When the World Opens Up: A Look Outside the Pandemic Tunnel

Sky Capriolo

  • Can you safely dream of travel again?
  • The latest vaccination and travel trends
  • Hear from some of the Motivation Excellence travel team about their group travel dreams and predictions
  • The hybrid future

Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? There are some great things to report, and cautions to still heed, but after more than a full year of the coronavirus pandemic, people are dreaming more of “when” they get to travel rather than “if.” Our Motivation Excellence travel department certainly is. Below we’ll share with you some of their travel dreams and thoughts for future group travel, as well as current advisories, countries open to visit and more!

The Current Situation

The United States is now seeing vaccinations on a steady increase. The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 81 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose (as of March 21, 2021). Roughly 2.49 million people are getting a shot here every day.  According to Our World in Data, the United States is among the top countries with the highest vaccine doses per 100 people. Israel, United Arab Emirates, Chile and the United Kingdom are outpacing us as of March 22, 2021.

Currently there are dozens of countries allowing U.S. tourists in, however, beware that air passengers need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before returning to the United States (even citizens, even from Hawaii). Favorite pre-COVID destination, Europe, is seeing lockdowns extended in many countries with a third wave of the virus hitting right now, keeping tourists at bay for the time being.

The U.S. State Department is a great resource for travel advisories, as is the CDC site. Domestic and international travel is not recommended at this time since it still increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. However, based on airline traffic reported by the TSA, nearly one million more people traveled March 21, 2021 than did on March 21, 2020. The 2021 data is still nearly 700,000 behind the TSA data for travelers on the same date in 2019.

The numbers are clearly showing that for Americans, as the vaccination percentage increases, the desire to get back to traveling is also rising. Are you ready to travel again? Keep reading for our takes on traveling now and in the future.

Moving Forward: A Q&A about R&R

In the spirit of positivity and looking ahead, part of our travel team answered a series of questions regarding group travel. Below are their answers. Enjoy joining in with your own answers and dreams!

If the world opened up tomorrow, and you could take a client anywhere for group travel, where would you want to go and why?

Brad Hecht, VP Travel – “Rome and mingle with all the people and dine like there is no tomorrow!”

Heidi Brand, Program Operations Manager – “Switzerland! It’s the most beautiful, picturesque country. When you look at the countryside and the mountains, you feel as though you are looking at a storybook. The people are genuine, relaxed and extremely hospitable.”

Tina Roszak, Travel Program Manager – “Kyoto, Japan for the historical landmarks, culture and natural beauty.”

Jayne Schmitt, Travel Operations Supervisor – “That’s difficult! There are so many great places and I go between wanting beach and surf to old country European charm. I think it’s really just about getting people back together again.”

Joe Reise, Manager, Supplier Relations & Sourcing – “Portugal.  It’s a destination within Europe that has a lot of history (i.e. Lisbon is the oldest capital city in Continental Europe), great weather, and also a destination that most Americans don’t visit the first few times they go to Europe (they go to London, Paris, Rome first usually).  Also great value for money and a large variety of things to see and do in this unique European coastal country.

Will “old favorites” be the first place to fill back up?

Brad – “Las Vegas is ramping up like crazy, as is Nashville. Some places in Europe could still be susceptible to closures do to lagging vaccines, but the United States is doing well. ”

Heidi – “I think old favorites such as Hawaii, Mexico, Florida and Arizona will be the first to fill up as the weather is generally nice and most events can be held outside.”

Tina – “I think popular U.S. destinations will be the first places to fill back up, specifically places that highlight outdoor activities and landmarks (Tennessee Valley in the fall, skiing in Colorado, National Parks in Wyoming, ranches in Montana, beaches in Florida). My guess is people will take baby steps in 2021 before being comfortable and safe enough to travel out of the country.”

Jayne – “Mexico is one of my old favorites. I’m not sure it will be the first to fill up just because of the flight, passport needed and the unknown should you get ill (COVID) while there.”

Joe – “Hawaii, Las Vegas, Orlando and London (because of the unique culture and history) will be among many to fill-up.  I think that some other major metro cities like NY and LA will have a slower start with people going back, especially for large conventions.”

Are there advantages to finding new hot spots, or is playing it safe the best way to go?

Brad – Finding new hot spots is great, but “proceed with caution” is the rule. A lot of fun can still be had!”

Heidi – “Playing it safe is probably the best way to go.”

Tina – “There’s always an advantage to finding new destinations that capture all types of interests…with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but safety will always be key.”

Jayne – “It’s going to be about local guidelines. The comfort of the client will also play a huge role in deciding a destination, whether it’s new or a much-loved standard.”

Joe – “I think there are always advantages to finding new hot spots for 2022.  Fun to explore new places that also offer exceptional value, as long as they meet the criteria for quality, safety and variety.”

What are your predictions for new popular places?

Brad – “Warm weather and outdoor event space will be at a premium and probably not in Europe for a while based on vaccination rates. I’m excited to take a group to Dubai in the future. It’s really unique and beautiful!”

Heidi – “Places that are warm destinations and can handle outdoor events.”

Tina – “I think people will start venturing out by being a tourist in their own city, county or state. For those aching to travel, I think they need to choose wisely based on COVID stats and know what’s open and what’s not (attractions, shows, parks, etc).”

Jayne – “I think the places that are handling this the best as far as guidelines and positivity rates will be the first in line for taking group tours.”

Joe – “I think it currently is and will continue to be, more remote resort areas in nature (i.e. mountains, beach, desert, etc.) that offer opportunities to do lots of things outside, including activities and dining.

What are you most looking forward to on your next group travel program?

Brad – “Fun, lively restaurants!”

Heidi – “Seeing the joy in people’s faces and watching them make memories of a lifetime!”

Tina – “Seeing my travel staff friends!”

Jayne – “Being with people and seeing the joy on their faces!”

Joe – “Enjoying all of things we did pre-COVID. Eating in a nice restaurant, exploring all sorts of sites, relaxing on a beach, and really just being back together with other humans seeking to relax and enjoy themselves on vacation.”

Anything you’d highly recommend to people looking at dipping their toes back into the travel pool?

Brad – “Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico are all great places open now that you can go to relax. There are also many resorts in the U.S. that are amazing!”

Heidi – “Be flexible and open to change; spend as much time outdoors as possible.”

Tina – “Research all that you can about where you want to go. Be aware of, and follow, the rules and customs of the destination. Be conscious of your actions and surroundings. Don’t be a naïve tourist! Knowledge is power – know where not to go (safety), when to visit attractions, etc.”

Jayne – “Just follow guidelines. Be safe and protected, have plenty of hand sanitizer, masks, etc. Do what you feel comfortable doing as far as driving versus flying, etc.”

Joe – “As with any recommendation, we always suggest that you find a place where you feel safe, can afford, and that offers many things that interest you and that you will enjoy. To each his/her own. Often, there are many destinations that will fit your criteria and I suggest that you compare and contrast a few before deciding.”

Some Final Thoughts on Incentive Travel/Meetings/Events

The pandemic definitely showed us that we miss being together. Virtual events made huge leaps to help connect us, but in-person interaction will always be the gold standard in the incentive travel, meeting and events industry (and in life, in general, don’t you agree?). The amazing new virtual space technology brought on by COVID-19 will always have a place moving forward though and in fact, will allow more people to engage with messages, products and peers.

Jayne sees a future of using virtual technology even after in-person events comes back fully.

 

“I think we will have a hybrid piece for a long time going forward.  There will be people that will not want to travel or maybe just not fly for a while.  That will also open up certain experiences to many more people than maybe attended in-person events.  It’s a new world in events and we have to look for the positive strides we can make for our clients and participants!”

Tina agrees and sees a budget component clients will want to keep in mind.

“Statistics show that hybrid events require more staffing than a live event:  to moderate sessions, manage live chat/Q&A boxes, and they definitely require having a dedicated, experienced AV technical team.”

Joe adds that COVID-19 has and will continue to change how our industry functions, but in a truly positive way.

“This will be an evolutionary process, but one thing for sure is that COVID has forever changed how group gatherings will be conducted in the future, especially in the areas of health safety, sanitation, and the structure of event spacing.”

We may feel like this has been an unending and exhausting exercise in patience, but we are slowly and surely getting closer to the time when we’ll need to don our sunglasses because the light is indeed getting brighter! 😎