. Any promises of deep discounts are an illusion, offered only after suppliers have already increased prices beyond their 2019 price points. There are exceptions, most notably with air, but they are limited and fleeting. People are desperate to travel, and they are willing to pay. There are no hacks for that.
- Bankruptcy Risk. Many travel suppliers haven’t survived, and some who have are on shaky financial ground. Supplier or tour operator solvency is another thing to consider when making your vacation plans.
- COVID Risk. Talk to your doctor about your personal risk situation and get vaccinated if you can, as soon as you can. If you can’t get the vaccine, or if you choose not to, talk to your doctor about the potential increased risk you may face if you travel without being vaccinated.
- Indirect Risk. Suppliers may not require COVID testing or vaccination before they take your money, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be required to show proof of testing or vaccination once you hit the road. The last thing you want after a year of frustration dealing with COVID-19 is to get to the airport only to learn your destination has COVID requirements you didn’t anticipate.
- Passport Risk. When was the last time you set eyes on your passport? Don’t wait…find your passport now and after you find it, check it. If it is close to expiring, or already has, send it in for renewal now. According to the State Department’s website, the current backlog for processing passport applications and renewals is 10-12 weeks, and expedited processing is no longer a sure thing.
- Risk Mitigation. Travel suppliers and destinations have spent a significant portion of the past year working with public health officials to come up with effective COVID-19 risk mitigation and management plans. Even if you are vaccinated, these destination and supplier-driven risk measures will likely require the continued use of masks and social distancing for the next several months as more of the world catches up. Don’t be a stupid American. When you travel, respect the rules of your destination.
My next post will be all about cruising. It should come as no surprise that I am gobsmacked that the CDC is STILL keeping cruise ships at anchor, but if you are a fan of cruising there is reason for optimism.