DALLAS – A week before her vacation to Aruba in the middle of a global pandemic, Lisa began her research into Aruba’s travel guidelines and requirements. She discovered she’d need to submit a negative COVID test within 72 hours of her departure date of Oct. 24 and immediately scheduled an appointment at a local testing center for Oct. 20.
After months of seldom leaving her house despite grocery shopping and dining outdoors, Lisa was ready to “get back out there and live.” She’d wear a mask and practice social distancing, so she felt she was being as responsible as she could be.
“With the ‘new normal’ of heightened travel safety and cleanliness protocols, it is very important that our visitors and the Aruban people work together to make sure we ‘do it right,’” Lisa read from the Aruba Travel website.
To ensure she didn’t miss any important requirements, Lisa Levitt, 50, consulted her travel agent, Carolyn Harvey, who just so happened to be her lifelong friend and invited her to travel to Aruba with her. “It gave me more peace of mind working with a travel agent when planning my vacation during the pandemic,” Lisa said. “There’s so much you just don’t think of on your own.”
The travel industry has been majorly impacted since the start of the pandemic, so travelers and travel agents are working closely now more than ever before to ensure safe travel and the industry’s recovery.
“Although my friend and travel agent, Carolyn, helped, I was glad I did my own research,” Lisa said. “I knew traveling during a pandemic wasn’t a perfect idea, but I felt secure knowing officials have done their homework to ensure that people who do decide to travel are cautious.”
Harvey owns and works as a travel consultant at Caribella Travel. She has a decade of experience helping clients “through any kind of travel crisis and ensuring they get home safely.”
Since she considers COVID-19 to be a “new kind of crisis in the travel world,” she has attended training sessions and weekly webinars while staying engaged with clients, tour operators and other advisors through social media. “Countries all have their own set of protocols, so it’s imperative to stay on top of the changes, stay connected on social media and do constant education,” Harvey said.
As a travel consultant, Harvey believes it’s important for her to continue traveling now more than ever. “Clients are beginning to travel again, or at least think about travel,” she said. “I traveled to Mexico in August, Aruba last week, Nevada next week and Turks and Caicos at the end of the month. My social media response has been positive, even if it’s just getting people excited about the possibility of traveling again soon.” Her goal is to let her clients and followers know that she’s there to help when they’re ready and comfortable to travel.
Tanya Mathis, owner and travel planner at M&M Magical Adventures, specializes in helping dream-seekers plan trips to Disney Destinations. She has had to communicate new procedures to her clients who decided to keep their Disney vacations for 2020.
“The pandemic has caused everyone to adapt to their situations, and traveling to Walt Disney World is no different,” she said. “Disney prioritizes the health and safety of others; and booking Disney trips with a travel agent is more important now than ever before because we are here to provide the most up-to-date information to ensure you are informed.”
Mathis and her family have returned to Disney World twice during the pandemic. They have felt safer than shopping at the local grocery store, she said. “Experiencing Disney World firsthand allows me to not only explain to my clients any recent changes, but I am able to show them through social media posts while at the parks.”
Walt Disney World was closed for nearly four months at the start of the pandemic, “but the magic is still alive at Disney!” said Mathis. “Just seeing the Princess parade come by and all the little girls squeal with excitement is something COVID can never take away!”
Mathis and Harvey have expressed how impressed they are with current cleanliness procedures. “Honestly, the world seems much safer now than before with regard to cleanliness in airports, airplanes, hotels and transportation,” Harvey said. They’ve noticed stricter sterilization procedures; masks being worn everywhere by all employees in the travel and hospitality industries; and many resorts have implemented new standards in HEPA air filters, cleaning, handling luggage and food serving.
Levitt has noticed airlines using “more or less of the same safety protocols.” While in Aruba, the Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort even used UV light during disinfecting procedures, making her feel “extra safe.” Additionally, “all resorts, restaurants and casinos were cashless, and we wore masks whenever possible.”
Travel agencies are growing more hopeful about the future of travel, even though COVID-19 may not go anywhere anytime soon.
“We’re seeing an upward trend in travel at this time,” Mathis said. “Even as the pandemic continues, we’re expecting a good chance of a turnaround in the industry, and we can be on our way to an economic comeback.”
With the travel industry growing more knowledgeable and strategic in its consultations throughout the pandemic, people are excited to consider traveling again.
“I believe people will always be traveling,” Harvey said. “What we saw between March and May was pretty devastating for the industry. That being said, I think most of us feel more prepared for the future of travel because of it!”
“I chose to travel during a global pandemic. Who would’ve thought?” said Levitt. “However, I had a wonderful vacation to Aruba, and it gave me a much-needed sense of hope. I am looking forward to seeing the travel industry make a resurgence in the near future. I did my research and was as responsible as I could be, so I hope people will start thinking of traveling again, if they haven’t already.”