Question of the day: Will mandatory covid vaccines cure the fear of traveling and get customers back on the road—or will customers feel bullied and refuse to travel at all?
As in all things 2020, the answer is a clear split decision. Travel advisors have strong—and differing—opinions. And meanwhile, big industry players are moving forward with implementation plans.
Apps designed to make traveler information (including covid test results and vaccines) accessible via QR code include The CommonPass app, in testing by JetBlue and Aruba; IATA’s Travel Pass, in testing with British Airways parent IAG SA; and the travel security firm International SOS’s AOKpass, being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan. Dangui Oduber, Aruba’s minister for health, tourism and sport, said the island already is testing a screening program that will include vaccinations by the end of 2021. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said proof of vaccination will be a condition for travelers entering or leaving Australia on the carrier’s planes.
But just last week, World Travel and Tourism Council Gloria Guevara warned at a press conference that governments that mandate vaccines “will kill their sector”—and many are wary that pushing Big Government solutions will alienate travelers.
I asked Signature president and CEO Alex Sharpe what he thinks; “if the vaccine rolls out the way it appears will happen, with high efficacy and without side effects, and if it gives consumers the confidence to travel, then I’d be open to it,” he replied.
Indeed, he noted, Norwegian president and CEO Frank Del Rio has told him the cruise line will require vaccinations for crew, though he is not sure it can be mandated for guests.
“I don’t personally have an issue with it,” Sharpe said. “If I go to Africa, I don’t think twice about having to have a vaccination. I want whatever makes people feel comfortable to move forward.”
“As a travel professional, I believe health passports and mandatory vaccines in order to travel are necessary to revive the travel industry,” agrees travel advisor Arleta Cosby of Cosby Travel Consultants. “Travelers want peace of mind, and destinations need confidence in their ability to protect their residents while boosting their economy from revenue through tourism.”
But “I don’t think it’s a good idea; it’s intrusive,” says Cruise Brothers travel advisor Mary Barrett. “We have privacy laws in this country for a reason. My vaccine record is none of their business. And it also discriminates against those who for some reason cannot take vaccinations.”
Many agree with her. At Azalea Travel in Summerville, SC, Perrin Conrad says, “If a vaccine is required to travel, I think travel will continue to flounder, and the comeback will be even slower. I’m basing this on how many people I have heard saying that they will not be getting the vaccine. Over time, that may change. But right out of the chute? I think it will mean a slower comeback. What we expected to be a tidal wave of pent-up demand will be more of a very slow swell. Many people need to see that they can trust the vaccine before they agree to get it.”
No way, writes Jennifer Doncsecz, owner of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, PA. “I hope it becomes mandatory! I never want this to shut down the global economy again and put people at risk! Too many people have died and gotten sick—with long-haul side effects. We wear seatbelts because it saves lives; no one is crying about civil liberties and refusing to put their baby in a car seat. If there is a medical reason why you can’t take it, then there should be an exemption card. For those who simply don’t want to take it, stay home and let the others see the beauty of travel!”
For many, a mandatory Covid vaccine is just another shot on the international list of requirements for entry—but they know that’s an argument waiting to happen. “If someone wants to visit the US they must have the vaccine,” says Tracee Williams in Fayetteville, AK. “The other countries should reciprocate. If you want to visit XYZ, you must have a vaccine. But there will be push back, fierce push back, on this.”
To others, it’s useful in some sectors more than others. “I’m in favor of a mandatory vaccine requirement for cruising,” says Rachel Pritchard at Elite Travel in Ashburn, VA. “However, the moment you place the word ‘Mandatory’ anywhere near this, you will have people revolt because they think their civil liberties are being taken away.”
No way Jose
Still, many travel advisors believe a mandatory vaccine will be just plain bad for business. Says Lori Spoelstra at Adventures by Lori in Lowell, MI, “A few of my booking clients are mentioning the vaccine—and most are adamantly against it. My clients want to travel NOW before the vaccine is made mandatory. Once that happens, I probably will have a DROP in bookings.”
Agrees Itzel Rodriguez, “My main business is destination weddings in Mexico, Caribbean and Central America, so most of my clientele are only traveling because of a wedding. A vaccine is an easy out for guests that don’t want to get a passport for the first time and don’t believe in vaccines. I have weddings booked through May 2022. Knowing what I know from this past year, easily 30%-40% of guests will cancel right off the bat should vaccines be required to any of those destinations.”
Andrea Subot says “mandatory vaccinations will deter a lot of people from leisure travel to those destinations. The idea of a Health Passport is raising a lot of privacy issues amongst my clients. Currently the best compromise I see is to give people the option of getting vaccinated or using PPE during their trip.”
And Executive Travel Center owner Susan Bruno in Rocklin, CA, has “a client with a $18,000 booking to Europe who said she will cancel if a vaccine is required.”
Not Givin’ Away My Shot
But wait just a minute, says Canadian travel advisor Dorothy Beaton at Roam the Globe Travel Company (TPI) in Riverview, New Brunswick. “This is a global issue; it isn’t just about us. It is an assurance to the countries that we are visiting that we are ‘safe’… just like it assures us that others entering into North America from elsewhere have a much-reduced risk of bringing the virus with them.”
Jen Nederfield at Seaside Destinations Travel in Montville, NJ, has “several cruise clients who say they won’t get on a ship unless the vaccine is mandatory.”
Dream Vacations franchisee Karen Coleman-Ostrov “had a client contact me today who now feels comfortable enough to rebook her luxury cruise, now that the vaccine is available.”
“It is all well and good to exercise rights and freedoms not to take the vaccine,” says Lindsay Mcfarlane, managing director at SNL Jamaican Tours Ltd. in Jamaica. “However, I also believe that persons who choose to take it should have the rights and freedoms to be/feel safe by not been exposed because someone else refuses to.”
At Gail’s Travel & Safaris in Manhattan Beach, CA, Gail Woloz is in favor “100%. I think it’s a good idea to bring confidence back to going through airports and getting on planes! We already need proof of vaccinations of various sorts to enter some countries. Heck, children have to have vaccines to go to school. So, let’s get this show on the road!”
Indeed, says Nathan Boyle of Travelers Dominion in San Antonio, “People may favor travel options where the people around them ARE required to get the vaccine. I will. If the cruise industry says ‘yes, get the vaccine, produce medical documentation of it and welcome aboard!’ I’m going to book that. Tell me I get a vax card and I don’t have to wear the darned masks, I’m taking that trip on that line. Tell me I have to cruise/travel with a load of people who won’t take the vaccine? Heck, I don’t even like shopping in grocery stores with the way people can’t even wear a mask right, or at all.”
The Devil in the Details
Even beyond the simple aye or nay of it, many see hard questions and thorny issues on the horizon.
“I think the trickier part is, at what point do you start requiring it? From yesterday, when they started administrating vaccines? From February, once the first group has had both shots? Once a larger majority has been vaccinated?” asks Marina Kiriazis of Life’s Travel Moments, an affiliate of Smartflyer in Brussels, Belgium. And, “on the flipside, if they wait to have this requirement until there is more mass vaccinations, is there really any point in making it a requirement if people have been traveling for six months without it?”
“A health passport is one more administrative component to complicate travel,” says Krayton Travel owner Mitch Krayton in Denver. “I think a simple certificate from the administering site would suffice, and that would be the responsibility of the traveler, not the advisor. Those that won’t mask or vaccinate will just create fake passports in defiance. Will the suppliers provide vaccination documentation of its ground crew, staff, and subcontractors?”
What about customers who are concerned that the vaccine has been rushed, or who have allergies and cannot take it, asks Maria Stefanopoulos at Ingneious Travel in Tampa. “Does this mean they then can’t travel?”
And the countries who will not agree. “I think it’s going to end up being country-specific, much like the quarantine rules now,” says Solah Journeys owner Bekah Eaton. “I’d be willing to bet that, by the end of this year, if you want to go to New Zealand, you’ll have to show proof of vaccine and Mexico still won’t give a ****.”
And what about cheaters, asks Jim Drennan of Cruisin’ with the Drennans in North Royalton, OH. “It opens the door for rampant abuse on a couple of levels. For those with enough money or the right connections, Health Passports will be granted regardless of their true health situation.”
A Travel Advisor’s Responsibility
Still, it’s a step we likely will have to take sooner or later, says Boyle of Travelers Dominion. “Viruses will happen again. And again. And more often. We had MERS and SARS before this; eventually we’ll encounter something even worse, that will move far faster. We need to at least work the exercise out: we need a rapidly created vaccine, less resistance to taking it, less political posturing tied to accepting the truth of what is occurring. We need to prepare our businesses for more of this, not less.
“I’m tired of people ducking any vaccine or obligation to the common good. I trust the medical and pharma to get it right. I want to see more vaccines. I want to see this done even faster. I want to live without fear.”
One place vaccines will definitely be mandated is on the groups being arranged by Allison Scola at Experience Sicily in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. “I am planning to require vaccination documentation for my small group tours. I think it will be a benefit to my clients,” she says. “These groups are 12 people and fewer, so I think my clients will appreciate this for the comfort and safety of all. It will enable everyone to relax and enjoy the camaraderie these groups share.”
“I believe it is the responsibility of the travel industry to ensure to the best of our ability the safety of our travelers and clients,” says Janet Semenova-Hornstein, RN and MSN, of Boutique Travel Advisors in Scottsdale, AZ. As a registered nurse, she says, she has watched the pandemic “claim thousands of lives and overwhelm some of the most advanced and resource-rich healthcare systems in the world. The vaccines have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective. Therefore, in order to protect our own citizens and our travelers, the industry should create international travel standards such as healthcare passports. By creating universal standards, we can limit the spread of Covid-19 and expedite the end of the pandemic, while allowing international travel to safely resume.”
Agrees Margie Lenau’ at Wonderland Family Vacations LLC in Grand Rapids, MI, “As long as we have this fear of unknowns about covid, we need to have procedures in place to get people to travel relatively safely again. Liability for companies can be high, and this could mitigate the repercussions, so cruise lines, properties, and tour operators feel protected and offer travel opportunities again.”
In Orlando, Cruise Planners franchisee Jeff Page welcomes the new technologies that will make mandatory vaccines possible. “It would be awesome if it could be a nationwide database, that once you get it the doctor adds you to the list. I know many will not be comfortable, Big Brother and all that. But if you are purely asking the quickest way to recover worldwide and create consumer confidence it needs to be done.”
Others are not so sure. Says travel advisor Ashley Bennington of JCo Travel LLC, who also is a nurse and a participant in a Covid vaccine trial, “mandatory vaccines to travel can be a slippery slope and could cause problems in events of emergency travel. I think everyone should get the vaccine; those who don’t want to receive the vaccine should have to work with covid patients and see what they go through. But there are still a lot of unknowns, like how long it gives protection for, and lots of groups who can’t get it. People have been able to safely travel without it using mandatory masking, social distancing, etc. I think those things, along with more accurate and widely available rapid testing, may be a better answer than a mandatory vaccine.”
Still, says Pamela Bromberg-Appleby at Pro Travel Inc. in L.A., “I think this is the one thing that will give our clients peace of mind to plan a trip. One of my favorite clients said to me, ‘when I go for my second vaccine, I’ll have my airline ticket in the other hand.’”
In the end, though, it’s not up to travel advisors to decide.
“It will be what it will be,” says Ellen Wellington of P&H Travel in West Bridgewater, MA. “Travel advisors just need to stay updated so we can make sure our clients are able to make informed decisions for future travel.”
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.