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Ask Indagare: Coronavirus Travel Safety & What is Being Done as the World Reopens

After an unusual summer—to say the least—travelers planning fall and winter trips are finding a changed world. There are more destinations to choose from since July, both domestically and internationally, albeit plenty of restrictions, quarantine measures and health-safety considerations are still in place.

We’ve gathered answers to your most-asked coronavirus travel safety questions to help you make sense of the current travel landscape—and what is being done to ensure that travel is as safe as possible across the industry. We’re also identifying trends and assessing the best hotel and private villa options along with private experiences for the near-term.

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new COVID-19 hotel policies, the safest routes or transportation options available, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

Indagare Members can also see our curated list of Indagare’s favorite destinations open to U.S. passport holders now: Coronavirus Travel Information: What’s Open To Americans

HOLIDAY IDEAS

What are you seeing in terms of flexibility with holiday bookings—what kind of availability will there be for U.S. travelers?

With fewer destinations open, availability is already an issue at some of our favorite options in the United States and the Caribbean, including popular spots such as HawaiiTurks & Caicos, St. Barth’s and Antigua. That said, the season isn’t totally booked out yet, and there are still some prime options with openings in destinations welcoming U.S. passport holders.

What’s happening with ski resorts? Any news?

Vail Resorts, which operates skiing destinations like Vail, Park City, Beaver Creek, Stowe and Whistler, recently announced that no lift tickets will be sold at the actual resorts. Instead, mountain access will be managed entirely through a reservations system that will limit the number of lift tickets and prioritize season pass holders. The company will also be enforcing social distancing on chairlifts and gondolas, grouping people by party or placing separate parties of up to two people on opposite sides of the lift and gondola. Group and private lessons will be limited to a maximum of six people, and there will be reduced seating at the resorts’ full-service restaurants. The company plans to open its resorts to season pass holders on November 6, and will begin offering individual lift tickets on December 8.

BOOKING POLICIES

I want to book, but am still not entirely sure I’ll actually travel. Are airlines and hotels being more flexible in their change or cancellation policies?

New guidelines remain fluid, but we are seeing more flexibility on some policies from many of our partners, including hotels and airlines. American, Delta and United, for example, are broadly waiving change fees. And many of our favorite hotels now let you cancel without penalty up to 24 hours before arrival. That said, there have been widespread reports of delayed refunds.

And what about minimum-stay requirements. Have those policies been relaxed?

It is still common practice for hotels and villa or yacht owners to require minimum stays.

Is there any point to purchasing travel insurance since so many policies allow for last-minute changes?

If the cancellation policy on your hotel, flight or car rental is forgiving, then it might not make sense to purchase additional insurance. But if there’s a large advance deposit—often required on safaris, villa rentals or yacht charters—or a less relaxed cancellation policy, Indagare always recommends trip insurance. And it’s important to consider that some airline cancellation policies expect you to rebook within a certain amount of time. If your travels are event-specific and unlikely to be repeatable at a future date, that insurance helps.

Only a few insurance companies are still offering Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policies, but these provide the most security—especially since pandemics and border closings aren’t usually covered by other policies.

If I book an international home rental or yacht charter, and then the borders close, will I be able to get a refund?

Thankfully, many villa and yacht owners have added an addendum in their contracts to allow families to cancel should the borders close and prevent them from entering the country. By the same token, if you are able to enter the country but the regulations change while you’re on the ground, there’s often an addendum in place for this as well.

DESTINATIONS

Is there any update in terms of what kinds of places are safest to visit?

The Mayo Clinic explains that coronavirus “spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets released into the air when talking, coughing, or sneezing.” So destinations in which you can avoid being close to other people and spend a lot of time outdoors are on our mind. “When you’re outside,” the Mayo Clinic continues, “fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So, you’re less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.”

Where can I go this fall and winter?

Across the United States, many states have reopened borders, with most removing self-quarantine requirements. Some restrictions remain in a dozen states, including several in the south and out west. Indagare recommends these spots for fall getaways, all of which allow for maximum time enjoying the great outdoors.

Internationally, the State Department lifted its Global Level 4 Health Advisory back in August, and continues to monitor each country individually. Still, many countries currently prohibit travelers from the U.S. from entering, although the list of destinations accepting U.S. passport holders continues to expand. For example, much of the Caribbean is now open to anyone with negative results from a PCR test taken within a few days before traveling, and makes for an ideal winter vacation (or temporary office) with great hotels and luxurious villa rentals. Similar entry requirements exist for countries like Ecuador, Montenegro, Rwanda and the Maldives. Read our compendium of destinations currently open to Americans here.

I’ll be working remotely—can you recommend any options for extended stays in the fall and winter?

Hawaii—although it currently enforces a 14-day quarantine—could be a great option, with the possibility of reduced rates for longer-term house stays and services such as in-home grocery-delivery available. One of our former staffers is causing Instagram envy because she did just that all summer with her husband. Indagare only recommends properties that we feel are putting the safest measures in place to protect their guests and their staff.

And if you want to work remotely for a truly extended stay, Bermuda and Barbados might be the answer. Both islands have opened up to professionals looking for a place to work remotely, changing their visa policy to allow for travelers to stay up to a year.

Indagare can provide specific details on how individual properties are ensuring the safest possible environments for guests and work with our hotel partners and on-the-ground networks to ensure special requests are properly secured and managed throughout a stay; special experiences can be arranged with similar considerations.

What if I fly to the United Kingdom or Croatia and quarantine there. Am I then allowed to travel to other destinations in Europe?

This potential loophole in the regulations is, unfortunately, not recommended. Most European policies specifically prohibit U.S. passport holders unless they show proof of European residency. And while some travelers have been able to cross the borders this way, others have been turned away.

Where has the Indagare team been during this time?

Our staff has been working remotely since March, and has spent much of that time across the United States as well as in London. We’ve had people on the ground in California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming.

The Indagare Take

One of the things that’s been so magical about traveling in the time of COVID is the chance to be unscripted. Because time is so precious we’re so accustomed these days to mapping out every minute of every day. Everything is calculated for the big wow. So I loved flipping that on its head and really experiencing a destination—the way we did when we were children. My family would go and park ourselves somewhere and then you would really immerse yourself in that destination and discover all the secrets—and serendipity—and allow things to just happen. You had the time and the space to do that. And that’s something that has been an unexpected and incredible luxury in this time.”—Eliza Harris, COO

Related: A National Parks Road Trip in the Age of Coronavirus

HOTELS

What are hotels in the U.S. doing to keep clients safe?

Most of Indagare’s favorite U.S. properties have reopened. Here are some of the most widespread changes that these properties are making to ensure that their guests remain healthy and safe, this summer and beyond.

New Sanitation Procedures

Hotels are implementing stringent new sanitation procedures to comply with CDC guidelines and cater to their community’s needs. The cleanliness of guest rooms will be the top priority, with the addition of new measures like using air purifying devices and sealing the room after housekeeping has exited until the guest arrives with a 24- to 72-hour window before entry. Many hotels are also introducing such policies as limiting housekeeping services to between stays (unless expressly requested by a guest) and adding new roles like “hygiene managers” and on-property nurses to ensure all measures are being followed properly. You’ll also likely see staff cleaning surfaces such as empty pool chairs and tables between diners.

Whether following local rules or enacting their own, many hotels now require guests to wear face coverings in public spaces, especially when engaging with staff. In turn, it’s now common for hotel employees to undergo frequent temperature checks, and for hotels to require they wear face coverings and gloves at all times.

Contactless Check-In, Temperature Checks & More

Many properties have moved to contact-free systems for check-in and check-out, with formalities being carried out over email or in controlled environments like cars or protected areas. Temperature checks upon arrival—with guests who do not pass the screening not be allowed on the premises—are also relatively common. And at many properties, digitized room keys, itineraries, menus and other documents allow guests to move about freely and make requests from their phone instead of in person—while other hotels will now give guests “welcome kits” upon arrival with the tools they need to keep themselves sanitized and safe during their stay.

Redesigning Public Spaces

Hotels have redesigned their public spaces and adapted facilities to maintain social-distancing amongst guests. Hands-free sanitizing stations are now a common sight everywhere from the lobby to the pool deck. High-contact areas like gyms, spas and bars remain closed at many properties, while others have new reservation systems through which guests may book time to enjoy these spaces privately (with sanitation windows in between sessions). Other hotels have installed medical-grade air filtration systems in their public spaces.

The Indagare Take

“Out west this summer, I learned firsthand the value of staying in a freestanding unit, cabin or lodge. My own behavior and comfort levels shifted when I was in a hotel, even with stations of Purell and everyone wearing masks, guests and staff alike. So if I were to do it again, I would gravitate toward places where I could feel completely isolated—and where I had access to popular nature trails and unpopular trails.”—Lexi Polster, Trip Designer

Related: Our Favorite Hotels in the U.S. with Private Cottages or Villas

AIRPORTS & AIRLINES

What should I know about flying and what airlines are doing?

Airlines and airports have reworked the entire flying experience in reaction to Coronavirus to minimize crowding and contact and maximize sanitation. Here’s a breakdown:

At the Airport

In most parts of the country, passengers must wear face coverings while inside the terminals. Many airlines have added plexiglass shields at check-in booths, and are wiping down check-in kiosks and counters throughout the day. TSA agents now have passengers scan their own tickets, and the agency is allowing passengers to carry-on 12 oounce bottles of hand sanitizer, which will be screened separately. (All other liquids and gels still need to be under 3.4 ounces.)

Lounges have been closed or consolidated, as well: All Centurion, American Flagship and United Polaris lounges, for example, are closed until there is more demand, along with the majority of Delta Sky Club and American Admirals’ Club lounges. At the remaining open lounges, food service has been reduced.

On the Plane

Before you board, airlines have amped up efforts to keep aircraft clean. Delta and United, for example, will be using electrostatic fog spray before every flight. And to minimize inter-passenger contact, most airlines have transitioned to a back-to-front boarding approach.

Furthermore, in-flight services have been reworked. Meal and beverage offerings have been scaled back across the board in all seating cabins.

For everyone’s safety, most airlines require flight crews and passengers to wear face coverings except when eating (and enforcement has become stricter in recent months). And while passenger totals have plummeted, so have route offerings, often resulting in near-sold-out flights.

Some airlines, including American, have gone back to full-capacity, while others, like Delta and Alaska, are still blocking off middle and select window and aisle seats.

And if you’re worried about poor air circulation, that’s one area where flying trumps other transportation modes. The WHO states “there is little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft,” since “ventilation provides a total change of air 20-30 times per hour.”

Private Flights

Of course, one way to avoid dealing with crowds is to fly private. Charter companies have boosted their own safety and sanitation measures, enacting many of the same policies as commercial carriers (less human contact, more stringent cleaning, etc.). Interest among Americans has been growing, according to David Zipkin, co-founder of Tradewind Aviation, which operates private flights in the Caribbean and the Northeast. After a lull during the early spring, the company saw “significant uptick” from new customers looking for a “safer and more secure method of flying,” he says. And the trend is continuing into the fall and winter, with many people eager to fly to destinations like St. Barth’s.

The Indagare Take

“You have to be sure that you have the masks and the sanitizer, and the Lysol wipes, but actually, I was surprised to feel safe, from the moment I got to JFK to getting off my first flight. It’s all about your comfort level. I really loved Delta, with nobody in the middle seat, and I was surprised to find that the passengers (both in the airport and on the plane) were actually very mindful and respectful of each other’s space. It’s given me real hope.”—Diana Li, Marketing Director, who flew to Delta and United for her national parks road trip

Related: Private Charter Flights: What to Know

Contact Indagare or your Trip Designer for more information on coronavirus travel safety, including the destinations that are open to travel, new COVID-19 hotel policies, the safest routes or transportation options available, future trip-planning advice, inspiration and ideas.

– Elizabeth Harvey on September 9, 2020

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