Travel is facing a myriad of issues right now: confidence, safety fears, economic recessions. But even those unprecedented challenges still aren’t enough to deter some from traveling, or wanting to – and thank goodness, because the world needs safe, responsible travel and the vital commerce brought along with it.
Unfortunately, for the travel recovery, there’s one greater issue that’s putting off the remaining few who are willing and able to travel to areas where it’s deemed safe, and it’s the uncertainty caused by avoidable human error.
In early July, the world slowly began to realize that some countries were still actually open to visitors, even including some in Europe where the buzz had been that most outsiders, like Americans, were banned. Croatia was one such country, and as the news spread, bookings skyrocketed. If you had a confirmed accommodation booking, you could visit.
Over the weekend, I had a friend with a confirmed booking to Croatia. That was good enough to get into the country on Thursday. But by Friday afternoon, it wasn’t, and the policy was effective immediately.
Despite all the aforementioned challenges, people still want to get away, they want to explore new cultures, new continents, cuisines or coast lines and they’re willing to follow safety measures like wearing masks on planes and dealing with extra hassle to do so. It’s admirable. But when Croatia tightened entry requirements, effective immediately, they became more than almost any non EU visitor could manage.
New rules brought the need for a negative covid-19 test within 48 hours of arrival, and isolating in a hotel for the first days of a trip. Hardly ideal, or even claer. The change took travelers keen to go somewhere pre-weekend, to travelers without any interest in international travel, at least for a while, post weekend.
“It’s too complicated”.
Within mere hours, news came in from Hawaii that the promised August 1st reopening date for tourism, for those willing to provide a recent negative covid-19 test, was also pushing back – or maybe not – it wasn’t clear because the Lieutenant Governor passed the buck onto a potential announcement to come from the Governor.
The list goes on and on. Like the Maldives which initially said you’d need to stay for a minimum of 14 days, submit to multiple covid-19 tests, secure covid-19 travel insurance and other measures before you can visit. Days later, the Maldives did a complete 180, allowing anyone to enter the country, effective July 15th, without any need for a covid-19 test, or minimum stay.
Or Greece, which has pushed back international flights from select destinations like hte UK by another two weeks, with little certainty as to whether they’ll get pushed back once again. New spikes in covid cases pull into question if any summer season will be salvaged at all, with talk of new lockdown measures.
The UK, which did nothing to stop arrivals from any country during the height of the pandemic, only to then quarantine all arrivals, then stop quarantining “some” arrivals didn’t help either.
It’s not that a decision based on health concern is wrong, it’s of course right, it’s about over promising and under delivering, which pushes travel uncertainty further down the line. Tell people it’s all off all around the world until September, but definitely on then, no matter what, and people will act accordingly. Tell people it’s one thing, then another, and then another, they give up and move onto new hobbies, like knitting.
The storyline is crystal clear: countries, airlines, hotels, restaurants and cafes are desperate for visitors, but until there’s leadership and clarity around getting into a country – aka testing requirements, hard dates, etc – everyone will remain wanting. A country is better off creating any rigid requirements necessary to ensure that once open, they stay open, than opening the doors too far and thus needing to close them entirely.
People don’t mind jumping through hoops, like recent negative covid-19 tests, if that’s been the message all the way along. Not everyone will, but those keen enough to still be considering travel tend to consider it the cost of doing business. And yes, at over $100 a test, it’s an actual added cost too.
Even airlines aren’t exempt from the confusion. Although a sensible and positive move, Emirates added a testing requirement for passengers departing 12 countries. The requirements left hardly any lead time, including areas where testing isn’t readily available, particularly for a certified rapid test.
Airlines around the world also waffled with mask requirements, before eventually coming to the consensus that they’re essential for the time being. The small few, compared to pre-covid times who are willing to travel are still finding plans stymied by the day.
It’s certainly not an enviable task to create steadfast rules or guidelines for travel in such a dynamic and shifting environment, but the few countries which have, have seen remarkable benefit, even if it means short term losses in the travel sector, requiring government support. It’s better to say look elsewhere for a defined period of time, or target criterion, than to invite people in and change on the fly, thus ruining or cancelling trips.
New Zealand, which shut out all outside travel very early on, is now covid-19 free. There are no longer any restrictions, domestic travel is booming and the concept of social distancing and mask wearing is just a bad dream, there now. You can do all the things from the old days, like attend sporting events, concerts and have large gatherings too.
Rebooting international travel now becomes an increasingly complex question, at least until a vaccine is developed, but there were never any false promises; and the narrative has remained the same: New Zealand isn’t open, and it won’t be until we let you know. Expect that to be in line with a vaccine. That message was delivered in April and hasn’t changed.
Countries, airlines, pubs, restaurants, hotels and guides are desperate for safe and responsible travel to resume, but until the goal posts stop changing, even the remaining few who are willing to jump through hoops are finding it all too complicated, for now. Hoops are one thing, burning hoops which are now moving are another.
Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...
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