A mishmash of coffee mugs emblazoned with logos and locations sits in the cupboard: Kalik, Beer of the Bahamas; World Famous Mountain Top Coffee, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Falkland Islands – “Desire the Right.”
T-shirts splashed with the names of hotspots and name brands occupy corners in the closet: Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panama Canal; Bloody Marys Bora Bora, French Polynesia; Hard Rock Café, Hong Kong; Cerveza Clara Dos Equis, Lager Especial, …AAAH!
Even the ubiquitous baseball hat has been pressed into service, a bit pricey perhaps for all that they are, but still, small enough prices to pay for memories of Montenegro, or St. Maarten/St. Marten, or Dutch Harbor, or Cape Horn, or even 71° 10’ 21’ Nordkapp, Norway.
Souvenirs. They too might have been sourced in China, but for travelers complying with COVID-19 lockdowns and travel bans, they preserve cherished memories of better, freer days past – and hold out the promise of a post-COVID-19 future.
The travel industry is emerging from quarantine – slowly, methodically, and full of caution – “exactly the same, but different.” Hospitality gatekeepers are serious about protecting health of returning guests and allaying their anxieties, as they pivot to make health and safety the new, affordable, luxury.
From Hilton and Marriott, to Fairmont and Windham and their corporate cousins, hotel chains are implementing health and safety protocols for guests and employees alike. Plexiglas partitions protect receptionists and customers. Motion activated doors allow for touch-free entrance and egress for lobbies, lavatories, restaurants, pools, gyms, and lounges. One-time-use keys or keyless entry to hotel rooms are de rigor. Shared amenities such as pens, stationary, and printed directories, menus, and phone books have gone the way of matchbooks and ashtrays. Restaurant seating, lounge, pool and beach chair placement encourage distancing and a degree of isolation.
Cruise lines, theme parks, and casinos remain in a dissociative fugue, but progress is being made. Cruise ships remain crippled by no sail orders – most through 30 September 2020. Theme parks are considering reopening with reduced capacity, temperature testing, and mask requirements. Many casinos are halving maximum capacities, reducing the number of slot machines, installing plastic partitions to separate dealers from players and players from players, and limiting the number of blackjack participants to three, at roulette to four, and six for craps.
Airports and airlines are reopening in stages. Ticketing, luggage-handling procedures, and security-screening protocols have been redesigned to incorporate health screenings to reduce contagion risks, and enhance personal distancing, while maintaining requisite efficiencies. Air routes and destinations are being restored, commensurate with national alert postures. Airline interiors have been redesigned or modified, crew procedures have been reimagined, and boarding procedures have been tailored to reflect post-COVID realities.
Travel by rail has undergone similar transitions. AMTRAK is limiting ticket sales to 50 percent capacity, and encourages passengers to use adjacent seats for personal belongings. Masks are required for employees and customers in stations, thruway buses, and while onboard, (although facial coverings can be removed while in private cabins or when seated alone). Contactless ticketing is available with eTickets –scannable by conductors through the Amtrak app. Physical distancing protocols are in place for dining and lounge seating.
The travel experience, from taxis, shuttles, and subways, to ferries, and toll bridges, remains recognizable, but has been nuanced into something less spontaneous – not necessarily for the worse.
All the answers aren’t in yet, but it’s safe to imagine that from reservations to departure, from arrival to return, new skills will need to be mastered.
And then? Yes, and then we’ll all be able to restock our cupboards with new souvenir mugs, our closets with outré T-shirts, and our hat racks with exotic baseball caps. More importantly, we’ll all be able to get back on the road again. We’ll all be able to experience the new normal. We’ll all be in on the ground floor as the travel industry establishes an increasingly comfortable equilibrium between indulgence and pragmatism, between adventure and compliance.