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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Travel to Europe

Dear TA’s

Have your clients dust off their passports! Leisure travel to Europe is closer to reality after the EU’s recent decision to relax some of the regulations regarding tourism travel for visitors from outside the EU, and ambassadors have agreed to allow fully vaccinated visitors in.

Changes were also made to the criteria for nations to be considered a “safe country,” from which incoming tourists can travel.  At this time though, it is still unclear when the welcome mat will be fully rolled out.

The strict measures imposed last year to contain COVID-19 outbreaks have been eased. Now, the European Commission has said entry should be granted to all those fully vaccinated with EU-authorized vaccinations. These immunizations are those produced by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.  Though it has been recommended that certain restrictions should been eased, some EU countries have not formally approved this measure yet.

An updated list of countries that meet the new vaccination criteria is expected soon, and many experts expect the United States to make the next cut. Until now, the list of countries from which travel is permitted includes seven nations: Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China. There is also an “emergency brake” plan which will stop dangerous virus variants from entering the EU which can be quickly enacted if infection rates rise in a non-EU country. There is also the possibility that new entry measures will also include PCR tests or quarantines.

These new measures are expected to prop up the EU’s tourism industry and help recover some income over the peak summer season. Greece has already lifted quarantine restrictions for the U.S., Britain, Israel, and other non-EU countries as negotiations between governments and EU lawmakers to introduce COVID-19 certificates aimed at facilitating travel across the region this summer continue.  Greece has reopened to international tourists and no quarantine is required for vaccinated Americans

Cheers and have a safe trip!

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The Year of the Travel Agent

Dear TA’s,

Before the pandemic, travel agents’ job prospects were declining, thanks to online travel agencies making it easier for travelers to handle their own arrangements. Now,  it feels as if the role of a travel advisor has a new relevance. Many travelers who have previously booked their own travel are turning to travel agents to assist with their upcoming vacations. The pandemic has led to a feeling of uncertainty, and constantly changing rules and policies have left travelers unsure of navigating the post-Covid travel world on their own. They are now seeking the expertise of a travel advisor to guide them through the process.

After a year during which so many travelers were burned, it just makes sense! Travel advisors are advocates for their clients. They provide travelers with advice and guidance based on their experience, knowledge, and industry insight. A recent survey indicates that 33 percent of travelers anticipated an increase in their use of travel advisors because of the pandemic.  Even a demographic who was not likely to use an agent in the past (travelers aged from 18 to 38), say they are more likely to book upcoming travels through an agent.

People often seek the advice of a professional when they are making  big purchases such as homes or cars. Travel can be one of the largest expenses people have in a year. If there is a possibility of borders closing or flights being canceled, there is a feeling of safety knowing that your travel advisor is on top of issues that might affect you, and is working to reschedule your trip or get your money back.

Travel agencies across the country are already seeing unprecedented levels of interest. Business is booming for agencies because of pent-up demand for travel, combined with  confusion caused by complexities involved with traveling right now. It seems that travelers feel safer booking with an agency that will provide the latest travel safety information, can change or cancel tickets if necessary and help get them home if a problem arose. 

This does put additional strain on the agent. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and regulations, some itineraries require frequent changes. Some borders have not reopened as planned, and ever-changing travel restrictions affect a destination’s ability to welcome incoming travelers.  Add to that, calming the nerves of clients traveling for the first time since the pandemic – the job of an agent has become more challenging than ever before.

It’s a challenging yet exciting time to be in the travel field.  Especially for agents who are dedicated to their clients and making sure they get the most out of their travels.

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Getting the Mojo back!

Dear TA’s,

As I have said before, get ready to be busy booking trips in 2021. I am sure many of you travel agents/advisors are already working overtime. Clients are eager to travel and many of them haven’t been anywhere in over a year. Many travelers, especially the savvy ones who use travel agents, believe that going back to traveling will be like going back to riding a bicycle.

Well, they may be surprised when they find out that it may take a lot longer to check into a hotel. If they find that the room is in a little noisier location of the building or they’re disturbed by the sound of another family upstairs, changing rooms may not be as easy as it was before Covid due to new hotel regulations. It’s very important to teach your client to speak up and get another room, and not let that be an inconvenience for their vacation. If frustrated, your client may reach out to you, but certainly him/her that they can get a better solution in person than you could so far away by phone. So, prepare your client and let them know how to deal with this, and other situations.

When eating at restaurants now, reservations are the name of the game. Make sure they know that the best places (not necessarily the most expensive) need reservations sometimes months ahead at prime time for all meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. For those who (like me) enjoy looking at the menu over and over, have them satisfy their curiosity now by downloading the menu onto their phone and check it there as often as they like. Some restaurants still give you (if you ask, and if they still have) a disposable or laminated paper menu. Food cannot be sent back to the kitchen. So, it is smart to remind clients of this information.

By having a good night’s sleep and good meals, most of the vacation is guaranteed; and for that, a travel agent can guide their clients. In terms of weather, it is hard to predict when it is going to rain or shine.

Another factor for a great vacation is the company the client chooses to travel with. Well, in that, no one else has any say! LOL!

Cheers,

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What is Sustainable Travel

Dear TAs,

Now that vaccines are going into arms and travel is beginning to resume, it’s time for travelers to begin to think about their impact on the environment, and how they can travel more sustainably.  We saw earth’s temperatures reduce as result of people staying put for an extended period of time – which may have your clients already wondering how they can travel more responsibly. In fact, It is time for us all to think about travel differently. We need to stop thinking just about what our own personal experience is going to be – and start looking at the impact of our experience on the ground, on the destination and in the communities we visit.

There have been many newsworthy stories lately regarding overcrowding, climate change, and unfair working conditions in the travel and tourism industry. You can advise your clients how to have a wonderful trip while being mindful of their own global footprint.

There are several different “sustainability” certification labels in use, each with their own criteria and little enforcement. Of course, saying your company is green is not the same as taking the necessary steps to ensure that your business practices are green.  There is a lot more to it than simply reusing the towels in a hotel room or paying for a carbon offset for a flight. “Sustainable travel” means a different thing in different places, because of each country’s unique location, climate, and people. There are more than 230 travel organizations that have joined the Tourism Declares initiative, members of which have pledged to publish a climate action plan and cut their carbon emissions. If a company is classified as a “B Corporation” — they meet a rigorous sustainability standard that’s not limited to the tourism industry.

The time to ask questions about sustainable travel is before booking.  Tour operators, hotels and the actual destination should make their stance on sustainability clear with an obvious statement on their websites.  Some things travelers should consider:

  • Does the money they spend end up in the local economy? Are locals hired as tour guides? Are hotels sourcing food locally?
  • Are your clients traveling during a peak time where cities can become overcrowded, putting additional stress on local resources, or wear and tear on historic or natural sites?
  • When flying, clients should choose a long-haul flight to the destination, and then choose trains or other less-polluting ways to get around, even if cheap short-haul flights are readily available.

Rules that all travelers should follow when going anywhere include:

  • Hire local guides
  • Ask permission before taking photos of people
  • Stay on designated trails in natural areas
  • Think twice about handing out money to children
  • Call out waste or abuse when they see it

The world is reopening for exploration. If we all take the necessary steps towards traveling sustainably, we will leave our destinations a better place for travelers who come later, and for the people who call these places home.

Cheers,

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