After a year of struggle, it’s time to start traveling again.
We have always maintained that it is possible to travel safely with a group despite the pandemic, and many travel planners and tour operators have found ways to do it. But many more companies and organizations have put their travel programs on hold since last March to await significant gains in public health.
With several COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out across the United States, it appears those gains may come soon. When they do, your members will be eager to travel again. But ramping up a travel program that has been dormant for a year will require some thoughtful planning, and the aftershocks of the pandemic will make some things trickier than they used to be.
Here are five strategies to employ as you prepare yourself and your groups to return to the road in 2021.
Pick Up Where You Left Off
Chances are you had some exciting trips lined up for 2020 and most of them got shelved because of the pandemic. If your travelers are still enthusiastic about the destinations you planned to visit last year, consider reintroducing them as trips for 2021. Your tour operator partners should be able to easily replicate itineraries and packages you previously had in place, albeit with some modifications. They are likely already working on the logistics of postpandemic travel on these trips, so you can travel confidently without having to reinvent the wheel.
Prepare for Vaccines
Many experts believe that widespread vaccination is critical to ending the pandemic and returning to life as we know it. As such, it is likely that vaccination will be required for travel in the second half of 2021. Numerous travel organizations, including some airlines and cruise companies, are contemplating requiring proof of COVID-19 immunity for future travel, and many foreign countries will mandate that travelers be vaccinated before entering. So regardless of your personal feelings about COVID-19 vaccines, you need to prepare your travelers to be vaccinated if they want to travel in the near future.
Your members are eager to hit the road again, and you’re probably excited to take them. But as you prepare for upcoming trips, it would be wise to spend some time resetting travelers’ expectations. While 2021 should be better than 2020 on almost all accounts, some side effects of the pandemic will affect the travel experience through much of this year. Expect masks to be mandatory in most places at least until fall. And prepare for modified procedures as hotels, attractions and restaurants continue to maintain social distancing protocols. Travel will be a welcome relief to the quarantine-weary, but it may be a while before it returns to normal.
See America First
One of the most shocking effects of the pandemic was worldwide border closures. And though some countries have started easing restrictions, many popular destinations, including Canada and Europe, remain closed to Americans. Since there’s no telling how long this situation will last, consider focusing your 2021 travel on domestic destinations. Even if your groups are accustomed to luxurious travel abroad, there are plenty of cultural, historical and natural treasures around the United States to keep your members thrilled. You’ll have a great time while also helping revive America’s hospitality and tourism economy at a crucial time.
Flexibility has always been an important asset for group travel planners, but in 2020, the ability to pivot and adapt became more important than ever. If you intend to travel in 2021, prepare yourself to be more flexible. There are plenty of sudden events that could have an impact on the trips you have planned, such as a hotel or restaurant closure, a government policy reversal, a traveler illness or an unexpected change in the trajectory of the pandemic. You can’t prepare for every unforeseen event, but you can prepare yourself to handle them with grace and confidence.