Confidence in travel increased dramatically this summer with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, and pent-up desire for vacations became even more obvious.
But the Delta variant prompted new mandates and restrictions affecting travel both to and from Florida, from theme parks and cruise lines requiring masks even for the vaccinated to at least one city requiring a negative COVID test for unvaccinated visitors to enter.
It also prompted some people to reconsider their summer travel plans. More than 33% of travelers nationwide are postponing travel because of the Delta variant, according to a survey released Tuesday by Longwoods International, a market research consultant whose findings are cited in travel outlooks from the U.S. Travel Association. That’s an increase of 9% compared with the group’s prior findings released in July.
Locally, travel agents are dealing with the Delta variant’s disruption of tourism with a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re cautiously optimistic people will increase their vaccinations,” said Scott Workman, owner of Workman Transportation & Travel. “But every day brings a new challenge.”
Variant Affects Consumer Confidence
Analysts expected the tourism industry to recover this summer, encouraged by summer travel forecasts – including but not limited to the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays – suggesting business would come close to or exceed 2019 levels.
With three weeks to go before Labor Day, the unofficial end of the summer travel season, Delta threatens to throw a wrench into these outlooks.
Longwoods International’s findings, which found a growing number of travelers postponing their vacations, also found most travelers believe the pandemic will greatly impact their trip plans.
“News of rising numbers (of) infection, hospitalizations and deaths clearly is changing the perception of trip safety for some travelers,” Longwoods International CEO Amir Eylon said in a statement. “And reports of so-called ‘breakthrough infections’ among the vaccinated and increasing coronavirus cases among children may also be weighing on travel and travel planning.”
Workman, whose agency offers shuttle service between Orlando International Airport and depots at Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood squares, said his shuttle operations experienced some cancellations because of the Delta variant.
“We had a steady climb until about two weeks ago,” he said. “We’ve had more cancellations in the last week to 10 days than we’ve had since we’ve been back. Heaven forbid if we go into another lockdown, I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Despite the pessimistic outlook suggested in Longwoods’ survey, Eylon did say there is a silver lining in his report.
He found a high number of travelers – about 86% – still plan to travel within the next six months.
Destinations Emphasize Safety
For those who decide to follow through on their vacation plans anyway, destinations are keeping the safety of their visitors in mind.
That may explain why Walt Disney World Resort recently began requiring all its guests to wear masks again when indoors, on attractions and on enclosed transportation, regardless of vaccination status.
Universal Orlando Resort also requires masks for all guests when indoors.
Carnival Cruise Line, which resumed sailing with paid customers July 31 from Port Canaveral with the maiden voyage of its Carnival Mardi Gras ship, stated masks and pre-cruise COVID testing will be mandatory for all guests, not just the unvaccinated. Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line stated they will require all guests, including fully vaccinated cruisers, to wear masks indoors.
Royal Caribbean also was requiring pre-cruise COVID testing for all guests, including the fully vaccinated. Villagers Tom and Judy Fujawa found out only a week before they were scheduled to travel aboard Allure of the Seas.
“This test had to be taken no more than three days prior to our sail date and had to be arranged by each guest at their own expense with an accredited test provider, such as a drugstore chain or diagnostic lab,” Tom said. “Fortunately, we scheduled our rapid result antigen test right away … and were negative.”
The Fujawas, of the Village of Calumet Grove, said their cruise was “relatively pleasant” in part because of the limited capacity and social distancing. They did, however, note that some of the ports of call couldn’t accommodate everyone. For example, Tom said a scheduled stop in St. Kitts was changed to St. Maarten when St. Kitts officials told Royal Caribbean that only 700 guests could leave the ship.
Beyond masking and testing requirements on the cruise ships, proving vaccination status may soon become the norm.
Last week, a federal judge ruled that Norwegian Cruise Line may require proof of vaccination before embarking, a loss for Gov. Ron DeSantis in a legal fight over Florida’s ban on vaccine passports, apps that show vaccination proof.
Theme parks and cruise ships’ mask wearing requirements makes Debbie Winters, a frequent Disney World visitor who’s also planning to embark on an upcoming Disney cruise, feel safe traveling.
“The crowds have been a lot bigger, so if you don’t like crowds, don’t go to Disney, but that’s anytime, mask or no mask,” said Winters, of the Village of Country Club Hills. “But Disney is always going to make sure they’re going to protect their guests.”
Workman, too, is monitoring what happens with the Delta variant as he considers following through on upcoming day trips aboard its buses, which have been growing in interest as customers from The Villages are eager to travel.
An Aug. 28 trip to downtown Sanford with lunch at the popular German restaurant Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, plus a Sept. 14 guided tour of the Williston elephant ranch Two Tails Ranch, are sold out. Several other tours have a limited number of seats remaining.
“Our day trips have been tremendous, it’s been a revenue driver when everything is down,” he said. “And people are inquiring and following what we’re doing.”
So far, Workman is waiting to see if cases escalate to a point where his agency would have to consider canceling day trips.
Variant Complicates International Travel
Just as international travel is resuming, helped in part by cruises sailing from Florida ports again and Canada reopening its border to vaccinated U.S. tourists, the risk of traveling abroad remains high.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also elevated the risk of traveling to at least 16 countries including the U.S. Virgin Islands, a frequent port stop on Caribbean cruises from Florida, because of a higher number of COVID-19 cases.
In a recent AAA survey, the motor vehicle club found about 41% of Floridians reported having difficulties understanding COVID-related requirements for international travel because of how varied and fluid they are depending on the destination and type of trip.
Since the pandemic began, AAA’s staff has recommended travelers book with a travel agent because they can identify what restrictions may impact their plans and help travelers understand their rights when they need to cancel or reschedule their itineraries.
Such planning can prove complicated, especially if a vacation involves multiple countries, said Robert Paluszak, president of The Villages Worldwide Foreign Travel Club.
“Some countries have different rules depending on what country you’re coming from, so if you’re doing a multi-country trip, you have to look not just at U.S. to Italy, you have to look at what requirements travelers from Italy to Greece have to do,” he said.
A fear of not getting back home because of a positive COVID test also weighs on travelers’ minds, said Paluszak, of the Village of Mallory Square.
Know Before You Go
Travelers are recommended to continue following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 prevention guidelines, which were recently updated to recommend vaccinated people wear masks indoors.
Masks requirements stand for travel on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transport.
Travelers who aren’t vaccinated should practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash their hands and get tested for COVID-19 before and after travel.
AAA, the Auto Club Group, has an interactive map on its website showing where travelers may encounter state and/or local COVID-19 restrictions. It can be viewed at tinyurl.com/jk5muwdd.
Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or email@example.com.
Originally Appeared On: https://www.thevillagesdailysun.com/news/villages/covid-19-delta-variant-affecting-travel-to-and-from-florida/article_5885fdde-02ff-11ec-982e-573a4b946dfd.html