by Dennis Seid // photo from Courtney Vines of Adventure Therapy Travel
Imagine sinking your toes in sand and soaking up the sun as the spray of salty water offers cooling comfort on an exotic island. Or perhaps you round the corner of a trail in the mountains, opening up to a flurry of colors, anchored by a turquoise lake.
Unfortunately, imagination is what many would-be tourists have had to use this spring, as travel has all but come to a stop.
In his 25 years in the travel industry, Jeff Lambert has sent people to all seven continents, from Bora Bora to Brazil, from Greece to the Galapagos Islands.
But this spring has been like no other, as the novel coronavirus interrupted many, many plans. Up until mid-March, travel plans were plentiful.
“Each year it gets better and better, but I came to a screeching halt,” said Lambert, of Global Travel Service in Tupelo. “We got lucky – nearly all of our spring-break people went. Only one canceled, and it was a trip to New York. Everybody else went to Disney and Cancun and all that. But it was after spring break – which is usually a slow time for us anyway – that things started dropping off.”
It’s the same thing for Courtney Vines of Adventure Therapy Travel in Clarksdale, which works with clients going to Orlando and Beaches and Sandals resorts in the Caribbean.
“We’ve had all sorts of cancellations and rebookings,” she said. New bookings vanished as well. “It started about mid-March, then there was nothing in April and May.”
But with businesses opening back up across most of the country, people are traveling again. They’re just not going too far. And long-range planning is still hit and miss.
“We’re seeing cancellations from tour companies stretch through August,” Lambert said. “But I would be comfortable booking for this Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“People are planning ahead for 2021 and even 2022 with some cruise lines,” added Vines.
Without a doubt, the travel industry has been devastated by COVID-19. The U.S. Travel Association and Oxford Economics recently released a new report on the American travel and tourism sector. The U.S. is projected to suffer a $519 billion decline in direct travel spending, translating into $1.2 trillion in lost economic output – a financial impact nine times worse than 9/11.
And it doesn’t get much better. Over the next two months, the travel industry is set to suffer an 81% fall in revenue, while a 45% decline is expected for the entire year. Unsurprisingly, employment is being badly hit as well.
The pandemic has shut down businesses and curtailed travel worldwide, and Lambert and Vines think it will take time for it to recover.
“I remember 9/11, we kind of started coming back after a month or two, but it was a year before it really came back. We’ve got people booked, and we’ve been doing changes and cancellations for the past few days,” Lambert said.
The Gulf Coast, always a popular destination, has slowly opened up, but the travel professionals say not to expect to see a break in prices for airline tickets or lodging.
“The airlines have cancelled so many flights and they’re just piling everybody on the flights they have left,” Vines said. “A lot of the non-stop flights have ended and the airlines are adding one or two stops to try to fill the plane.”
A tip here, Lambert said, is that an airline will refund your ticket if your former non-stop flight now has stops added.
As far as lodging prices, rates haven’t changed all that much, as they’re still in demand, especially along the beach.
Lambert and Vines said using a travel agent is especially important now since they have the knowledge and the contacts to help travelers with their questions, and they can help with refunds and changes if necessary. That isn’t always the case if you’re planning by yourself.
Other traveling tips:
- Purchase travel insurance, which offers trip cancellation protection, coverage for baggage delays, medical coverage and venture sports coverage. And even if a tour company cancels, it doesn’t necessarily refund your money; rather, they may offer a credit. Travel insurance will cover that. By the way, no insurance policy covers a pandemic.
- Plan far enough ahead. Flights can be booked as far as 11 months ahead, and many hotels and other lodging places have a similar time frame.