Travel industry booming as pandemic restrictions lift

Deanna and Sean Parkinson know a thing or two about cruise ships.

The couple have been going on cruises together since they took their first one in early 2013 for their honeymoon. They were planning on going on a cruise with two of their adult children and their spouses in April of 2020, but that trip was cancelled in late 2019 as everyone ended up backing out due to conflicting schedules.

It turned out that the Parkinsons’ trip would have fallen apart, with or without their input. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing restrictions on travel would have seen to that.

“We canceled a long time before any of this really started happening, and we didn’t cancel for that purpose,” Deanna said. “We’re kind of glad we (did) though, because we would have been canceled on anyways.”

The sight of cruise ships stranded at sea or at port with no country willing to accept their passengers was one of the starkest images from the early days of the pandemic.

It also highlighted one of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19, as travel became almost a forbidden word throughout much of 2020. The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) estimated that the travel industry lost over $480 billion in 2020.

But pandemic-related restrictions have all but vanished, both stateside and internationally, even as the virus and its variants still linger. For millions of Americans, this has meant a chance to stretch their legs and get far, far away from home for the first time in over a year.

The travel industry is booming, but that kind of demand for any product or service naturally creates a shortage in supply.

“…Everyone wants to go,” said Stacy Zinnen, owner of Stacy’s Travel in Monroe. “Not all of the resorts are at 100 percent capacity, which is a tough thing (for travelers) to look at everything sold out. Sandals, one of the big chains I sell a lot of, they gave out so many vouchers (for cancelled trips in 2020) that you look at the availability, and some of the hotels only have 200-to-300 rooms and they’re completely booked out to the end of the year.”

Jamie Clements, a Temperance-based travel agent who owns and operates an agency with her husband, Michigan State Rep. TC Clements, echoed Zinnen in saying that things have been very busy since the lifting of pandemic restrictions began in earnest a couple of months ago. But also like Zinnen, Clements says she’s noticed some “minor issues” related to the availability of services and other travel-related products as people flock to reschedule cancelled vacations, or plan completely new trips to make up for lost time.

“I can’t get a rental car in Alaska for the month of August,” Clements said. “…We’re seeing the same thing happening in Hawaii, (and) the rental car pricing in Orlando (Florida) has gone to triple what it would normally run, even though there’s not a shortage of rental cars.”

With so many people eager to get away, both Zinnen and Clements have noticed some shifts in how people are traveling that seem to be related to the pandemic. Zinnen said that her diehard cruisers are still booking as the first ships get back on the water, but some of her other clients have opted for road trips or air travel instead.

“The frequent cruisers, people that live and die for cruises, they’re ready. They don’t care,” Zinnen said. “The people who take two a year (just want to) get on board a ship, the other ones are saying ‘I’ll just sit back, and wait and see what happens.'”

Clements said it’s important to note that cruise ships are held to unique health and safety standards by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that go beyond what is required of other forms of vacation travel, such as airlines. She added that this is part of the reason why cruises are only just now resuming operation, and it’s also something to remember when the inevitable reports of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on cruises occur in the months to come.

“They always had to report illnesses and sicknesses at a level that no airline and no preschool ever had to report,” Clements said. “…We just have to remember that ships are held to a different, much higher standard, and try not to panic when we hear these stories.”

As for frequent cruisers Deanna and Sean Parkinson, it will likely be a while until they board a ship again. But Deanna says that’s got a lot more to do with her needing to accrue more vacation time than it does any lingering concerns over the safety of being aboard a vessel with hundreds of other vacationers.

“They are super safe,” Deanna said. “There’s always somebody there taking care of the bathrooms, there’s always somebody, especially in the regular dining rooms, they literally have this big antibacterial thing you walk by, or if you don’t they have somebody there with a little machine to put your hand under it, and it goes off. It’s all super sanitary.”

Whether people are traveling by boat, car, train or airplane, Zinnen and Clements both stressed that the services of travel agencies such as theirs can save time, money and patience. They said that’s especially true now, given how chaotic and busy the travel industry as a whole has become in recent months, and the almost-daily changes in restrictions on international travel.

“That is essentially the agent’s job, is to be educated in the destination,” Clements said. “…This is not the time, and hasn’t been even before the pandemic, but this is not the time to be just hiring a taxi to take you off (resort) property to go roam around foreign countries. You need to be using approved excursion and tourist vendors that are approved in their own countries. The only way to do that is after you’ve done that due diligence, or allowed your travel agent to that for you.”

“We’re going with our companies that we’ve worked with for years, our preferred vendors,” added Zinnen. “So we know they’re going to be there (for our clients) and (they) get what (they) pay for.”

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