Travel: So Now What?

By Ryan Cowden. Created on Aug. 7, 2020. From Editorials & Opinions.

Travel: So Now What?

What a period it has been, I don’t think there is any need to expound upon that. We all know the story by now and if you don’t, I would like to find the rock you’ve been hiding under and join you.

But what is the current thought process for travel?

Well, the short answer is that it is as uncertain as ever and there are many additional considerations. The most direct answer seems to be we won’t be going abroad until we get the numbers low enough that outbreaks can be quickly isolated as many peer countries do. Is that in two months? Six? I don’t know. Once we do, the industry is likely going to be permanently altered, too. In the short term, we might still be able to visit some limited resort destinations in Aruba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Jamaica, but there are significant requirements before going and social distancing requirements in the country are likely to be required. For example, in some of those listed, only the beach at the resort is actually open, “public” beaches beyond the resorts are closed along with many local attractions.

Things are not as easy as getting on a plane with a passport, of course. Many governments currently require specific tests (PCR only) within several hours of departure, but in some places, the turn around for the results far exceeds the allotted window. Some variation of this may be the reality for quite some time including certificates, “green channels” or other immunity or tracking protocols. Then there is the question of what happens upon arrival. Jamaica was performing tests upon arrival but that has changed already. The Bahamas banned all from the US, until they suddenly didn’t, but attached a huge “*”. Aruba requires the purchase of “Visitors Insurance” because US insurance is not typically valid. Then there is Europe. Some places are open to us, most are not; some are ok only after a strictly enforced 14 day in-room quarantine. If you decide to travel and connect in a country where we are banned and the onward connection cancels, are you prepared to sleep on a floor in the terminal? What about a positive Covid-19 test while in your destination by you or someone on the resort? On top of that, in many places around the world, “visitors” regardless of origin are being looked upon very, VERY unkindly.

So what am I suggesting as a Travel Advisor? Explore this region in the short term; for the longer term start planning for travel in the middle of 2021 or beyond, soon.

The first idea is a bit easier, or was at least until the self-quarantine mandates upon returning to Chicago were added. I’ve been lucky enough to get home to Ohio for some family time in rural Northeast Ohio. Within an hour in any direction there are kayak options on scenic rivers, hiking in both state and national parks plus biking various converted railways trails and backroads. There are historic small towns, wildlife reserves, rolling hills or low Appalachian Mountains, waterfalls, secluded rivers, marshes and covered bridges along most of the biking trails, too.

The big highlight was a road trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I hadn’t been before and between the numerous waterfalls, a verdant green landscape, pervasive scent of pine and the spectacular Pictured Rocks area, I was completely stunned! It seemed like every hill, curve or bend revealed another vista of green set against the shimmering blue of Lake Superior. I’m already wondering if a return trip in early autumn could be in the cards! A short return trip north also resulted in a day trip to Door County, which was as charming, green and picturesque, as anywhere I’ve been lately, although not exactly undiscovered, it was pretty busy.

But what about planning for 2021, or beyond? At some point, we have to believe that we’ll get it together and be able to contemplate travel? But what will that look like and how do we start to plan for it?

First, I won’t beat around the bush, if you are one that has always done things one your own in terms of planning, now might be a good time to find a professional to do the planning for you. Reasons could involve someone else can: sit on hold, figure out cancellation policies, track down refunds, apply Future Travel Credits, rebook the trip or advise on the current reality onsite. Professional Advisors tend to have different booking systems that make applying changes easier but we also tend to have a direct number for when things go wrong, for when you need quick replies and can find the most updated info. That isn’t to say everything goes without a hitch, even the most well known suppliers have had trouble paying refunds, for example. But having someone able to pursue these new developments in travel, could be worth the time saved and further protect your travel investment.

Second, whatever you do, get some sort of Travel Insurance or take the Travel Protection/Waivers and be sure that you understand what they include. Many travel suppliers have changed their options and coverages, seemingly weekly, to protect themselves from future losses while at the same time giving travelers flexibility. But only if they’ve purchased the protection. Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) options have become extremely important. As many of the insurance reps are fond of saying, “you can even cancel if you are having a bad hair day” (I hope I never meet this person!). Travel suppliers have also been offering more options to those that covered their trips to begin with. For example, one large resort oriented travel outfit gave varying options such as 10% bonus credits to convert to future travel with a date TBD, full refunds without penalty, or rebook to a future date without penalty. Those clients that didn’t have the protection? They were given two options, cancel and request a refund with a penalty or immediately pick a date through the end of 2022 and rebook immediately without penalty. It is almost at this point an absolute necessity to get some sort of coverage.

That doesn’t even begin to get into the health or evacuation insurance coverage. Some credit cards have this, but most do not. The crazy secret is your employer provided plan or Medicare in the US does not immediately cover you outside the US. Most of the time you pay onsite and claim upon return, which the last time I did that, “it was out of network” so they covered very little. While care is cheaper almost everywhere outside this county, by quite a wide margin, 9 days in an ICU with Covid-19 (or for any reason) is still going to be due upon checking out of the hospital, and an ICU visit of any sort isn’t inexpensive. We all just check the boxes too often, but read the coverage, discovering that the plan you bought doesn’t cover a pandemic or a specific interest could be disastrous. I nearly bought a plan for myself on a dive trip that excluded diving any deeper than 10’! I can snorkel deeper than 10’! Make sure you have a contingency plan for health coverage on any trip, particularly now. A qualified agent can help direct you to an appropriate plan.

Third is more a philosophical and economic argument for starting to book soon. At this point in the pandemic, it appears to be a sad reality that what type of shopping, dining or entertainment options exist afterwards will be in stark contrast to what we had before. A quick ride around our local neighborhoods or even downtown makes that abundantly clear. This reality will not escape the travel world, either. Flight options will likely be more limited with business travel perhaps never returning to past levels (hello, Zoom!), whether that is even a bad thing for the environment, is another topic. It may be that lodging options are far more limited, too. The charming independent hotels from Paris to Cartagena will no doubt be under stress or no longer in business while many cities are seizing this opportunity to finally reign in AirBnB rentals and even cruise ship visits (still another topic!). These factors will lead to less available options and higher prices, locking in now can help offer some protection against that likelihood.

As with shopping local here, if you want to continue to see diversity of options, route availability and prices that are relatively more affordable, future bookings need to show some reason for trying to wait it out to the various stakeholders and decision makers of all types of businesses within the travel industry.

With all of those things in mind, there are a few things that are being offered to help with the decision making. In some cases, depending on the type of trip or supplier, some trips can be booked as far out as December 2022. Travel Protection in the various formats are absolutely essential and some cases plans are being offered at a discount and with greater flexibility. Deposits to secure the booking are still generally low while the final payment dates are sometimes 30 days prior to departure instead of 60 days. Airlines have even notified passengers recently if the flight appears to be full and offered free changes while offering no or low change fees on future bookings. There are options out there to help minimize financial risks for future bookings, I highly recommend exploring the options with your Travel Advisor.

Finally, maybe most importantly over the next few months, there is also the psychology of having a trip on the books. With all that is going on and the likelihood that we may be stuck at home this winter, it will be a nice thing from a mental standpoint to have something on the calendar to look forward. Being the history junkie that I am, I spend the months leading up to a major trip reading about the place, the people, literature or history. Even after trips, I’ve learned how to prepare a variety of foods that I have discovered on my travels, which has helped remind me of places I’ve loved. We all could certainly use a diversion or something to look forward to these days!

I know I’m already looking forward to my now twice cancelled bucket list trip to Egypt in May, 2021! What might you be looking ahead to for 2021? Do you have a trip in mind? Get in touch and let’s start the process!