Cruise is the Safest Option to Travel Internationally

Dear TA’s,

The cruise industry is making a strong comeback!  The cruise ship environment is now considered to be an advantage for travel, because unlike anywhere else, cruise lines are able to control their own environments and eliminate the risk of a big outbreak. They are doing this with greater testing capabilities, and of course, vaccines. The C.D.C. guidelines require 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers to be fully vaccinated before a cruise ship can set sail.

After suffering billions of dollars in losses, cruise companies restarted operations in Europe and Asia late last year. After months of preparations to meet stringent health and safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cruise lines have started to welcome back passengers for U.S. sailings. Currently, demand is outweighing supply, with many itineraries fully booked throughout the summer. Royal Caribbean recently announced that all sailings from Florida in July and August are fully booked.

At first, it was difficult to imagine how cruise ships, which carry millions of passengers around the world each year, would be able to sail safely again. People still remember the terrible stories of major outbreaks of Coronavirus onboard cruise ships, where passengers were confined to their cabins as the virus traveled rapidly throughout the ships, infecting thousands of people, and killing more than 100. Now, if everyone on board is vaccinated and tested regularly, it’s probably one of the safer options for international travel!

Cruising still has some risk. Several coronavirus cases have been identified on cruise ships since U.S. operations restarted in June, testing the cruise lines’ new Covid-19 protocols, which include isolating, contact tracing and testing passengers to prevent the virus from spreading. One ship was forced to do the right thing and cut short an Alaskan sailing after three people tested positive for the virus.  Another threat is the highly contagious Delta variant, which is causing surges of the virus around the world.

All things considered, industry analysts are very optimistic about the cruise industry’s future and the potential for passenger numbers to recover to pre-pandemic levels, even as soon as next year. That optimism is boosted by what may be the industry’s best asset – unshakably loyal customers.

Cheers!

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Family/Kids Option CA South Coast

Dear TA’s,

I have spent years talking about travel to foreign countries and now I’d like to spend some time focusing on domestic travel in the US.

As we know, many people don’t have a current passport. With current demand, it will take at least 12 weeks to get or update one. Another factor in favor of domestic travel is that not all people are vaccinated, nor do they want to go through Covid testing before traveling. So, what is a travel agent supposed to do? Judging their reasons is definitely not the answer – but guiding them to a super vacation within the US is!

In my opinion, Florida is very hot and humid during the summertime, and can have lots of rain and the chance of hurricanes. I prefer the West Coast, and more specifically, the South Coast. (Those who read my blog last week know how I feel about Los Angeles and San Francisco – it’s dirty, with much graffiti, full of homeless people, and not as safe as used to be.)  

For those from out of state who want to fly to the South Coast, I recommend flying into Orange County airport; John Wayne SNA (airport code). For families with young kids I highly recommend the Renaissance ClubSport Aliso Viejo Laguna Beach Hotel. The theme park that the hotel offers is safe and monitored by a lifeguard (for most of the day). There is a kids’ camp for 3-12-year-olds, a restaurant, coffee shop, and a great space by the pool for coffee/booze and snacks for adults. 

The hotel offers:

Top of the line fitness club facility, full service spa, 3 outdoors pools, plus indoor Jacuzzis for men and women in their fitness facility, free water park (so much fun, I felt I was on a cruise), children’s pool, playground on site, babysitting or childcare (with a surcharge), children’s club (with a surcharge). 

Breakfast or dinner can be included in your rate. A nice shopping area with all kind of food and shops is one mile away. Clients can easily walk there or take an Uber or cab from the hotel. 

The experience here is a fun family, kid-friendly resort and I highly recommend it! 

For more details, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to share more information and contacts. 

Enjoy the US and the beauty of our country!

Cheers!

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Traveling California’s South Coast

Orfila Vineyards Tasting Room and Kitchen

Dear TA’s,

If you are looking for good weather in the low 70s, good hotels for a reasonable price, beautiful beaches, great restaurants and darling towns, I highly recommend coming to Carlsbad, Encinitas and Oceanside California.

It is so different from the Los Angeles area, where graffiti and homeless people dominate the landscape. These adorable south coast cities offer a much more pleasant experience of what California is all about.

For those who enjoy theme parks, Carlsbad offers Lego Land. I stayed at the Westin in Carlsbad next to Lego Land and even though I did not go to the park, I enjoyed the resort at the hotel, and it was practically kid free.

At Oceanside I highly recommend going to Orfila Vineyards Tasting Room and Kitchen. Priced at only $20 per tasting they offered great wines, and delicious food. Since you are indulging, go next door for the most decadent doughnuts: Parlor Doughnuts (those who are gluten free or vegan will not feel neglected!)

Don’t miss the beach in Oceanside, just a couple of blocks from the Tasting Room and doughnut shop.

Breakfast and beach are the right combination for a fun day in Encinitas. There are many choices of restaurants and delis, for all tastes. Just take Highway 101, park somewhere and walk around. Find the place that looks most fun to you. Don’t forget to browse those cute knick-knack shops.

Come visit the South Coast of California, good wine is waiting for you!

Cheers!

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The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Dear TAs,

You should advise your clients to book their future travel now.  If they (or you!) are planning a vacation, holiday travel, and even a business trip, consider reserving flights right now.

Increased demand for flights is a very positive sign for the travel industry, but there are several reasons why there may soon be a shortage of available flights, resulting in higher prices and seat shortages.

With the increase in vaccinations and the loosening of travel restrictions worldwide, airlines have suddenly been overwhelmed with large numbers of leisure passengers eager to escape it all. They’re headed to beaches, mountains, theme parks, and to visit family and friends they have missed seeing throughout the pandemic.

Even without the normal number of business travelers as in years past, U.S. airlines are finding themselves with load capacity on domestic flights comparable to those of 2019; pre-pandemic. 

Right now, business and international travel are still down around 70% from 2019 levels. This will be changing now that the list of countries welcoming Americans continues to grow. With increased demand, ticket prices are rising from their pandemic lows, but have not yet reached 2019 ticket prices. This too could change quickly.

Many airline employees were let go or took early retirement as a result of the pandemic. Airlines are dealing with a pilot shortage. Larger airlines that operate several types of aircraft and are coping with limited flight simulator time to retrain their pilots on different aircraft. The shortage of pilots who are up to date in their training may affect flight scheduling during the second half of this year. The demand for trained airline personnel such as pilots, mechanics and other technicians is expected to negatively impact ticket prices for several years.

Another factor that will affect ticket prices is rising fuel prices. Mid-June, the per-gallon price for jet fuel was more than four times higher than at its lowest point during the pandemic, late April 2020. Fuel and labor are airlines’ biggest expenses, and when they go up, higher fares often follow.

So, if you want to travel during the holidays, don’t wait a minute more. You and your clients should purchase your airline tickets now, otherwise you’ll be missing a great trip.

See you somewhere, soon!

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Cruises can be the Safest Vacations

Dear TAs,

The pandemic surely knocked the cruise industry for a loop. In the first days, there were passengers and crew who were stranded. By the summer months, cruise ships were completely docked and no one was sailing anywhere. Cruise lines were suffering financially, and some ships were even sold for scrap to bring in money.

COVID-19 caused the loss of thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars in the cruise industry, but finally, ships are sailing once again. In order to say afloat, it is essential that ships, crew and passengers stay Covid free.

The Celebrity Edge was he first ship to sail from the U.S., but before that, the MSC Grandiosa sailed from Genoa, Italy in August 2020. Cruises from Italy have continued to sail since then, as well as from other European destinations including Spain, Croatia and Malta.

May brought the start of UK “staycation” cruises which were confined to UK waters and ports. Similarly, in Singapore, Royal Caribbean launched “cruises to nowhere.” The Celebrity Millennium is currently sailing the Caribbean.

It is expected that 49% of cruise ships will be sailing by the end of September 2021, and by the end of 2022, all ships will be operating.

For current sailings, cruise ships can sail if 95% of the crew and paying passengers are fully vaccinated, which meets the requirements of the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). Passengers are required to fill out a health questionnaire form and provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

On the first cruise from the U.S. since the pandemic, the Celebrity Edge set sail with 95% of guests fully vaccinated, and an almost a 100% vaccinated crew. There were only 1,200 passengers on a ship that normally carries just over 3,000 passengers. It was important to Celebrity that guests had an experience as close to a pre-pandemic cruise as possible – a real vacation. The ship’s horn was blown each evening to shop that hope floats, and that it can and will rise again.

Looking forward to seeing you on a cruise in the near future!

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Hot News in Cruises

Dear TA’s,

After more than a year since cruise ships have sailed from the U.S., government and CDC rules continue to change almost daily, leaving many cruisers confused and concerned.  Even management at Royal Caribbean have struggled to stay abreast of all these changes. Hopefully as ships begin to sail, things will settle down.   

Politicians in Florida have banned private businesses from requiring guests to provide proof they’re vaccinated. With most cruise lines departing from ports in Florida, this has caused issue for cruise lines. Royal Caribbean’s initial policy would have required vaccination for all passengers, but they were forced to change it to obey Florida’s law. Instead, they will set their own policies to ensure the safety of their passengers on board, and It seems that Royal Caribbean’s plans may keep unvaccinated guests away by making cruises more expensive and uncomfortable for them.

Royal Caribbean recently posted a YouTube video intended for a travel agent audience. In it, Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain explained the company’s plans as ships set sail, which consists of policies that will make cruises more expensive and not as welcoming for unvaccinated adults.

In the video, Richard Fain referred to vaccines as the “key to everything” and praised the U.S. government for their role in their development and delivery. Referring to the vaccines, he said, “Getting one today not only protects you from the virus, it protects the whole society and allows us to get back to normalcy.”

For non-vaccinated passengers, or those who will not provide proof of vaccination, Royal Caribbean will require multiple Covid-19 tests.  A negative test from within the past 72 hours will need to be presented to board, followed by a second test at the terminal. A third test will be taken within 24 hours of disembarkation. The test at the terminal and prior to disembarkation will be handled by a third party, and cost a combined $136 per person, charged to the guest’s onboard expense account.

Passengers who do not provide proof of a vaccine will not be allowed to attend some onboard events, even if they have tested negative. Vaccinated guests will be able to access special events and venues specifically designed for them, and masks will not be required. Entertainment onboard will include select showtimes exclusively for vaccinated guests. Unvaccinated guests will dine in a separate area and cannot take advantage of flexible options for dining, outside of reserved times. These protocols are in place to create a bubble of safety – for both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers.

In addition, all guests are subject to restrictions put in place by local authorities at ports the ships visit.  Unvaccinated guests will be subject to stricter protocols than vaccinated guests.

Royal Caribbean has stated that they are willing to provide refunds to anyone who is unwilling to follow their new safety protocols.

Have a safe cruise!

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Cruise Vaccines – What is your opinion?

Dear TA’s,

Royal Caribbean will begin sailing in early July from Florida. They have most recently announced that vaccinations will be recommended but not required for passengers. This was a reversal from an announcement only two weeks earlier, where the cruise line’s vaccine requirement web page said that all guests age 16 and older would need to complete all doses of their Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before sailing.  There has been both negative and positive feedback on the company’s social media pages from passengers reacting to the company’s policy change.

It seems that most passengers want to travel on cruise ships that have a vaccine requirement. However, there are some who will not book a cruise that requires them to be vaccinated.  Passengers may make their booking decision based on the vaccine requirement, or lack thereof.

Royal Caribbean wants their passengers to have some peace of mind knowing that all crew members are vaccinated.  They also want passengers to know that they are encouraging vaccines for cruisers prior to travel, and that if they decide to travel unvaccinated, they may be subject to testing and other protocols, to be announced soon.

The protocols for unvaccinated travel have not been announced yet but could include masks in public spaces onboard.  Another concern unvaccinated travelers should consider will be the vaccine and mask requirements in the cruise ships’ ports of call.

Approximately 90% of all travelers currently booked on Royal Caribbean ships have already been vaccinated or are planning to in time for their cruise, the line announced.   However, without a vaccine mandate, this high percentage could drop before these ships set sail in July.  This might be a major concern for those who booked travel believing that their fellow passengers would also be fully vaccinated.

What is your opinion regarding mandated vaccine for cruises? Would you feel comfortable having unvaccinated cruisers around you?

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How Europe is handling the “Green Passport”

Dear TA’s

By now, you have heard that Europe is open for travel!  However, there is a lot in the works to allow free travel within the EU, so right now, Americans should probably wait to make plans until the rules and requirements are formalized. If they must get away right now – they are free to travel to a European country where we know they will be welcomed, such as Croatia, Greece, or Italy.

Covid Vaccine Passports are in the works for all EU travel, and it is reported that seven countries are already using them: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland.  As of July 1, 2021, all 27 member nations of the EU should have vaccine passports. There are currently talks underway to allow Americans to have access to the EU Digital COVID Certificate for travel, but this has not been finalized yet.

The vaccine passports are also called “Digital Green Certificates (DGC) and are designed to provide proof of a person’s Covid status – a vaccination against COVID-19, a negative test result, or if the person has recovered from COVID-19. The intention is to allow travel without testing or quarantining, however, each country can set its own rules. According to the EU, vaccination cannot be used as a pre-conditional requirement for travel.

These certificates will allow citizens of EU countries free movement around within their own country, as well as travel to other countries within the EU. The European Commission has also said it will include non-EU Member States, such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland but not the United Kingdom. The DGC will be free in either digital or paper format. It is possible that these certificates will also be used for purposes other than travel, including attendance at concerts and other events with large crowds. Austria is considering using them for access to restaurants and hotels.

For now, Americans will need to show their COVID-19 vaccination records and/or a negative COVID-19 test result taken within three days of arrival into Europe, and in some countries, quarantine for a certain number of days if not fully vaccinated. 

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What is open in Europe for USA travelers

Dear TA’s,

Are you and your clients ready? Europe is rolling out the red carpet to welcome American tourists this summer.  In hopes of reviving the crucial summer tourist season and as vaccinations rates increase, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Iceland are already welcoming Americans. France and other countries have stated that they will open in coming weeks. There are still some restrictions, and some annual events have been cancelled or postponed, but Europe is now welcoming American tourists.

For travel, Americans will need either a vaccination certificate, a recent negative Covid test or proof of recovery from Covid within the past six months.  These policies may vary by country. As a standard precaution, masks are required indoors, even for people who have been vaccinated. Masks may not be required outdoors, or when social distancing is possible.

In the United Kingdom it’s now possible to have a pint at the pub again. Shops and restaurants also are fully open. Theaters in London are open and so are museums and historical sites, many with special exhibits. Some of the U.K.’s festivals have had schedule changes, so it is best to confirm before planning a trip around a certain event. Americans heading to England must get a Covid test before flying and then are subject to multiple tests and a 10-day quarantine period upon arrival, even if they have been vaccinated. The U.K.’s travel restrictions/precautions are updated every three weeks, and the next adjustment expected June 7.

Visitors to Italy who take “Covid-tested flights” from the U.S. to Italy offered by certain carriers including Delta, Alitalia and American can avoid a 10-day quarantine upon arrival.  Museums such as the Uffizi in Florence and Rome’s Galleria Borghese are among the many museums that will require reservations this year.  In Venice there will be many events to celebrate the city’s 1,600th birthday, and the opportunity to see churches and art not usually on display to tourists.  

This week, after more than a year, France will welcome visitors from the U.S. There are many famous attractions in France that are outdoors, including the Champs-Élysées, Luxembourg Gardens, the Place des Vosges and Place Vendôme. The Eiffel Tower can only be seen from below until July 16, when it will be possible once again to enjoy its spectacular views by taking the elevator or stairs. The Palace of Versailles now requires timed reservations, and in Paris, most reopened museums also require reservations.

Greece has been open to tourists from the U.S. since mid-May. There is currently a push by the Greek government to vaccinate all of its citizens, which will attract more tourists and bolster summer business. The Acropolis in Athens is open, as are most outdoor cultural sites throughout Greece. Ferries to the Greek islands also require proof of vaccination, a negative Covid test or proof of recovery.

Iceland was the first European country to let in vaccinated tourists from outside of Europe. Several major airlines are offering flights to Reykjavik. Nature lovers will enjoy a new 590-mile driving route around Westfjords in the northwest part of the country taking visitors to see cliffs, fjords, waterfalls and traditional Icelandic villages. Another driving route is the 155-mile Diamond Circle, which passes by massive waterfalls, the horseshoe-shaped Asbyrgi canyon.

Croatia is also now opened up to U.S. visitors. Tourists must prove they have paid for accommodations and there is also a vaccine-test-recovery requirement. Later this summer, Delta and United will have direct flights from the U.S. to Dubrovnik.

Even though the CDC recommends essential travel only at this time, be aware that ticket prices and demand will increase dramatically at the slightest policy change here in the U.S., or in your destination country.

I hope you have your clients signed up for travel to Europe and that you are too!

Cheers!

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Service Fees are a Must

Dear TA’s,

As summer approaches, and the outlook on travel improves, certain added fees are making a comeback. During last month, for example, most major airlines reinstated charges for some ticket changes. That didn’t take long at all!

To attract travelers during the pandemic, many companies suspended additional fees and charges, but they never stopped needing that additional revenue.  Now that people are starting to travel again, the fees have come back. These fees fall into two categories: new ones imposed by countries on international visitors, and the fees charged by companies such as airlines, travel agencies and vacation rental firms.

The island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean is now charging a mandatory $30 fee for a Visitors Protection Plan, which covers medical expenses and a medical evacuation – even if you do not need or want it. The Bahamas is charging visitors $50 to $70 for a Bahamas health visa. The visa covers basic medical expenses on the islands. It is predicted that even after the end of the pandemic, countries may keep these medical Visa requirements to offset medical costs for tourists, or institute strict medical insurance requirements.

Certain vacation rental companies have added security charges and increased security deposit requirements.  There was an increase in high-risk bookings during the pandemic – resulting in raucous parties and property damage.  Guests have used fake IDs and stolen credit cards to book and even uses the rented spaces for criminal activity.  New fees cover the costs of noise sensors, cameras, and guest-screening services.

In the past, a travel agent’s earnings came almost exclusively from commission from service. Since the pandemic, many agencies are now charging a fee for their professional services, time and knowledge, and most customers are willing to pay these fees. Booking travel with a travel agent provides a peace of mind, especially with the ever-changing travel rules and restrictions implemented since the pandemic.

The time a travel agent spends creating an itinerary and talking with the client is worth money. If a travel agent is not comfortable charging a service fee, they can offer to deduct it from the booking at the end of the trip or use the fee amount as a credit for a future vacation.

Don’t be embarrassed to charge a service fee. If your client doesn’t want to pay, you can easily add his/her name to a waiting list so you can eventually work on their itinerary AFTER you work on the ones for those who are willing to pay for your time and expertise.  

Once you value yourself, your clients will too!

Cheers!

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