Travel

In a constantly changing landscape, travelers are rolling with the punches

Things always are changing for travelers.

It’s a simple concept. But during COVID times, the changes keep coming.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association, or ATIA, had a big convention scheduled in Anchorage for last October. It’s fun to attend and catch up with friends from around the state. Plus, the group has its finger on the pulse of the industry: cruises, air travel and new options for visitors.

Well, the meeting got canceled. The group rescheduled a smaller event for last week. Then, at the very last minute, the entire in-person event was scrapped in favor of one big Zoom meeting.

At one point during a presentation, ATIA CEO Sarah Leonard apologized for once again using the word “pivot.”

And yet travelers — and the travel industry have had to pivot their way through two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes canceled vacations, delayed family get-togethers and a reworking of how and where we travel.

One lively panel discussion at ATIA brought leaders together to share how they’ve collaborated more closely during the pandemic. This included Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink. Zink praised the tenacity and hard work of businesses during the pandemic.

“We saw Alaska businesses responding creatively, mindfully, thoughtfully and quickly,” she said.

But what about travelers themselves? How are things changing for Alaskans anxious to travel?

“It’s important to remember that we now have 2022 tools to deal with a 2022 pandemic,” she said.

“In 2020, we had no PPE, we had no tests and no vaccine. All these things have changed. We have more tests than ever before. Plus lots of people have been vaccinated or they’ve had COVID,” she said.

Given the “2022 tools” available, plus vaccinations and boosters, Zink is more comfortable while traveling. She shared that throughout the pandemic, she made many trips to visit her family, including her ailing father. He died, but she was grateful to be able to visit as often as she did. “Still, we’ve delayed the funeral until July when we can be outside,” she said.

Zink and her family also made a trip abroad over the Christmas holiday. Usually, travelers to Costa Rica are required to have extra insurance to cover the cost of any COVID-related illness or hospitalization. But because she and her family are fully vaccinated, that wasn’t required.

“We had to fill out a health declaration and that was it,” she said. “Lots of the restaurants were open outdoors,” she said. “People were consistently masked when indoors. But we spent most of our time at the beach — which was all outdoors.”

To prepare for their return trip to the U.S., Zink and her family carried rapid “antigen” tests with them, which came with a telehealth appointment to monitor and document the test results. This was more dependable than trying to locate an appropriate test on the ground in Costa Rica. You can order the take-along tests online.

After her own travel experiences, Zink says plainly “We are going to have to trust our vaccines. I’d fly to other countries even if they had a flu outbreak.”

In addition to traveling, Zink admitted that it took her awhile to trust her N95 mask at work at the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center emergency room.

Zink recommends that travelers have a Plan B in case anyone contracts COVID during a trip. Her advice for travelers who test positive is simple: “Wait where you’re at for 10 days.”

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, changes may be on the horizon for the definition of “fully vaccinated.”

Currently, Hawaii offers two ways to avoid the mandatory five-day quarantine on arrival.

First, travelers can provide a negative COVID-19 test from a “trusted partner.” Locally, Capstone Clinic is a trusted partner. The firm operates an around-the-clock testing facility near the airport at Alaska Park, adjacent to the WestCoast International Inn. Travelers to Hawaii must test within 72 hours of their flight to Hawaii.

Second, travelers can upload their vaccination documents to the Safe Travels Hawaii website.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has added booster shots as an additional requirement to qualify as “fully vaccinated.”

Going on a cruise? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, urges you to avoid cruises.

This hasn’t stopped the cruise industry from rolling out a fresh round of discounts to lure people back on to the ships.

And based on the enthusiasm at the ATIA conference, communities in Southeast Alaska are gearing up for a record cruise season in 2022.

Before the ships arrive in Alaska, they’re sailing along the coast of Mexico and in the Caribbean.

Holland America Line is promoting a “kids sail free” program for ships sailing from San Diego.

Between now and April, two children age 5-17 can cruise for free when sharing their parents’ cabin. The two adults also get $100 per person in onboard spending money.

There are several Holland America ships sailing from San Diego on itineraries to Mexico, the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal. One particular cruise on the “Koningsdam” caught my eye. Sail from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta for $449-599 per adult (inside cabin). This ship sails on seven-day itineraries between Feb. 20 and March 20. Port taxes and fees add up to $145 per person to the total cost.

Between now and Mar. 31, all cruise guests, including children, must be fully-vaccinated. Additionally, everyone has to get a COVID-19 test two days prior to sailing.

Reservations must be made no later than Feb. 28.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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