(Editor’s note: This article was worked on and written prior to the exponential growth in the COVID-19 Delta variant breakout.)
The Covid-19 pandemic changed the travel industry in 2020, but local agencies are reporting an uptick in bookings as travelers are ready to set sail on their next adventure.
“We had over 3,000 cruises and tours affected,” said Sheryl Spruill, manager of Go Travel, the only brick and mortar travel agency in Clermont. “We have one person whose travel was moved seven times.”
Cruise ship sailings were halted in March 2020 and just recently began cruising from U.S. ports. Travelers looking to get away during that time had to find other options for vacation.
“We never had so many people that we sent to Cancun, Mexico,” Spruill said.
Travel to Hawaii and in the United States also became popular.
“National Parks was a biggie this year,” Spruill said. “In 30 years, we never sold as much National Park tours as we have this year, and we are actually moving people to next year.”
Spruill said there are many changes to travel requirements in each destination and changes continue to happen.
“I would pity someone who booked on an online booking engine,” Spruill said.
She added that one couple traveling to Iceland was notified at the last minute that they had to have a rapid Covid test before arrival.
Even though there are many restrictions and requirements, it isn’t stopping people from planning travel.
“Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line’s world cruise for 2024 opened up to sell and was sold out in 3 hours,” Spruill said. That sailing had a $75,000 per person starting price.
“We are seeing people travel longer,” Spruill said. “And if not longer, they are upgrading their stay.”
People are booking back-to-back cruises or combining cruises and tours, according to Spruill.
“We are seeing changes galore,” she said.
Bob Cook, director of sales for Go Travel, sailed on the Celebrity Edge, the first ship to sail out of Florida after cruises were permitted to begin sailing again.
“We walked onboard, and they were applauding and cheering us,” Cook said.
He said there were no social distancing requirements, and everything was the same except the crew wore facemasks.
“It’s the best normal I experienced in many years,” Cook said.
The ship sailed with 36% capacity and those who sailed had to be vaccinated.
“It was very much like a cruise used to be, like the Love Boat, where everyone talked to everyone,” Cook said.
He said he sees the rules changing and most cruise lines are going to require people to be vaccinated.
“And if you’re not vaccinated you have to go through a lot of tests,” Cook added. “Unvaccinated guests are not allowed into the casinos, some entertainment venues and specialty restaurants.”
Obtaining travel documents such as passports has also been a challenge since the pandemic began.
“Passports are now taking 18-24 weeks,” Cook said. “Even if you expedite it, you won’t get it back for 12 weeks.”
Gerry Ash, owner of Ash Travel in Clermont, has been in the travel business for 14 years. He works from his home office and is an independent agent with Travel Planners International.
“I’m booking a lot of cruises for spring break and next summer,” Ash said. “I’m also selling a lot of all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Costa Rica.”
Ash explained the most important thing now is to go over the cancellation policies and trip insurance details.
“People really need to make sure they know what’s in their travel insurance policy,” Ash said.
With all the changes and extra precautions, vacation planning is taking more time.
“If you do a cruise and you’re not vaccinated, you will pay more for insurance and you can’t get off the ship unless you book a shore excursion through the cruise line,” Ash said. “Cruising is starting back, but it’s not the way it used to be.”
Cruise lines were not the only ones to change requirements. Tour company Trafalgar Tours recently announced the requirement for passengers to be vaccinated on both their European and United States tours.
“For some who don’t want the vaccine, it becomes a problem,” Ash said. “It has just put a halt to their vacation plans.”