Many travelers aren’t just gearing up for one vacation, but two: There is the trip they would most like to take, and Plan B if the Delta variant of Covid-19 renders their original idea untenable.
This time last year, many travel destinations simply closed. Now, the final decision often rests with would-be vacationers. They are navigating ever-changing travel restrictions and guidelines, as well as rising case counts, travel agents say. Canada reopened its border to fully vaccinated Americans, just as organizers postponed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, set to take place in October, due to rising Covid-19 cases in the area.
“Uncertainty is still the rule of the day,” says Wendy Burk, chief executive of Cadence Travel, in La Jolla, Calif.
Travel agents say more clients are re-evaluating their plans, but noted that people have different risk tolerances. Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Flier website and travel-concierge service, says a few clients canceled their coming trips to international destinations last week.
Some seem to fear getting sick or testing positive and not being able to return home for an extended period from their international destination, he says. United Airlines, for example, says that passengers won’t be able to travel on the airline for at least 10 days after the date they tested positive, which it says is in accordance with CDC guidance.
“I think there’s a lot of anxiety,” Mr. Snyder says. But he doesn’t think travelers have anything to lose by waiting to see how the Delta variant plays out before adjusting trips that are months away.
Joshua Bryant, who uses gender-neutral honorifics and pronouns, and their family canceled a trip to Turkey that was scheduled for October. They have a 1-year-old child who was supposed to join them. “The more we thought about it, the more we couldn’t really justify traveling internationally,” Mx. Bryant says.
The Portland, Ore., resident says they felt that, in addition to the risk of their child or other family members falling ill, it would be unethical to travel to a place that has less access to vaccines than the U.S. Mx. Bryant says they will feel comfortable traveling internationally again “when Covid is mostly a memory.”
John Clifford, president of San Diego-based travel agency International Travel Management, says few clients are flat-out canceling, but some are postponing leisure vacations. Of those altering their plans, he says 70% are replanning and heading to another destination, while 30% are postponing and waiting to see how the pandemic plays out.
Although 2021 air travel is significantly higher than it was in 2020, it still hasn’t reached 2019 levels. About 14 million travelers went through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints from Aug. 1-7, compared with 17.8 million the same week two years ago.
Still, numbers suggest at least as many, if not more, people traveling later in the summer than at its start. Some 13.9 million went through TSA checkpoints June 20-26. And U.S. hotel occupancy for the week ended July 31 was 70.1%, an increase over the average occupancy rate of 66.1% in June, according to hotel data firm STR.
“We typically see a softening of new air-travel ticket purchases toward the end of the summer months and expect a pickup as the holidays approach later in the year,” says Chuck Thackston, managing director of data science and research at Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets sold by travel agencies.
Jan Freitag, national director for hospitality analytics for CoStar Group, a commercial real-estate data firm, says occupancy and room-booking numbers should decline after Labor Day. Whether the Delta variant or annual back-to-school season is causing the drop may be unclear, he says.
“It’s really, really hard to parse [why] somebody isn’t traveling—because they can’t or because they don’t want to,” he says.
Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, says bookings at the hotel chain haven’t slowed down as of early August.
The situation around the Delta variant “has escalated really in the last two to four weeks, and I think public awareness is just starting to set in,” Mr. Allen says. “We are certainly prepared for some reactionary decisions by our guests, but at this time, we’re not seeing that.”
Kirsty Conrad has taken one vacation since moving to Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, in 2019. She has tickets to fly to see her family in Nova Scotia and travel to Montreal and Ottawa in October, but is on the fence about going due to the Delta variant and the looming threat of lockdowns.
“If everything’s closed in Montreal and Ottawa, I’ll just be spending a lot of money for no reason,” Ms. Conrad said. “I wish my trip was now. I’m worried by the time it does roll around, things will be out of control.”
New Orleans epidemiologist Julius Tonzel planned to hold his bachelor party in Mexico during the first week of August, but canceled it a few weeks before, as he saw firsthand Covid-19 become increasingly hazardous.
With the biweekly change in confirmed Covid-19 cases up 64% in Mexico as of Aug. 1, according to the University of Oxford, and with vaccination rates there low relative to the U.S., Mr. Tonzel is instead holding a scaled-down bachelor celebration in Austin, Texas. This way, he could avoid getting stuck in Mexico if lockdowns are instated. Mr. Tonzel chose Austin before cases there climbed, because of its relatively high vaccination rate and proximity to friends who could avoid flying.
“I’ve had to cancel something that I was really looking forward to,” Mr. Tonzel said. “Austin is not the same as Puerto Vallarta.”
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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