It's very beneficial from a PR standpoint for tour operators to vocally support vaccine mandates since the travel industry needs increased vaccination rates to help reach pre-pandemic travel numbers.
Destinations around the world have been increasingly enacting measures requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entry into public places, such as numerous members of the European Union mandating people display Covid passports to enter places such as restaurants, movie theaters and gyms.
Likewise, New York City implemented its own expansive vaccine mandate earlier this month that includes museums, swimming pools in addition to the same places the European Union is requiring proof of vaccination to enter.
So how have tour operators — many of which are taking guests to locations requiring proof of vaccination for entrance into public places — reacting to the growing number of mandates? They are, by and large, supportive of the measures, even if they’ve had to adjust their operators. Many of them have enacted their own vaccine mandates.
“As a company overall, we are pro-vaccine,” said Steve Born, the chief marketing officer at the Globus family of brands, which includes Cosmos, Avalon Waterways and Monograms. Globus announced on August 16 that it had extended its Covid-19 vaccination requirement for any trip in its portfolio through March 2022.
“We’ve very clear on the fact that vaccines are the fastest route to the recovery of travel. That is something we have a commitment to in our operations.”
Certainly, in Born’s case, travelers have gotten on board with the call to get vaccinated. 95 percent of travelers on Globus’ trips had been fully vaccinated before the company implemented its vaccine mandate.
Why have tour operators required guests to be vaccinated? It’s largely a matter of convenience, according to Melissa DaSilva, the U.S. President of Trafalgar, Costsaver, Brendan Vacations and Contiki — all of which are Travel Corporation run-brands that are requiring all adult guests to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 effective September 1.
“To get into venues, attractions, restaurants, guests were going to have to show proof of vaccination or their negative Covid test, which could be more than 48 hours old, which was really going to require on an every other day basis,” DaSilva said. “We felt (that) was going to be prohibitive to having the type of inclusive experience that we are usually giving to our guests because we would have to take hours out of the day — every other day — to get tests.”
“So it was really feeling like it was going to impact the experience and the traveling of our guests so much it felt like it was a necessity in order to make vaccines required to have a good vacation experience.”
dealing with unvaccinated guests
But before enacting vaccine mandates, how did tour operators handle situations with unvaccinated guests? For one executive, such occasions often didn’t end well for travelers.
“In cases where guests were not yet vaccinated, we assisted them in finding PCR or rapid-antigen testing centers in each location,” said Contiki CEO Adam Armstrong, who stated almost all of the company’s July and August guests had been vaccinated. “However, this did (cause) considerable cost and inconvenience to our travelers. In some cases, they were unable to join some of our activities as they did not have valid test results.”
“For example, a guest in Italy could not attend a guided tour of the Colosseum in Rome because their test result expired a few hours earlier.”
So how have travelers reacted to vaccine mandates enacted by tour operators? They’ve generally been quite supportive of such decisions, stated Guy Young, the president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, which are also Travel Corporation-run brands.
“We have had some guests that want to travel without a vaccination,” he said. “(But) most unvaccinated travelers understand our decision, especially when we explain the difficulty we would have in delivering the tour they had purchased to a level that would be satisfactory to them and to us. Many guests have commented positively on this policy change, feeling reassured by it.”
What mandates have changed
While it may be a relief to tour operators that their guests are largely accepting of vaccine mandates, the requirements do raise the question of whether companies have to modify their operations? Globus’ Born doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“In any case where we had felt that requirements were going to significantly impact the experience, we simply chose not to operate. So thankfully, those were very few regarding countries that were open to Americans,” he said. “But beyond that, there have been subtle twists in our operations in managing certain conditions.”
“So one example is for arrival to Britain — there is a negative test required by day two of arrival. So in that case, that is a place where going with a tour operator like Globus is really a benefit. Because if you’re on your own, then you’d have to navigate that situation completely on your own.”
Born added that Globus arranges tests for guests upon arrival at their accommodation. “They can take the tests upon arrival at the hotel, submit results, and move on on day two.That’s the plan,” he said.
But another tour operator believes vaccine mandates have forced it to enhance its preparations. “All of our teams have been required to take health and well-being training. This is to assist with identifying and understanding the symptoms of Covid-19,” said Contiki’s Armstrong. “We have also implemented new crisis procedures in line with the recommendations of the World Travel & Tourism Council.”
How long should vaccine mandates be kept in place? In the case of the four Travel Corporation brands DaSilva heads, proof of Covid-19 vaccination will be required for all of 2022. “It seems like it would give the most consistency to our partners, to our traveling guests, and it really seems like making decisions a quarter at a time was really just kicking a can down a road and causing even more confusion for the people that are looking to make vacation plans for next summer,” she said.
Finally, as tour operators are navigating a world fraught with unknowns regarding Covid variants and vaccination requirements, might such companies launch tours geared toward people not wanting to deal with the uncertainty of international travel? Globus definitely has.
“We have indeed developed new and diverse products in and around North America,” said Born about Globus’ Choice Touring and Undiscovered Tours. “This year, our domestic tours have fared very well, as they’re a way for fans of touring to have a rich experience without the need for a long-haul flight or concerns about foreign border restrictions.”
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Photo credit: Insight Vacations' well-being director chatting with guests in London. Insight Vacations