Q: We have a vaccine…now what?
A: We don’t know for certain. Here’s why:
- vaccine roll-out has been slower than anticipated, with the general population not expected to be vaccinated until Spring or Summer
- COVID is a novel virus and there is uncertainty about the efficacy of the vaccine and the constant evolution of the virus
- there is currently an inconsistency in travel policies; this continues to be a fluid situation with changing quarantines and country requirements
- cruise lines and tour companies are unable to make definitive plans and set itineraries due to the fluidity in travel policies
Why Are Cruises Still Being Canceled
Grand Cayman Says Cruise Ships Unlikely to Return in 2021
Prominent Cruise Analyst Predicts Cruises Won’t Resume Until At Least Fall
Halifax Cruise Port Hopes for Best, Plans for Worst
Q: Will a vaccine be required to travel?
A: This is currently being debated
Results of the Nia Travel survey indicated that 71% of you may retire your passport or will have to consider your position if a vaccine is required to travel. Qantas Air, an Australian carrier, was the first to announce that a vaccine will be required to fly. However, the President and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) cautions against companies mandating vaccines for travel as such mandates can be discriminatory. Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is available to individuals age 16 or older. Children as young as 12 are being enrolled in trials, but studies including younger children have not yet begun. This may present an additional issue for families and vaccine mandates. Financial viability for travel suppliers may also play in the decision to mandate vaccines, as travel suppliers have experienced great financial loss. Requiring vaccines prior to resuming operations may be an unsustainable strategy. Countries and travel suppliers are considering allowing travelers who have been vaccinated to forego quarantine.
Q: I have heard about Travel Passes. What are they?
A: A mobile app to store COVID certifications
A travel pass is a mobile app that helps travelers store and manage verified certification for coronavirus tests and vaccines, which provides more security and efficiency than paper processes. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a governing body of the travel industry, expects its Travel Pass digital health credential solution should be ready for use by major airlines starting in March.
IATA’s Travel Pass will have four independent modules when it is rolled out in March:
- A registry of entry requirements
- A registry of labs, test centers or vaccination providers
- A means for passengers to securely upload test or vaccination certification on their phones and share them when appropriate, and
- A digital identity to verify the owner of the certificate
Other passes currently being developed include The Commons Project, VeriFLY, CommonPass and ICC AOKpass. Travel passes differ from a vaccine in that some countries require proof of testing within a certain time frame prior to travel. The app will eliminate the need to provide paper proof. Travel passes are enabled to store vaccine history as well. Travel passes have raised issues of privacy and data management.
Q: When can I travel? And where can I travel?
A: That depends…
Ability to travel is based primarily on local/destination travel rules. The State Department’s travel advisory site and specific country tourist boards or other government sites are a good place to start. IATA’s Travel Regulation Map is a good place to start. This site will provide COVID destination status and statistic as well as provide air rates. For up-to-date state regulations about domestic travel, this site is useful and this site will allow you to check cases by state.
Q: Should I book now or wait?
A: Multiple factors will influence this decision
Some hotels, tour operators and airlines are currently offering competitive rates in certain markets. Booking in advance of upcoming plans may lock in such rates. However, the ultimate decision to book or wait is a personal one and is also driven by the climate of the destination, even if entry to the country/destination is possible.
Recent booking statistics indicate that there is a lot of pent-up travel demand. Most recent searches have reflected an interest in Safaris, European Vacations and far-flung destinations. A recent survey found that 48% of luxury travel consumers feel somewhat or very positive about the leisure travel outlook in 2021, while 44% said they feel somewhat or very negative. Of all consumers, 53% said that they had already booked a trip for 2021 and 41% said they are likely to do so, with most planning for the second half of the year. However, travel farther out had a more positive outlook with 67% of respondents intending to book a trip for 2022 or beyond.
Fewer than 10% of travelers in all groups anticipate that overseas travel will be normal. Whether you choose to book, travel now or wait, it is safe to say that travel as we knew it has changed forever. You will want to consider the following factors for any travel plans you make.
- What are the country protocols? Will I need to wear a mask?
- Are the activities and services I’m interested in available?
- Do the hotels have any new cleaning protocols?
- Is there a country-wide curfew that will prevent me from experiencing what I want to?
- Is there any political instability that could disrupt my trip?
- Will I be tested for COVID-19 at the airport or have to quarantine when I arrive?
- How has this country handled COVID-19 spikes in the past?
- Do I have travel insurance that will cover me if I cancel or get sick while on vacation?
- Has the travel advisory changed recently?
I definitely recommend enrolling in TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. The Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler Programs allow members to use expedited lanes at airports, thereby reducing your exposure to other travelers. Nia Travel can also arrange VIP Arrival Assistance. For enhanced safety while traveling, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which:
- provides important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country
- helps the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency
- helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency
You may see from social media feeds and conversations with friends and family that people are traveling now. Consider the purpose for travel, as well as what you hope to see.
Q: I’m confused about the different tests
A: There are two different types of tests…
Diagnostic and Antibody. A diagnostic test can show if there is an active coronavirus infection. There are two types of diagnostic tests:
- Molecular (RT-PCR) tests detect the virus’s genetic material
- Antigen tests detect specific proteins from the virus
An antibody test looks for antibodies that are made by the immune system in response to a threat, such as a specific virus. Antibodies can take several days or weeks to develop after an infection and may stay in the blood for several weeks or more after recovery. For this reason, antibody tests should not be used to diagnose COVID-19. *
Q: Is it safe to fly?
A: Fresh air is replaced in air cabins every two to three minutes.
We are still learning about this novel virus and how it is transmitted to others. Airlines are taking the pandemic seriously and support President Biden’s mask mandate for all air travel. Airlines have taken steps to enforce mask wearing and many have blocked the middle seat to ensure distancing on flights. However, such social distancing measures are set to expire and vary by airline. Air in modern aircraft cabins is replaced with new fresh air every two to three minutes, and most planes are fitted with air filters designed to trap 99.99% of particles. This is far better than any office building, cruise ship or almost any other venue. But as with everything else, following best practices for personal safety is recommended. The ultimate decision is up to you.
Most recently, United Airlines was recognized for its cleaning practices and received hospital-grade cleanliness certification by The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and SimpliFlying . One positive is the pandemic is putting the spotlight on cleanliness, which is welcome news for those of us who bore strange looks by placing newspaper on the floor of the airplane (for items stored under the seat), wiping down the tray table, seat handles, seat belt, etc. and carrying travel-sized Lysol spray. Yep, I am that girl!