2020: Is it Okay to Travel AgainGreg Moore
In a world full of Covid-19 and still many unknowns about the virus and its long-term effects, Senior Travel Designer at Educational Destinations, Greg Moore tackles this difficult question in 2020: Is it Okay to Travel Again.
The lingering question in the student travel industry for the past four months has been, “When will it be okay to travel again?”
A recent six-day excursion to Southwest Florida helped to shed some light on the subject for me. While current traveler counts are certainly down over this timeframe from last year, domestic travel is on a slow, albeit somewhat steady rebound. Airport crowds are somewhat light and hotel rooms are available, many at reduced rates for the time being. Make no mistake, travel is on the rebound and the expectation is that it will continue to do so over the next several months.
During my travels, I experienced four different flights, all on Southwest Airlines, a popular airline for student group travel. While the number of flights have been reduced for the time being, my fights were either near or at the new capacity levels. The planes would have been completely full if the airline had not reduced the number of seats from maximum capacity. Many airlines have restricted usage of middle seats in their aircraft.
Social distancing and cleanliness have come to the forefront in the current travel environment. In fact, it could potentially be the cleanest time to ever travel. Public facilities such as lobbies, restaurants, restrooms, elevators and handrails are cleaned on a consistent and frequent basis.
Airlines have enhanced aircraft cleanings. Southwest, in particular, does a thorough cleaning in between flights which includes a wipe down of seats, seat belts, tray tables and overhead bins. In addition to a more frequent cleaning regiment and holding middle seats open, airlines are reducing passenger congregation during boarding process both at the gate and in the jetway, as well as limiting interaction between flight crews and passengers. Oh, and masks ARE indeed required throughout the flight. Click here to see Southwest’s Promise.
Airports have posted significant signage on social distancing and provide hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminals and concourses. See TSA’s information on Coronavirus (COVID-19).
As for hotels, additional hygiene and safety measures have been implemented throughout. A reduction in the number of rooms each housekeeper is assigned has been put into effect which allows more time in the room for in-depth cleaning.
Signs/placards and some common place items such as pens and notepads have been removed from each hotel room. In the case of Hyatt, rooms are not turned over (re-occupied) for 48 hours. Signage regarding social distancing are prevalent as are numerous hand sanitizer stations. Elevators and common spaces are cleaned hourly by sanitary misting equipment.
Hotel Cleanliness Commitments:
Restaurants, both at hotels and in general, have reduced seating capacity by removing or reducing the number of available tables. Signage suggesting social distancing of six feet of separation is commonplace in the queues.
On a side note: Motor coach companies, which provide a large percentage of travel to the student travel industry, are also implementing various new procedures and protocols to protect their drivers and passengers, similar to what you will experience with school buses in your local system. Many coach companies are implementing a mask requirement policy while also enhancing their cleaning of each motor coach.
People of all ages and various demographics are currently traveling: Elderly, middle-aged and children, business travelers, tourists and young families.
It will only be a matter of time before groups are reintroduced to the travel scene. Throughout my recent experience, I could visualize groups interacting with all aspects of travel. Safety of course has been and will continue to be at the forefront of student group travel. If you were to ask me, “Did you feel safe traveling?” My answer would simply be that I felt no less safe than when I visit my local supermarket or home improvement store. I also felt that every time I walked onto an airplane or into the hotel, I was walking into a cleaner environment than I had experienced anywhere back in my hometown. Of course, you have to be mindful of your surroundings, be ready to read body-language, and be courteous and respectful.
Wash and sanitize hands often, observe and respect social distancing, wear a face mask and be willing to remove yourself from the equation or environment if for any reason you feel uncomfortable. There is a new norm in societal interaction, and it also applies to the world of travel regardless if it’s an individual or a group.
Now, it’s important to note that I am certainly not downplaying this massive pandemic or the severity of COVID-19, but as with all aspects of life, we’ll need to make adjustments to be successful with travel interactions.
Let’s talk about what the new normal might be. First, you’ll have to hit the reset button on previous travel experiences and understand that change has occurred; some significant and some not so much, but nonetheless, moving forward in the world of travel will indeed be different. In a group scenario, that might mean fewer passengers on a flight, fewer guests experiencing an attraction including waiting in the queue, or smaller guided groups through a museum.
The new normal is also not perfect. When social distancing signage is minimal, then so is the social distancing. It will take time to retrain the brain to realize and accept 6-foot/2-meter spacing.
“The new normal is perhaps the cleanest window of time in the history of travel! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such clean airplanes which are wiped down and sanitized after every flight segment, and are now cleaned multiple times a day. The rental car I utilized had also been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, wiping down every surface that is touched by drivers and passengers, including the all-important key fob.”
And the travel and service industries are taking pride in providing their extra services so you can have a safe experience.
It is worth noting that, for the most part, people are willing to respect and keep their distance as folks are cautious. A strange but welcomed civility has returned to the world of travel for the moment. So much so that the airline crews are commenting on how quiet and efficient boarding and disembarking have become.
Moving forward with student group travel, it’s still essential to monitor and adhere to public guidelines as outlined by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other official entities and understand it will be a fluid process for the indefinite future. The Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation and inform its members and their clients of current travel trends while offering guidance and support.
While there is still risk involved, as with all things in life, taking the necessary precautions can certainly minimize such risk. It’s been proven that social distancing, along with hand washing and masks, are indeed effective.
So back to the original question. Is it okay to travel again? It certainly appears to be when you look at the number of passengers flying and the number of guests checking into hotels. Ultimately, it will be up to the individual or group to make the decision if they are ready to travel. Whenever that time comes for each respective group, the travel industry will be there to support and assist with the new normal. Travel is still essential to a well-rounded education and continues to break down barriers and open new doors for our youth. We can still see the world and embrace life-changing travel experiences . . . it just may be while we’re wearing a mask and frequently washing our hands.