A little over a week ago, I returned from Mexico, where I attended a virtual conference and checked out the current state of international travel, so I wanted to share my perspective of that experience.
Insights into current Covid travel experiences
It was so exciting to pull my sad, lonely passport out of its spot and let it see a little action for this year as I flew down to Mexico. I wanted to use this trip to gain perspective on several travel trends – how the world of travel is working right now, the new offerings for “Work-cations,” and lastly, to evaluate a unique resort that just opened in January and has a strong affinity to wellness and sustainability.
Traveling Experience Now
When it comes to flying, the airline makes a big difference, as Delta and Southwest are doing an excellent job keeping the middle suit seat free, which is not true for United and American. So the experiences I share are based on Delta’s current protocols for handling Covid travel.
In the airports, the basic rules are masks required and social distancing in lines, so the check-in experience is similar except those variations, and it seems they have balanced the right level of staffing to handle the volume of travelers (in June they didn’t have enough staff for check-in or luggage check, now seems just right).
The international terminal in Atlanta has moved the security line procedure to a security line one level lower that I never knew existed. Still, the process is basically the same, with the distancing respected.
I’ve found that every airport I’ve visited in the last six months has fewer concessionaires open because of the reduced passenger count. It seems that the vendors must have a deal amongst themselves to rotate who is open when, so that the little bit of business can be concentrated to the one open store.
In the Delta SkyClub, they have individually packed food items available, including fresh fruit. The bar is open with the regular menu at this point. They have installed partitioning between the tables in combination with social distancing of seating.
The actual flight experience is enjoyable, as the procedures implemented for social distancing just plain make good sense anytime. When it comes to the boarding process, they are loading starting from the back and working to the front to minimize people’s interactions. As previously mentioned, Delta keeps the middle seat free, which is a lovely way to fly when you have the extra room. At the end of the flight, deplaning starts at the front, and they ask that people don’t get up until the row in front of them is empty – so again, something that makes an immense amount of sense and doesn’t seem to take any additional time. During my 2 1/2 hour flight, they were handing out the ziplocs of a water bottle, Cheez-its, and Biscotti cookies; beer and wine (in little bottles) were served in First Class and ComfortPlus, but not in the main cabin. For long-haul international flights, they are serving hot prepared food in all cabins, as well as a full selection of beverages.
I noticed that it’s actually easy and fast with the customs arrangements because there are fewer flights, so the planes can park at the gates closer to passport control. In Mexico, it literally took me 2 1/2 minutes to get off the plane, go through passport control, to arrive at the luggage carousel. Returning to Atlanta, the plane parked close to the customs area, so it was just minutes from deplaning that I got to customs, used my Global Entry, and breezed through the line to get to my luggage.
The Covid protocols at the resort include social distancing, cleaning procedures and masks. All of the staff are required to wear masks at all times. For guests it is optional, and, with all the areas available and spacing between seating and dining, there are few times you are within six feet of anyone except when staff are serving food or drink. When entering the restaurants, they would ask for the guests to wait while they went to a clean table and wiped it down again with cleansing solution before seating the guests.
Work from Anywhere
With so many people working remotely now, many resorts and hotels are promoting the idea of the “Work-cation” and the corollary “School-cation” so that folks can use this time to do their work virtually from a fabulous location – so that’s what I did. I had a two-day intense conference from 10 am – 7:30 pm each day, and it was fantastic to position my laptop to have a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than have yet another virtual meeting sitting at my desk.
The resort that I stayed at had room service, so it was very easy to plan to order my lunch to arrive during the relatively short lunch break time we had. Of course, I was able to enjoy the amenities of the resort outside of my work hours.
I loved starting my workday sitting on my balcony, watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee. The whole ‘laptop lifestyle’ has been a trend for a while but limited to certain types of jobs, and I believe we’ll see more movement in that direction now that more jobs are moving to virtual.
One key aspect of any virtual work environment is strong internet access. I arrived in Riviera Maya the day after Hurricane Zeta had gone through. At the start of my conference, I was having many problems connecting, and I thought it was the resort wifi, so I ended up moving to the main building to get a better connection. It turned out the issue was really the virtual conference platform, so I did have a good strong wifi signal in my room to work there for the rest of the time. It’s definitely a good idea to test out your wifi before any virtual meetings and also check with the hotel or resort on alternate locations for wifi if you happen to have a problem.
House of AIA, Palmaia
The resort I stayed at as a definite focus on nature, luxury, and service. The property is beautiful as it has preserved the natural landscape as much as possible, contributing to the feeling of tranquility and pampering. The location is at the end of a beach in Riviera Maya, creating a private environment.
Right now, they are running at about 20% capacity, so that makes it wonderful and lots of wide-open space for distancing. With the lower capacity, they would have dinner at one selected restaurant each night, and then would alternate among the four different restaurants; of course, they would have multiple options available during more normal times. Each night they had a tasting menu that had a different theme. So it wasn’t a menu with a long list of choices, but rather the chef’s tasting menu. They did have alternatives available if you didn’t like a particular course or wanted to change the whole meal. I’m always up for a delicious tasting menu, so I enjoyed every night out trying such a large variety of tastes and combinations.And one of the things I really loved is that each night they would have a specialty cocktail to offer to start off the evening – I tried a number of new concoctions and enjoyed every one of them.
The food was outstanding. One of the things that makes this resort unique is that they are very focused on plant-based menus, so for anyone who is vegan or vegetarian, this is the place to come. But I am definitely not that person. I love beef, pork, poultry, fish, so that was another reason I wanted to check this place out – how is this food for folks that like a full selection of ingredients? While their menus are designed to be plant-based, they have plenty of choices with meat, and if you didn’t know about their plant-based focus, I don’t know that you would necessarily pick up on it. During my stay, I had beef, quail, shrimp, sashimi, chicken – and eggs benedict for breakfast each morning. For those of us who eat everything, the offerings are excellent; for vegan folks, they will appreciate having purposely-designed menus highlighting plant-based options rather than vegan alternatives that seem like an afterthought.
With their focus on wellness, they offer various activities planned throughout the day that are complementary, and I think of as ‘zen’ experiences – meditation, yoga, sound healing, and related options.
They have a large wooden platform amid trees where they conduct the activities, and I did the meditation session there one morning. It was a wonderfully relaxing experience, made more impactful by this more natural environment.
I was so busy with my conference that I forgot to make a spa appointment until Sunday morning, so of course, all the afternoon slots were full. I really wanted to try the spa as the sessions are in private, open-air rooms, so a very different type experience. I did enjoy lying in a cabana next to the pool with the great ocean view.
One of the reasons that I go to check out resorts is to get a first-hand perspective of what it’s really like and to learn the little tricks that make a difference for my clients.
The resort’s entry-level room category is a beautiful suite, with about 500+ square feet plus a terrace or balcony. This is an oceanfront room, and depending on which floor you’re on, you get a partial or great oceanview. An upgrade from that is the Swim-out suite – however, when you’re in a swim-out room, you’re on the bottom level, so you don’t have much of a view at all to the ocean. Now, if you’re big into swimming and you love being able to walk out on your terrace and slip into the pool, then it is worth it. But if you prefer a great view, it’s better not to get an upgrade, but instead stick with the oceanview suites to get one of the higher floor suites.
So, my trip was a success. My passport got a little exercise despite the covid travel issues, I enjoyed a fantastic environment while doing my regular work, and I got to experience exceptional food and activities at a very different type of resort. For those who are waiting to travel, I hope this creates some inspiration and anticipation for the future, and for those who want to do some traveling now, I’d love to help you create a successful trip, too.