You can’t avoid news about major disruptions to the worldwide travel and leisure industry. Travel bans and closed borders. People being asked to work from home. Even if you want to get out of the house, it feels like every leisure activity is closed for the next two weeks. Schools are also closed for two weeks or more. Some events, like Broadway shows and concert tours, are canceling for the next 30 days.
It’s easy to see those numbers and start looking at the calendar. Is that when people think things will start returning to normal, and SportsCenter will start showing the Top 10 of the day instead of talking about the stadium workers who currently don’t have jobs? Will all of the places be open again? Is that when we’re all safe to go back to the way things were? Can we start making travel plans?
Don’t count on it.
I’ve seen Tweets from people saying how they’re still traveling as much, or more than before, because prices are so low. I can’t say it any better than Shawn from Miles to Memories in his post “Don’t Be A Jerk! Why I Have Decided To Cancel Months Worth of Travel.” I also found a letter telling people, “Now Is Not the Time to Travel Abroad (An Open Letter from 85 Travel Bloggers).” These posts come from people whose lives revolve around their travels and writing about them. If they’re telling you that now is a time to stay home, at least give that idea some SERIOUS thought.
Our travel plans, as well as our social calendar for the next weeks and months, have opened up considerably. I had a feeling this was going to be way worse for the travel industry and the economy than 9/11 weeks ago, and it looks like my fears were well-founded.
Part of me wants to know when this will be over. When can we travel again and feel OK about it?
What We Know
This is my favorite YouTube video from the last month.
This explains how contagious diseases spread. Even if people are spread out in different groups, or in this case, countries, or states. One group might start later than the others, but they’ll all eventually get to the same point.
Look at places that have done an excellent job at containment. Singapore is held up as an example of what you should do. Two months after the initial outbreak in the nation, things are starting to return to normal. Well, a new normal. Gatherings of more than 250 people are still not allowed. People are staying home if sick. When in public, handwashing is a regular activity.
Hong Kong also has a low number of cases by implementing a more severe response. Schools are closed, along with many businesses. Transport between Hong Kong and China has been almost totally eliminated. People who have been identified as carrying the virus are identified, and anyone in contact with that individual is put under quarantine. Many residents have resorted to staying in their apartments for most of the day.
While these practices have kept numbers low, they’re not at zero. Compare that to places with more lax responses like Italy and France. After suffering dramatic increases in cases and hospitalizations, both countries are essentially shutting down to stop the spread.
So, do I think postponing sporting events, canceling concerts, and closing theme parks for two weeks is going to stop the spread? Nope. Will it slow it? Yes. Is that a good thing? Absolutely. I’ve watched the number of cases in Florida almost double this weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doubles again by Monday.
So what can staying home and washing hands all the time accomplish? All our changes will do is “Flatten the curve.” That means we’re extending the time where we’ll be dealing with new people getting sick. In order not to overwhelm our medical system, it’s better for 10 people a week to be sick for 10 weeks than 100 people get sick all at once.
How Long Will This Last?
Your guess is as good as mine. I’d be willing to bet that we’re looking at a time frame of months, not weeks. So when you see Disneyland is closed for 2 weeks and think you’ll be able to visit next month, I’d seriously reconsider. Ski resorts in Colorado, like Vail, have closed for at least a week (but they’ll probably be closed for longer). Las Vegas is shutting buffets, and Cirque shows are closing for at least 30 days. The cruise industry is grinding to a halt.
The problem is that no one knows how long these measures have to last to slow the spread of the disease. Asian theme parks have been closed for seven weeks and counting. What if you close for two weeks and reopen only to have an outbreak shortly thereafter? Once closed, it’s easier to stay closed than risk opening too early. Until you get an all-clear from the U.S. government, which is unlikely at this time, it’s up to local or state governments to make those decisions. That means a patchwork of delays or clearances and a bunch of people confused about why it’s OK to go to New York but not Miami.
For the travel industry, one other factor to consider is corporate business. Conferences, trade shows and even meeting at local hotels have all but stopped. Many workers are now doing their jobs from home because their company has forbidden any non-essential travel. Companies aren’t going to let their employees travel again until they’re sure it’s totally safe. I’d almost say that this time around, leisure travel may pick up before corporate travel.
For us, we have trips at the end of April that have already been canceled or are in doubt, and we’re still not sure about our plans for June and July. Maybe we’re a bit cautious, but we want to see how this all turns our before we commit to anything.
When It’s Safe
Eventually, all of us will get a feeling that things are going to be OK. New cases will stabilize and then start to fall. Know what happens then? Airlines will need passengers. Hotels will need people to fill rooms. The rest of the tourism industry will need customers.
That’s when there’ll be some great deals available for the first ones back out on the road. I’d be willing to bet that loyalty programs that had gotten so stingy over the past years will be begging people for business.
So while I don’t know when this will be over, I do know when I have vacation time approved when we were planning on going to Texas.
I did a quick look on Google Flights. This is the price for a ROUND TRIP from Orlando to Austin in August on JetBlue:
$81 for a round trip. For comparison, I paid $275 for a round trip on this same route last summer.
I went to JetBlue’s website to look at fares. This was the price for Blue Basic. What if I wanted a Blue fare (with seat assignment)? That’s $20 more each way, or $120 total.
I checked flights for the two of us on Southwest. $200 each round trip. More than JetBlue but also better flight times and still $75 cheaper than what I paid in 2019.
Should I book these flights now? Will things be OK to travel by then?
Right now, here’s JetBlue’s policy on changing or canceling flights:
Due to continued concerns about the coronavirus, we have suspended change and cancel fees for all new flight bookings made between March 6, 2020 and March 31, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020.
If I booked on Southwest, they never charge to cancel flights. I’d be booking with points, not cash, so I’d get everything back if I wanted to cancel.
Of course, these low prices don’t go out forever. I looked for a flight we need in November, and the price has actually gone UP since the last time I checked. Airlines must feel that everything will be sorted by then, so they don’t want to lower prices that far out.
I’d say that if you wanted to take some trips later in the summer (and have the cash or points to tie up), it might be a good time to book while prices are ultra-low. That’s as long as the airline or hotel has published a generous change to their cancellation policies.
More things are uncertain than certain right now. Understandably, people will want to get back to traveling. It’s what many of us love to do, myself included. While I’d like to be going on all of the trips I’ve planned, and subsequently canceled, I understand it’s best to stay home and stay safe.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the current batch of closures to go from two weeks to four weeks, and maybe six or eight by the time we’re done. While I’m not making any plans for the short term, low prices and generous cancellation policies may see me making some speculative bookings for trips we’d like to take if things turn out OK.
I’m fully admitting that I’ll end up canceling these flights and hotels if we still don’t feel good about traveling, but that’s a decision we’ll make when we get there. I can’t imagine what things will be like the end of next week, so I’m not worrying about next month or next year right now.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary