Sunday, October 4, 2020

Autumn is here, so can travel season be far behind?

 Our travel newsletters for the month of September.




The slowdown in tourism caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of problems for us humans, but the animals seem to be doing pretty well in many cases. Especially in Africa, according to TravelPulse magazine. Charles Norwood, owner of SelfDrive Safari Resource, says that in African game parks, "The animals have taken over. Main roads have become tracks, with big cats ambling along looking for breakfast. Airstrips are now prime grazing grounds."

    Norwood says that the rarest sighting in Africa now is of a tourist. While that might seem to be a good thing on the surface for the animals, it's hurting them in the long-term, and it's definitely not good for the economies of many African nations. Significant portions of the fees paid by tourists go toward conservation efforts, including measures to prevent poaching. Without tourist dollars, resources are stretched thin and poachers have stepped up their activity. 

    The pandemic could wind up actually helping the safari-tour industry, though, as they are mostly open-air excursions with a lot of natural social distancing. Many American and European tourists have postponed their visits to late 2020 or into 2021, and while the virus-induced hiatus has caused short-term economic pain for tour companies, many are using the time to upgrade their safety procedures.

    Some countries, like South Africa, remain closed to US visitors, but others, like Rwanda and Tanzania, have opened, and the State Department has lifted its "Avoid All Travel" advisory. Some restrictions may still apply, depending on which country you plan to visit, but at Travel Designers Travel Leaders, we are staying on top of the situation in Africa, which is a popular destination for clients who are interested in adventure travel. So if you've always dreamed about going on safari, give us a call, and we'll help you get ready to hear the roar of lions and see the majestic march of elephants!

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The great baseball catcher Yogi Berra once famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” We’ve all been wondering when the coronavirus pandemic will be over, and six months in, we’re finally starting to see signs that the end, while not yet here, is at least in sight. The travel industry, perhaps the hardest-hit by the pandemic out of all sectors of the U.S. economy, is showing increasing signs of returning to normal.

          As of this morning at 12:01, travelers inbound to the United States no longer have to be subjected to COVID-19 screening upon arrival, and as a result, international flights will no longer have to be routed to a select group of 13 airports, where enhanced screenings were taking place. Incoming travelers were then asked to self-quarantine for 14 days upon reaching their final destinations in the country. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped the quarantine recommendation, and as of today, incoming travelers, whether U.S. citizens or foreigners, will not be subjected to testing.

          Since the screening policy was adopted in March, some 675,000 arriving travelers were tested at the 13 airports, but according to a CNN report, the TSA said only 15 were identified as having COVID-19. That’s a positive rate of only 0.002 percent.

          It was almost exactly six months ago, on March 19, that the State Department put its Global Level 4 Health Advisory in place, advising all citizens to avoid international travel. That has now been lifted, although there are still restrictions in place for individual countries. With a few exceptions, travel in between Europe and the U.S. is still restricted. The State Department maintains up-to-the-minute guidelines on its website, travel.state.gov, and here at Travel Designers Travel Leaders we stay on top of all destinations and their restrictions, if any, so we can give our clients the latest information to help them plan their trips.

          International travel is coming back, and we are already seeing demand for travel in the first quarter of 2021 and beyond. We know you want to get back out there, and we certainly want to help you get there, and back, safely. The time is now to start planning your trips for ’21 and even ’22. Give us a call, we’re ready to help you realize those travel dreams that have been on hold for too long!


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They say a job’s not over till the paperwork is done, and when you’re traveling out of the country, there’s no more important piece of paperwork than your passport. Without it, you won’t be able to board an international flight, or a cruise liner, from any U.S. airport or seaport. You can’t even drive across the border to Canada or Mexico (remember when the borders were open?) without one anymore.

            Like virtually everything else involving travel, the coronavirus pandemic has created havoc with passports. Specifically, getting one. If you have one, and you’re not within a year of its expiration date, you’re good to go–although we recommend starting the renewal process once that date creeps under the 12-months-to-go mark. But since March, the U.S. State Department, which issues passports to American citizens, has been reducing passport operations in response to the pandemic.

            State is now resuming normal operations, but in stages, according to Travel Pulse magazine. Some of its agencies are prioritizing passport requests by giving preference to those classified as emergencies, like when overseas travel is necessary due to a family member falling seriously ill or passing away. Another dozen or so agencies are welcoming back furloughed employees and ramping up operations to accommodate non-emergency requests. Sometimes your local post office or library can handle your application. To find out the nearest facility, log onto www.travel.state.gov. Right now, State’s website is advising that applicants can get their passport in 10-12 weeks, or about half that time if you pay a $60 fee to have your application expedited.

            There is no more vital document to have when you’re planning an international trip, and we advise renewing yours as soon as you can once you’re within 12 months of its expiration date. We can help you with that process, but check yours now, to find out how much time you have. If you’re thinking of a trip outside the U.S. sometime in 2021, open that dusty lockbox today to find out what your passport says. Expiring in 2022 or later? You’ll be good to go next year. Anything earlier than ’22 means it’s time to hop to it.

            International travel is starting to come back, as more countries open up to accepting American visitors. Much will depend on when the COVID-19 vaccine arrives, and how effective it turns out to be, but we are already helping clients plan their 2021-22 trips in anticipation that full-scale travel will return sometime after the next New Year’s Day. So check out that passport now, and you’ve already checked the top box on your Travel To-Do List!

Sue Tindell


Feeling those summertime blues?

 Our newsletters from the month of August.




August is here, and the last full month of summer traditionally has meant it’s time to take a vacation. Of course the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that, along with nearly everything else, but have things gotten any better, travel-wise, since it all started?

            Yes. The travel industry magazine Afar notes that on July 30, over 700,000 passengers passed through TSA checkpoints here in the U.S., compared with less than 90,000 on April 14. Road trips have increased, too; many of our clients tell us that in lieu of flying overseas, they are hitting the road this summer, visiting relatives or going to stateside attractions that have long been on their bucket list. Here in northwest Wisconsin, we’ve seen a lot of trucks and cars towing boats and motor homes, many with out-of-state plates, heading to our lakes.

            Traveling is possible during the pandemic, as long as it’s done responsibly. Here are some ways to make sure you’re traveling responsibly:

·       Do your research before you leave. Are there virus-related restrictions at your destination? Is the virus case count going up or down there? Booking your hotel and restaurant reservations in advance is always advisable, especially now. We can help you with making sure you have the latest information and have secured your lodging before you hit the road.

·       Wear your masks and follow social-distancing guidelines wherever you go. Requirements may vary from place to place, but it’s not a bad idea to err on the side of caution.

·       Consider getting a COVID-19 test before you leave, or when you return home. In some cases, your destination may require proof of a negative test upon arrival.

·       Just in case, pack plenty of sanitary gear: extra masks, sanitizer, hand wipes, soap.

·       Local businesses appreciate your support wherever you go, and part of the charm of traveling is visiting “mom and pop” stores that might be unique to the town or area you’re visiting. Now is an especially good time to patronize them.

·       Patience is a virtue, especially these days, and tipping well is always appreciated. Most destinations are willing to go out of their way to accommodate you during your stay. Make sure you let them know you’re grateful.

·       Follow the rules. The states and communities you visit will likely have differing restrictions in place. Be a good guest and be mindful of them. Courtesy is always much appreciated, wherever you go.

One in ten Americans were employed in the travel industry last year, and travel has been one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. Destinations are slowly starting to re-open and are more than willing to welcome you, and we’re ready to help you get there as the summer of 2020 comes to a close.

            And don’t forget our weekly Facebook Live travel show, every Tuesday at 1:30pm. Just log onto our Facebook page to join us!


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            Back in mid-March–only five months ago, but it seems a lot longer–the U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 warning, its highest, telling all American citizens to avoid international travel and advising all Americans currently abroad to return home as quickly as possible. The coronavirus was on the march, and Europe, especially, was right in its path.

            At that time, the U.S. had reported just over 11,000 cases of COVID-19. Five months later, we have over 5 million. But Europe’s share of the pandemic appears to have been brought under control, and countries on other continents and many islands have seen great improvement. These positive developments have now prompted the State Department to lift its advisory against all international travel. Each country will now be evaluated separately, they say.

            According to CNBC, this leaves U.S. travelers with an often-confusing hodgepodge of restrictions for travel outside the country. Even a trip to our largest neighbor, Canada, can be a problem. Whereas going over the border once was as easy for most of us as a car ride, Canada has barred all nonessential travel by non-Canadians, and that means us. Major League Baseball teams can’t get into Toronto to play, for example, forcing the Blue Jays to play all their games here in the States. American citizens are still not allowed into the European Union. Canadians can go to Europe, but we can’t, at least for now. There are still more than 30 countries that U.S. citizens are advised not to enter, including Russia, China, India, Brazil, Argentina and all of Central America.

            But let’s look at the bright side. Travel to many other foreign destinations is still possible for Americans, although each country may have its own distinct restrictions. These are places the State Department designates with Level 1 or 2 advisories: the islands of French Polynesia and Fiji, which include Tahiti, are at Level 2 and have already started welcoming American visitors. Taiwan and New Zealand are open for U.S. tourists, as is Thailand. The areas of Mexico that include the most popular resorts, such as Cancun, Cozumel, and Cabo san Lucas are welcoming U.S. visitors every day. If you’re thinking of going to any of these places, though, remember that individual countries, and even parts of countries, might have certain restrictions that arriving travelers will have to be aware of.

            That’s where we can help. While we’re confident that full international travel will return–and when it does, it’ll come back big–we’re not there yet. We can help you navigate those restrictions and answer those questions if you plan to travel within the next few months. We’re already seeing a lot of interest in 2021 travel, and we’ll help you with that kind of long-range planning, too. We’re just as anxious as you are to get out there again and explore the world. It will still be there when the pandemic ends, and the people in those countries will be anxious to see Americans, just as they always have.


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     Americans are nothing if not adaptable. Throughout our history, as circumstances have changed, we have adapted and adjusted and done whatever needed to be done to get where we were going. Americans have always been going somewhere, and those of us in the travel industry have always been there to help them get there.

    The pandemic, of course, changed that. But as time has gone on, Americans have adapted. Instead of eating out at restaurants every day or so, we are eating at home more often, and that means cooking more meals. Restaurants have adapted by offering take-out options. Have to wear a mask? We have adapted by making ourselves colorful masks that often make statements, just like our clothing choices always have. Even sports have adapted; professional teams are playing in empty stadiums with pre-recorded crowd noise and cardboard cutouts of people in the stands.

    Americans are adapting when it comes to travel, too, and our industry is adapting right along with them. The online industry magazine Travel Pulse notes that it might be several more months before travel gets “back to normal,” and it will be different. Trends are already being noted.

·      With more people staying at home to work, the trips they take are now getting longer. Resort owners are noting that many guests ask for multi-week bookings as travelers seek out stability and trust for their destinations.

·      Multi-family “travel pods” are becoming part of the new normal. A survey by the travel industry group Virtuoso recently found that 79% of families would take part in a travel pod, in which two or more families travel together.

·      The road trip has largely replaced the airline flight, at least for now. Part of that is due to the fact that many countries still won’t allow Americans to visit. Virtuoso found that 87% of travelers plan on a road trip this summer or fall.

·      But people aren’t giving up on airline travel. The survey found 66% said they would gladly get on a plane right now if they could go where they wanted, and most say they would gladly pay a little extra if it meant the airline would keep the middle seat empty, for social-distancing purposes.

·      Turn-down service used to be a hotly-desired item at a destination, but now travelers want more contactless services, with as little intervention from staff as possible.


The restrictions travelers face at whatever destination they choose can be daunting, and that has helped move many of them out of what could have been called the “DIY vacation experience.” Most people aren’t comfortable now with simply going online to book their own travel, whether it includes a flight or not, and they’re finding that travel experts, the ones who’ve been helping people all along, are more valuable than ever. The person across the desk at your local travel agency can help you find a place where you and your family can go, enjoy yourselves and stay as safe as possible. And that person across the desk is waiting for you at Travel Designers Travel Leaders, so let’s mask up together and get traveling!


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        The Central American nation of Costa Rica is a destination that's been growing in popularity for American travelers in recent years, but like every nation on the planet, Costa Rica, and its tourism industry, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September 1, though, Costa Rica will start welcoming American visitors back to its beaches and jungles.        

        Afar Magazine reports Costa Rica’s tourism ministry announced last week that the nation will welcome U.S. visitors from these states: New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. Those six states were listed because their levels of infection are about the same as what Costa Rica has right now, according to the ministry. Thus, Costa Rica becomes the first nation in the world to allow Americans based on what state they live in.

       But Americans from those six states won’t just be able to arrive in the country as they would have, say, last year. Before departure from the States, inbound travelers will have to fill out an online epidemiological health form. They will have to get a COVID-19 test, and furnish proof of a negative result obtained within 48 hours of their travel date. They must have insurance, either from their own provider or a policy purchased in Costa Rica. Upon arrival, travelers must wear masks at the airport and comply with all local restrictions.

    The nation’s three international airports are handling commercial traffic already, and once the ban is lifted, they expect about five weekly flights from the U.S., which is less than 5% of their pre-pandemic activity. Costa Rica’s economy, like so many other nations’, has been hit hard by the travel ban; about 12% of Costa Rica’s employment was dependent on tourism. But since the travel ban, employers there have been focusing on training workers in the new virus-related restrictions and protocols. The nation has made much progress; Costa Rica was recently awarded a “Safe Travels” stamp by the World Travel & Tourism Council for its commitment to updated health and safety measures.

    We don’t have many clients in those six fortunate states who can now go to Costa Rica, but we’re confident that as virus levels in Wisconsin and Minnesota go down, Costa Rica and other nations will be willing to let our people in, too. At Travel Designers Travel Leaders, we monitor the myriad of changing travel restrictions every day, so that we can give our clients the very latest information about the destination they’re planning to visit. Working together, we can get you to where you want to go, and help you enjoy your visit safely. Central America has been growing in popularity with our clients in recent years, and it will be popular again, soon.

 

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The small Caribbean island of Hispaniola is where Columbus first landed in 1492. More than 500 years later, the island has long since been divided into two nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the latter has been a hotspot of Caribbean travel for years, especially to its Punta Cana region. But like everywhere else, the Dominican was impacted by COVID-19 and its tourism industry plummeted. The Dominicans, though, are determined to bring it back and they’re on the way. Things are happening down there that bode well for tourism, not only for the D.R. but for the Caribbean as a whole.

    TravelPulse magazine reports that the Dominican Republic is rolling out rapid COVID-19 testing that will replace the current test that’s required for entry. Beginning at the end of September, this new diagnostic breath test will be administered to randomly selected travelers upon arrival. Hotel guests will also temporarily receive an assistance plan that includes lodging for prolonged stays and flight changes in the event travelers contract the virus during their visit, plus several other benefits. Social distancing and masking will continue to be mandatory for all visitors. The Dominican Minister of Tourism, David Collado, said, “We are focused on driving continued growth for the sector, along with our country’s image.”

    That same attitude is driving countries throughout the Caribbean as they seek innovative and safe ways to not only restrain the virus but welcome visitors back to their islands. Across the Gulf in Mexico, tourist destinations long favored by Americans have been working hard to upgrade their sanitary practices and safety protocols, with a great degree of success. Several of Mexico’s most popular destinations on its Pacific and Gulf coasts, such as Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Playa del Carmen, have earned the coveted “Safe Travels Stamp” from the World Travel and Tourism Council. The WTTC bestows this stamp in recognition of destination-wide adherence to the highest level of COVID-19 prevention protocols in the hospitality sector.

    As the Caribbean and mainland Central and South American destinations continue to evolve in their efforts to welcome tourists back safely, here at Travel Designers Travel Leaders we are doing everything we can to stay on top of developments so we can give up-to-the-minute advice to our clients. We are already seeing many inquiries and bookings for travel next year and into 2022, but for those of you who still hope to get away in the fall or early winter of 2020, we’re here and ready to help!


Sue Tindell

A travel summer like none other

 Our July newsletters. 





One segment of the travel industry that’s been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic is the airlines, for both domestic and foreign travel. The planes never stopped flying for long, and they’ve been back in the air for a while now, but with reduced numbers of passengers and increased restrictions. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that different airlines are doing things in different ways now. It can be confusing for the average traveler, so one of them decided to find out.

            Business Insider reporter Thomas Pallini flew seven different flights with four airlines in June, and his experience, in his words, “unlike anything I’ve seen before in a lifetime of flying, with each airline having its own, unique way of handling the pandemic.” No two trips were exactly alike, he said, and ever-changing policies created confusion for passengers. Here’s what Pannini had to say about each airline:

·       American Airlines now is filling flights to capacity, if possible, without automatically enforcing social distancing by leaving middle seats empty. Passengers can change flights for free to one less crowded if they choose. American boards its planes just like before, with first-class passengers going first and economy last, regardless of seat location. Masks are required. Flights under 2200 miles have no beverage or snack service in economy class; longer flights get beverages, but no snacks. When deplaning, passengers must remain seated until their row is called.

·       Delta Airlines is blocking middle seats and certain aisle seats until at least September 30. Passengers still nervous about flying on a flight filled to that limited capacity can get a free rebooking to a later, emptier flight. When boarding, Delta passengers now go in back to front, but elite-status and first-class passengers still get on first. Masks are required on board, and there are plenty of signs in the terminals about social distancing. At some hubs, employees were distributing hand sanitizer once the passengers cleared security. In flight, snack and beverage service now consists of a sealed bag containing snacks, a water bottle and sanitizer products. Getting off the plane was business as usual.

·       United Airlines isn’t blocking middle seats, but won’t assign them until all window and aisle seats are filled. If your flight is at 70% capacity or higher and you want to change to an emptier flight, you can do so, but availability is limited. Boarding policies at United are similar to Delta’s. Passengers are asked to scan their own boarding passes rather than giving them to gate agents first. Masks are required on United, too, but its terminal signage was more confusing than its rivals’. For flights lasting under 2 hours 20 minutes, snack and beverage service is suspended, although passengers can request beverages from flight attendants. A snack bag is provided for longer flights. When deplaning, passengers must remain seated until their row is called.

·       Finally, Southwest Airlines is limiting capacity by about a third, so there are no more than two people in each row, with exceptions for families. No seats are pre-assigned. Boarding procedures are similar to what Southwest utilized before, boarding in groups, although now it’s 10 per group instead of 30. But some airports weren’t following that procedure, and passengers boarding first sat in the front of the plane, meaning later boarders had to walk past them toward the rear. Terminal signage about sanitary policies is intermittent. Flights under 250 miles have no food or beverage service; longer flights provide a cup of ice water and a snack bag. Upon arrival, deplaning passengers don’t have to remain seated.

Summing up, Pallini declared Delta his “winner” due to its comprehensive revision of nearly all aspects of the flight for its passengers. At the other end is American, where it’s “business as usual,” as if no pandemic was happening. Pallini did say that every plane he was on was spotlessly clean.

So, the airlines are flying, and while some destinations still have restrictions for incoming arrivals—and some countries are still not allowing Americans in at all—it’s still very possible to get pretty much wherever you want to go, and we’re here to help you. We’ll assist in navigating the path from the airport to your destination and back again, and if your preferred destination isn’t fully open yet, we’ll let you know when it is, or better yet, find an alternative. You’re ready to travel…and so are we!


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We all know the coronavirus pandemic has had a massive, negative impact on travel worldwide, both international and domestic. As regions and countries have started re-opening, travel is starting to increase, although it will be awhile before it's back to the "good old days." Many Americans, though, are getting back to the good old days right now, whether the "days" are ready or not.

    USA Today travel writer Christopher Elliott reports a survey by LuggageHero shows half of all Americans plan to stay home this summer, but 31% have taken a domestic trip since restrictions began to ease, and 19% have gone overseas. Many of those say they went to see loved ones and other family members, and others, according to Elliott, are traveling because they want to travel, and if they are aware of restrictions at their destination, why not?

    The European Union recently extended its ban on allowing Americans to enter, keeping us out until the end of the month, at least. The ban does not include travel to Great Britain, which left the EU in January. The US State Department is negotiating with the Europeans about what criteria would have to be met before they would allow Americans to visit. 

    A few countries, like Croatia, are allowing Americans in, but visitors must present evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test before they're allowed entry.

    Other Americans going abroad are doing so to visit their foreign-born spouses. Austria, Denmark and Norway have all loosened some of their restrictions to allow couples and family members to reunite. In fact, two trending hashtags on Twitter are #LoveIsNotTourism and #LoveIsEssential.

    If you decide to go, be aware that whatever restrictions that are currently in place vary in terms of enforcement, and could change at a moment's notice, leaving you trapped over there. At our office, we have the latest information and can provide our clients with the best possible advice, but as is always the case for international travel, when you're over there, you're not in the United States anymore, and things could change. So, if you want to go, we'll help you in any way we can, but if you can put your trip off for another month or so, it will be a lot easier for us to help you plan for that one. 


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The coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually everything involving travel, and now it’s even affected a word. The word is “bubble.” Sports fans know that professional teams are now practicing and playing games in “bubbles” that could be their home stadiums, as in Major League Baseball, or an entire complex at Disney World in Florida, as in NBA basketball. And now, the “bubble” concept has come to resorts, who are seeking to lure back visitors but keep them extra-safe during their stay.

          Our 50th state, Hawaii, has long been a favorite destination for many of our clients. For many travelers, Hawaii’s biggest attraction is that it offers the great weather and exotic locale of the tropics without the hassle of having to leave the United States. Everybody speaks English and uses the Yankee dollar. What’s not to like? But even as remote as they are, the islands have not been immune to the virus, and now some of its resorts are exploring ways to mitigate against it while still offering their guests an enjoyable experience.

          The biggest of the Hawaiian Islands is the “Big Island” of Hawaii itself, and several resorts there are experimenting with a concept called the “geofence,” which would allow the resorts to literally track the movements of their guests, ensuring that they remain inside the “resort bubble” while still being able to enjoy the resort’s amenities, according to West Hawaii Today. Currently, visitors arriving in the islands must quarantine for 14 days, but under the bubble concept, visitors could stay at selected resorts, and the resorts “would control where the visitors would be allowed to range,” according to Hawaii County officials.

          Local governments and resorts on the islands of Maui and Kauai have started looking into the bubble concept, but there are concerns. How, exactly, would guests be tracked? Inside the NBA’s Orlando bubble, everyone must wear an ID card on a lanyard, and the card’s chip actually chirps at the wearer when it approaches within six feet of another person. The devices are manufactured by a German company and will also be used by NFL teams as they open training camps. The NBA has assured its people that they will not use the tags to track their actual locations, but certainly the technology allows for that. The Hawaii resorts aren’t yet saying how they’ll track their guests’ movements, but surely they’re looking at this concept. And what happens when someone leaves the bubble?

          Hawaii is also considering a plan that will require visitors to take a coronavirus test 72 hours before they arrive, with the policy to be in place by September 1. This is a practice that’s already been adopted by some countries, and constitutes yet another aspect of what is becoming the “new normal” for travel, at least outside the continental U.S. It could be that very soon, when you arrive at your destination you’ll show your ID, as usual, but then also your virus-test verification, and be given your special tag.

          It’s a lot to take in, we know, but we’re committed to making sure that our clients have the best travel experience possible, regardless of what restrictions might be in place. We’ll help you navigate through this “new normal” world of travel.

 

Cheezits, anyone?

 



It had been six months since my last trip, which has to be a record for my three decades-plus in the travel industry, so it was with great anticipation that I embarked on a visit to Mexico earlier this month. Along with several of my colleagues from travel agencies in the upper Midwest, we booked reservations at two different resorts in the Cancun area and headed to the airport!


The new "normal" at MSP.


          We had no problems at all, anywhere. It was different, of course; the Minneapolis airport was a lot less crowded than usual, masks were required for everyone, and the food court was shut down, along with some shops. When getting our boarding passes, we had to certify that we did not have COVID-19 or show any symptoms. Our Delta flights to Atlanta and then to Cancun were not very crowded, either, especially since middle seats in each row were blocked out. We flew coach, so we boarded from the rear of the plane forward, the reverse of the usual method. (First-class passengers and those with comfort seating still get to board first.) Snack and drink choices on board were extremely limited. (Do you like Cheezits? Learn to.) Upon arrival at the Cancun airport, our temperatures were taken, a very quick and non-invasive process. Everybody was masked here, too. We retrieved our luggage with no problems—no more red light/green light searches—and proceeded to the outdoor transportation area. Thankfully, this has been expanded. (The inevitable time-share hawkers were still there, but farther away. We liked that!)




          We had chosen two resorts to stay at, and two more to visit. Our first couple nights were at Le Blanc Spa Resort, an adults-only all-inclusive property, and it was amazing. They are very focused on hygiene and safety, beginning with the welcome mat—it disinfects the soles of your shoes as you walk across it. All of the employees were masked, but guests were not required to wear them. Our luggage was disinfected upon arrival. Social distancing of five feet, a little less than our six-foot recommendation back home, was emphasized.




          It was very relaxing, and even refreshing, to avail ourselves of the resort’s amenities, from dining to swimming to shopping. As much as we enjoyed Le Blanc, we were there to work—at least a little—and so we also spent time touring the Sun Palace, a place I’d visited a few years back. I was gratified to see that it has been extensively renovated. The Sun also had hygiene protocols in place, similar to Le Blanc, and indeed we would find them to be universal throughout the places we visited in Cancun.








          After two nights at Le Blanc, we transferred to the Grand at Moon Palace, one of the largest properties in the Riviera Maya with over 1,300 rooms. Only about 30 percent are open for occupancy now, but they hope to expand that to 60 percent soon, on the way back to 100 percent. The Grand is a family resort, with a water park and other attractions for kids, plus one of the best beaches in the area. The food is fantastic, too. Menus are available online through an app guests can access on their phones, or you can order off laminated menus that are disinfected after each use. All guests are issued wristbands that have taken the place of room-key cards. (It’s hard to imagine that room-key cards are now old-fashioned.)

          We spent most of a day on Isla Mujeres, a popular offshore island, and toured the Palace property there, which is adults-only and much smaller (only 63 rooms) but very beautiful, designed for visitors who want more privacy than they’ll find on the mainland.










          Way too soon, the time came for us to return home. The Cancun airport has now added free WiFi, and outbound travelers are asked to use it with their smart phones to fill out a questionnaire about their visit and any possible exposures to the virus. Paper forms are also available, but a completed questionnaire (or a barcode on your phone) has to be displayed at security in order to get on the plane.

          Overall, our experience in Mexico was wonderful. When we arrived at our first resort, it was as if great weights had been lifted off our shoulders. For at least a few days, we could largely put the fears and restrictions of COVID-19 behind us. (And keeping our TVs off played a big part in that. No newscasts!) It was truly a great time, and not just because we were with friends. We were able to travel again, and do so safely. We had re-discovered the joys of travel, and here at Travel Designers Travel Leaders, we’re ready to help you re-discover them, too!

 

The Gang of 8. (I'm in the lower right.) 



Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Riding it out, pt 3

This post is by Sue Tindell.


   It's nearing the middle of July, and we've had a lot to talk about in our newsletters the past several weeks. Here's what we shared with our readers in the month of June.

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June 1





   Summer is here, and traditionally that’s been the time for Americans to pack their kids into the car and hit the road. Almost all of us can remember trips like those—sitting in the back seat and bickering with our siblings while Dad kept one hand on the wheel and his left elbow out the window, and Mom was tuning the radio to a different station every twenty minutes in a vain attempt to keep us quiet.
   These days, American families still hit the road, although it’s usually a lot different. The cramped sedan is now a spacious van or SUV, with ports for the kids to plug in their games and TV screens on the front-seat backs, just like on an airplane. Or maybe it’s Mom and Dad in retirement, packing up the motor home or 5th-wheel and setting out to see the country, with plenty of time to do it and rather nice accommodations every night, no matter where they stop.
   As we wait for overseas destinations to open up again and cruise lines to resume sailing, we might be considering a road trip. Where would you like to go? Every state has must-see places to visit. Here are a few you might want to consider for your summer trip this year:
·          --Are you a fan of Westerns? If you’ve seen John Wayne in the classic Stagecoach or Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part 3, you’ve gotten a glimpse of Monument Valley in Utah. Breathtaking vistas of sacred buttes and desert greet you when you visit this must-see area in the Beehive State.
·          --History buffs will want to visit San Antonio, Texas, and tour the Alamo. The famous site of Davy Crockett’s last stand in 1836 is a treasure trove of artifacts and great photo ops.
·          --One of America’s great natural landmarks is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. If you’re a rock-climber, scaling its heights is a breathtaking challenge. Hikers can stay on the ground and circle the monument along challenging trails.
·          --When major Eastern cities open up to visitors, and that will be soon, make sure to put Boston on your itinerary. Walk the Freedom Trail in the steps of our forefathers past Faneuil Hall and up Bunker Hill, then board the USS Constitution for a tour of America’s most famous warship.
·          --Speaking of Eastern cities, they don’t come any grander than New York. You’ve seen Times Square in the movies countless times, but there’s nothing like being there, and the Empire State Building is just a few blocks away.
·          --If you’re in New York, you might as well head upstate. A trip through the beautiful Catskills is definitely worth your time. For baseball fans, a stop in quaint Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame is a must, and then head up to Niagara Falls, our nation’s most famous waterfall.
·          --Still rockin’ after all these years? Then you have to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where you’ll get a musical tour back in time. And don’t miss the glass pyramid out front.
·          --A visit to the South has to include a tour of a plantation. Right next to the Mississippi in central Louisiana is Nottoway, the largest antebellum mansion in Dixie. It’s the ultimate bed-and-breakfast destination, in which you can immerse yourself in old Southern charm.
   We’ve barely touched the surface of what’s to see in America, much of it just a few days’ drive from our own front doors. If your summer of ’20 travel plans have been scaled back and you have to stay within U.S. borders, we can help you with destinations, hotel and site bookings, and more. Plus, we’ll let you know if any of your stops require quarantines or have any other virus-related restrictions.
   Remember how Dad would always haul out the big road atlas…and got lost anyway? We’ll help you get there this summer. You just plan on enjoying the drive and having the fun. 



June 8




   America is re-opening, and how! Last week’s jobs report by the Federal government turned the experts on their ears and gave us a strong indication that the U.S. economy is rebounding even faster than we might have hoped. This is good news for everyone, especially those of us who want to resume traveling.
   The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which is a forum for business leaders in the tourism and travel industry, is helping all of us in the industry in keeping our clients informed about safe practices and standards as travel opens up, both domestic and foreign. The Council is working closely with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other partners to enhance safety for travelers and industry workers. These new policies for the transportation and hotel/resort industries will include more sanitizing and use of personal protective equipment, re-training of staff, and implementing contactless procedures for customers within airports, airliners and land-based venues, such as hotels and resorts.
   We will see lots of new things when we start traveling again. Airliners may be boarding differently, such as from back rows to front. Social distancing could be enforced in terminals and queues. The Director General of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, said, “COVID-19 is a game-changer for the travel and tourism sector.” He’s certainly right about that, but as we’ve shown throughout American society, while we are grudgingly allowing it to change the game, we are not going to allow COVID-19 to end it.
   When we reach our destination, hotels and resorts will have new procedures that might be a little inconvenient, but which will give us a much greater degree of safety than before. (And who doesn’t want things to be clean, right?) We might have assigned seating on tour buses, staggered entry to sites and venues, even limited access.
   Much of this attention is being focused on the airline industry. WTTC President/CEO Gloria Guevara said, “Aviation’s return is critical to help re-power the global economic recovery.” And while we all had our occasional complaints about crowded terminals and herds of luggage-carrying passengers clogging the aisles of planes, we might now just appreciate these new methods as a way to increase efficiency and comfort, as well as mitigate against the virus.
   All of us are excited about the prospects of traveling again. We want to re-schedule the vacation that was a victim of the shutdown, or we want to be free to plan something new for the near future. Here at Travel Designers Travel Leaders, we’ll be on top of any restrictions or policy changes that might affect every step of your travel experience. Just like you, we can’t wait to get traveling again! And, by the way…
   We’re launching a new feature this week, designed to help our clients stay in closer touch with us. On Tuesday, June 9, we’ll be inaugurating a Facebook Live weekly event, talking about issues facing travel in general and our clients in particular. Log in at 1:30pm Tuesday, right here: https://www.facebook.com/TravelLeadersRiceLakeWI/ 



June 15




   Summer is here (the solstice is this Saturday, making it official) and we’re hearing from more clients every day about traveling. Many of them had scheduled trips canceled due to the coronavirus shutdown, many others deferred booking a trip until things would be settled down. It looks like that time is getting very close. And when our clients start traveling again, many will want to go to Europe. Let’s take a look and see what’s happening over there, with regard to travel.

   Technically, the island nation of Iceland is not in Europe proper, but it’s close enough, and visiting this exotic land is a vacation all by itself. Iceland has re-opened to visitors as of today. Icelandair is offering some direct flights to Reykjavik from Boston, and we can help get you there. But if you’re planning a visit, there are some requirements. First, you must fill out a pre-registration form with contact details, and you will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in the terminal at Keflavik Airport. Tests will be free until July; after that, the test will cost $113. Visitors then go directly to their lodging and await results of the test, usually delivered that day. Children born after 2004 will be exempt. If you decline to be tested, you will be quarantined for 14 days. Once you’re cleared, Iceland’s renowned touring companies will gladly accommodate you, and with tourist numbers expected to be only about 25% of normal, you’ll be able to explore and enjoy Iceland in a lot more comfort and solitude.
   Meanwhile, on the continent, the European Union plans to have its internal borders open very soon, but visitors from the States and other continents will not be allowed in until July 1. If you’ve been to Europe, you have experienced the benefits of the “Schengen travel zone,” which allows virtually unfettered movement of people and goods throughout 26 countries, without border checks. When various countries in the zone started closing borders due to the virus, it caused massive traffic jams and delayed delivery of critical supplies, but they’ve got that sorted out now. Like Americans, many Europeans travel around the continent for vacations, but they’ve been prohibited from doing so since shutdowns started being implemented in late February. And like Americans, Europeans are happy to welcome foreign visitors. It looks like that will be happening again soon, and we’ll make sure to keep our clients apprised of any remaining restrictions at their destinations.
   Where to go when you get there? Europe has a virtually unlimited menu of delights for foreign visitors, from cruising on majestic rivers like the Rhine and Danube to visiting castles and touring ancient ruins. And for outdoor enthusiasts, here’s a new one: Italy is opening a trail that will connect all 25 of its national parks. It’s called the “Sentiero dei Parchi,” or Path of Parks. Hikers will be able to start in the Alps and go all the way through Tuscany and along the coastlines of Cinque Terre, through the caves and forests of Abruzzo, and even onto the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The Italian government is beginning a 13-year project to upgrade many of its trail networks, but for the hardy American traveler—and we know that means many of you—the beauties of Italy await. Give us a call, and get your hiking boots ready!



June 22





   As we take our first tentative steps back into the world of travel, we know that at some point, we'll need help when we're out there. Sometimes that help is at the end of a telephone line, or an email link; we often get calls from clients who get hung up overseas, dealing with unexpected things ranging from mistaken hotel reservations to approaching hurricanes. When we got those calls and emails, we work very hard to help fix the situation and ensure the clients will have the best travel experience possible.
   Sometimes, though, travelers get help from unexpected sources. And many times it doesn't have to be more than a smile. Dignity Health, one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S., recently surveyed its clients and found that two of three Americans say that a smile or greeting from another traveler reduces their stress while traveling. Three-quarters of travelers say they've done something kind to make another traveler's day better.
   Maybe you've experienced a "travel angel" already. He can be the front-desk clerk at the hotel who goes out of his way to assist you when your room turns out to be substandard, or she can be the shuttle driver who waits that extra few minutes so that you can get aboard safely. You can be a travel angel, too. Here are some ways to spread goodwill when you travel:

·      Spread the love. If you have it with an airline, maybe you can give up your business-class seat to the pregnant woman or elderly gentleman behind you in line at the gate.
·      Pay it forward. Standing in line at the coffee shop counter at the airport, offer to pay for the next person's order, and don't tell them. Let the barista give them the good news.
·      Go above and beyond. When someone asks for help, go the extra mile. If you're in a place you're familiar with, lend a hand to the couple who are newcomers, maybe by escorting them to a nice restaurant or a reliable tour operator.

   Being a "travel angel" can make your own travel experience much more rewarding, and like all good deeds, they come back around.



June 29




   When it comes to travel destinations within the continental United States (not counting Alaska), New York City and Florida (especially Disney World) have been at or near the top of the list for many years. Las Vegas isn’t too far behind, but going to “Sin City” these days is not quite as easy as it used to be. But with many people unable to travel out of the country this year, their eyes have turned inward, so to speak, as they look for a place within a short flight or a decent drive. Las Vegas is working hard to put itself right back in the running.
   The coronavirus hasn’t spared Nevada, and last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered that all residents of the Silver State, and visitors, wear face masks in public. His order was hailed by Nevada’s tourism industry, which relies heavily on visits to Las Vegas and Reno, where tourists can shop, dine, gamble and see shows to their hearts’ content. At least, in normal times. These aren’t (yet) normal times, but Las Vegas is doing its best, and visitors are returning.
   Even before the governor’s order, several Vegas properties, including MGM and Caesars, had mandated that all staff and guests wear masks. Anyone refusing to wear a mask is escorted off the premises. With the governor talking about taking action against non-compliant businesses in the form of fines or even revocation of business licenses, Vegas isn’t messing around.
   But visitors can still have a good time, even if they’re masked everywhere (except when they’re eating; you’re allowed to remove your mask then). Gambling tables and slot machines are open, as are the city’s voluminous shops and stores. Entertainment options are more limited than usual, but for many Americans who have been largely cooped up at home for the past few months, just being able to walk around and explore new surroundings is a breath of fresh air, if you will.
   We can help our clients get to Las Vegas, Reno or any other U.S. destination. Recent months have been stressful enough; why not let us take care of all the details? All you have to do is show up and have fun…and isn’t it time you allowed yourself some of that?
   And remember: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

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   Whew! All caught up at last! Now, let's get back to the enjoyable business of getting you back out there into the wonderful world of travel. Give us a call at 715-234-2174, or visit our website at https://ricelakewi.vacation.travelleaders.com/. The world is waiting!