For Americans, Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah of the summer.
It is for many the last pool party and family barbecue before fall sets in and the last chance for people to travel — be it a cottage northern Michigan or a destination out of state.
Come Tuesday morning many will be back to work and school.
This year the last weekend in September means a lot more, as many travelers are cashing in their vouchers for trips that were supposed to be taken last year, or booking trips they held off because of COVID-19.
AAA no longer conducts formal travel forecasts for Labor Day but the Auto Group Club expects travel volumes to remain high during the holiday weekend. Over the summer, AAA Travel bookings were up 11% over 2019 levels.
“We are very excited about the weekend,” said Kelly Cook of Clinton Township.
On Thursday afternoon she and her boyfriend, Jeff Greschak, along with her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend, Haley Cook and Ryan Alward of Rochester Hills, will be boarding a plane headed for Europe.
“Last year we were supposed to go to Mexico but because of COVID all of that was cancelled.”
Cook and her group go on short trips all the time.
However, after the last cancellation they decided to save the vacation money they normally spend on smaller trips and book one big vacation instead. So it’s off to Dublin. Their trip will be an adventurous bus tour featuring all of Ireland’s hotspots such as the Blarney Stone (near Blarney castle) and Brazen Head, which is one of the oldest pubs in Dublin. Legend has it those who kiss the stone will be endowed with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). Their trip also includes a two-night stay in Fitzpatrick’s castle.
“I’m super excited,” said Kelly’s daughter Haley, who went to Mexico in January and had not trouble dealing with the restrictions required for COVID-19.
Also excited about his first trip to Europe is Alward.
“Seeing the castle, that’s what I’m really looking forward to,” he said.
They are not alone in their enthusiasm for travel.
“There are a lot of people traveling this weekend,” said Diana Leone, owner of Nana World Wide Travel in Clinton Township.
One couple from Macomb County left Wednesday for a train tour in Alaska. Some of Leone’s other clients were headed to Las Vegas or resorts in Jamaica. Jamaica tourism will be hosting a workshop for Detroit area agents looking to learn more about the deals they have going to lure travelers.
“I have one group that planned a girls’ trip to Traverse City,” Leone said. “People still want to go places. They’re anxious to go.”
Helping them do so since 1963 is Nana World Wide Travel. Leone’s father Alexander Nasir founded the company in Detroit – at a time when visiting the Holy Land in Tel Aviv – was a trip on everyone’s bucket list.
“He used to charter planes to go there,” Leone said, noting in those days people could book a 14-day tour of Israel including airfare, hotel and transfers for about $763 a person. That same trip now is between $4,000 and $8,000.
Nana Travel had an office in a building on Washington Boulevard until the 1980s when the building was turned into condominium for seniors. That’s when the family moved into a home renovated into an office building on Harper Avenue and have been there ever since.
Leone has been the owner of the family business since her father died in 1998. Over the years the company has had to weather more than a few storms that grounded travelers including the SARS outbreak that was first reported in Asia in February 2003. Over the next few months, the illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was contained, that same year. Then there was 9/11 and the Gulf War, that prevented a lot of people from traveling. But none of them have been as bad as COVID-19, which has reared its head again only with a different face.
Debbie Haas, vice president of AAA said with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant, some travelers are wondering if they should take that last summer trip, or continue with their future travel plans.
“Whether and how to travel is a very personal decision. Most people who were planning to travel are still taking their trips, while being mindful to take precautions to protect themselves and others,” said Haas. “The hottest summer travel destinations are Mexico, Hawaii and popular cities throughout the U.S., as well as cruises to Alaska, Greece and the Caribbean. My husband and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Iceland, which offers outstanding outdoor experiences and is easy to reach.”
Leone said she also recently returned from a trip.
“I was just on a Delta flight and everyone was wearing masks in the airport and on the plane,” Leone said.
It was mandatory. Delta does a deep cleaning after every flight – and she knows this having attended a trip that showed travel agents what they’re doing to ensure the safety of their passengers – but they also hand everyone a wipe before they sit down in case they want to do another swipe of their table and arm rests.
Passengers traveling internationally are required to be tested for COVID and provide proof of negative results prior to boarding the airline. This has become common practice among a number of airlines and cruise ships.
Leone said Delta really stepped up during the pandemic and not only initiated safe travel practices but provided vouchers to people who had trips canceled because of COVID-19. These vouchers were only supposed to last a year but Delta extended them due to the current situation.
“They’ve been rock stars,” said Leone
Among the most important tip for travelers is to stay informed, according to AAA Travel experts. Among the sources of information in addition to your travel agent is the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of Thursday, Sept. 3, 2021:
• Fully vaccinated people can travel domestically with little risk.
For unvaccinated people, they advise delaying travel. Additionally, some destinations and travel providers may require proof of vaccination before traveling or for access to certain venues and experiences.
• Consider travel insurance to cover unforeseen expenses.
Travel insurance options can vary but potentially cover expenses related to the need to cancel or postpone your trip, flight delays or cancelations, and any extra hotel or transportation expenses incurred. In the past travel insurance did not typically cover epidemics or pandemics but some providers have started to introduce plans that cover some losses due to COVID-19 or other epidemic diseases and the shifting consumer expectations.
• Masks are required while traveling.
The CDC recently updated its guidance on mask-wearing, advising people in areas with high COVID-19 transmission to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. You will be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the U.S., and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Additionally, some states and cities have updated their mask and other travel requirements. Since it will be required it should be at the top of your packing list, and include a number of them for each person traveling. Cloth masks are being allowed on domestic flights but some international destinations may require medical masks so be prepared.
It’s also a good idea to bring disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. For road trips, consider packing water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
• Research your hotel to determine its safety practices.
Due to the pandemic consumers’ expectations for cleanliness during their stay has increased dramatically. As a result, AAA has enhanced its Diamond inspections. Hotels that meet AAA’s standards for cleanliness, condition and new surface cleanliness testing are now recognized as Inspected Clean and then assigned a Diamond designation.
The U.S. State Department is also warning Americans of delays in processing passport applications. It may take up to 18 weeks to get your new passport, and 12 weeks for “expedited” service. As a result, it’s recommended that you submit your passport application at least six months before planned travel.