Editor's note: This story originated in late March, and while vaccination statistics have been updated, the comments have not, and they should be taken in the context of when they were made.
With vaccines entering the arms of people around the world—some 21 million per day—the COVID-19 veil that has darkened the travel economy for more than a year is finally lifting.
“Our customers are signing up for trips that they wouldn’t even talk about four weeks ago,” says Mark Hoffmann of Sacramento-based Sports Leisure Vacations.
What has changed, of course, is the number—and the age—of U.S. residents who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Across the country, 72% of all seniors, aged 65 and older, are fully vaccinated (as of May 14). And seniors are Hoffmann’s primary customers.
“At the start of the pandemic, the first people out of the [travel] pool were our clients. But now, they’re the first ones back in the pool,” he says.
Hoffmann’s company has a vaccination policy requiring travelers to have either both shots, a first shot at least seven days prior to departure, or negative results of a COVID test taken no more than five days prior to departure. He first feared that such a policy might be bad for business.
“Not only was it not bad, it has been exactly what our customers wanted,” Hoffmann says. “They are showing our policy to their friends and family members, because often those people—especially our customers’ kids—are part of the decision-making process.”
On a recent five-day tour Hoffmann led to San Diego and Palm Springs with 22 passengers, 18 were fully vaccinated, and four had received the first dose.
‘More at ease’
Other tour companies are adopting similar vaccination policies. All guests joining a Globus family of brands tour or cruise will be required to demonstrate proof of full vaccination administered at least 14 days prior to departure, written results of a negative test taken within three days of departure, or documented recovery from a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis within three months before the trip (having also met all criteria to end isolation).
Stephanie Brooks of the Colorado-based company says the response to Globus’ health protocols and requirements for travel have been very positive. “Our travel agent community and travelers feel confident that our approach is designed with their safety and well-being in mind, while still allowing for choice,” Brooks says. “Our goal is to ensure that guests feel more at ease while traveling with a group and can enjoy a much-deserved vacation.”
To make sure that clients are aware of Globus’ health policies, the company posts information on its websites, sends them pre-departure information and instructions for the trip, and provides details on a mobile app. And guests must verify that they understand the rules.
“At the time of booking or final payment, travelers agree to our health and safety waiver,” Brooks says. “Then, several days prior to the trip, they’re reminded of the health screening that they will be required to acknowledge on day one of travel.”
Brooks expects Globus tours to resume in early summer, keeping in mind that much depends on local and state restrictions and border reopenings.
As of May 14, some 266 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States. Forty-six percent of all U.S. citizens have received at least one dose, and 36% are fully vaccinated (with two weeks passed since their final dose). Tracking the rate of vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that 70 percent of all Americans will be vaccinated by late July. Click here for daily updates—these numbers are rising quickly.
At West Virginia-based U.S. Tours, Bob Cline says his company has no policy of its own for vaccinations and testing; tour operators and group leaders purchase tours from him and then conduct those outings with rules they have set. But it is abundantly clear to him that vaccines have been a game-changer.
“Vaccinations are reducing fear,” Cline says. “I am talking to tour planners every day who are telling me about the happiness they hear in the voices of their travelers. Those planners, in turn, are getting excited about the future, and I hear both optimism and hope in their voices.”
Cline has a group of vaccinated travelers eager to board an American Queen ship in May, and he said the cruise company will have a vaccinated-only policy in place by July 1.
“I expect that policy will be adapted by almost every travel company over the next two or three months, once the majority of their customers have access to the vaccine,” Cline says. “Inasmuch as the U.S. has targeted older Americans with the first vaccines, the majority of every tour company’s mailing list is getting ready to go. Happy days are coming here again.”
The United States leads all but four countries in its vaccine rollout, having administered 19% of the world’s doses, as of May 14. The U.S.’s number of vaccine doses administered per 100 residents (80) is far ahead of Canada and Europe’s pace, with 47 and 38 doses per 100 residents, respectively. (Keep in mind that most vaccines require two doses.) Updates are here.
Even if all countries aren’t maintaining the vaccination pace set by the United States, in time, each country will reach its turning point in travelers’ confidence. For Hoffmann and his Northern California client base, that time has come.
“Our customers look at this like this: ‘I’m 84 years old and my biological clock is ticking. I don’t care if I have to crawl into a plastic bag, I’m traveling!’”
For guidance about COVID safety for group travel in the United States, visit the CDC webpage on gatherings. Also check out information from the European Commission, the World Health Organization, and the Canadian government, and here’s a world map showing each country’s travel restrictions.
Note: Bold print indicates NTA-member company
Top photo ©am/Adobe Stock