Since the first reports about a mysterious new virus emerged in Wuhan, China early this year, I have been following daily news reports about its gradual spread around China and the rest of the world. I lived in China for a year, I have led over 30 tours there, and I have been to Wuhan many times, so it was personal from the start.
Now, of course, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every country in the world and brought travel to a halt. Because HE Travel has local partners in every location where we offer tours, we have had an ongoing first-hand perspective about the local impact. This has given us a more complete picture than news items alone would allow.
As with most other travel companies, we have canceled most of our spring and early summer tours. However, we are carefully monitoring developments to assess when it will be appropriate to again offer our tours. We will always err on the side of caution.
The National Tour Association has invited me to be part of an international task force to plan for the phased and carefully planned re-opening of tourism. Our team will include representatives from all parts of the travel industry as we set standards and goals for keeping our travelers, tour leaders, and host communities safe, wherever they are in the world.
The following are some criteria that our HE Travel team members are tracking to decide whether to operate our future scheduled tours. We will take the same care when assisting clients with individual travel, whether to visit another part of the world or explore a new part of their home country.
- Are there restrictions on travel from the places where our clients live that would make it difficult to depart their home region
- Are there restrictions that would prevent our clients from traveling to a destination and freely enjoying our tour?
- Most countries will open domestic travel, then regional travel, before opening to visitors from other continents
- For example, European countries are likely to allow travel within Europe before allowing visitors from international hot spots, such as the US
- Some countries currently require all arriving travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days, so we will need to wait until these requirements are lifted
- Are there flights available with reasonable connections to our destinations?
- Are air ticket prices reasonable?
- Is local rail and bus transportation functioning normally?
- Are taxi and rideshare services available for rides to and from airports?
Availability of tour components in the tour destination:
- Are the planned hotels available?
- If not, are there options at similar hotels?
- Are planned or similar restaurants open?
- Can we successfully include all stops shown in our itinerary and verify that they will be open for visitors?
- If a museum or other attraction is closed, are equally interesting alternate stops available?
Health Risk Mitigation:
- What steps have been taken by key airlines serving our destination?
- Many airlines now require passengers (and crew) to wear masks during flights, and sometimes within airports as well
- All airlines have significantly expanded disinfection operations on their aircraft
- Meal and drink services are likely to be different from what we’ve been used to
- What COVID-19 precautions are being recommended for travelers to each location?
- We will monitor CDC and WHO guidance as it evolves
- We will review other databases, such as from Johns Hopkins and New York Times
- Continue to monitor publicly available information from destination governments and national tourism offices
- We will ask our local partners to assess the local situation at each stop on our tour itinerary
- What is the current health situation in our destination, and what medical resources are available there?
- Are there any special considerations for our travelers as they prepare for the trip?
- HE Travel will provide detailed destination-specific guidance for each tour in our Newsletter #3 that we send to our tour clients a month before departure
As countries around the world and regions of the United States gradually relax restrictions, we will work closely with our local partners to create the safest possible environment for our travelers. We will provide more details about the specific steps we are taking in future newsletters.
For now, I hope everyone has been able to stay healthy and find joy in some of the little things that we normally take for granted at our homes and in our communities. My greatest stress reliever has been working in our garden and taking care of 8 baby bunnies that have been born in the past two months.