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Travel In An Endemic World

J.D. O’Hara is the Chief Executive Officer of Internova Travel Group, one of the largest travel services companies in the world.

Do you ever wonder if the world will ever be fully rid of Covid-19? Maybe we won’t. But it’s not darkening my optimism for travelers and the travel industry.

Experts are predicting that Covid-19 is likely to morph into an endemic phase, with localized outbreaks like measles versus fast-spreading viruses that define global pandemics. Vaccines, new treatments for those who fall ill and shorter recommended quarantine periods could also help tame the Covid-19 beast.

That’s a win for travel.

A look at the U.S. Travel Association’s “Monthly Travel Data Report” from March shows travel’s resiliency in the face of the virus. U.S. travel spending during December reached $92 billion—just 2% below levels during the same month in 2019 before the pandemic. That’s incredible when you consider that we were, by no means, done with Covid-19 in December. By the end of that month, the virus had sent nearly three times as many people to hospitals than in the middle of July.

Here’s more optimism from the U.S. Travel Association: More than 80% of American travelers are excited to travel in the next 12 months. And 89% of businesses plan to send out travelers over the next 90 days.

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These statistics tell me that, at this stage in the pandemic, travelers may be assessing their risks and booking anyway.

Here at Internova Travel Group, leisure travel bookings continue to be strong, especially for all-inclusive vacations, where guests often gather in outdoor settings but in a contained environment. Even when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel risk advisory for cruise travel was at its highest level, Internova Travel Group—and other agencies—nonetheless saw strong cruise bookings. This trend demonstrates a continued vote of confidence among travelers in cruise lines’ considerable commitment to health and safety.

Before boarding a ship, you must provide proof of vaccination and show a negative test. Some restrictions, however, are easing. The CDC recently lowered its warning status for cruise travel. The agency also changed its voluntary sailing order, a set of pandemic guidelines for ships that sail in U.S. waters. Now passengers don’t have to wear masks on ships when at least 95% of crew members and passengers (over age 5) are vaccinated.

Despite travelers’ confidence—and resulting strong bookings—all this could change if the government enacts new measures for new outbreaks of Covid-19 variants. In those cases, those in the travel industry should work closely with local officials to understand the restrictions and make their voice heard on how this will impact their businesses by, for example, advocating for fine-tuned action, such as travel restrictions for the unvaccinated versus a complete border closing.

Hopefully, we are near the end of Covid-19’s pandemic stage. I’d like to see it go away completely but we may, rather, have to live with it as a less-severe endemic virus. If that proves to be the case, when outbreaks of a mild variant occur, I’d like to see the travel industry work with governments and public health agencies to move toward less severe travel restrictions when possible. That way, we can keep travelers—and the public at large—safe with the least possible damage to travel companies, jobs and the economy.

Let’s work together to keep travel safe.

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