‘This is not the year of spontaneity’ AAA encourages early planning for summer vacations

Credit: India Duke

After a year with limited travel options, travelers leap on travel opportunities this summer.

Credit: India Duke

Spontaneous trips might not be the way to go this year as travelers are urged to plan ahead for summer vacations as pent up demand and ongoing COVID-19 restrictions might mean limited availability, higher costs and frequent changes.

“We are definitely seeing renewed signs of optimism about travel. A recent nationwide destination analyst survey indicated that 69.3% of respondents are ready to travel now. This is by far the highest number since the pandemic began,” said Brenda Hunsberger, AAA senior vice president of travel.

Many people are staying close to home, said Tony Huffman founder and chairman of Huffman Travel in Oakwood.

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“There’s hardly a place in the United States that you can get a reservation for the summer. It’s just totally booked everywhere except cities,” he said.

Huffman Travel designs luxury vacations, including air travel, drivers, hotels, dinner reservations and private guides.

Travelers should anticipate longer lines at airports and be on the lookout for significant airfare increases during booking.

“That really has to do with travel suppliers have been without revenues coming in the door for the past year and so there’s this combination of increased demand, limited inventory, and also a desire to recoup some of those lost revenues,” Hunsberger said.

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Europe isn’t currently accepting tourists but might open its borders sometime in June. Travelers looking for an international getaway can book flights to places like Mexico, the Caribbean, Croatia, Turkey, Greece, some African countries and a handful of other countries.

Those looking to travel internationally should their make sure their passports are up to date, Huffman said, as it’s taking several months to renew them instead of the standard three to four weeks. Also, understand the cancellation policies for any trip and consider buying travel insurance in case a trip should be postponed.

Tourists should expect to need a COVID-19 test to return to the U.S. or enter countries accepting visitors.

“Travelers who don’t provide this to their airline will be denied boarding,” said Chip Morgan, AAA vice president of leisure travel.

Hawaii also currently requires either a negative test or a mandatory 10-day quarantine for tourists.

As of now, travelers are not required to show proof of vaccination, but that could be coming.

“Ultimately, we anticipate that there’s going to be some kind of standard for proof of vaccine. We are definitely advising not to laminate the card because there is a high likelihood that there are going to be booster vaccines necessary,” Hunsberger said. “I think that what were going to see is mobile apps, similar to the one that the International Airline Transportation Association is testing right now.”

With summer approaching, Brenda Hunsberger, AAA senior vice president of travel, spoke about the future of the travel industry.
With summer approaching, Brenda Hunsberger, AAA senior vice president of travel, spoke about the future of the travel industry.

Credit: India Duke

Credit: India Duke

AAA experts agreed that they are seeing less cancellations and an increase in bookings for next year and into 2023, but some travelers want to plan trips for this year.

“What we’ve all been missing is that short term, two months, four months out. That type of booking for travel will start to kick in as we see the cruise lines launch their operations and borders open around the world,” Morgan said.

Families looking to plan a cruise may be able to do so this summer. On May 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated cruise ship guidelines as they begin trial voyages with volunteer passengers before the cruise lines return to usual business.

However, cruise companies do not need to conduct a test sail if 98% of crew members are fully vaccinated and 95% of passengers are vaccinated. Ships with less than 250 staff and passengers combined are excluded from test sails. Cruise ships will continue to operate at reduced capacity and could return as soon as mid-July if guidelines are followed.

“There will continue to be testing probably on the beginning of the cruise and on the end of the cruise, and certainly testing is required to get back into the United States for those cruise lines that are sailing internationally,” Hunsberger said.

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Vacationers shouldn’t expect top tier service during the summer travel season, Huffman said, due to high levels of unemployment.

“Even if you’re staying in the best hotel that had world class service pre-COVID, don’t expect it to be world class service for a number of months, because they had to lay off so many people,” he said.

AAA has seen demand for its road map service TripTik return to almost 2019 levels, said Debra Calvert, AAA director of auto travel products and services.

“2021 is certainly shaping up to be the year of the great American road trip once again,” Calvert said.

Families wanting to rent cars should check agencies frequently. Calvert said last year many of the rental car companies sold their inventory because they weren’t being rented during the pandemic. Now, they are trying to purchase vehicles as the demand grows quickly but are struggling to keep up.

“The lower availability plus the increase in demand has driven prices really high in the car rental world,” she said.

The same is true for airfare.

“There’s not as many flights, because during the pandemic every week they cancelled so many flights. They’re starting to put them back, but they can’t put them back fast enough,” Huffman said.

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