Will you be able to travel in 2021? Here's what you need to know:
With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out across the world, people are starting to think about booking vacations again. But even with light appearing at the end of the tunnel, should you feel safe about making 2021 travel reservations?
“I really want to book a trip so I have something to look forward to, but it feels too uncertain right now,” said Kim Easton, who was a semi-frequent traveler before the pandemic. “I am waiting to be vaccinated and, honestly, for Dr. Fauci to tell me it’s safe.”
Plan for later in the year
Most travel experts suggest making plans for later in the year now. Most people currently planning trips are eyeing summer and later departures, says Justin Wood, REI’s Senior Manager of Adventure Travel. If complications arise, clients can always cancel or reschedule, often with no financial penalty. (More on this later.)
REI Travel began running trips again toward the end of last year, following expert-recommended precautions – mask wearing, social distancing, daily temperature taking, and so on. Even with the vaccine being rolled out, expect most outfitters to continue these practices for at least the remainder of 2021, and maybe a few more pre-booking requirements added. Some companies might mandate quarantining and a negative test right before departure, while others, later in the year, may require proof that the traveler has received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Trips that require gathering in crowded, indoor spaces should probably be avoided for the foreseeable future. Outdoor-adventure trips, like bike touring or hiking a remote national forest, may be the safest option, with the necessary precautions in place.
Where To Go?
Budget Travel recommends planning all 2021 travel within the USA - we've been helping people Rediscover America since the pandemic began. International borders are largely closed to American travelers, with no timeframes for reopening.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the virus, places that are safe at the time of booking might be hot spots by the time your vacation rolls around. Countries that had done remarkable jobs mitigating the virus early on – Japan and South Korea, for example – saw their number of infections rise as the temperatures fell and people began spending more time indoors.
“My feeling is that people won’t think seriously about booking international tours until we’re reached a critical mass of vaccinated people — not necessarily herd immunity but enough to see all the numbers starting to decrease,” said Jim Johnson, owner of BikeTours.com, which offers clients one-stop shopping for nearly 70 bike tour companies across Europe. “Of course, borders need to be open as well. But don’t wait too long to book international tours. Many Americans don’t realize that many European tour companies have at least passable fall seasons. I’d recommend that people book now (after) checking the cancellation and postponement policies of the tour company.”
But domestic travel doesn’t come without risks either. Don’t automatically assume most precautions will be eased or lifted by the end of the year. So far, the U.S. vaccine rollout has gone much slower than anticipated (although that’s likely to change with the new administration) and an unfortunately large number of people have announced they intend to not get the shots. Please closely follow the CDC and the health department of your destination to find out the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Focus on Activity, Not Destination
While the pandemic rages, Wood says travelers are booking travel based on activities – say hiking, cycling, and paddling – more so than specific destinations.
“By their very nature, bicycle tours consist of small groups maintaining their distance most of the day,” Johnson said. “This is especially true on self-guided tours where you ride with people you know and choose when and where to stop. Likewise, bike tours take place outdoors in open spaces, and frequently in rural settings. Lower concentrations of people and freer flow of air both reduce contagion.”
Many outfitters already focused on small-group travel before the pandemic, and those groups may get even smaller in 2021.Wood says private departures for families and close friends are increasing popular, as REI has dropped the price, making it comparable to a standard group trip.
Self-guided trips, where individuals or small groups travel on their own using a pre-created itinerary, have also increased in popularity during the pandemic and will likely continue to be one of the preferred ways to travel in 2021, Johnson says. As the pandemic continues to rage on, Johnson established a sister company, Bike the South (https://www.bike-the-south.com/), that will offer guided, self-guided and supported bicycle tours in the Southeast. That site will launch later this month and start tours in April.
Will You Be Able to Get Your Money Back If Covid is Still Raging?
Most domestic airlines are forgoing change or cancellation fees until at least March 31 (assuming your new departure dates are within a year of the originals) and may extend the policy further into 2021. Be sure to search the airline’s website for specific details before you book your flight.
Many large hotel chains had fairly lenient cancellation policies even before the pandemic. But if you’re staying at an independently owned hotel or airbnb, you may not be able to cancel without incurring a penalty. Likewise, outfitters will have their own individual cancellation policies.
Buying travel insurance might seem like a wise precaution, but beware. While it might help you if you’re diagnosed with Covid before or during your trip, you may be out of luck if you get cold feet because your vacation location is in the middle of a pandemic hot spot. Before buying a policy, be sure to check the policy or discuss with an agent your concerns.
USA to require negative COVID-19 test for all arriving international travelers
On Tuesday, the CDC announced a new requirement that anyone flying to the US must show a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed entry to the United States. The order takes effect in two weeks, on January 26, 2021. It applies to US citizens as well as foreign travelers. The order requires arriving air passengers to show proof of a negative COVID test within 3 days of their flight to the US. Alternatively, travelers can show proof that they've had the disease in the past and recovered, or that they have been vaccinated. Americans are banned from traveling to most countries across the world, and countries that do allow Americans to enter have required negative COVID tests since mid-2020. The move begs the question: why weren't we doing this before? COVID is already widespread in the United States. On Tuesday, 230,000 new cases were reported, alongside 4,406 deaths. International travel is down an estimated 75% from prior years, due to restrictions in place around the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disneyland to be converted to COVID-19 vaccination site
Orange County California officials have announced that Disneyland Resort in Anaheim will be converted into a Point-of-Dispersing site for COVID-19 vaccines. “The Disneyland Resort, the largest employer in the heart of Orange County, has stepped up to host the county’s first Super POD site – undertaking a monumental task in our vaccination distribution process,” said acting Chairman Andrew Do, First District. “We truly appreciate the support of the Orange County Fire Authority, our cities, and our residents as we continue to rollout COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the county.”Known as “Super POD” sites, the five regional Super PODs will have the capacity to vaccinate thousands of residents each day. The Super PODs will increase efficiency and provide multiple vaccine distribution points throughout Orange County. The County will announce additional Super POD sites as agreements are finalized. “I’m proud to have Disneyland Resorts and the City of Anaheim, both in my Fourth District, be the first of the Super POD sites in Orange County,” said Supervisor Doug Chaffee. “Residents in my district have been highly impacted by COVID-19. These Super PODs are absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus.” Vaccine distribution is managed through a phased, tiered approach established by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Currently, vaccinations are available to Orange County residents and those who work in Orange County who meet the criteria for what is referred to as “Phase 1a, all tiers.” This group includes law enforcement first responders in high-risk communities and was recently expanded to include those age 75 and older. We are excited to serve this group as a priority population. The County is working in collaboration with community partners to create a process that reaches seniors close to home and best serves these individuals. “It's important to vaccinate as many willing people as possible for COVID-19, and we need the space to do it,” said Supervisor Donald P. Wagner, Third District. “I thank Disneyland Resort and the City of Anaheim for stepping up in the shared effort to give OC residents protection against the virus.” The first Super POD at the Disneyland Resort will be operational later this week. Most of those eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1a will be contacted through their employer to schedule an appointment via a third-party app developed in cooperation with the County of Orange.“In order to ensure a smooth and effective distribution of the vaccine as quickly as possible, it is so important that Orange County residents have the information they need on who, and when, they are eligible to receive the vaccine, and where they can go to receive it,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Fifth District. “We will have several sites across the county, including South County, and information on these locations will be available shortly. Please stay tuned to https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-vaccination-distribution for the latest information on vaccine distribution sites. In the meantime, please remain vigilant and protect you and your loved ones by practicing social distancing, good hygiene and wearing your masks.”
How the largest hotel chains are giving back amid a pandemic
All around the world, hotels and travel companies have been doing what they can to help communities affected by the pandemic and show appreciation for essential workers and healthcare staff working to make a difference in the fight against Covid-19. From familiar hotel brands and B&Bs to wineries and corporate travel companies, here’s a look at some of the ways they’ve helped support small businesses and keep hope alive this year. Hyatt Hyatt has been pretty busy this year, with roughly 60 properties worldwide helping small businesses stay afloat with a new initiative called Hyatt Loves Local. Here in the U.S., Hyatt Regency Atlanta offered complimentary use of its kitchen and lobby spaces to support Anna Bell’s Mac & Cheese, while Andaz West Hollywood let local business Barcode Barbershop take over its rooftop for two months of outdoor haircuts and styling treatments. Other Hyatt hotels, like Motif Seattle and Grand Hyatt Vail, helped community businesses open onsite pop-ups—a mobile coffee cart for Monorail Espresso in Seattle and a pop-up shop for women’s clothing boutique Wild Heart in Vail—while Gild Hall in New York City arranged for BACH Fitness to host socially distant yoga and pilates classes so the company could stay open. Hyatt is also offering a special Friends & Family rate as a way to show appreciation for healthcare workers when they book with promo code THANKYOU on stays now through September 12, 2021. World of Hyatt loyalty program members can also donate Hyatt points toward free stays for healthcare staff and other frontline workers. Hilton Hilton’s approach has been a little different, with many individual properties offering ways to give back in addition to larger-scale corporate efforts made earlier this year, like donating one million rooms to medical professionals, partnering with World Central Kitchen and other worldwide endeavors. Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino is donating $25 per night to one of two local charities when you book a Give Back Aruba package, while a portion of Forest Therapy spa treatments at Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead will go to Trees Atlanta, which supports the conservation and creation of green spaces around the city. In Colorado, The Curtis is donating $5 from every Don’t Eat Yellow Snow package to the Ronald McDonald House of Denver. Just in time for Christmas, three hotels—Conrad New York Downtown, Conrad Washington, D.C. and Conrad Dublin—are partnering with local children’s hospitals to host a “Hotline to the North Pole,” on December 23 and 24, a video conference link letting little ones chat with Santa Claus. Members of Hilton’s loyalty program can aso redeem Hilton Honors points for donations to several charities and nonprofit organizations by linking their account with partner site, PointWorthy. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG Hotels & Resorts) Besides allowing IHG Rewards Club members to donate their IHG points to charitable causes like the American Red Cross, Goodwill and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, IHG has been doing its part to recognize the efforts of essential workers around the world, awarding complimentary stays to those who deserve it most. One essential worker in the U.K., for instance, was given a surprise trip to the Hotel Indigo Stratford-Upon-Avon after missing her 26th wedding anniversary because the healthcare facility where she worked made her stay there for 12 weeks. Marriott As a way to show appreciation for the brave men and women working on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19, Marriott is offering special rates for Community Caregivers—healthcare workers, first responders and their families—at participating properties within the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. To get the discount, qualified essential workers can book stays by March 31, 2021, and must show valid identification from your medical, government, military or relief organization when they check in. The Copper Door B&B and Rosie’s Pop-Up in Miami While Jamila Ross and Akino West, owners of The Copper Door B&B in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood, have been forced to make some adjustments this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic—the B&B’s legendary communal breakfast has since evolved into Rosie’s, a pop-up restaurant where guests can save 20%—they’re still paying it forward. The two hospitality entrepreneurs made headlines earlier this year when they cooked and delivered weekly meals to volunteers at the local World Central Kitchen outpost, Red Rooster, and it’s something they’ve continued to do ever since. Today, The Copper Door B&B is operating at 50% capacity with Covid-safe measures in place while Rosie’s remains open for brunch, serving up Soul Food classics like shrimp & grits and chicken & waffles as well as Italian-inspired dishes like Southern-style polenta and lemon ricotta pancakes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. TripActions Corporate travel and expense management company TripActions found yet another meaningful way to give back to its local community this year. When students in San Francisco neighborhoods hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly found themselves having to attend school from home, many of them without the proper equipment or Wi-Fi access, TripActions’ Head of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Shaka Senghor led the company’s efforts to donate more than 100 laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots and other technology through its partnerships with Hack the Hood, Climb Hire and Burton High School. The donations helped ensure students enrolled in tech training programs would have what they needed to continue their studies, including mentorship opportunities, while students at Burton High School were given the option to have monthly care packages with snacks sent to their homes. Kendall-Jackson Wines Earlier this fall, Sonoma County based winery Kendall-Jackson partnered with United Way Worldwide to create the Grocery Worker’s Relief Fund in an effort to provide up to $250 in cash cards and other pandemic-related emergency assistance via United Way’s 211 crisis services to essential workers currently employed by supermarkets and retail stores with grocery departments. So far, Kendall-Jackson has pledged $200,000 for the first year, committing to $2 million in support through August 2030.
Hawaii launches new remote work program
Hawaii has just launched a new "travel" program focused on remote work from the Hawaiian Islands. The state/private-supported program, "Movers & Shakas” will initially provide 50 FREE roundtrip flights to Oahu to pre-employed people who must stay a minimum of one month. In exchange, they need to give a few hours/week to a nonprofit that fits their skillset. So there is a great volunteer component for those looking to give back while traveling. Additional incentives include discounted rates with hotels, restaurants, etc. Deadline to apply is Dec. 15. The goal of the program is to help boost Hawaii's economy outside of traditional tourism - especially with how dependent/impacted Hawaii is on air travel and recent/new mainland state travel restrictions. Hawaii has one of the lowest COVID-19 rates, so working in a safe environment is another positive. “Working from Hawaii can provide a much needed respite from the isolation and burnout caused by remote work,” said Jason Higa, CEO of FCH Enterprises, parent company of Zippy's and one of the driving forces behind Movers & Shakas. “With the lowest rate per capita of COVID infections in the country, and an abundance of social distancing activities and dining experiences, Hawaii is ideal for those seeking a safe place to work and play.”