Local travel industry seeing uptick in post-COVID travel planning - Islander News.com

Local travel industry seeing uptick in post-COVID travel planning - Islander News.com

With its swaying palms, Windex-colored waters and sugary sand, Key Biscayne often is considered a vacation destination in itself.

But, with the COVID-19 pandemic entering its second year, when do residents begin planning for a “real” vacation?

“My advice is to do it now before airline rates begin going up, before hotel rates start to rise, and before everything is sold out,” said Greg Guiteras, owner, president and CEO of Lorraine Travel of Coral Gables, which operates Key Biscayne Travel on Crandon Boulevard.

“Even if you book now, maybe you’re a little unsure and you want to see how things turn out with the Covid situation … if the date arrives, then cancel and, in most cases, there’s no penalty.”

Guiteras’ travel agency was founded by his parents in 1948. His mother, Luisa, now 89, “still has a grip watching over the company’s finances” and makes sure hotels keep the deals on their contracts.

Like many travel agencies as of late, “the travel business has been pretty good,” her son said. “We’ve seen incremental bookings, even in cruise bookings, but no ships are going out yet, except for the Bahamas, so there’s only so much one can do.”

Although a travel agency like Lorraine makes bookings well into 2022, “we don’t get paid until the cruise is completed, so there’s no income coming in,” Guiteras said.

But, he noted, “the last two months there’s been a push.”

Where are the vacation hot spots?

Just recently, on March 14, Miami International Airport serviced 89,415 passengers, the largest single-day count of the year, according to a report by the South Florida Business Journal. That total included at least 720 flights traveling to and from MIA each day that weekend, the highest volume for the airport since March of 2020.

But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reiterated during a White House briefing that Americans should limit travel “to essential travel for the time being” as COVID cases in the U.S. eclipsed the 30 million mark.

So where are people going on vacation? Well, it’s mostly domestic, for obvious reasons.

“We’ve seen a lot of bookings in the U.S. … Florida, in particular, has been slammed,” Guiteras said. “Tourists have been waiting a long time. South Beach, you saw recently, got national and international news for the crowds, but we’re seeing more people, especially for Easter week, and occupancies are at maximum levels.

“But we’re also seeing a lot of (Las) Vegas. And California has done as well as can be expected, because they’re starting to open things up again.”

As far as international destinations, “this summer, Iceland and Greece seem to be the hot spots,” Guiteras said.

Those countries will be among the first to open it up to U.S. citizens. By April 6, Iceland will be open to U.S. visitors holding a certificate of full vaccination against Covid or a certificate of previous Covid infection. Greece will open May 14 for those fully vaccinated, those with antibodies or proof of a negative test.

Ready to cruise? There are options

Cruises might not open in the U.S. until November, although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on April 8 that the state was filing a lawsuit against the CDC and the federal government for keeping people out of work and handcuffing the cruise industry for so long.

Speaking at Port Canaveral last month, DeSantis mentioned the estimated loss at that point to be $86.7 million for the world’s second-busiest cruise port behind PortMiami.

Facing increased pressure, the CDC said, in a surprising move, that it won’t mandate that all passengers be fully vaccinated in order to cruise, although at least two cruise lines have their own such requirement in place.

Norwegian Cruise Lines asked the CDC if it can begin operating cruises from the U.S. at 60 percent capacity in July with everyone fully vaccinated at least two weeks in advance.

The New York Times recently reported that the CDC is planning to allow trial runs by cruise lines in order to monitor safety issues before allowing them to file permits to sail again.

But, Carnival Cruise Lines now has threatened to pull its ships from U.S. harbors.

In the meantime, people are finding ways to cruise, first flying to The Bahamas or Bermuda, where Crystal and Royal Caribbean liners will soon set sail.

“Hey, for the most part, I can’t blame them,” Guiteras said.

Crystal is a luxury liner that will be offering cruises for the fully vaccinated. The Serenity’s seven-night “Bahamas Escape” cruises begin July 3.

“I’d go, no problem,” Guiteras said, when asked how safe he would feel.

Royal Caribbean also plans to offer cruises for those fully vaccinated, but “they have been getting a little flak recently because a good portion of the population are ‘anti-vaxxers’ who want to wait, and now they’re saying, ‘I’ve been taking your cruises for years and years and now you’re telling me I have to get a vaccine,’ so a certain percentage, well, they (might) have a decision to make,” Guiteras said.

This summer, Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas will offer seven-night cruises departing from Bermuda starting in June, while the Adventure will sail from The Bahamas and will visit Cozumel, Mexico. Both ships will stop at CocoCay, 55 miles north of Nassau.

Positive signs ahead for travelers

Lorraine Travel has close connections with luxury hotels. The South Florida vacation specialist is linked to its own whatahotel.com and lorrainetravel.com websites.

“We specialize in luxury hotels, and that has been strong as of late, in particular,” Guiteras said. “Some bookings are close-in, like a week from today, but we already are getting New Year’s and Christmas bookings.”

If you’re a little apprehensive after hearing about U.S. travelers temporarily being stranded in Mexico after testing positive for Covid, Guiteras can put you at ease.

“Well, it is somewhat concerning, no doubt,” he said, “but the resorts we work with offer about a 50 percent discount on rooms and food while you’re quarantined. Keep in mind, say if you have a family of four, for instance, all four must test negative.”

Among the items recommended to pack are a thermometer, several pocket hand sanitizers, a couple of masks, cleaning wipes and proof of vaccine or Covid tests.

While the recent travel trend appears more positive this Easter, Guiteras recalled what it was like last year at this time.

Even starting in mid-March, it was terrible,” he said. “I remember the night the NBA game (Utah at Oklahoma City) was canceled when one player (Rudy Gobert) tested positive. After that, we started getting a deluge of cancellations, then for months and months, no new business, of course.“

“But as vaccine talk emerged and things were starting to look great … then the cases started to climb and the deaths started to increase, and back we went.

“So we’ve been through two of these swings now, but I think this is the one.”

Made your reservations yet?

Travel agencies on Key Biscayne include:

– Jim Eraso Travel located at 50 West Mashta Drive, #3 in Key Biscayne. You may reach them at (305) 365-6424

Key Biscayne Travel located at 660 Crandon Blvd, Suite 105 in Key Biscayne. They can be reached at (305) 446-4433