Cabin Fever: Americans (of Means) Keen to Travel. How Many Will Play it Safe?

Cabin Fever: Americans (of Means) Keen to Travel. How Many Will Play it Safe? 1

Europe is in the midst of a Covid surge. The Qantas CEO is talking up vaccination passports, and the EU is planning on one for within the bloc, although the WHO is not on board. New variants are spreading abroad in the US. Yet with infection rates merely down to where they were five months ago, and only about 10% of the population fully vaccinated (and no solid data on whether/how much having been vaccinated reduces spread), American are sick of being cooped up. Many people want back to some semblance of the old normal and don’t want to hear that holding back another month would make a big difference. As the Wall Street Journal reports tonight, web searches and bookings show a keen desire to travel.

But there’s travel and there’s travel. Leaving town does not have to entail much in the way of Covid risks. The data indicates that flying is not too bad since planes circulate their air frequently and have high quality filtration; the big risk appears to crowding when getting on and off board, and being unlucky enough to have been seated near someone with Covid who is coughing. Wearing a N/KN95 mask and taking it off only very briefly (as in eat and drink in short intervals) ought to further cut the hazard level. Driving is even better.

But then there’s the wee question of what you plan to do when you arrive. I will confess to traveling pretty regularly under Covid for medical treatments, and no, I didn’t engage in side activities. And staying in hotels where service level have been cut to the bone isn’t very glam (no doorman or porter, when even a wheelie bag isn’t easy to manage with my injuries). By contrast, South Beach overrun by partiers and then put on curfew was the lead story of the Daily Mail last night. As of January, Carnival Cruise Lines ihad more bookings for 2022 than it had for 2019. Las Vegas is moving closer to an old-normal footing. From Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Room rates shot up over the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Hotel rooms at Palazzo, Linq and Planet Hollywood are available seven days a week again. Buffets and dayclubs — two major taboos at the height of the pandemic — are returning, albeit with amended operations. Fans are back at Golden Knights games again. Nearly 40 shows are performing on the Strip.

The list goes on.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill said the problem many entertainment venues are facing now is that to maintain social distancing, crowds are greatly reduced and many shows, including Cirque du Soleil performances, need a full house to be profitable.

“Elimination of social distancing will be key to filling entertainment venues,” Hill said….

Loosened restrictions have helped open the doors for returning visitors. Restaurants and casino floors are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, up from 25 percent a few weeks back, and certain large gatherings that had been capped at 20 percent can fill up to half of their capacity.

Conventions are coming back too. The World of Concrete booked the Las Vegas Convention Center for June 8-10, and three other trade shows were approved in the next 24 hours.

Now admittedly Maine did pretty well towards the end of last summer, but Maine is a particularly Covid-friendly destination: not bad driving distance from Boston (natives called “Massholes”), Rhode Island, and New York, most activities outdoors, many lodgings in the rental cottage/bread and breakfast/small hotel or motel format, so not a lot of crowding at peak times. Plus Mainiacs are naturally socially distant. That same format applies in areas where nature is the big draw (hiking, boating, camping). Not surprisingly, the Journal suggested that, for the most part, cities weren’t prime destinations this year:

Most home-rental bookings in the U.S. this year are along the coast, near lakes, mountains or in suburban areas—a sharp departure from the big cities that were the most frequented by travelers before the pandemic, AirDNA data show.

But that seems to be where the cheery news ends. And from even my own tiny circle, there was reckless behavior even during the bad phase. One of my brothers, within weeks of having gone to ski in Utah, spent Christmas and New Years driving up and down the east coast. By my count, he and his wife wound up in a bare minimum of seven different bubbles. And a ski trip planned for early in the new year!

Searches suggest there’s a lot of pent-up demand and as the examples of South Beach, Las Vegas, and my youngest brother attest, not everyone is big on prudence. Again from the Journal:

People are spending more time combing through airline and hotel websites, executives say. Traffic on Spirit Airlines Inc.’s website, for example, has roughly doubled since the holidays, Chief Executive Officer Ted Christie said.

Travel showed signs of a rebound in late 2020 before a virus surge reversed the trend. “This particular rebound definitely has more strength to it,” Mr. Christie said…

Travel companies are trying to help in decision-making. United Airlines Holdings Inc. launched a way for customers to search for flights with an interactive map that displays fares to dozens of destinations at once. Conceived before the pandemic and launched in September, it is proving to be popular now, the airline said.

United and other major carriers including American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. also are deploying color-coded maps for would-be passengers to figure out travel rules for different destinations….

Henry McAdams was one of those seeking an Airbnb getaway. The 32-year-old engineer said a day after receiving his second vaccine dose, he spent hours browsing Airbnb’s suggested listings to plan a trip with close friends. “I didn’t care where, I just knew I wanted to travel with the boys—somewhere, anywhere,” he said.

The article didn’t mention family get-togethers, but in recent month, we’ve had some readers volunteer that relatives are already trying to organize family reunions, and they were leery about joining.

There’s plenty of pressure to open up international travel despite the surge in Europe and the US’s “less bad” not being all that good:

Some 61% out of 2,200 Americans surveyed by Vrbo’s parent Expedia Group Inc. said they were likely to make a long-distance trip in the next year, according to results released earlier this month. Many countries around the world have closed their borders to tourists or have onerous and costly quarantine requirements. More than half of international air routes have been closed or suspended, according to the International Air Transport Association….

On both sides of the Atlantic, airlines have spent months trying to persuade governments to lift bans on U.S.-European travel, but talks have been complicated by the rise of new virus variants, slow vaccine rollout and rising infection rates in some countries.

And the CDC is wringing its hands:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against nonessential travel. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said rising airport passenger numbers are concerning and pleaded with people to wait.

“Every time that there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” she said at a press briefing this month.

In all the vaccine cheerleading, the CDC left out that “We don’t know how much vaccines will reduce contagion” and tellingly, the Journal was silent on that issue.

So have you made travel plans? Or are you close to making them? What do they look like? And what do you hear from friends, family, and work colleagues?

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