Can we travel this summer?

Now that the weather is warming up and Covid-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders are lifting across the country, many people are antsy to get out there and travel after a brutal cooped-up spring. And while hitting the road or skies may be a good idea for both the economy and the country’s collective mental health, it’s not risk free in terms of the pandemic. So it’s more important than ever to keep safety in mind every step of the way. 

International Travel ; should we be ruling it out  this summer?

 Although most governments are still advising against “nonessential” international travel, a bunch of popular destinations are beginning to move toward welcoming tourists back. Earlier this month, the European Union unveiled an action plan to reopen its internal borders in time for summer, while countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have formed “travel bubbles,” lifting restrictions for each other’s citizens.

Cyprus, for example, is so keen to get its tourism industry back on track, officials are offering to cover the costs of any travelers who test positive for Covid-19 while on vacation in the Mediterranean island nation – we’re talking lodging, food, drink and medication for tourists who are taken ill with coronavirus during their visit. Officials have also earmarked a 100-bed hospital for foreign travelers who test positive, while a 500-room “quarantine hotel” will be available to patients’ family and “close contacts.

And Greece where tourism accounts for almost 20% of its gross domestic product, as well as one in five jobs, is angling to reopen to tourists as soon as it possibly can. The European country, which managed to keep its coronavirus case numbers low by implementing a strict lockdown early on, plans to allow travelers back in on June 15. The tourism period begins on June 15, when seasonal hotels can reopen. International flights to Greek destinations will slowly resume from July 1, and tourists will no longer be expected to take a Covid-19 test or go into quarantine on arrival – however it has been indicated that health officials will conduct spot tests when necessary.

France however is taking a more community based approach by encouraging toursim but only within their country for now. France was the most visited country in the world before the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe recently announced a $19.4 billion stimulus package to boost its ailing tourism sector but it does seem like the priority for now is on French residents taking holidays within France during the peak times of July and August, as all signs suggest international travelers will not be able to enter for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately there will be plenty of internatinal destinations opening borders as we hit end of June into July – but you need to do your research and take precautions.

What about domestic travel?

Right now states are in flux in terms of things opening up, and as such we don’t know exactly what summer travel will look like, but one thing is certain – you can expect change. Some countries and U.S. states have already begun relaxing their stay-at-home orders, while others are extending their lockdowns by weeks.

Rental houses will be on the rise. This is a a good option because you can clean the rental  when you arrive and then you have full control. Some rental companies like Airbnb have rolled out stricter cleaning protocols to ensure the safety of both guests and hosts, so be sure to read up on your rental company of choice’s policy.  It is likely that rentals will out perform hotels in the near-term as travelers attempt to avoid interactions with strangers, so if you have a domestic destination in mind, plan ahead and do your research.

As for driving versus flying, traveling by airplane is much higher risk than traveling by car with your family.  If you do fly, again keep in mind that international travel is much riskier this summer than domestic travel. Wear your mask, bring your own food and drinks, wear gloves in the bathroom, avoid sitting close to someone, wash or sanitize your hands as much as you can and be mindful of your entire environment. You might also want to consider taking out travel insurance or protection plans in case you get sick abroad. 

Look at destinations that are spread out, not densely populated like a city. This goes hand in hand with taking a community based approach; the deal is that once you are comfortable within your own community, you can decide what is most critical for you as you travel farther from home. And when you do travel consider who you are traveling with and who you are traveling to. Maybe planning a trip to see family should be a priority this summer versus going on a city break.

Make sure you also plan ahead of time. Have a strategy; think about exactly where you’re planning to go, exactly how you’re planning to get there, and what exactly you will do once you arrive. Because all 50 states are reopening at different rates, be sure to factor that information into your choices.

Health Passports? Is this a real option?

European countries may be implementing “health passports” which would determine whether a traveler can enter a foreign country depending on their virus history. But what would the ramifications of that mean for the future of travel post-virus? I dig deeper and try to answer some of the questions surrounding this…..

What might an implementation of this new policy look like? Maybe we see a trial run in countries like Greece and Italy before other countries adopt a similar policy?

Essentially it would involve creating a ‘digital certificate’ using facial biometrics to prove who has had Covid-19. While this could obviously could be applied to leisure and business travel, ultimately it could also help test workers to ease the impact on the economy and businesses from ongoing physical distancing. We know that in the UK tech firms are already in talks with ministers about creating these so called health passports, AND summer hotspots like Sardinia, Turkey and Greece are all looking at introducing them for tourists. Now, tourists would be required to produce a document showing theyv’e tested negative for Covid-19 within a week of their arrival. In fact, the European Union tourism ministers are already said to be discussing the possibility of a bloc-wide “Covid-19 passport.”

What does this mean for the future of travel and tourism – Will it help or hinder it?

In areas that could be severly affected by the upcomoing summer tourism season, yes of course this could help. However many are sceptical to what extent this would be 100% safe at this current stage. The World Health Organisation has warned against the idea, stressing that there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19, and have antibodies, are 100% protected from a second infection. The fear would be that this could actually increase the spread of the virus even more. This could change obviosuly, as new reserach emerges, but it could also be premature. Like anything with this virus, it’s all about timing.

Is it realistic? Surely this would require hundreds of thousands of virus tests per week, possible doctor involvement and, on top of that, it’s just another form of documentation travelers have to remember to bring with them to the airport.

The reality is that people are going to start to travel again and when they do there is going to have to be safety measures in place. Whether or not health passports take off, flights in the future are likely to see us undergo health checks before departure and upon arrival. I also think people are going to find ways to protect themselves better when traveling as well. I see more business and consumer travelers joining health and safety programs like Medjet, an air medical transport and travel security membership, that if a traveler is hospitalized while traveling, gets sick or injured, will organize transportation to a home country hospital of their choice for in-patient care. In general people are going to be more conscious of wellness and travel, and as long as its safe,  anything that puts them at ease will help. 

Crowded flights raise questions about the landscape of flying….

The number of Americans boarding commercial flights has risen steadily over the past five days, leading to an increase in reports of crowded flights on which social-distancing measures were impossible. There has been some recent criticism of American Airlines after a passenger boarded a weekend flight and found it nearly full, with no social distancing guidelines being practiced due to the shere amount of people on the flight. The question here is – if airlines keep running these flights, and travel continues even on a limited basis, what airlines are doing to protect passengers and what we can do to protect ourselves? Travel Expert, Francesca Page, sheds some light….

So are airlines listening?

American Airlines and JetBlue implemented new flying policies Monday, after travellers reported packed flights amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Taking AA as an example, we do know that despite the fact that American has cut 60% of its flights in April (and is reportedly planning on suspending more in May) beginning in early May, American will build on its cleaning program by expanding on the cleaning procedures already used during longer stops to every mainline flight. Changes will include flight attendents being required to wear masks (something Jetblue was already enforcing,) the distribution of sanitizing wipes or gels and face masks to customers, and an expansion of cleaning frequency in the areas under its control including gate areas, ticket counters, passenger service counters, baggage service offices and team member rooms. 

What do you think people will do in future to protect themselves when flying and traveling in a larger sense?

There is no doubt that people are more aware of their vulnerability in general when traveling now more than ever. In terms of flying, airlines like AA have been very open about passengers rights to ask for a seat ‘re-assigment’ to create more space and have said they are blocking half of all middle seats but they have also said seat reassigment is not guaranteed. In a larger sense I think we’ll see business and consumer travelers taking it upon themselves to keep protected in a few ways: 

  • The landscape of travel insurance and protection will change, with more business and consumer travelers joining travel health and safety programs. Those that can afford it, will sign up air medical transport and travel security memberships so that if they hospitalized while traveling, get sick or injured, transportation to a home country hospital of their choice can be arranged for in-patient care. 
  • There will undoubtably be a rise in other alternative forms of transport to flying that allow more privacy and less exposure, like the road trip.
  • People will be more aware of keeping themselves at a distance from other passengers and in flight etiquette will be more obligatory accross the board.