It seems like forever since I last wrote a travel column for PennLive. The truth is I haven’t had a lot to say. There has been so many changes within the industry, sometimes weekly, often daily, and always confusing.
So here I am now, celebrating 28 years of broadcasting “Let’s Talk Travel with AAA” on iHeartRadio/WHP580, and I do have some thoughts to share. And positive thoughts at that.
For one thing, the cruise industry is ready to get back to work. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio recently stated to the press, “Enough is enough,” and with a several billion dollar market cap drop from the three largest cruise lines, the CEOs are telling the CDC and government officials the industry must return to service in the United States.
Cruise lines from the U.S. have put together new plans to ensure a healthy return to cruising as soon as possible. Those plans have been submitted to the CDC to hopefully lift the No Sail Order (which is scheduled to expire on Oct. 31) from U.S. ports as early as November, if not sooner. Cruise lines in Europe have already started traveling on a limited basis, utilizing new protocols, without any reported problems.
Some of these new health & safety measures include:
- 100% testing of all passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation.
- Physical and social distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions.
- Mandatory mask wearing by all passengers and crew onboard and during shore excursions whenever physical/social distancing cannot be managed or maintained.
- Continuous disinfection of public areas & high traffic touch points.
- Air management and ventilation increasing fresh air onboard including enhanced filters.
- Shore excursions will only be allowed according to the cruise operators’ prescribed guidelines with denial of any passenger that does not comply.
- Every ship will manage possible medical needs with dedicated cabins allocated for isolation and advance arrangements with private providers for shoreside quarantine, medical facilities and transportation.
Every hotel, resort, river and ocean cruise line representative I spoke with gave additional details on how they will keep their clients safe and healthy including: new state of the art “no touch” technology; daily fogging with safe, non-toxic hospital grade oxidants in rooms/cabins; and public spaces and guest corridors.
In addition, there will be limited and socially distant dining venues, more outdoor dining options, little or no self-serve buffets, multiple sanitizer stations, complimentary gloves and masks available, and smaller group tours on land and sea.
There is even talk about some hotel companies offering free medical care insurance to their guests, protecting them from any unforeseen circumstances related to COVID-19. So far, I know of one, the Palladium Hotel Group with properties in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Throughout this summer I’ve been asked more times than I can count if I am ready to start traveling again and my answer remains the same: yes. I am convinced air, train, hotel, motor coach and cruise travel will follow and exceed all the new health and safety protocols required – and will probably be a cleaner and more sanitized environment than many of our homes.
Since April I have been recording “Let’s Talk Travel with AAA” from home, and the best part has been the excellent & experienced travel experts and travel industry leaders I have been interviewing every week.
I’ve learned a lot from them and believe what they have to say may also be of interest to you:
Michele Saegesser, Senior Vice President, Viking Ocean and River Cruises: – – “We know our Viking ocean and river guests will always crave meaningful cruises, and while 2021 is mostly sold-out, the majority of our guests want effective therapeutics and a vaccine before traveling overseas. We are committed to every aspect of safe, healthy and comfortable travels, and that is why we were the first to pause all cruises through the end of this year. We must know that all of our port calls, hotels, museums, transportation and tour partners are in complete compliance with the CDC and WHO.”
Shemain Grasso, Vice President, Regent Seven Seas Cruises: “Regent Seven Seas has been working with our company-wide ‘Healthy Sail Panel,’ a team of public health, science and medical experts enlisted to guide the cruise industry forward in response to COVID-19. A joint effort between Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the ‘Healthy Sail Panel’ is co-shared by Governor Michael Leavitt, former Governor of Utah and Secretary of Health & Human Services and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. We want our guests to have the confidence that their health and safety is our top priority and when the world opens up, we’ll be more than ready.”
Christina Bucher, Vice President Travel, AAA Central Penn: “We are seeing a lot of interest and a spike in bookings for 2021-22, especially with domestic and European river cruises — Iceland, Italy, Ireland, luxury and small ship cruising, Alaska and National Park Tours, and much more. Many itineraries and dates have already sold out, so if you see or hear a special price, do not wait. The pent-up demand for travelers is going gangbusters and the industry is doing everything possible to insure comfort, safety and healthy travels for all.”
Scott Miller, Deputy Director, Harrisburg International Airport: “We have taken every precaution measure and remind all passengers that masks are mandatory on all flights. Because H.I.A. is a smaller airport, we have plenty of space and do not have any issues with social distancing. Most airlines will have extra masks, gloves and sanitizers on board. If you fly Allegiant, you will be handed a “Safety & Health Kit” upon boarding.”
Steve Spivak, Vice President Global Sales, Tauck Tours: “Tauck has always taken great care of our guests. We specialize in smaller groups and have always believed that touring groups with fewer people is a much better experience for all. … We have longstanding relationships with all of our partners to be sure that every hotel, every dining venue, every attraction is in 100% compliance with the new health & safety protocols. We look forward to traveling in 2021 with Tauck directors acting as wellness leaders and looking after the health & safety needs of our smaller size groups.”
Peter Strebel, President & CEO, Omni Hotels and Resorts: “At Omni, our number one goal is and always has been guest satisfaction and in this new world of ours, that has taken on a very special and personal meaning. We want the very best for both our guests and our associates, and the top priority is health and safety. … We have what travelers want for a romantic getaway or family vacation – and we’ve worked hard to keep Omni safe and clean for everyone. Our resort properties offer plenty of social distancing and less face-to-face contact throughout your stay.”
Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises: “The best part about taking a luxurious Uniworld river cruise is not having to worry about anything – and trust me, during this pause in travel, not having to worry about anything also includes not having to worry – or think – about staying safe and healthy when sailing with us. Of course we are always committed to giving you an unparalleled travel experience and that includes your well-being and peace of mind. Many of our 2021 sailings are sold out and our guests can not wait to return to ultra-luxury and all-inclusive river cruising”
John D. Goldman, MD & Infectious Disease & Travel Health Specialist, UPMC Travel Health Clinic: “COVID-19 is here to stay, and we need to learn how to safely work through it. You don’t need to be afraid to leave your home. Be smart. Wear a mask in enclosed areas, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently. If you feel unwell, or have any COVID symptoms, contact UPMC and be assured you will be well taken care of and in excellent hands.”
Michael Chapaloney, Executive Director of Tourism, Pennsylvania Tourism: “Pennsylvania has something special for all travelers – and especially for easy weekend, drive-to getaways or longer family vacations. During this time, many people want to get back to iconic and nostalgic destinations throughout our beautiful commonwealth and spend time outdoors in our stunning mountains and scenic rolling farmlands – with lots of space for social distancing.”
Josh Leibowitz, President, Seabourn Cruises: “Because of our size we are able to follow and exceed all the new health & safety rules and regulations quite easily. Our focus is on the facts. We are an extremely proactive cruise line and our philosophy is “Prevent, Detect, Manage”. We have paused all cruises through 2021 and with so many of us limited on travel this year, Seabourn is offering a much-needed extraordinary experience to look forward to and we’ve got it.”
In closing, statistics and data prove we are all happier when we have a trip or vacation planned. Please remember my mantra: “Plan now. Travel later. Save big. And stay healthy” Don’t forget to make an appointment with a trusted travel agent and remember to pack masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Happy and safe travels to all!
“Let’s Talk Travel with AAA,” hosted by Sandy Fenton, is broadcast Saturdays 11 a.m.-noon on iHeartMedia’s WHP580. For more information, go to whp580.com and click on the link to “Let’s Talk Travel”.