Going Places Once Again

Since 2019, the world has become a very different place. From one-way grocery isles to plexiglass dividers between restaurant booths, we see evidence of the pandemic everywhere in our daily lives. And nowhere are these changes so obvious as they are in the travel sphere, arguably one of the industries most affected by COVID-19. Thankfully travel and tourism are coming back, but how is the industry changing with the demand for safe, yet immersive, travel? Some of the shifts have been obvious, like masks and sanitizing measures across the board, but what are travelers not seeing? Each piece of the travel puzzle has adjusted in its own way.

Guided touring companies have carefully thought-out adjustments, while cruise companies have made their own thoughtful changes. There’s no single solution to this problem and each country is tackling the COVID crisis differently. Tourism hotspots, too, need to keep their visitors safe and secure while they enjoy their visit. That means the travel industry’s approach must be nuanced and changing with the ebb and flow of current information. I know for a fact our 36 offices around the world are navigating changes daily. There have been some tried-and-true methods to ensure travelers are confident that they can hop on a flight or board a cruise and have an incredible time while staying healthy.

Group Adventures Adjust to the Times
Guided tour companies made a pronounced shift toward small group travel to solve the issues of crowds and social distancing. Even before the pandemic became a global problem, travelers that enjoyed guided touring were taking advantage of the “small group” philosophy—smaller groups allow you to get into closer, more off-thebeaten path locations and attractions. Plus, experiencing the true heart of a country or culture is easier when you can connect with people one-on-one, made possible when you’re traveling in smaller groups. Traveling by rickshaw in Ho Chi Minh City or dining with a Croatian farmer at their home is possible in smaller groups and provide for many memorable and rewarding moments.

The small group travel philosophy is proving to be a winning strategy in the post-pandemic era, where many locations and attractions are putting limits on how many people can visit at once. Small group trips also tend to head off the beaten path and away from the larger crowds. With minimal adjustments, these adventures can still immerse travelers in the local culture, all while complying with crowd regulations and social distancing measures. It’s the best of both worlds—being able to travel and travel responsibly.

Cruises Big and Small Make the Necessary Changes
Cruise companies have faced a lot of challenges over the pandemic. How do you keep everyone safe and healthy on a ship where close quarters are a given? Cruise companies were early adopters of requiring negative COVID tests to board, and instituted limits on cabin capacity. Small ship cruising have also grown in popularity. On smaller ships, it is easier to make sure that everyone—both crew and passengers—is vaccinated or tested negative for COVID. Cruising is an incredible and relaxing way to travel and it’s great to know that you can travel via ship with confidence, with measures in place to keep everyone healthy, like eliminating buffets, and installing HEPA filters to the air filtration systems.

Some small ship cruises have also implemented groups within the ship, breaking out meals, activities, and onshore excursions into multiple sessions. That gives everyone more space to be comfortable and safe, while having no impact on the actual experience. While group A is having lunch, group B may be headed into the town the ship is currently docked at, already having eaten lunch right before. With these simple and effective scheduling measures, travelers can cruise on small ships and limit their exposure to larger crowds.

It’s a Bold New World, Ready for Exploration
For most travel companies, the traveler and their experience is the first thought and main focus when they create a travel itinerary. This is a fact that has only become more and more true as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on. Many businesses, like my own company Overseas Adventure Travel, focus on delivering an incredible experience. Whether it’s catered to the solo traveler or a family group excursion, they need to feel they can rely wholeheartedly on the travel provider they’ve chosen. We’ve seen a great response since returning to operations in July, with 92% of returning travelers rating their trip “excellent,” even with all precautionary measures in place.

Having confidence in your travel provider is more important today than it ever has been and the travel industry has risen to the challenge of a new travel landscape. People want to travel. Destinations that rely on tourism want travelers back. And the travel industry is here to provide a great experience for all, while minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Harriet Lewis is a world traveler, philanthropist, and the vice chairman of Overseas Adventure Travel, whose mission is to provide life-changing experiences around the world—primarily by connecting travelers with locals who live in the areas they explore.

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