Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I attended a virtual conference with the national agency, Nexion, that I am affiliated with. I spent over 20 hours getting all of the latest updates from airlines, cruise lines, hotels, tour companies, and car rental companies on how they are making travel safe and healthy going forward. I thought I would share the latest on the direction of travel in the future…
What can you expect from travel going forward?
Attending this year’s travel conference was definitely different, and I’m craving getting back to hanging out with my buddies to exchange stories and ideas. But the virtual environment was much better than I expected with an online layout that mirrored the look and feel of a real conference center. In some ways, it was an easier format to interact with more suppliers and assemble relevant information.
Of course, a consistent and primary topic was how we get back to travel, and the specific plans that have been implemented.
Travel companies have not spent the last six months twiddling their thumbs waiting for the world to open back up. They have been working extensively with medical professionals to create protocols that address the health and safety issues to create an environment that protects and welcomes guests.
Flexible Booking and Cancellation Policies – Peace and Confidence
Before we even start talking about the safety protocols, we need to get practical about actually booking travel for the future. While we all hope this goes away by the time we want to take our big trip, at this point folks want to have some flexibility and options when planning for the future.
Most travel companies have introduced ‘peace of mind’ policies or amended terms and conditions to give travelers more confidence in scheduling future travel.
Probably the biggest news and more positive thing to come out of all this is the changes that the airlines have made. From March when they started offering waived change fees to keep people booking flights into the future, the airlines have gone from a temporary fix to a long-term change to airfare rules. The elimination of change fees offers a lot of hope for the future planning of travel. But watch the fine print – the permanent ‘no change fees’ typically applies to domestic travel, but there are some other variations – for now, Delta is extending no change fees to international travel, but that’s for purchases made this year.
Travel companies in the tour, resort, and cruise categories are giving clients the flexibility they desire with options to cancel or defer future trips depending on how things develop over time. Club Med has a ‘free cancellation’ program, where guests can cancel for free up to 15 days prior to departure for travels before July 2, 2021; they will receive a refund for their land costs.
Globus includes it’s ‘2021 Peace of Mind Travel Plan’ with all travel bookings. Guests can move their booking to another destination, date, or vacation brand (so move from Globus land tour to Avalon Waterways river cruise) for no cost or penalty at any time before final payment.
Silversea Cruises offers its ‘Cruise with Confidence’ program where clients can book a future cruise and have the flexibility to cancel up to 30-days before departure and receive a Future Cruise Credit good for two years. Seabourn has a similar program, along with a ‘best fare guarantee’ so that if you later see a better available fare on the company website, you’ll be compensated for the difference by shipboard credit, suite upgrade, fare reduction, or other methods. This is an excellent program for those who want to book an itinerary they’ve dreamed of but are concerned that pricing may come down at a later date.
There have been some modifications to the standard terms and conditions by numerous travel companies so clients can book now, but their final payment date is later than it usually would be, so folks can watch the situation and decide closer to travel time. For example, Princess Cruise Line has changed their final payment date to 60 days prior to departure rather than 90 or 120 days prior. Tauck has changed the final payment date to 45 days prior to departure for any travel in first quarter 2021.
Across the board, screenings for guests and staff/crew members are a crucial aspect of managing the health of all. Most cruise and tour companies will have guests complete a health and safety questionnaire. Temperature screening is another practice, and most have been implemented in a way so there are no touchpoints. Staff members are tested for Covid and have on-going screening; there are conscious efforts in planning staffing to limit staff and crew changes.
Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced their enhanced screening protocols, which incorporate touchless temp checks and monitoring of guests and crew throughout the journey – before embarkation, returning to ship while in a port of call, prior to all meals in dining venues, before activities in public venues, prior to disembarkation.
While all this health monitoring is going on, I’m impressed that they have added the screenings to ensure guests are protected, but in a seamless way and doesn’t negatively impact the guest experience.
And there’s more…
When I started writing this article, I thought it might end up being a bit short this week. By the time I was done, it was twice as long as usual. So, next week I’ll continue with more about the obvious and less obvious ways they are creating a safe environment, the next level in hygiene efforts, and how technology contributes to the solution. And the trends you can expect to see.