Companies adjust policies as coronavirus scrambles travel plans

You’ve had to cancel your vacation. Here’s what to do next

Companies adjust policies as coronavirus scrambles travel plans

What’s a traveler to do when the next destination is a short hop to the kitchen or a long weekend in the living room?

For many in the travel and tourism industry, the first priority during the coronavirus pandemic has been helping tourists return home as travel bans take effect and countries enact measures to limit public contact.

But for the countless people whose vacation plans were canceled before they could even get off the ground, the best advice is to stay put.

Here’s what to do you if your trip’s scrapped—and how to make the most of staying home.

Go for the refund

A frustrated vacationer’s first thoughts might be about getting their money back, but it can be tough to untangle itineraries that took months to assemble.

Airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and tour companies are offering different refund options, some under policies that change by the minute.

As businesses scramble to save profits—particularly airlines, which are staring down looming bankruptcy—some travelers are left in the lurch.

Tiffany Hines, who runs the Athens, Georgia-based travel consultancy Global Escapes, recommends checking your airline’s policies to see what refunds, vouchers, or other compensation is on offer in exchange for a canceled trip.

If you booked an Airbnb, you’ll ly get your money back—though the company’s policy puts the onus on hosts to pay up.

Even if you purchased travel insurance for your trip, be aware that policy benefits don’t always cover every aspect of your booking.

In many cases, prepare to get only what you can bargain for. And don’t be afraid to seek advice and allies. Hines has offered her company’s expertise to travelers even if they weren’t previously clients, and she suggests other companies might be willing to do the same.

“We can read between the lines [of cancellation policies] and provide insight,” Hines says. “You may have looked at our services as an extra cost, but in the end, it can save you so much time and headache and worry and stress.” Another bonus? Building a relationship with travel advisers gives you an advantage when the storm clears and the industry is flooded with rebookings, Hines says.

Go local—maybe

As iconic destinations sit eerily empty, some thwarted travelers are turning to their own backyards in search of places to discover. The temptation to get outdoors is powerful, but are local trips a good idea? It depends.

Ditching the city for the great outdoors might not effectively “flatten the curve”—that is, keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers. Parks can offer open space and social distance.

But unsafe exposure is still a risk on crowded tours and at viewpoints and visitor centers—a risk disproportionately shouldered by low-wage hospitality and sanitation workers, according to the Guardian, in a report describing packed scenes at Big Bend and Zion National Parks this week.

A few national monuments and recreation areas have closed their gates in response to COVID-19, but the National Park Service has drawn criticism for opting not to shutter heavy-hitters such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. Instead, NPS is merely restricting operations—and waiving entrance fees, CNN reports.

In some places, the decision to venture out is moot. In California, six counties in San Francisco’s Bay Area have enacted sweeping “shelter in place” measures—the country’s strictest—ordering 6.7 million people to stay in their homes.

Though there’s no magic number when it comes to a safe gathering size, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends restricting gatherings to fewer than 50 people, while the White House says that through April 1, all gatherings of more than 10 people should be canceled or held virtually to prevent the virus’s spread.

The best advice is to look at the CDC’s risk assessment. Do you have underlying conditions? Are you more vulnerable or would your trip threaten others who are? Individual circumstances vary, but you might need to postpone your commune with nature. If you go anyway, make sure to maintain social distance and take other preventative measures.

Go virtual

So, you’re stuck at home. What now?

Just as technology has made remote work more feasible, it also offers the chance to travel without leaving your couch. For about as long as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been around, people have used the tech to prepare for vacations: taking a digital walk through airports, exploring a hotel ahead of time, even previewing a lavish meal.

But in a time of pandemic, virtual tourism could help replace the vacation itself. Pull up a 360-degree video on your smartphone, and you can hurtle down a snow-covered mountain in a wingsuit, roam the ancient Maya city of Chichén Itzá, or even explore the surface of Mars. Want a more sedate pace? Take a virtual tour of a world-class museum.

Some scenes from Sarah Hill’s virtual reality app, Healium, change in response to users’ lowered heart rates. Hill has found AR and VR experiences can have stress-relieving benefits.Courtesy Healium

Some travelers have even argued that, pandemic aside, virtual experiences are a more responsible alternative to overtourism, since they can ease the infrastructure demands and carbon footprints of actual travel.

Virtual reality may even expand travel opportunities in years to come, as researchers focus their work on experiences that are expensive, dangerous, rare, or even impossible in the real world.

Bucket-list items such as whale-watching or seeing the Sistine Chapel could become accessible to everyone—with all the thrills but very few of the environmental impacts.

The benefits of virtual reality also extend to how travel makes us feel, says Sarah Hill, who develops AR/VR experiences that change in response to customers’ lowered heart rates.

Hill’s first project provided VR encounters to ailing veterans unable to travel to see memorials to their service.

She discovered that the technology not only provided psychological comfort, it also helped relieve physical stress.

As lockdowns and self-quarantines confine people to close quarters, “finding ways for your brain to escape and travel is not only important, but therapeutic,” Hill says. “We all need some virtual peace. This is a walk in the park for people who can’t take a real walk in the park.”

Go literary

Alas, even virtual experiences can fall short in recreating a real sense of place. Sometimes the best option is curling up with a good book.

“There’s nothing a book to immerse you instantly in the culture and history of a place,” says Amy Alipio, National Geographic travel editor and resident bibliophile. “So if you can’t head to Paris for spring break, maybe tuck into Little by Edward Carey, a curiosity-filled novel about the life of Madame Tussaud, set in the years before and during the French Revolution.”

Her other recommendations: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller’s memoir of farm life in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); Aravind Adiga’s prize-winning tale of an Indian chauffeur-turned-entrepreneur, The White Tiger; and Without You There Is No Us, a look at North Korea’s rising ruling class for which author Suki Kim lived undercover in Pyongyang for three months.

If cabin fever is still creeping in for you and your family, just keep reading. You can replace your canceled spring break trip with one of these page-turners. Can’t get to your favorite national park? Try these books instead. Or dig into 12 years of the National Geographic book club’s favorite recommendations.

When the best way to protect ourselves and our communities from a global pandemic is to stay at home, Emily Dickinson’s words may be truer than ever: “There is no Frigate a Book / To take us Lands away.”

Ninth-century illuminated manuscripts and the earliest known architectural plan drawn on parchment are just some of the literary treasures at the resplendent 1,200-year-old Baroque-style Convent of St Gall in Switzerland.Ninth-century illuminated manuscripts and the earliest known architectural plan drawn on parchment are just some of the literary treasures at the resplendent 1,200-year-old Baroque-style Convent of St Gall in Switzerland.Photograph by Heeb/laif/Redux”,”author”:null,”date_published”:”2020-03-19T00:00:00.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”″,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:”″,”domain”:””,”excerpt”:”For travelers, social distancing tests the limits of wanderlust—but there are ways to cope.”,”word_count”:1306,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}


10 Factors Affecting Covid-Era Travel In 2021

Companies adjust policies as coronavirus scrambles travel plans

After a year of little to no travel, you’re probably ready to get back out and explore the world once it's safe. But just because you’ve gotten your vaccine or coronavirus case rates are dropping doesn’t necessarily mean everything is returning to normal. In fact, the travel world is still far from it.

If you haven’t traveled in a while, you’ll almost certainly discover a “new normal.” Some of the changes are beneficial to you — easier paths to airline and hotel status and more customer-friendly cancellation policies. You might find other changes add time to your trip planning, mandatory reservations and testing requirements.

Regardless, major shifts are happening in the travel industry, and here are the main factors ly to affect your next trip.

1. Many change and cancellation fees have been eliminated

It’s easy to feel hesitant booking a trip not knowing if flights will be canceled or destinations will change their COVID-19 regulations, especially if you’ve been burned by hefty change and cancellation fees in the past.

Over the past year, many airlines eliminated change fees completely, and it’s now fairly common to find hotels that waive fees for reservations canceled at least 24 hours in advance of arrival. A few cruise lines will even give you a full cash refund if you can’t go on your trip for a coronavirus-related reason.

2. Travel insurance may not cover everything you thought it did

Given how unpredictable the travel world is right now with schedule, rule and policy changes, you might be inclined to purchase travel insurance to provide yourself with some financial protection on the nonrefundable portions of your trip.

Just be clear about what your travel insurance covers.

Even pre-pandemic, most forms of travel insurance would cover illness-related cancellations (such as actually getting sick), but would not cover disinclination to travel (such as backing out because you might get sick).

3. More restaurants and venues require reservations

Most travelers are accustomed to reserving hotel rooms or theater tickets in advance. But these days, plan to make reservations for theme park tickets and even restaurants, too.

For example, when Walt Disney World reopened during the pandemic, reservations became mandatory. At one point, a Nevada law actually required you to have a reservation to dine at restaurants — no walk-ins were allowed. These rules are ly to continue to evolve as the travel industry further adjusts to COVID-era travel.

4. Buffets, club lounges and other common spaces have been cut

Goodbye, all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast buffets. Many hotels have transitioned to grab-and-go breakfasts as part of their efforts to safely serve guests.

Many club lounges, frequently offered as an amenity for customers with hotel elite status, and airport lounges are also still closed. Even those complimentary soaps are going away at some hotels.

Temper your expectations on the service and amenities you’ll receive ahead of your next trip.

5. You’ll need to add some new items to your packing list

You ly haven’t flexed your packing muscle in a while, yet next time you travel, packing will require even more effort. Besides the obvious items face masks and hand sanitizer, there are a few more additions to your COVID-era travel packing list to consider, including a contactless credit card, a water bottle and, yes, maybe even your own toilet paper.

6. You might still have status with airline and hotel loyalty programs

Ah, the aggravating feeling of finally reaching airline status in December 2019, only to never take a single flight in 2020. Happily, your status might not actually be lost.

Many travel rewards programs have changed elite status rules in consumers’ favor and have extended the duration of how long customers hold status before needing to requalify. Others have reduced qualification requirements, and some programs have done both — extended benefits and reduced requalification requirements.

Before you give up hope that you never actually got to take advantage of your elite status, check whether it was extended (or at least, how far off you are from earning or maintaining it).

7. You’ll need a negative COVID-19 test to return to the U.S

International travel is still difficult at the moment, and it’s unclear when that will change. Many countries are not accepting foreign tourists. To enter the U.S. from another country — even if you’re a U.S. citizen — you’ll need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or recovery before boarding your flight.

If you do test positive, you’ll have to stay abroad, which could lead to unanticipated travel expenses as you scramble for last-minute lodging, not to mention possible medical expenses (private health insurance may not cover expenses incurred abroad).

8. Some U.S. cities still have domestic travel restrictions

Even domestic travel can be tricky. Some cities, counties and states have travel restrictions, and they can vary dramatically from neighboring areas, adding to confusion.

You might be flying into Los Angeles International Airport, but travelers to Los Angeles County from outside of California need to self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

Yet neighboring Orange County (and John Wayne Airport) doesn't have that rule. Be sure you check and plan ahead for your specific destination.

9. Many spots still aren’t open, or operating they used to

Even without outright travel restrictions, you may find many places just aren’t operating they used to. Some regions have other rules that could impact your experience, such as indoor dining bans.

Sometimes, changes are up to the businesses themselves. For example, Cirque du Soleil is a staple of Las Vegas, but the company chose to temporarily suspend shows.

And don’t expect to get a hug from Mickey on any upcoming Disney trips.

Walt Disney World’s character experiences have been amended for social distancing, meaning characters only wave to you from terraces, parade floats or behind other barricades.

10. You may need a vaccine passport

While many countries, including the U.S., require proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter, a vaccine passport could take things a step further by digitally documenting proof that you’ve received a coronavirus vaccine in a widely accepted format.

Such passports are still in the early stages; President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January 2021 simply asking government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of them.

But vaccine passports are already popping up in some capacity, and their use is only ly to grow. The International Air Transport Association has developed an app called the IATA Travel Pass capable of showing whether passengers meet testing or vaccination requirements.

Many countries already require proof of vaccination, such as for yellow fever, to enter. As coronavirus vaccines become more widely available, be prepared for the possibility that you may be required to be vaccinated to enter certain countries.

The bottom line

It’s certainly encouraging to see coronavirus cases dropping, but that doesn’t mean travel is going back to 2019’s version of normal. Some changes — consumer-friendly cancellation policies — are clearly for the better, but some might be for the worse (so long, buffets). Either way, whether you’re planning travel for this spring, summer or further into the future, expect a new normal.

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