With Omicron as ‘golden ticket’, US traveler fears fade

Rogado is one of many travelers to use a recent recovery from COVID-19 as a “golden ticket” to move, as travel advisors are starting to call it. Armed with both positive test results and a doctor’s note saying they have recovered, they are exempt from testing requirements to re-enter the United States, alleviating the fear of getting stranded, which in many many cases is greater than the fear of getting sick. And given that the provision lasts for 90 days from the date of the positive test, many are treating it as an all-you-can-eat vacation pass that is accelerating the travel industry’s healthy rebound.

“Our advisors are so busy answering calls from customers who feel covered in Teflon after falling with Omicron. Some are even planning trips while still in quarantine,” says Misty Belles, Vice President of Global Public Relations for Virtuoso, a network of travel consultants.

“It definitely empowered those who are cautious and promoted international travel, opening up the possibility of long-haul travel for people who had been shy about it,” says Belles. “For the industry, after going through a series of cancellations and postponements in the heart of the busy holiday season, this is huge.”

“I think it’s the busiest agency ever,” says Laura Worth, travel consultant at Embark Beyond. “The floodgates have really opened in recent weeks. Now the requests are just crazy, crazy, crazy. »

Let’s not forget that nearly 6 million people worldwide have died and a doctor’s certificate of recovery does not really protect travelers.

Although the virus boosts immunity, studies have shown that it is possible to be reinfected with the same variant; it is also difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to know which variant they have contracted before. Someone who had Omicron could get sick with a Delta strain infection, and vice versa. Or they could catch Omicron twice. When you travel, it can promote rapid community spread, especially if you visit destinations where vaccine availability or use is lower.

But two years into the pandemic, American travelers are generally less worried about getting sick than getting stuck, travel agents say. The most cited barrier in booking international travel was the requirement to obtain a negative COVID test 24 hours (or at least one day) prior to departure of the return flight to the United States.

“With so many clients, there’s this constant tug of war between feelings of ‘hope’ and ‘what if’,” says Worth. “People are always worried about whether things can be canceled, planning evacuations. There is an advantage.

Yet there is more relief in the conversation, she continues. “It’s the release of the fear of being stuck, more than anything.”

Some customers are surprised to learn, faced with this liberation, that they cannot fulfill their wildest travel fantasies.

“You have to remind people that they can’t just visit their friends in Hong Kong. [where the border remains closed to tourists] or pick up and go to chile [where there are still difficult-to-navigate restrictions]says Worth. “But you remind them, and then they remember, ‘Oh, that’s right.’ It’s one more thing.

With the “golden ticket” in hand, these newly energized travelers are going off the beaten path with vacations far more than their risk-averse peers. Some plan itineraries to see the Taj Mahal without crowds; others trade their easy jaunts to the US Virgin Islands for a quick trip to Cartagena, Colombia or Buenos Aires. For families with young children, this can mean the freedom of getting back on a plane rather than exploring exclusively within a walkable radius.

For John Walsh, the founder of electric vehicle maker Endera Motors, pandemic-era travel was a must. “I travel constantly for work,” he says from his company’s factory in Ohio. “I’ve been on a plane every other week and have been for two years, mostly domestic.”

However, knowing that he had developed antibodies in the middle of December’s Omicron wave encouraged him to travel differently. “It changed my behavior to some extent. I knew I would be healthy and I could live my life without living in fear, which is what a lot of people are going through these days,” he explains.

So Walsh planned an explosive vacation trip to Tulum, Mexico, where on New Year’s Eve he attended a packed music festival at the Papaya Playa Project. “There were no masks, no distancing restrictions, just a bunch of people enjoying New Years with crazy music – and that was the fun,” he says. On other nights, he went to bars and nightclubs to party.

“I’m scaling my business. For the rest of my 90 days, I’m head down with work,” he says. “It was the perfect time to go big.”

Visits to more distant destinations are also on the rise, as travelers who remain cautious about exposure to crowds now worry less about the quality of local healthcare.

Among them is retail store owner Harold Dweck, who had high hopes of planning a big family trip for two weeks in January when his children were out of school, something quite special to compensate for several years of canceled holidays.

“We were left with only two choices,” he said. “It was either Costa Rica or South Africa. But my wife kept worrying, asking, “What if we were in Africa and one of us got COVID?” We didn’t know how it would affect us,” he explains. “Trying to get medical attention when you’re in a remote location on safari? That was concerning.

The debate spanned from August to mid-December, when Dweck showed mild symptoms. Within two weeks, nearly his entire household tested positive. “Once we got the letter from our doctor saying we were healthy again, it was much easier to make a decision,” he says. With 10 days to spare, he called his travel agent and booked a stay at Royal Malewane and Singita Lebombo in the Kruger National Park region of South Africa.

“We had the place to ourselves; it felt like the safest place,” says Dweck, who adds that the trip “was our most amazing vacation.”

“During a walk at sunset, we stopped in the middle of the bush. They brought out a nice variety of food and drink for us, and I just sat in a chair watching my wife and kids take pictures and hug each other,” he recalled. “No one was on their cell phone. No one was trying to figure out what their friends were up to. They were just enjoying the moment.

An increase in business in hard-hit regions such as sub-Saharan Africa – where last-minute travel planning is generally not possible – would be a silver lining to the Omicron wave. But the freedom these diagnostics offer travelers can benefit everyone in the industry, including consumers.

“That vacation you took in 2019? It’s going to cost you 30-40% more in 2022,” Virtuoso’s Belles says, citing higher airfares and hotel fares. Part of this has to do with demand compression: on the whole, travelers have been willing to commit to travel only on short notice, often in the middle of the lower-volume safety net. “Now people are starting to book further, even in the summer,” she says. “For the industry, this is an exciting development.”

Worth says the company came as a relief after December brought a wave of cancellations, adding to industry-wide losses that have likely topped $4 trillion throughout the pandemic. . More importantly, she thinks the Omicron wave – and the masses of people who now feel immune to it after catching it – will be key to returning the way we travel to normality. “It’s been interesting to see how governments have changed their policies within Omicron,” she says. “This variant has gone so far and so fast that it has really challenged the idea that pre-arrival testing can prevent the spread.”

“It will end up being a good thing for the economy and the industry for countries like the UK to throw out the testing requirements and just say: If you are vaccinated, come,” she adds. “We have to normalize it somehow. And if Omicron does that, well, in a retrograde sense, that may have been a great gift.

About Matthew Berkey

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