As hotels, destinations and attractions across the U.S. start to reopen, they’re depending on travel advisors to help educate travelers on vacationing in the new normal. A lot has changed, but as Eric Marshall, senior v.p. of park sales for Universal Orlando Resorts, says, “our team members were so excited to serve guests again.”
Universal Orlando Resorts hotels opened on June 2, and the theme parks opened on June 5.
“Our job now is setting expectations and consumer education, which we certainly want the travel trade’s help in. There are some things that can make the experience more seamless if you prepare them in advance. I think our biggest thing right
— Eric Marshall, Senior Vice President, Park Sales,
Universal Orlando Resorts
“I have to tell you, it was so exciting seeing people enjoying our hotels and our parks again,” says Marshall. “To get the feedback we got in terms of what we put in place regarding spacing, sanitization and screening…that was really exciting.”
Enhanced precautions at Universal Orlando Resorts properties include: guests and team members are required to wear face coverings in public areas and have temperature checks upon arrival; guests will be asked to self-screen for COVID symptoms and comply with quarantine orders prior to arrival; enhanced cleaning of guestrooms, public areas, and high touch areas; and social distancing in high-traffic areas.
“Our operators did a heck of a job in working with the state and the county and really building a robust plan,” says Marshall. “Our job now is setting expectations and consumer education, which we certainly want the travel trade’s help in. There are some things that can make the experience more seamless if you prepare them in advance, like downloading our app so you can take advantage of mobile food ordering, and some of our virtual queues. I think our biggest thing right now is guest education.”
As for the parks, daily attendance will be managed and controlled, plus new safety and health procedures are being implemented focusing on screening, spacing, and sanitization, including wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing, as well as temperature checks before entering the parks, and the use of virtual line experiences at select attractions.
For Walt Disney World Resorts, the theme parks are scheduled, as of press time, to reopen on July 11. The phased reopening will start with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, and then EPCOT and Hollywood Studios on July 15.
This phased reopening will limit attendance and control guest density, aligning with guidance on physical distancing. That means certain experiences that draw large group gatherings like parades and nighttime spectaculars will return at a later date. In addition, high-touch experiences such as makeover opportunities, playgrounds and character meet and greets will remain temporarily unavailable, but characters will still be in the parks to entertain guests.
Because theme park capacity will be significantly limited, attendance will be managed through a new theme park reservation system that will require all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. During this time, all guests with a ticket or annual pass will be required to make a reservation in advance for each park entry, using a new online tool.
To use the new system, guests will need:
• A My Disney Experience account, as this is where your client’s Walt Disney World Resort plans are stored and managed.
• A valid theme park ticket or Annual Pass that’s linked to the client’s My Disney Experience account.
• And, if your clients have a Disney Resort hotel reservation, be sure to link it to their My Disney Experience account beforehand, as well.
Once guests have logged into their My Disney Experience account and linked their ticket, they’ll have access to a calendar of available reservation dates for each theme park. If guests have a multi-day ticket, they will be required to make a park reservation for each date of their visit. Families and friends can link their tickets together and look to arrange theme park entries at the same time.
As of right now, guests will be able to select one park per day; visiting more than one park per day will be temporarily unavailable due to attendance limitations.
Disney Springs is also operating under a phased reopening.
Florida’s Beach Destinations
Collier County in Florida, which encompasses Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades, has moved into Phase II of reopening. As of June 5, bars, movie theaters, and entertainment complexes have been open at 50 percent capacity.
“With our beaches now open and many of the touristic businesses reopening, we’re excited to bring back visitors, particularly from our drive markets to enjoy the summer season. Our hotels, restaurants and tour operators eagerly await the arrival of vacationers,” said Jack Wert, executive director at the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau in a press statement.
In addition, Collier County’s beach parks are now open seven days a week, and Naples beaches have resumed normal operating hours and permitted activities seven days a week, plus the beaches in Marco Island are also open.
“We strongly believe it will be the summer of the road trip and want to especially encourage Floridians to come visit us in Southwest Florida,” added Wert.
“What’s most important for all of these new protocols is for us and travel advisors to help educate the guest prior to arrival. We are all hoping this is the short term— it’s the new normal for the short term.”— Marian McLain, Vice President of Global Sales –
Intermediary Retail Leisure, Marriott International
One of the hotels open in the area is the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. “We are starting to see weekend [stays in areas such as] Hilton Head, Florida, and Santa Barbara…we are starting to see occupancy as high as 80 to 85 percent. Things are going well so far,” says Marian McLain, v.p. of global sales, intermediary retail leisure for Marriott International.
McLain goes on to say that “it’s been very interesting because you have some guests that are so appreciative of all the new protocols that we’ve put in place—the social distancing at the pools, the masks.
“While we can’t force all of the guests to wear masks, all of our associates will be wearing masks all the time. It’s just about educating these travelers.”
Las Vegas is Back
As of June 4, Las Vegas began welcoming back guests with hotels reopening, including a few under MGM Resorts International, which, as of press time, had opened the Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand and Excalibur, and is making face masks mandatory. Though for now amenities will be limited, MGM Resorts International will continue to reopen properties as demand builds.
“We actually chose to temper our occupancy and tried to run at just 30 percent, so as you know our hotels are quite large so that’s quite a few individuals walking through our buildings,” says Lee Ann Benavidaz, v.p. of distribution, partnerships and transient sales strategy for MGM Resorts International. “We were very thoughtful in approaching our hotel openings and really focused on health and safety first. I’m very pleased with the results of our first weekend [on June 4]. It exceeded our expectations. We did run slightly above 30 percent occupancy, so the demand is there. Customers are eager to get out and travel.”
At Bellagio, the Bellagio’s Conservatory is open for guests featuring a new Japanese Spring Garden display called “Japan Journey: Magic of Kansai.” The resort’s iconic fountains will once again be on display for visitors, and various food and beverage amenities are available. The resort’s pool and a selection of cabanas are also open. For MGM Grand and The Signature, dining options are available, along with several bars and lounges. The resort’s pool and select cabanas are also open to visitors. And over at New York-New York, open dining and bar offerings include Tom’s Urban, as well as many venues at the adjacent Park. Open attractions include the Big Apple Roller Coaster and Big Apple Arcade, as well as Hershey’s Chocolate World. Guests are also able to enjoy the resort’s pool with select cabanas available.
“It’s being respectful and mindful to everyone around you as you choose to travel and get out, which we want guests to do. We feel we are safe and ready to welcome our guests. We are all learning how to adapt to this.”
— Lee Ann Benavidaz, Vice President, Distribution, Partnerships and Transient Sales Strategy, MGM Resorts International
MGM has implemented a Seven-Point Safety Plan across its resorts to help deter the spread of coronavirus. “We really put a great deal of time into our Seven-Point Safety Plan,” points out Benavidaz. “We’ve had experts come in and advise and guide us on the plan, so we won’t be making any dramatic changes. As always, we’re constantly adjusting and adapting, but I think our decision to ease into opening our properties and figuring out how to best service our guests safely was the right decision.
“I think the one key learning is we all have to be mindful in educating our travelers and guests on how to travel in this new normal and be mindful of social distancing and the importance of that. It’s being respectful and mindful to everyone around you as you choose to travel and get out, which we want guests to do. We feel we are safe and ready to welcome our guests. We are all learning how to adapt to this.”
Also ready to welcome guests in Vegas is Caesars Entertainment, which, as of press time, resumed operations at Caesars Palace, Flamingo Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas, Harrah’s Las Vegas, The LINQ Promenade and High Roller Observation Wheel, as well as the gaming floor and other amenities at The LINQ Hotel + Experience.
Caesars is requiring the wearing of masks for everyone indoors at all times, except when eating or drinking. Other protocols for guests to follow include social distancing, with appropriate signage in queuing areas, and with casino floors, restaurants and other seated venues having reduced capacities; and hand washing and sanitizing—hand sanitizer will be provided at check-in, table games, and other transaction points. Of course, high-touch items will be cleaned and disinfected between use, and other cleaning protocols will be in place throughout the resorts.
Wynn Las Vegas and Encore are also open, as are all of its restaurants. And, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas reopened as well with a few amenities.
Health & Safety Protocols Information
Caesars Entertainment: caesars.com/health-and-safety
Marriot International: clean.marriott.com
MGM Resorts International: mgmresorts.com/en/open.html
Paradise Coast: paradisecoast.com/coronavirus-information
Universal Orlando Resorts: universalorlando.com/web/en/us/plan-your-visit/safety-faqs
Walt Disney World Resorts: disneyworld.com/updates
ALASKA: Help Your Clients Disconnect
For guests thinking of heading to Alaska this fall and winter season, Chena Hot Springs Resort is ready to welcome them. “If you consider Alaska in general,” says Javier Villasenor-Gaona, marketing director for Chena Hot Springs, “we are the state with the lowest population density. It is easy to disconnect out here, put your worries aside, and relax for a while. There is so much space for people to practice social distancing.”
The property, which works with travel advisor partners, has enhanced its sanitation and hygiene measures, and has provided access to sanitizers throughout. “While we do not require it, some of our guests do come visit with their face masks,” notes Villasenor-Gaona. “We do not know if all of this will be the new normal, or how long it will last, but we know we need to make changes and will continue to adapt. Actually, we are really enjoying some of the changes we’ve made, and will keep them in place even after the pandemic is officially declared over.”
As for wellness travel, he believes it’ll be an upward trend post-pandemic. “We think there is going to be a rise in ‘wellness travel,’ or travel intended to help support one’s physical and emotional/mental well-being. People need to get away, wind down after their lengthy quarantine and dealing with all the uncertainty that came with it, and let themselves know and believe that everything is going to be OK,” he says. “There is a huge opportunity to make that happen with wellness travel. There continues to be changes we need to make, but we also want to transmit serenity and control so that our guests can let go of their concerns. If our massage therapist needs to wear a mask while she works with a guest, our guest needs to feel and know that there is still a smile underneath; that we are happy to assist in their moment of peace,” he adds.
And, for advisors starting to book clients for upcoming travel, Villasenor-Gaona says, “Consider your guests’ concerns and look for places that can accommodate a safe environment for them. Check for travel mandates and recommendations for the areas you want to promote, and push for destinations where your audience can enjoy peace and quiet. Because so many destinations have relaxed their booking and cancellation policies, it’s a great time to take advantage of that and reach out to new and exciting locations.” chenahotsprings.com