As more and more travelers are getting vaccinated and vaccines are being approved for children aged 5 and up, families, although cautious, have finally begun planning those trips they had put off for so long. Unfortunately, things are not as simple as they used to be when planning a vacation and that is why so many families have turned to using travel advisors for the first time.
Scientists say that we are extremely unlikely to eradicate this virus, so our planning for safety and preparedness needs to evolve to meet it. And while a travel consultant can’t guard against every eventuality, they can tip the odds in your favor by managing your journey for COVID and risk.
Elevate Destinations has identified some key questions travelers should note when organizing their next adventure.
What is the State Department’s assessment of your destination?
While the State Department’s travel alerts are annoyingly general and vague, it is a good place to start your research. Their warning system ranges from 1 to 4. If a destination is rated at a 4, “do not travel” you might want to pause on visiting that destination. Travel advisors should be able to easily gather this information for you but you can always solicit it on the State Department’s website. Levels 2 and 3 deserve more nuanced consideration when it comes to understanding the risk and safety of a particular destination. Your travel consultant should be able to help you decipher and contextualize the source of those warnings.
What are the entry requirements for a destination?
Pre-COVID, entry to a country was mainly focused on visas. There were a few destinations that required proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination but with a global pandemic, the game has now changed. Some destinations aren’t yet open to international tourists. Some require a vaccination, others require a vaccination and booster, and several require PCR tests conducted within specific timeframes. There are even some destinations that still require you to quarantine. How easy or difficult a country is to visit will play a huge role in traveler decision making in 2022 and it is essential that you allow your travel consultant to support you in understanding all of the local requirements and help guide your decision.
What local restrictions are in place?
In addition to entry requirements, travelers need to be informed of government policies that are in place to curb the spread of the virus. Understanding lockdowns, curfews, masking, temperature checks and driving restrictions are crucial to the planning process. There are some destinations that have very strict policies in place, but tourists are exempt from some or all of these restrictions. Knowing what rules are in place to protect the public and who is obligated to follow them are factors in deciding if you want to travel to that destination and will guide your actions as a responsible traveler.
Do you need travel or medical insurance to enter?
Part of being a responsible traveler today is getting travel insurance. If you want to understand how to navigate this, please explore our blog on this subject. It is important to know what each destination mandates in terms of medical insurance. Government policies are often requiring a certain amount of medical coverage in order to visit. Knowing what this mandated coverage is and what the additional cost is to travelers is key to planning a travel budget.
What is the vaccination status of your local hosts?
Vaccine inequity and access are currently a challenge in many countries. However, some destinations have prioritized tourism professionals for the vaccine in order to help curb the impact of the virus. Your travel consultant should be able to verify if your guide, driver, or staff at organizations you are visiting will be vaccinated. This is more difficult to assess at restaurants or lodges but is still worthwhile to ask.
How are COVID rates trending in the destination?
While everyone hopes that the worst of this pandemic is behind us, no one has a crystal ball, but we do have access to good data. It is important to take a look at the overall trends in COVID rates. This is something your travel advisor should be able to illustrate for you. If you want to do this independently, we recommend sourcing this date from the World Health Organization.
Is COVID testing readily available in my destination? How long does it take to get results? And where can I get tested before returning to the United States?
Any country that wants to reopen to international tourists has had to work on getting testing facilities running and a reasonable turnaround time for results. However, the availability of testing locations varies dramatically from location to location. Your travel consultant can put a plan in place for your departure test as well as any other regions that may require proof of a negative COVID test. Some destinations have a quick 6 to 8 hours turn around, others may take up to 24 hours, and still, others take 72. Understanding the ease or challenge of COVID testing and having a plan for testing in significant stay in a destination can help mitigate confusion, stress and, lost time. The cost of testing varies as well, and in some cases, you need cash to pay for your test, so this is another trip planning and budgeting element that is important to be clear on before your trip.
If I get COVID, where am I expected to quarantine?
While most vaccinated travelers are having positive travel experiences it is always better to be prepared than surprised when traveling. At Elevate Destinations, we research the preferred locations of where our travelers can quarantine if need be. It might be the hotel they are staying at, a government-mandated hotel, a private health center or a government-mandated hospital. The last thing someone needs if they test positive is any stress involved in where to quarantine. Your travel consultant should have this mapped out about two weeks in advance of your departure since these locations often change.
Does the destination have enough ICU beds?
While no one wants to end up in the hospital, if you do, you want to make sure they have the capacity to handle your needs. The availability of ICU beds at hospitals is a new and important factor that travel agents should use to assess a destination’s ability to handle a crisis.
The reality is that our relationship with this virus is still in its infancy and part of moving forward is doing so with new safety measures and precautions in place. We hope these new practices in assessing a destination and preparing for travel, combined with physical distancing and masking, will help bring travelers back to exploring the world safely.