How two American cities are encouraging safe travel in the era of COVID-19
Around the United States cities are starting to roll back COVID-19 pandemic-fueled regulations and encourage stateside travel. The States just surpassed 2 million cases of COVID-19 and many states are seeing an uptick of new cases. Non-essential travel is still not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Before you book a trip be sure to check the status of coronavirus at the destination you’re visiting to make an educated decision about whether it’s worth the risk. It’s too soon to tell if reopening destinations for tourism is wise, yet many destinations are moving forward and implementing new health and sanitation practices to keep locals and visitors safe. Here is how two major US cities are moving forward with tourism operations in the time of COVID-19.
Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism board, has announced the Tourism & Hospitality Forward program in hopes of responsibly welcoming travelers to visit Chicago to stimulate the local tourism industry and expedite the city’s economic recovery after COVID-19 restrictions. Chicago has seen a decrease in COVID-19 cases and is in its third phase of reopening and has lifted the previous stay-at-home order.
“Our first priority is to promote socially responsible tourism. We will demonstrate to our guests that through the operational changes and precautions taken, it is safe to enjoy Chicago again,” Glenn Eden, Chair of the Choose Chicago Board of Directors, said in a press release. A major component of the program will be encouraging staycations and engaging locals to explore the Windy City. Seasonal initiatives will target leisure travelers from neighboring states.
Over 250 local tourism and hospitality businesses have pledged to adhere to socially responsible tourism and hospitality. The program has established best practices and safety measures for the health and safety of residents and visitors when cultural institutions, hotels, attractions, and restaurants return to regular business. The city is working directly with museums, attractions, festivals, and sporting events to collaborate with the long-term Reopening and Recovery Task Force. The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association is keeping team members and guests safe when travel resumes with increased cleanliness and safety standards.
The Illinois Restaurant Association reported that by mid-April fifty-five percent of the state's industry employees were laid off or furloughed. As hotels and eateries begin to reopen, tourists can expect to see them adhere to public health guidance. They’ll be required to implement contactless options, use protective gear, and rearrange their physical space to increase social distancing. All staff must wear face masks and receive proper PPE training.
Restaurants are encouraged to use disposable menus, containers, and condiments, although those single-use items are terrible for the environment. Anything non-disposable must be sanitized between each use including table and chairs. There can only be six guests per table and the tables must be six feet apart or have physical barriers.
Accommodations must clean high contact surfaces frequently, provide housekeeping only upon request, and remove non-single use items from guest rooms and public spaces. Social distancing is regulated at Chicago’s parks and gardens using physical barriers to regulate the flow of foot traffic. Activities are limited to non-contact sports and playgrounds remain closed.
Amber Gibson is a travel writer in Chicago who is fine with the city welcoming tourists. “Small businesses really need the business now and I think businesses that have opened up are taking all the proper precautions. I wish airports would take temperatures of arriving guests. This seems like a simple enough procedure to implement,” she said.
Visit Music City, Nashville’s tourism board, reported that approximately 50% of the local tourism and hospitality are currently unemployed. In addition to the pandemic, the city is also recovering from a deadly tornado. Unfortunately, Nashville is currently seeing a slight increase in new COVID-19 cases.
Nashville Tennessee at sunset. Photo by Laura Brown
Nashville resident Tomiko Harvey is hesitant about her city reopening. “Gatherings of 25 or more are still banned and residents are asked to continue social distancing but most residents aren’t adhering to the rules. I’m taking precautions by using hand sanitizer, wearing a face mask, and limiting time in public places because health officials warn that getting back to normal too soon will not be without consequences,” she said
Music City is hoping to move into phase three of their reopening plan within the next two weeks. Some measures include that masks must be worn in public, restaurants will be open at full capacity, bars open at half capacity, and socially distant live music performances. Retail businesses and services like nail salons and tattoo parlors will be open at full capacity. All staff at any of the aforementioned businesses are required to be screened daily and wear face masks. Large sports and music venues will remain closed but museums will be allowed to welcome visitors.
To prepare for reopening tourism, Vanderbilt Health and Ryman Hospitality have created a citywide Good to Go program aimed to keep visitors and community members healthy. The program provides uniform industry guidelines and comprehensive toolkits for businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses have been granted free access to Vanderbilt's leading infectious disease experts who are available to provide guidance on best practices, the latest research and public health guidance, and answer questions about reopening. Participating businesses will be easily identifiable with a green music note signage displayed on their website and at their locations.
Tourists who want to visit Nashville can check out listings on the Good to Go website to find hotels, attractions, venues, and restaurants that meet the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) and CDC guidelines. “We encourage every business in Nashville to join Good to Go. We want to show the world that through cooperation and collaboration, Nashville is safe and sound,” Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of NCVC, said in a press release. Spyridon wants Good to Go to give all who live and come to Nashville confidence and peace of mind.
Lola Méndez is a sustainable travel advocate who writes the responsible lifestyle blog Miss Filatelista.
Riddle of hidden treasure chest is finally solved with a Rocky Mountains discovery
The famed millionaire art and antiques collector, Forrest Fenn, kicked off a popular treasure hunt ten years ago by hiding a bronze chest filled with gold, rubies, diamonds and prehistoric jewels in a secret spot in the Rocky Mountains. And after teasing out cryptic clues to its whereabouts over the years Mr Fenn revealed in a surprise statement on Sunday that the search is finally over: the treasure has been discovered. "It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than ten years ago," Fenn said in a statement to a blog run by treasure hunter Dal Neitzel. "I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot." Mr Fenn never revealed exactly where it was hidden but he did post clues to its whereabouts online and within the stanzas of a poem he published in his 2010 memoir The Thrill of the Chase, which included the lines: Begin it where warm waters haltAnd take it in the canyon down,Not far, but too far to walk.Put in below the home of Brown. The popular quest had drawn droves of people to the New Mexico Rocky Mountains over the past decade, eager to make the discovery. It even inspired an annual gathering known as Fennboree, where treasure hunters and their families camped out, celebrated and swapped maps and clues. Even though the riddle of the lost treasure been solved, one mystery remains: the identity of the person who discovered the bounty. Mr Fenn told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the man did not want to be named but claimed that he had confirmed his success in the quest by sending Mr Fenn photographs of the chest's contents. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
Revealed: The Destinations People Are Itching to Get Back to ASAP
Instagram isn’t just about sharing the moment. It’s also about nostalgia for the past. And among hashtags such as #ThrowbackThursday and #FlashbackFriday, you’ll find a very specific trend: the cry to #TakeMeBack! The #TakeMeBack hashtag is a bittersweet celebration of past vacations. Nothing satisfies those wanderlust cravings quite like re-posting a forgotten holiday snap and breathing fresh digital life into a place that holds special memories. With the travel industry currently paused around the world, these moments are more precious than ever. SavingSpot used Instagram data to identify the destinations that travelers miss the most. To do this, the team extracted location data from Instagram posts with the #TakeMeBack hashtag and organized it by location. 10 U.S. cities travelers miss the most: 1. New York, New York2. Orlando, Florida3. Los Angeles, California4. Las Vegas, Nevada5. Honolulu, Hawaii6. San Francisco, California7. Miami Beach, Florida8. Miami, Florida9. Lake Buena Vista, Florida10. San Diego, California10 U.S states travelers miss the most:1. California2. Florida3. New York4. Hawaii5. Nevada6. Arizona7. Colorado8. Texas9. Utah10. Washington 10 National Parks travelers miss the most: 1. Yosemite (California)2. Grand Canyon (Arizona)3. Zion (Utah)4. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)5. Glacier (Montana)6. Sequoia (California)7. Death Valley (California)8. Yellowstone (Wyoming)9. Bryce Canyon (Utah)10. Joshua Tree (California)This project is part of a series of content campaigns commissioned by frugal living blog SavingSpot (managed by the CashNetUSA team). As travelers around the globe anxiously wait for when they can safely go on trips again, the team tapped into Instagram to create the ultimate source of armchair travel inspiration that any reader can lose themselves in. If you want to dig into the data yourself, the dataset is available on https://bit.ly/TakeMeBackData
Checking in on evacuated Peace Corps members
The call for American citizens to return to the United States came about suddenly and urgently at the beginning of March, 2020. Americans who were working, studying, and volunteering abroad had to improvise logistics to return to the U.S. One notable organization that had a complex issue of safely returning members from more than 60 countries is the Peace Corps. Their struggle and circumstances Many volunteers were evacuated very suddenly with no opportunity to secure stable accommodations or health care upon their arrival home. They were forced to leave the local communities they’d integrated into and grown to love, many in the middle of long term initiatives. Returning home from an extended period of time can always bring feelings of reverse culture shock, especially when serving poverty-stricken or remote communities that many serve in. But especially for these recently evacuated volunteers, returning home to rising COVID-19 rates, vast unemployment, and a sense of instability that resonated from the general public through our political leaders. What are they doing now? Stephanie Erestera, a 23-year-old who had plans to continue her Peace Corps service in the Philippines until September 2020, immediately started searching for work. For the past year or so she’s been an educator and mentor to local teachers, and now faces uncertainty on many levels, though she’s happy she’s able to move back in with her parents for the time being. While she says she knows that it’s not an ideal job market to come back to, especially in her home town of Boise, Idaho, she “feels like it’s like that for a lot of Americans right now”. Unexpected and involuntarily evacuated from Bicaj, Albania, Pawnee Maiden, a 24-year-old volunteer teacher, says she left behind a host family, students, friends, and coworkers that she’d expected to engage with for another year. She’s found the transition experience to be extremely hard and painful but has high hopes that she’ll be able to return and finish her service. Having returned to the DMV area, she’s now focusing her giving heart and love of service to her foster dog, Sherwin. However, not all Peace Corps volunteers are in their 20’s. Adam Greenberg, 34, was volunteering in Zambia with his partner working on sustainable food sources. They had actually considered staying in Zambia instead of returning to the U.S., even if that meant no financial or logistical support from the Peace Corps. However, they ultimately decided that the better decision for Zambia’s infrastructure was for them to return home. Luckily, Greenberg says, they have enough savings to temporarily get by, though he will have to begin looking for work to pay the bills, another hurdle in itself as more than 26.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March. Many returned service-people have also found themselves in Tim Feng’s complex situation. Feng, 23, returned to the U.S. from Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand where he served as an educator, but had to consider his high-risk parents in his last-minute planning. For their safety he ultimately decided to quarantine himself in a short-term rental apartment that he paid for out of pocket. Feng would also love to return to his service, but for now he is doing what he can to find stability here at home. He’s spent his time revamping his resume, seeking job opportunities, looking into higher education options, and the like. How Peace Corps volunteers might continue to serve their community The good news for Peace Corps volunteers is that they might be just the perfect people to continue to serve by supporting their fellow Americans. From their international experiences, Peace Corps volunteers are adept at “creating order out of chaos”, as the Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security so eloquently put in their recent returned Peace Corps volunteer study. Returned volunteers have real-world experience in establishing a routine, adapting to drastic change, and have experience coping with isolated/distanced from loved ones for extended time periods. As returned volunteers continue to look toward the future, every day brings news and renewed hope—the Peace Corps recently announced that there will be an expedited application for recently evacuated volunteers who are interested in returning to service that will be announced in early June. Peace Corps Comment When asked to comment, a Peace Corps spokesperson gave the following statement: “The Peace Corps continues to support evacuated Volunteers—providing evacuation and readjustment allowances, a wellness stipend, extended health insurance, health and quarantine instructions and resources, information and webinars for federal government job opportunities, job postings for other private sector positions, and graduate school options. Importantly, Volunteers who were evacuated will qualify for Non-Competitive Eligibility (or NCE), which makes it easier from them to join the federal workforce. They will also qualify for Coverdell Fellowships available for graduate school study. Volunteers who seek to return to their host countries or seek a new assignment will be given expedited consideration over the next year. For more information, please go to https://www.peacecorps.gov/coronavirus/.”
How hotels are adapting to the new reality of COVID-19
Covid 19 has changed the world. From the minutia of our daily lives to how we plan, the coronavirus has pierced the very heart of society. Hotels, travel, and the general service industry has been hit particularly hard at this time, making an inherently social experience almost impossible to deliver. But all is not lost. Owners, managers and industry leaders are coming together to figure out a way to survive, and change, giving guests and consumers the time to dream about their next trip—and hopefully make it a reality when things are safe and sanitary. From check-in, to room cleaning to mini bars to pool areas, here are how some hotels, resorts and destinations are trying to make sure everything is safe and sanitized for the future of travel. Wyndham Destinations, the world’s largest timeshare operator, is looking at a phased opening in late May. Kevin Maciulewicz, SVP of Resort Operations, says they will be limiting the number of guests to maximize social distancing, depending on the specific configuration of the resorts. “We’re actually seeing very strong demand in bookings for travel in August and beyond from owners and guests,” he says. However, “many resort amenities will remain closed for the immediate future, including swimming pools, food and beverage, fitness centers and other public spaces,” he adds. In glamping news, Peter Mack, CEO of luxury glamping disrupter Collective Retreats, believes its vacation offerings are set up to naturally allow for social distancing. And though there are no lobbies, elevators, or hallways to deal with, they company is adding staff, cleaning more frequently and offering branded bandanas to guests. In fact, Collective Hill Country, in Wimberley, TX, has remained open through the crises. “And guests seem to feel comfortable given the open-air nature of the accommodations,” he says. In New York City, one of the hardest hit areas of the country, Collective Governor’s Island is offering a “Recharge Package” where guests can book a future stay at a discounted price—with a percentage benefitting the food bank, City Harvest. And at MGM Resorts a seven-point safety plan was recently released for all their resorts—a result of months-long work with public health experts, according to Acting CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle. For employees, this includes temperature checks before entering properties along with mandatory masks and gloves. To help with social distancing, plexiglass barriers will be installed in casinos and lobbies, and in rooms, air conditioning units were recently updated to help with air quality. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only OK, it’s critically important, “says Hornbuckle. In addition, they will be offering a completely contactless check-in experience. Using a mobile app, guests will be able to check-in, pay their bill and get a digital room key via their smartphone. For those who feel uncomfortable going fully digital, employees will still be available with physical barriers to protect interactions and reduced lines, and physical keys can be made using self-serve key encoders. Of course, some hotels have decided to stay open during the crises and The Hotel Figueroa, or The Fig, a downtown fixture in Los Angeles, is adjusting to the times. Connie Wang, the hotel’s Managing Director, suggests there is minimal contact between guests and associates. “For the pool, we have positioned all furniture for appropriate social distancing of 6’ apart. Staff have been trained to fully wipe down all seating with disinfectant between guest usage, and a freshly laundered rolled towel placed at the head of our lounger is used to indicate to the next guest that it is safe to approach. We have signage to remind guests to socially distance, and staff to keep an eye out as well,” she says. In addition, they are using electrostatic sprayers with disinfectant in public areas, and UV light disinfecting technology in between guest stays. Face masks must always be worn by staff while guests are asked to don face coverings in indoor public spaces. Other, smaller hotels and resorts are also coming up with strategies for reopening, though most don’t have plans to reopen in the immediate future. To help limit interactions between guests and employees, the Harbor House Inn, in Mendocino County, CA, is considering opening only 50 percent of its rooms and allowing a “rest” day between guests. This would allow for in-depth cleaning and sanitation. And, The Inns of Aurora, in the Finger Lakes region, NY, have shifted its accommodation model to allow for full buyouts of three of the five inns on the property. Each one will be available at a base price and offer specific, customizable amenities like private chef service and grocery delivery on an a la carte basis. Check in and arrival experiences are also being reimagined and Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs plan on streamlining the arrival experience with guests before check-in, while the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, RI, will completely skip lobby and curbside check-in, providing keyless guestroom entry. For the most part, most properties are considering making in-room dining easier and more comfortable. At The Roxbury at Stratton Falls, Catskill, NY, the usual buffet-style continental breakfast will become a la carte and they are working with local restaurants and food trucks to deliver meals—all of which will be directly delivered to a guestroom door. And, not to worry, Union Grove Distillery and Roxbury Wine & Spirits will also deliver to the hotel.