Tag Archives: Covid

Thoughts on Covid, Vaccinations and Resuming Travel!

What’s happening.

It has been a year without travel.  A year lost in many ways.  A year when we have stayed at home, learned new things about ourselves and spent more time with our loved ones.  Ironically, we have also spent more time reaching out over Zoom or whichever platform we use to connect frequently with friends and family we may not necessarily be in touch with as often.  We are all remote in more ways than one.  We have lived under this dark cloud for a year, and only now, do we find ourselves coming up for air.  For those of us who love to travel, it has been a year of not traveling.  For businesses it has more often been a year of heartbreak and failure as the pandemic has ruptured large parts of the economy.  In Travel, in entertainment, restaurants and bars it has been as close to a disaster as one can imagine.  And yet we endured.  Reinvented ourselves, changed our models and our perspective and moved sideways or backwards or jumped through barriers that we previously were too fearful to jump through.

And here we are. March 2021. Ironically as spring surges ahead and the first buds appear around the shrubs in Western Mass, the metaphor reminds me that we are slowly lightly moving along.

Vaccines are rapidly being deployed, Covid testing is fast and efficient and rates of Covid are dropping.  Yep, there are surges and still it’s chaotic in places but overall, the signs are good. The world has changed and won’t be quite the same, but we will get back to a near normal routine.  The economy will recover and travel…beloved travel will start up again.

We already have groups departing for Costa Rica, the DR and Ecuador.  Slowly Europe will reopen and even though masks will remain in place, even though there will be strict rules on Covid testing and vaccines, travel will return. Global airline travel fell by 66% in 2020.  The largest decline in history.  Tourism accounts for 1 – 10 jobs around the world. In some parts of the world, tourism is the economy. International arrivals in those countries fell as dramatically as 97%.  It will take some time to recover. On a positive note, we have had a 50% decrease in carbon emissions and our oceans and canals are cleaner than ever.  And we read more than any other year we have ever read! Books….and Netflix!

As we move to our second Easter under the pandemic, this one brings hope and optimism.  The sky is still empty over my house as I look out into the western horizon, but a few more planes have passed by this month. The snow is gone.  Let’s hope that the pandemic continues to melt away with it.

Destination Updates

Iceland is open to vaccinated travelers and people who are prepared to have a Covid test on arrival.  Even if you show a recent Covid test. If you test positive, then you are quarantined at your expense in a quarantine hotel.

Ecuador is open as is Galapagos with proof of vaccine or negative Covid test.  No test on arrival.

Costa Rica/Dominican Republic… Vaccine or negative Covid test.

London Calling….

 

A week of interesting possibilities. Travel is starting to turn its wheels and airlines and tour operators are ramping up for a return of summer business. This past week the UK announced they have coincided with a rapid decline in COVID-19 cases and vaccination rollouts. Come June, the UK is hoping to be at or near normalcy. What does that mean? Johnson and Johnson now have a single shot vaccine that will be available for 18 and under.

For travelers, there is no date set to jump on a plane and travel to “anywhere.” However, airlines, tour operators and cruise companies are starting to figure out the next stage. Vaccine passports and rapid Covid testing. Delta is continuing with keeping the middle seat free in coach even though it is costing them millions of dollars. Their hunch is that it provides confidence to the consumer when booking a flight. Southwest airlines stayed with the middle seat free option until they re-evaluated because of financial pressures and reverted to full occupancy where they can. Airlines are still touting the fact that the air inside the cabin is cleaner than most environments. But, with one less person or two per row, it’s a tough sell to say it’s safer. Ironically, bargain still plays out stronger than safety and people are prepared to fly on fuller planes for a cheaper fare.

Life at the next stage after the pandemic and slowly the world is moving. Restricted capacities will still be a way of life through the end of 2021. In general, it will affect theatres, stadiums and performance venues. Until the numbers recede to optimum levels and the vaccine reaches a higher percentage of penetration.

Corridors for travel are being actively discussed. Greece and UK. Spain and Italy. Everyone is looking for a way to fill their hotels and restaurants. In addition, the Europeans and the UK are dealing with the Brexit nightmare. Brexit is largely remaining undercover because of the pandemic but as we move further out of this, the Brexit issues will start to emerge effecting tourism.

Most travel companies are starting to ramp up. Getting ready. USA to anywhere is still fragile. USA to USA will probably go first. Then the Caribbean. Then the world. And it will start to move fast depending on vaccines and rates of infections. It will probably start to form a more normal rhythm at the end of the summer with established corridors enabling travelers to move safely with restrictions from one zone to another. By December the world should be open. Again, with a combination of vaccine travel documents, rapid Covid tests at airports and hotels and reasonable capacity limits in entertainment venues. Nearly normal or new normal!

The good news is that the Tokyo Olympics is officially on in late July. The Euro soccer championships is a go in early June across the entire European continent. Theaters will start opening in the UK and pubs and museums will begin their awakening. Now we can start to imagine walking through Covent Garden on the way to St. Martin’s Lane for a night at the theatre. Now we imagine a walk-through Baroque Rome and a nightcap in the Piazza Navona. What seemed like a lifetime away is within reach. We may have to show up at the airport even earlier, tolerate longer lines at immigration entry as not everything will return to normal. But, hey, it’s better than I could ever have imagined a few months ago and feels like were heading somewhere soon.

Clocks are moving forward. Things are happening. New regulations are being put in place so we can start traveling again.

The Super Bowl, Vaccines, Covid and Travel

February’s under way with lots of snow in the northeast and Tom Brady wins his 7th Super Bowl. He used to be our guy. But he left us and opted for warmer weather. So now we’re all Buccaneer fans!

Valentine’s day coming up, and the vaccine is slowly and painfully being distributed. Some states moving faster than others but the wheels are turning.

Some questions arising this week. International questions. Is there any place open right now? In brief, from a traveler’s point of view…. not really. Europe is still closed, but they are vaccinating at a decent clip.  Airlines are insisting on a Covid test requirement for all International flights. Domestic, while threatening to do the same, has not instituted a Covid test requirement yet. That may change and masks are still mandatory on all flights.

Until we reach levels of herd immunity (75-80%) it’s unlikely we will see any relaxation.  In addition, Vaccine Passports are now being used and phased in on some cruises.  Expect that to gain popularity as the vaccine program rolls out more extensively.  For 2022, it will almost certainly be a standard factor in travel.  It may mean adult only passengers will need to have a vaccine passport.  Not sure quite how this will pan out, but more clarity will develop over the next month or so.

Some resort hotels are now offering Covid testing as a way to offset the fall in demand for warm climate vacations.  Airlines have seen a massive drop off because of the new ruling that prevents travelers returning to the USA without a prior test.

The world is moving at different speeds when it comes to vaccines.  As would be expected. Follow the money.  Two countries do not publish Covid data.  Tanzania and North Korea. Tanzania is full speed ahead on opening, but it hasn’t reported a Covid case since last April. Only 509 cases total have been reported and that number has not budged, while its neighbors are off the charts. According to the President of Tanzania, it’s all down to divine intervention. Good luck with that during safari vacation season!

Some great news on the transatlantic front.  JetBlue has announced it will open up a Boston and New York London corridor in May.  Blue sky is coming!!  Great Business class (Mint) at a fraction of the price of the regular carriers and twice as nice!  In addition, the economy fares are great with more amenities than their competitors.  JetBlue is in the transatlantic business….hooray.

Peter

As the World Turns

So, the world just turned upside down.

An election in the USA will bring change and hopefully a more international orientation. Vaccines are being moved through final phases to help us see the end of this desperately bleak pandemic. At the same time, the world has gone into lockdown once more and cases of Covid-19 in the USA are spiraling out of control.

But somehow, this week felt better than prior weeks. It may be because there is more Covid-19 testing, better treatment facilities, and above all, there is now a clear pathway out of this difficult period. Our travel world, which has relied upon a vicarious remote world wandering through cities, museums, and off-the-wall places, now at least starts to see a crack in the door. Airlines are still running restricted capacity and most places are closed…but there is a crack in the door. It’s not much but some light is shining through.

I don’t quite know how it will feel the first time that I go to an airport, check-in for the flight, sit on an airplane, and wait to be whisked to a foreign place. It has been a part of every month of my life for so long. Looking for that day to come.

Reflections on the Pandemic: A Slow Reopening

As Europe has slowly opened this summer, I get to see the places that I frequent through my friends that live there. I get to look at the canals in London, the empty piazzas of Venice, I get to walk through the royal parks and Hampstead Heath, and I truthfully miss it all. Travel is such a compelling part of my life and my colleagues’ lives, that at some point we are all going to jump on a plane to go anywhere and begin the journey once again.

I was thinking of this the other day as I was driving from my house to the office in Boston. But by instinct, I took the wrong turn and I ended up at Boston’s Logan Airport. I almost felt like parking the car, getting out, saying hello to the British Airways staff, and just having a walk around Terminal E. I probably need to see a therapist and I quickly continued back through the tunnel to correct my mistake and headed into the office. But in the meantime, I am waiting for departure day to arrive!

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Cooking Bit

I like cooking and always have. I think I was inspired by my childhood growing up in London. My mum was a terrible cook, and I grew up in the post-war period when rationing was still around. We had to supplement our diet with cod liver oil, halibut orange tablets, and spoonfuls of malt along with the customary bottle of milk at school. There were no eggs, no bananas, and in those days, cooking was just a matter of assembling what you could and feeding everybody with whatever was available. Things like garlic never reached the shores of England. I can remember the French would come over on their bikes across the channel from Calais with strings of onions and would sell them through the streets of London. That was about as exotic as it got. My mum would always burn the onions, and to this day, I still love the taste of burned fried onions with mashed potatoes.

Fast forward to the pandemic and everybody suddenly started to become creative and innovative because there were no restaurants. Money was tight and there were lots of chefs giving free video cooking lessons on the internet. All of us probably became better cooks – a positive from this pandemic. Some of us who cannot cook were likely tempted to think that they could and terrorized their family and friends with dishes they should not be experimenting with. Everyone probably said in a muffled voice, “This is really good. How did you make it?” while thinking to themselves, “When will this pandemic end because these people can’t cook!”

But cooking is fun. It is a process and all of us, even the non-cooks, can begin to appreciate how complicated and difficult it is to prepare a meal for a few people, let alone many more at a restaurant every night. Out of this whole thing, I have a deep appreciation for all of the chefs at all restaurants that I miss going to. All of the inspiration for the dishes that I try to concoct have come from the restaurants I used to go to and no longer can at the moment.

The other week, one of my favorite restaurants, Gypsy Apple, opened for the first time since the pandemic started – Chef Michelangelo Wescott, it was good to have you back again. At least one meal can be prepared professionally now. For the rest of us, we can go about our ways with experimenting, coring artichokes, preparing pastas, and baking cakes as best we can, given the fact that our confidence has been boosted by the mere fact that there is no choice. And we will still continue to say things like, “This is really good. Do you have the recipe for it?”, when it was plainly inedible, and you hope to God that the restaurants will open soon.

Check out this video of me making Carciofi alla Romana!

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Mask

Seven months ago, I went into a tiny store in Kyoto and bought myself a set of three masks because I thought it would be cool to emulate the health and safety protocols that Japan has had for years. Who would have thought that we would all be wearing masks as a matter of protocol on a daily basis?! Whether it is a lightweight bandanna around your neck, a medical mask, or a designer one from a fancy shop, it is standard to wear one now in Massachusetts. And in most countries in the world, it’s impossible to enter a store without a mask. Belarus is definitely an exception but they seem to have more problems with their crazy government than most. Who would have thought that when I saw the intricate masks worn at Venice Carnival back in February, like the long nose masks used to protect against the plague, it would be a premonition of what we’d see around the world on a daily basis? Even leaders of the world wear masks with the exception of the USA and Belarusian Presidents!


Who would have thought that to enter a museum, shop, or restaurant, now means that you must wear a mask. “No mask, no entry” signs are standard everywhere. I have approximately 30 masks now and I keep buying extras from my dry cleaner since he’s selling them to help supplement his decrease in business. Who would have thought?

I am not sure when we will return to our new normal. But one thing I know is that I will continue to wear my mask for the foreseeable future. It may not be 100% safe but it is preventative, protects other people from me and me from other people. And guess what? In my business, you can’t fly without one now. And who would have thought that?

Reflections on the Pandemic: An April to Remember

As I now sit out in Western Massachusetts watching the annual invasion of Japanese beetles balanced by an influx of hummingbirds and crickets and dragonflies, I was thinking how quickly April passed and how Easter came and went. That’s when I realized I had never spent Easter in the USA. I always find myself traveling because that is when our groups travel and it’s one of the busiest times of our year. I find myself jumping on planes and trains and moving between London and Paris, while sometimes catching the processions in Seville or other times listening to the Papal Blessing in St. Peter’s Square. I rarely spend a spring without visiting Versailles. Even Notre Dame under construction would have been a place I would go. After all, I was there last summer when it took fire and I witnessed the scene from the top of the Montparnasse Tower with the fabulous Marie-Helen Hickman, our Frenchie-Alabaman Tour Manager whose whole family of stars have worked with us over the years.

So, this year I had Easter in Western Mass for the first time ever. April in New England is always interesting as we still have the occasional snow storm, the last splurge of winter, in between the mud season getting going. April came and went but at least I got to enjoy Easter egg hunting with Cecilia, my grandchild. And still we thought we would be back in travel mode sooner than later. We still had a bunch of groups who were hanging on for the summer. Although increasingly people began trending towards rolling over their trip to next year.


And then global travel started to really shut down. I would get reports from Jessica, our niece in Rome, who was locked in her apartment with her husband and daughter, Beatrice. Italy was under complete lockdown and masks were already mandatory. You could not leave your apartment without a certificate and you had to prove you were going to either the pharmacy or a grocery store. Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, all came tumbling down too. The UK followed – albeit halfheartedly at the beginning. And the USA finally started to take it seriously. Suddenly I started to delve into my bag of tricks and retrieved as many magnets as I could from all of the trips I had taken. I popped them on my fridge. Every now and again when I go to grab my milk, I stare at a magnet and disappear into whatever takes my fancy and whatever is on the fridge. I will always regret not buying more magnets for times like this.

And the toll of Covid-19 continued to spiral. Fatalities, sickness, it all became very real and very frightening. It was clear that we were going through something that we had never experienced before as individuals, as a company, as families, or as countries. This was huge.

Reflections on the Pandemic: The Beginning

Strangely enough, this whole challenging saga began after my second trip to Japan in January 2020. After visiting only a few months prior, I had returned to the country again to see Tokyo and Kyoto, and this time I even got to visit Hiroshima. As I love Japanese food, I ate up a storm on this trip, and I dove deeper into Japanese culture. Even knowing that this was my second time there, it was still mind-blowing and spectacular. But there was this thing in the background that I was aware of. I had picked it up on the BBC News and knew it was out there. But I thought it would be resolved.

There was a cruise ship in Tokyo Bay that had been stranded while they tried to figure out what to do with people who had been infected by isolated cases of this novel virus, Covid-19. I think we all thought that it would be sorted out quite quickly as Japan is highly organized and efficient and that they would help to isolate whatever this was, and life would go on. For me, I continued to travel.

Fast forward a few weeks to coming through the Marco Polo Airport in Venice on February 20th. It wasn’t a big deal but I had my temperature checked before immigration. Immigration in nearly every European airport is electronic. So, it was strange to see somebody jumping out of nowhere with a machine that detected your temperature. I didn’t think too much of it and headed into town on a boat across the glorious lagoon. Had I known what was about to follow, I think I would have asked the motoscafi guy to go super slow so that I could taste every single aspect of that journey from the airport into Venice. It is probably the greatest single airport transfer in the world.

I checked into the hotel and went for lunch at a cool place as I waited for a friend of mine to come in that evening. I even met up with an ACIS group. I hung out with Anna Costes, our fantastic and fabulous Tour Manager, and we made some silly poses with masks on. We didn’t think much of it except how lucky we were to be in a town like this, in a setting like this, as everyone walked around in wonderful Venetian Carnival costumes and masks. It was a theater set in the center of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The next day, I walked around the city and people were flooding in from everywhere since it was Saturday. At Carnival, the city usually enjoys three million visitors. I had a bite to eat, left Venice, and drove with my friend to Switzerland. Every year I go skiing there – the same hotel, same mountains, and same friends. We have been doing it for 20 years. I know exactly what is around every corner of the mountain. Believe me, at my age I’m not looking for surprises. I’m more of a sightseeing skier and I like to coast and cruise while I take in the scenery. I even know what the hotel room looks like and I know the people in the hotel. Had I known what was about to unravel, I would probably have savored that week a little more. But same hotel, same mountain, same bartender, same friends. It seemed just like any other week in the mountains. Except it wasn’t.

This was the last week that Europe would be open. That week was when the cruise ship in Japan became a deteriorating situation, and Japan had shutdown. Italy, one of the first European countries to experience this outbreak, started to shut down too. The Carnival was cancelled. Borders were closed. Literally the lights went out during the course of that week slowly but surely. By the end of the week, Europe was shutting down.

By the time I got back to Boston, I wasn’t even sure what kind of entry issues immigration would give me. I boarded the busy British Airways plane from London to Boston, and upon arrival, I had to ask somebody if there was any special immigration protocol for Covid-19, or new entry requirements, or new concerns. An immigration official said that nothing unusual was required. Welcome home. There were no temperature checks or masks being worn then and they let me through as normal.

The first 10 days of March was confusing. Italy had essentially shut down right after I left, some countries remained fairly open, and we still had groups traveling. The last two groups out there were Jim Minor from Sarasota on an amended European itinerary, and Lucy Bartholomee from Dallas was in Australia. Everyone else had cut their journey short or rethought their plans. By mid-March, everyone stopped traveling. In four weeks, this virus, which started in China, became global.

I was thinking of all the traveling I had done since the start of the year. When I was in Barcelona in January to celebrate our Global Teacher Conference (with more teachers than ever before), I wish I had stayed a little longer to taste this wonderful city by the Mediterranean. It always energizes me. When I went to Bruges, I was so charmed by the place, and a beautiful evening hanging out in a gorgeous converted monastery, that I nearly took it for granted because I knew I would be back since that’s what I do. I travel, I wonder, I learn, I travel, and it changes me. And then the world stopped.