Journey Past my New York Metropolis, Manhattan Zip Code
- For two years, I have been sequestered in my apartment, timidly stepping into the city fully masked, avoiding contact with adults, children, and the immune-compromised.
- I cautiously steer clear of dogs and other pets, restricting personal interactions to my physical therapist, sports trainer, supermarket cashier, and the front desk receptionist at my gym.
- This is NO WAY to live surviving COVID!
Point the finger | Who is to blame?
- There are many to blame – starting with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) who was too timid to quickly identify a pandemic when he saw one.
- The Secretary General of the WHO is closely followed when it comes to blame by senior executives earning millions of dollars within the cruise line industry who are too tethered to their money to call an emergency – even when it is brought to their attention by seasoned medical experts.
- Next in line of those to blame are airport directors who are more concerned with hanging on to ratings than in investing money to upgrade HVAC systems, replace furniture and fixtures with antimicrobial materials or bring on robots and new technology to increase contactless operations.
- To blame are also airline executives. They often also prefer to hide COVID numbers behind glossy brochures and expensive videos rather than upgrade HVAC systems, replace fabrics and fixtures with antimicrobial products, or add robots to their staffing list.
Running in tandem with these executives are tourism leaders who live in a “yellow submarine” as they are either too naïve or too myopic to recognize the disease as it crossed their borders, their piers, portals, and tarmacs, invading their countries and attacking their friends, families, and visitors. Falling into this swamp are tourists who are so incredibly blinded by their egos and narcissism to realize that sometimes wishes and wants are best delayed for the good of others and now may not be the best time to join a motorcycle rally or cheer on a sports team with hundreds and thousands of like-minded travelers.
Is it possible?
Every minute of every day, television pundits have the temerity to face cameras and tell millions of viewers that in spite of all the dire warnings, it is time to move beyond the questionable safety of our neighborhood and travel to destinations with growing COVID-19 infections. Restauranteurs want us to visit their restaurants regardless of our virus status. The message encourages us to grab credit cards, children, family, and friends and spend the next few hours eating and drinking in space(s) that may not have state-of-the-art HVAC systems or vaxxed and masked employees.
Tourism industry leadership has yet to acknowledge that tourism activities, especially travel, are vehicles for the spread of disease; the industry should be at the forefront of disease prevention – designing and implementing health and safety protocols, systems, and procedures. Government officials responsible for tourism should publicly identify their roles and responsibilities, as they are the link between pandemics and their constituents, putting them in the position to restrict or even prohibit travel as a measure for managing the risks posed by the transmission of viruses.
COVID-19 has created a tourism environment of uncertainty that will not dissipate. Even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, new viruses and other diseases will find a way to enter our worlds, and once again the industry will be faced with uncertainty (i.e., the duration of the crises, support policies from governments, tourist behaviors).
Government messaging misses
Research suggests that the government-funded COVID-19 messages are not working (more confusing than informative). The messages are muddled because they are not reaching the main target markets and are not providing consistent information that is useful and practical.
Hotel, travel, and tourism leaders are also busy creating colorful videos with dancing airline personnel and waiters on skateboards; however, these messages are not reaching target markets. Why? Because in the case of the tourism industry, they are not addressing the primary travel decision-makers, women, and not acknowledging their fears of travel during COVID-19.
New York is requiring COVID-19 vaccination certificates for almost everything travel-related.
Women in focus
When it comes to safety and security issues, women are more demanding than men in regard to the security measures they need in place if they are going to “feel” safe while traveling.
The protocols they are looking for include good hygiene, the use of disinfectants, the existence of health and information checks by certified healthcare professionals (i.e., doctors, nurses, paramedics), official certifications presented by trustworthy sources (i.e., hospitals, medical schools), and healthcare decisions based on scientific data and not on financial incentives.
Women expect that hotels will provide deep cleaning and lots of staff hand washing. Guests and staff should mask up, public spaces should be cleaned and disinfected on a published schedule and include common spaces, contact points (i.e., railings, tables, handles, sinks).
Game rooms should be on the space(s) to be disinfected along with elevators and escalators. In-room amenities such as TV remotes, light switches, and thermostats must be part of the protocols. Payments for all services should be electronic, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers available on each floor at entrances to hotel and food/beverage areas. Buffets should be eliminated or redesigned to be staffed.
Women want to travel and have the money to spend. The travel experience offers an escape from daily routines while offering opportunities for social bonding and hedonic pleasures. It is important to note that women have reduced their travel time and research (Brooks and Saad, 2020) found that 60% of female US residents are experiencing fear and worry about being infected by COVID-19. Another study found that fear, disgust, and sometimes anger have become evident emotional responses related to protecting their physical safety during COVID-19. Female travelers perceive health risks from the virus, pushing them into despair that over time evolves into fear. Once the fear of the perceived health risk from the virus becomes the dominant emotion, they tend to avoid certain behaviors such as travel.
Eliminate the silos
To reduce their travel fears, the industry must end its silo approach that segments the industry and produces mixed messages. By working cooperatively, the industry could provide connectivity between all sectors making the travel experience less frightening. Travel to/from a destination should be seamless, from ground transportation to domestic and international aviation, accommodations, and dining with standardized protocols clearly visible along the entire journey.
The public and private sectors with tourism responsibility should be publicly sharing their observations and recommendations with meetings unrestricted and not orchestrated by public relations consultants. The media and consumers have to know and understand the thought process for the decisions being made to travel (or not); to open borders (or not); to establish safety, sanitation, and security protocols (or not); and if there are variations, the reasons for the differences.
All public and private leaders and consumers should participate in the design, implementation, and use of new healthcare products, systems, and procedures with parts integrated vertically and horizontally. Leadership should come from the industry, based on ability and not on government connections or personal influence, or wealth.
To reduce the fear and mitigate the risks associated with COVID travel, the industry must:
1. Address all known opportunities for the spreading of the virus (health screening of guests and employees daily).
2. Require proof of guest vaccinations before accepting reservations and registration.
3. Enforce social distancing throughout the destination and accommodations.
4. Place physical barriers between travelers, guests, and staff.
5. Prohibit overcrowding at airports, airlines, attractions, events, restaurants, and hotels.
The new normal will be a balancing act between maintaining a satisfactory experience for tourists and complying with the strict measures taken by the authorities on safety and hygiene protocols.
My mind is made up
If all the warnings and “what ifs” have not been convincing… to postpone travel, the questions that need answers before handing over credit cards to travel agents include:
1. What is the rate of COVID-19 spread at the destination? Are the numbers of infections and/or deaths up or down?
2. What is the rate of COVID-19 spread in your own community?
3. Will you be able to distance yourself (by at least 6 feet) from the people with whom you are traveling?
4. Are your travel friends/family at high risk for COVID-19?
5. Do you live with a high-risk COVID-19 person?
6. Will the state or local government where you live and/or at your destination require you to stay quarantined for 14 days after traveling?
7. If you get sick with COVID-19, will you have to miss work or other obligations?
8. If you get sick while traveling, what are the protocols required by local government(s) and what is the status of healthcare (hospitals, doctors, medicine) at the destination? Will your insurance cover these costs?
Proceed with caution
If your travel mode is automobile, pre-trip planning requires a thorough and total cleansing and disinfecting of the vehicle. Every surface should be wiped down (windows, seat belts and buckles, steering wheel, door handles, controls, floors, etc.). In addition to snacks and water, have back-up supplies of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers. Once everyone is in the car, keep the windows open when possible. If this is not doable, use the A/C and set the air ventilation to non-recirculation mode.
Limit the number of people traveling in the same car and make arrangements for everyone to wear a mask (where it belongs, not as a chin diaper). Stopping for gas or snacks? Designate a runner for gas and/or snacks – someone who is not at high risk. The “runners” should be totally masked and have clean/sanitized hands before getting back into the car.
January 21, 2021, a rule set up by the federal government determined that it is a “violation of federal law NOT to wear masks on public transportation (CDC Guidelines). All commercial flights should require passengers to wear a face mask (including children aged 2 and older).”
Trust no one! You have no idea who is seated next to you, in front of you, and 3 rows behind you – so MASK UP! In addition, keep hands clean and avoid touching surfaces, your face, and other parts of your body.
With media and healthcare professionals recommending outdoor activities, park attendance has been increasing. If you decide to sign-up for forest therapy, identify parks that are close to home (considered less risky) and contact park management to determine if the facility is meeting COVID protocols with open and clean toilet facilities (including running water, toilet paper, soap, and disposable hand towels). Are playgrounds open and meeting CDC guidelines for distance and sanitation? If the park offers swimming pools, hot tubs, or other water-based play areas, what systems are being used to keep guests safe and COVID-19 free?
If you and/or your travel mates are sick, have tested positive or recently been exposed to COVID-19 – DO NOT GO, and regardless of health status, never frequent a crowded park.
Before sharing credit card information to reserve a room, investigate the hotel or rental property’s cleaning program (products used, frequency of cleaning, if workers are masked and vaxxed, will there be 24 hours of empty space after one guest leaves, and you occupy the space?).
Perhaps it is best to clean your own space (just to be sure). Bring in your own favorite cleaning supplies and sanitize the surfaces before you and friends/family occupy the space(s).
If you are a risk-taker and plan to travel without receiving a vaccine protocol, get a viral test 1-3 days before departure. Wear a mask on all public transportation and indoor spaces (including airports and train stations). Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away – from just about everyone. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently with hand-sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol. Testing should be repeated 3-5 days after travel and be prepared to stay at home and self-quarantine for at least 7 days after travel… even if you test negative. If you test positive, isolate yourself to protect others. Not prepared to be re-tested? Just stay home in isolation for 10-days after returning from travel.
For updated travel information, a good source is: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including actual photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.