Travel Experts, a host agency with just under 500 affiliated independent contractors, has received a number of reports from its affiliated travel advisors noting that they have been experiencing safe travels this summer, particularly throughout the U.S. and Caribbean with airlines and hotels improving safety protocols in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Besides desperately wanting to get out of the house after being grounded for three months during the COVID-19 lockdown, I was incredibly curious to see how each state and each property were handling re-opening amidst all of the new safety protocols,” said Laura Madrid, Resort To Laura Madrid, Atlanta, GA, adding: “Overall, I was impressed.”
Madrid went on to elaborate: “Arriving to Primland [a Blue Ridge Mountain resort], it was safety first with temperatures taken at front gate. All of the properties we visited throughout the trip had employees wear masks and requested guests to do the same when walking indoors. Most guests were happy to comply and thrilled to be out and about again.”
Sharon Andrade, a Travel Experts affiliate in Raleigh, NC, reported her recent trip as being all too normal. “We flew American from Charlotte and my daughter and I were being very cautious. We waited in an open area across from the gate area. Sadly, the gate area looked like ‘normal times.’ There was no social distancing.”
Andrade went on to say: “We paid the extra money to fly first class, which was full. We boarded last, maybe the last 10 people on the plane. We social distanced down the gangway. A very nice steward helped me put my two bags in the overhead. When we deplaned, the steward announced the new procedure. The first row stood, grabbed their bags and deplaned. The second row stood, grabbed their bags, etc. Very organized. Happy to experience this new procedure.”
Pamela Walker, Walker Adventures, Palm Coast, FL, had booked a direct flight to the West Coast in early January. She noted: “It was cancelled, then changed, then changed again and now I am on three flights and stops in airports along the way. Flights are only 50 percent full, with blocked seats and social distancing everywhere. And if you don’t have a mask, they give you one and ask you to wear it. I cannot say I was not apprehensive. I was about to spend the night in a hotel as well as begin flights that would take at least 13 hours in a mask.
“Overnight in a hotel too was different. Plexiglas shields, like those at the grocery stores, are everywhere. So are those little round dots on floors to keep you 6 feet from each other. But I could avoid the dots and the plastic shield by using my smart phone to check in and go right to my room. My phone even unlocked the door to my room which smelled so clean and nice I knew it had just been disinfected. I wiped down anyway!”
Madrid noted what a lot of her colleagues were experiencing: “Our job as travel advisors has gotten that much more complex, not only are we having to keep track of international border openings and traveler requirements, we have to understand what each state’s protocol is as well.”
Madrid added: “What is interesting driving up the Atlantic coast is how different protocols and local regulations were from state to state. It felt almost like crossing European borders rather than a road trip in my own country. Virginia, for example, was super buttoned-up where valet parkers could not even park guest cars and guests carried their own golf clubs to the golf cart in order to avoid contact with employees. Up the road in West Virginia, however, no guests wore masks despite the signs requesting them and the receptionist told me that the ‘Casino is open and will likely be quite busy.'”
While travel has gotten safer as a result of new health-related protocols being instituted across all segments of the industry, there are new issues that the travel advisors have found.
“Before COVID-19 our clients could generally make dinner, spa, and activities reservations at a whim, now, given controlled occupancies in many public settings, clients need to be completely scheduled before they travel in order to avoid disappointment,” noted Madrid. “For example, at a ranch stay in Montana, we found all activities are scheduled privately from yoga, to mountain cycling, to ax throwing. This means that the guides are spread pretty thin trying to accommodate all requests,” she said.
However, Sharon Andrade experienced a heightened level of service once they were in Utah. “The manager at the Residence Inn in Provo, Utah, who I contacted prior to traveling, placed us in a room on the end,” she said, adding: “He put extra towels, shampoo, etc. in our room so we had what we needed without interacting with hotel staff.”
Pamela Walker found the lack of lines and crowds at the airport and new procedures on board helped ease any issues. “Once in the airport, the plastic shields are everywhere. What wasn’t everywhere were people. Check in was on your phone. Boarding the flight was easy! Much better now than before. or years, foreign air carriers have been boarding passengers from the back forward. One thing that has not changed is that people still jam the aisle while they get in their seats. No social distancing here.
“Deplaning was excellent. Delta asks you to remain seated until the person in front of you has collected their bag and exits the plane. Believe it or not…everyone was respectful of that rule and it worked much more quickly than the old pushing and shoving to get off the plane.
“Now back home again, I cannot state enough that flying is like it was years ago. People very quiet and polite and standing in line like they are asked. I would not hesitate to fly again soon…even with my mask on!”
Leslie Horn and Jennifer Martin, co-owners of Nashville Luxury Travel, decided to take advantage of down-time and take their office of five on a vacation to Turks and Caicos. “We also wanted to know firsthand, what it is like to travel to the Caribbean during COVID times,” said Leslie Horn.
“While we know all too well the skepticism of traveling, being on a plane, COVID testing prior to travel, selecting travel insurance that offers the right coverage, we can say firsthand it went perfectly,” said Jennifer Martin.
Martin added: “We felt very safe on the plane. It was clean and the service was good. Everyone wore their masks and sanitized before and during flights. Temperatures were not only taken on arrival, but at every resort and restaurant. Resorts even took the temperatures of drivers before they pulled into a resort to drop us off. The whole island is implementing incredible effort and technology in cleaning.”
Horn was very pleased with the response on island, noting: “All hotels followed protocol to the max. We felt respected by others, and we respected them. We wore our masks everywhere except on the beach and at the pools, where everyone was safely distanced anyway.”
Horn added: “Do we recommend travel now? Only if you are comfortable. But we can say that we all had a fabulous time. We toured up to 12 hotels and checked out dining and went swimming, boating, snorkeling, and road jet skis.”
Lisa Hall, owner of Thornton Hall Travel, Greenville, SC, just returned from Palm Beach Florida for a Post Birthday Celebratory Girls Trip. “We flew Delta, which is leaving the middle seats empty and boarding from the rear to the front. The deplaning was very polite with one row at a time. It almost seems as though the pace of travel has slowed down and really no one should be in a hurry.”
The group stayed at the Breakers Resort Palm Beach and found many safety measures in place. Hall said, “They are offering complimentary self-parking normally not offered. There was plexiglas in all appropriate places. Masks were required in all public spaces except the pool and beach. To accommodate social distancing the resort offers breakfast in the Seafood Bar and Beachclub, as well as in-room dining.”
Hall added: “One of our excursions was a half-day boat outing on a 50-ft. catamaran. The number of guests they allowed was only eight when normally it would be 30. I believe that everyone needs the opportunity to rest and renew but meanwhile feel their safety is respected. This trip was an overall success.”