In March we sat in our office with sadness of hearing that St. Pats here in town was being cancelled. But we couldn’t think much about it, as we had larger concerns that came FAST. We had a drawer full of files that were getting ready to travel for Spring Break, and 3 group tours planned. We watched the world close with little to go on. Those next several weeks all 3 of us came to work, going through hundreds of emails, hours & hours of hold time on the phones, sometimes with both work lines & personal cell phones all in queues to talk to someone, and dozens of daily webinars to find out WHAT was going on in the travel industry and what to tell our clients. While we weren’t prepared, neither were the airlines, vacation companies, or travel insurance companies. Polices were constantly changing. Some files were issued refunds that would take over 90 days to be processed, some were getting travel credits, some were needing to file insurance claims for other covered reasons. Though the travel industry had come to a halt, we were at work everyday as usual to keep updated and take care of our clients. We never had anyone stuck as we always carefully explored the protocols prior to ANYONE leaving and advised accordingly on what the options were. In our industry, most of our packages do not compensate us until after travel, so many files have been gone through multiple times without compensation. But it’s our job, and while it’s been trying, we are still there everyday with the hope of a better 2021 to keep us going. AND in the middle of all of this I even had a baby! So there were many days of 2 left at the office , and sometimes 3 ½ as many days that baby could be found tucked safely behind my desk, as there was always still work to do. We have had clients flying this summer & fall, and a few have gone to Mexico for a much needed vacation. So while the industry has been tough, we’ve been busy. Traveling is a choice and we appreciate our clients very much.
Now looking towards the future we have an entire drawer full of files that have future travel credit to use on a vacation package. Expiration dates vary, but we have some flies that have credit to use by September 2022. So we’re in this for the long haul! This has brought some positives such as new airline policy changes, relaxed cancellations, more clear terms & conditions, and new safety protocols. Just looking at the all-inclusive resorts, their new protocols are quite extensive, but really for the best in the interest of keeping staff AND guests safe. Some resorts welcome you by sanitizing your luggage, shoes, & even cell phones upon arrival. Rooms are more thoroughly disinfected. Even your remotes are disinfected and left in plastic wrapping and doors are sealed so you know you are the first to enter after being sanitized. The airlines have extensive air purifying systems. Airports have found creative ways to lessen lines. While we’re still waiting for the CDC and the cruise lines to work together, we don’t expect much until Spring 2021 for them. It’s predicted that many Americans will be ready to travel in 2021 after all they’ve been through this year, and domestic travel is supposed to be a huge hit. Along with resort destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico. As a full service travel agency, we are looking forward to assisting clients when they are ready with their big trips to an all-inclusive resort, or a flight to a state to see their family, or even more small scale packages like hotels & tour options in the black Hills, Branson, city tours, and everything in between.
Currently, some countries have restrictions for Americans to enter. These are constantly changing for us to keep caught up on. Right now Mexico is the least restrictive with a health questionnaire and screening up arrival. Dominican Republic is similar, but they have a breath test for Covid that the administer to 3-10% of tourist at random, plus anyone showing symptoms. Costa Rica requires a specific insurance to be purchased to guarantee the coverage of a quarantine & medical assistance if needed while visiting. Jamaica requires a negative Covid test taken 10 days prior to arrival, and a health form that has to be approved to be allowed on the arrival fight to their country. Some countries are even more extensive- like a covid test prior to departure, quarantine for 7 days upon arrival, and then another test on day 8, before exploring. Even Alaska and Hawaii, along with a few other states, are requiring negative tests results before entering. Every country is doing something different, which keeps us on our toes. We look at it as if you are prepared to jump through the hoops to go, that’s up to you. There is a slight problem, as our rural areas is limited on acceptable tests and the required time you have to get your test results back before travel can present a problem. We feel like we’ll continue to see these challenges, ultimately until the vaccine is ready & dispersed.
Another challenge we saw that people didn’t think much about are passports. During the lockdown, Washington DC had no one working in the office. Due to the secure information sent in with a passport, the employees couldn’t just “work from home”. So while passport applications for new & renewal kept being sent in, and none going out, the piles just kept stacking. At one point there were over a million that had not been processed. The offices have rephased back open and are slowly getting there. Routine services was originally 4-6 weeks pre-covid. Now routine service is 10-12 weeks. So if you’re passport is expiring this year or even in 2021, with or without travel plans, we recommend that you work on getting your passports updated, as it’s going to take a while to get them back.
I’m just hitting on a few points. There is no doubt hat the travel industry has taken a hit, like others, but it’s the loyal clients that keep dreaming of travel that keep us going and we strive to be in the office every day, keep updated on the latest information, and maintain and rebook our clients for a future getaway to see families or for vacations. We also are planning our 2021 group tours and keep preparing to be ready once the world is upright again. The office has been open 28 years and have seen a lot including SARS, 9-11 & terrorists attacks, Ebola, numerous natural disasters and the travel industry has always rebounded. Humans need to travel, this is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be a human. When someone is ready to go, ONEILL TRAVELNOW will be here to get you there!