Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

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We interviewed renowned Travel Expert Claire Newell, President of Travel Best Bets, via Zoom earlier this week. Claire shared with us her incredible insight regarding what travel will look like now that provinces in Canada, and countries all over the world, are preparing to ease their travel bans and restrictions. We also talked about how and when to book your next travel plans and where to find valuable COVID-related travel resources (Hint: just go on to her website!). Here is the full interview: 

You can find more about Claire and her incredible travel knowledge on Travel Best Bets Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Transcription of the Interview:

Andie Skene: [00:00:00] So this morning, I'm fortunate to be chatting with recognized travel expert Claire Newell. Claire has been the president of Travel Best Bets for twenty seven years with a team of over two hundred and twenty staff. Not only has Claire visited over 65 countries, she's official travel expert for Global News, CKNW radio and bestselling author of Travel Best Bets An Insider's Guide to Taking Your Best Trip Ever. Claire has appeared multiple times on NBC Today Show, Fox News and CNN, and has been published in Success Chatelain, Reader's Digest and Today's Parents. Thank you for taking time to chat with me today, Claire, about travel and the future of travel. In light of the current COVID pandemic.


Claire Newell: [00:00:43] Thanks for having me, Andy. It's not been fun being in the travel industry over the last few months, that's for sure.


Andie Skene: [00:00:50] I'm sure. I'm sure. Well, how do you feel? I mean, obviously, you've been busy dealing with the fallout of what's happened, but how do you feel the impact of it is going to change the future of travel? Well, no question.


Claire Newell: [00:01:04] We're going to see a lot of safety protocols just come into play and likely stick. We saw things after 9/11 like the use of first and last names, which we never saw. We're even middle names. Safety protocols. Hand sanitizer, masks. You think they're going to become the norm? I also think that we'll see some shrinking both the capacity for airlines and hotels. Not every company is going to come out the other end of this, unfortunately. It's just kind of unfortunately, one of those things that is the fallout of something that has been this catastrophic to the travel industry. We've seen nothing like this. I've been in the industry I twenty seven years and seeing Saar's and 9/11 and multiple airlines go bankrupt. But this is worse than all of them combined.


Andie Skene: [00:02:00] I can imagine. I can imagine it's just everything's come to a complete halt. Well, it certainly seems that you think that.But then I'll notice that I'll see planes coming in and out and some  people are still traveling. So what is the.... What are the guidelines at the moment when I need to travel?


Claire Newell: [00:02:17] Here in B.C.w e have our own set of rules. You know, if you're coming into B.C., they're asking that you so quarantine for 14 days. And the federal government has an overarching warning, which is to avoid nonessential travel. And until that's lifted, I don't think that we'll see many people traveling. Certainly there are people who have been traveling through this whole thing and they've actually seen some airports that look almost apocalyptic. Andy, there's just show there and nothing, you know, if you do have to travel at the moment. Of course, there are certainly airlines going. A lot of airlines are actually ramping up starting in July. American Airlines is going to 50 percent of their capacity domestically within the US. Air Canada is beefing up to say ninety seven versus 220 destinations last year, but they're still wrapping up. Lufthansa has announced that they're going to increase their capacity in July, was starting to really see that. But the bans and restrictions are really the key. I know the E.U. is working really hard to have all of their borders open by the end of June, but it's a very uneven at the moment. And even here within Canada, people who want to maybe go and see Nova Scotia or PEI may run into restrictions. Not everywhere in this country did they fare the same. You know, here in B.C., we did extremely well. But in Ontario and Quebec lesser so. So I know that the federal government is working very hard to try and get some sort of consistency, even domestically within Canada.


Andie Skene: [00:03:52] Right. Right. So what if you have a loved one or a parent or someone that's, let's say in the U.S. right now? How does that work? I guess you can't see them, right?


Claire Newell: [00:04:05] Well, just yesterday we heard that the they're lifting restrictions here in Canada so that if you've got loved ones in the U.S., they can come here and you're free to go to the U.S. At the moment, there's no quarantines and no bans. So as long as you can fly there, it's OK. We're lucky living in Vancouver, where we can actually fly to many international routes. We're one of four cities in the country where we're actually seeing flights. You may not be able to get there like you used to you. You might have been used to going to some destination. That was a nonstop. And now, because of the limited number of routes, you may have to have a stop or try to get ultimately where you want to go.


Andie Skene: [00:04:48] Right. Right. Makes sense. So going for a new travel safety measures will probably add costs to airlines and hotels. But on the other hand, there might be competition to encourage people to try to travel. What do you think will become of the future of travel? Will it become more or less affordable?


Claire Newell: [00:05:13] That's a complicated question, but I'll try and answer them the best I can from from an airline perspective. The immediate future, I see the prices coming down. The airlines need to entice first of all, they need to keep their market share, but they also need to entice travelers to actually feel confident enough, enough to go. And a lot of people get over their fear during these types of situation when there's an unbelievable, like screaming deal. Long term with capacity decreasing. I don't see it staying that cheap. There's also a number of other factors. How long before there's a vaccine? Do they have to have a middle seat blocked off? Right. Jet fuel is an all time low and the competition rooting. There's just so many factors that are going to come into play. And on the other side, accommodation, once you actually arrive at write ins that we're seeing the places that are a little bit more remote and a higher end, not dropping their prices as much. And the big hotels, they are they're they're trying to entice people to stay with them. And we're seeing, you know, places like Vegas, which just opened up for 30 bucks a night for four and five star hotels. That's no kidding. Wow. Well, it's time to go to Vegas. Right. And there's no line-ups except there's no shows, no clubs open. Right. Right. Well, the weather should be.


Andie Skene: [00:06:38] So you examples people aren't going to want to go into pools, right? Well, you know, that's the thing. The safety protocols around the pools for sure. Maybe not going in, but around there are you know, groups are being put apart six feet and up. Safety protocols are unbelievable, particularly Las Vegas, because they have so much money to put into their protocol. You're going to be walking through temperature checks and not even know you're doing it. They have these wands And they'll thought they're doing fogging in rooms. They're steaming mattresses. But that's protocol that's taking place around the world. So what I was getting at is that hotels are likely going to really have to drop their prices. We saw that in Asia, which has recovered longer than Europe. Europe is now kind of trending flat with some uptick. And then in the U.S., there is, you know, are low, but we expect them to increase. A combination, though, where we are seeing some locations that are still in demand because there are certain places that are domestic. So whether they're in the U.S. or you're in Europe or you're in Canada, they have to reduce their capacity, but they still demand to go to them and see the small luxury and boutique we're finding. All right. Prices are pretty flat, so they're not having to drop.


Andie Skene: [00:07:57] Right. Right. Right. Lots of traffic. Interesting. So what recommendations do you make for future travel plans this summer? In the fall? People wanting to maybe book something to book. Now, what do you weigh for?


Claire Newell: [00:08:12] Well, as far as summer is concerned, I think we really need to heed the warnings of the government. And right now, eventually, they're saying just stay local, maybe just within our own province federally, don't cross the borders when those bans and restrictions are lifted, it's really anybody's guess. For the salt, though, and into winter and even into Q1 of twenty twenty one, if you can find, first of all, a deal you like, because there are going to be some amazing deals, and that is with a company that is offering flexibility in the terms of their policies. And we are seeing many companies do this where you have a very low deposit somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 or 150 dollars compared to, say, three or five hundred dollars. They're giving you a payment, a final payment options that are much closer to your departure date. So instead of 70 or 90 days out, twenty five days, 30 days, we're seeing and if you can change up to, say, 72 hours, 40 to 48 hours, that we have never seen that before. So as long as you know that you're not gonna be left holding the bag, if there's a wave or we're told that you can't travel, then I would do that. The one thing that people may need to keep in mind, though, is that travel insurance is not going to cover you for anything that is covered, related or your fear and decision to cancel.


Andie Skene: [00:09:36] Right. So if you were to get sick while you're abroad.


Claire Newell: [00:09:42] No problem, except if it's covered. So that's not new. Any travel insurance policy. If you read the terms and conditions would have always had something. Then what's there's a declared epidemic or pandemic that it would be null and void to that epidemic or pandemic. But if anything else, I mean, it's still really worth getting a.. Because if anything else happens to you, you will be covered. You write on something and you need stitches on your foot, because if you've cut your foot on coral or you've broken an arm because you've tripped, all of that will still be covered. It suggests the epidemic or pandemic related.


Andie Skene: [00:10:19] So if you got COVID while you were away and you got really sick and ended up hospitalized, then you might bring a bit of trouble.


Claire Newell: [00:10:27] Yes, that's right now. However, we are seeing that in some cases, certain insurance policies will cover you if you do need to quarantine because of it or have hospital and care because of it. But they're few and far between, but they are out there. That's why it's so important to book with a company that will give you like an airline, hotel company, tour company, cruise company. If you feel comfortable doing that, that will give you the flexibility to cancel just, you know, up until a week or, you know, hours before you go, 24 hours before you go.


Andie Skene: [00:10:59] Right. I think one of the questions that I had for you was actually orange. Is insurance increasing? Do you see?


Andie Skene: [00:11:07] Well, you know, in 2019 first year ever in 27 years of me being in this business, that we didn't see an increase and we saw manual like insurance. Doesn't matter which policy you set, you buy, whether it's through your bank or through your credit card company or through another carrier. We end up with debt with them for a long time to Kate or claims and they're going to deal with. But they haven't had an increase. And most insurance companies didn't have an increase in twenty nineteen. They usually increase between three and seven percent depending on the year. So anticipate that regular left. But otherwise, nothing too out of the ordinary.


Andie Skene: [00:11:44] Right. Right. OK. How about you? Have you planned your next trip.


Claire Newell: [00:11:49] I have one plant. I hope it doesn't get canceled. Our 25th wedding anniversary is coming up next year. But we want to go to Antarctica. And so we have this on the books for about 18 months just in the planning. Hopefully we can fly into Buenos Aires as our Air Canada flights are booked. But, you know, South America is just being hit. So we're hoping that they guys and we're going on a ship called Scenic Eclipse, very small. Only two hundred guests maximum. They're actually shrinking the number during this situation. So it's it's a very small ship that we're going out. But we're hoping that we can go. And that is for just early November. And I'm in the process of booking one for our family to go during winter break, which I expect will be incredibly popular. It's actually what we're looking the most at the moment because the policies are quite flexible for people. A lot of people had their spring break canceled and the holding future travel credits with all of the major companies, whether they're Air Canada or WestJet as well as, you know, Western vacations or camp indications, trends and Sun Wing. There's, you know, hundreds of thousands of future travel credits out there, many of whom are family travel. And the next big vacation for them, school break will be winter break. So I know you want to go. It's something just to keep in the back of your mind.


Andie Skene: [00:13:16] Right. I think that would be, you know, I mean, for me personally, I know that we don't have anything planned this summer will probably just be doing local things, but just having something to look forward to. I like the idea of having something to look forward to. So if we had I think the winter I mean, B.C. is so beautiful during the summer. So on that subject, do you have any recommendations for people, maybe families, as to where you would go and be safe during the summer?


Claire Newell: [00:13:44] Yeah, in the summer. I mean, we personally are renting a house that we know the owners and we're going for a week. It's just outside of Penticton, closer to Summerlands, and just going to go and hunt for some smaller restaurants and local ones. The industry here and across this country has really been hurt right down to very, very small operators. So, you know, the next step. But I might wear on TV, it might be one that I found in some small little shop while I was traveling there. Now, small wineries that we'd like to visit, small local restaurants so that there are many, many across this this country, but also here in this province, which I think is where I think a lot of people feel very you know, I think they want to help the local. And they announced in this province. We actually have a site on. Best bet Stop Combat is strictly devoted now to Canada getaways and the sheer number of B.S. getaways that are on there are about 10 times what we used to have last year because so many are looking for them. They're on Vancouver Island. Sukh Tofino keeping in mind that some places are very small and still don't want any tourists. They have to do right. Cumberlands, Colonia, Harrison, Hot Springs and rightly just all over this province. We are so lucky and so many of us haven't even seen well.


Andie Skene: [00:15:08] Yep, yep. Yep. And up there. So that's good to know. On your Web site, you can go and have a look at those local travel destinations. Is that an ideal resource that you can recommend for people to just get regular updates? Because I just don't think it's necessarily clear to everyone what you've gone through so much information, which has been fantastic and it's good to know. But just for the future of travel within the States or Europe or whatever it may be, you know, unfortunately, there hasn't been one single resource.


Claire Newell: [00:15:43] We want to do it because we have our home base team that is still working, plus a number of agents that are still here trying to navigate through this. And we as agents and advisors need to make sure we know what we're talking about. So we built our own. And we've actually put it front and center on our Web site because we had so many people request it. There's a blue button on the home page. It says Koven Travel Advice. And we've taken information from IATA, which is the International Air Transport Association, and it's no airlines, along with a number of other resources. And we updated virtually every single day. And you can go by area and it will tell you where you can and can't go and what restrictions that you may have. We even had to because we had so many people questioning within Canada. If you go to the Canada section or the North America section and they go under Canada, it will actually list provincially. But, you know, all the various provinces have. So we built it ourselves. We also have on the website one single button. And we, I believe, are the only company that has it at the moment that we can find in North America, where you can click and it's got all of the company policies, the terms and conditions. If you have a booking and are trying to find out whether you'll get a refund or not or what you're allowed back at and the current terms, if you're going to make a booking, whether it's a airline cruise line tour operator, coached company and they're all on the website with a red button.


Andie Skene: [00:17:12] Oh, fantastic. Well, that's good to know. Excellent. So are there any other travel tips that you can recommend?


Claire Newell: [00:17:19] Well, I think the most important thing moving forward is safety is kind of the new sexy word in travel. And it's also going to be what you end up paying for. It's going to be the luxury. So, you know, to stay informed, you, first of all, need to heed the warnings of our federal government. So a great website to go to for that resource would be troubled, that G.C. dossier. And as soon as that travel ban, which is avoid non-essential travel, is lifted, I'm sure that we will see a flux of all the pent up demand for people who are kind of early adopters book. There's a you know, there's really three groups. There'll be the people who are like me who will go and who will go early. There'll be others who are cautiously optimistic and wait for people like me to come back saying I'm fine. Yeah. And there will be the others who, until there's a vaccine, they're just going to hunker down at home. However, you you know, you feel comfortable. One thing that I know for sure is that airlines are not going to be able to block off middle seats moving forward for very long. And if you follow the president of Ryan Air, he's a character and Irish guy and he has basically said there's no bloody way that they are going to be able to be financially feasible. And he'll shut his doors if the government mandates that they have to block off middle seats. It isn't right. And if you've been on a flight, you know that the person you're sitting at the aisle and someone is at the window, even if the middle seat is blocked off, you can reach over and touch them when you need to make sure. And almost every commercial airline that I know uses HEPA filters, which takes up ninety nine point nine percent of the particulate matter, including virus, bacteria, fungus. That's really important. You wearing your mask and making sure that the touch areas around you are clean and that you're washing your hands, whether with soap and water or with the hand sanitizer. That's really going to keep you safe on on airlines. I wouldn't hesitate to go tomorrow on a flight, but I'm going to make sure that I take care of myself and I encourage travellers to do the same. When you go into an accommodation, whether it's a vacation rental that you have or a hotel room or even just, you know, going into an RV, you can't say all the. Surfaces need to be cleaned. It's your responsibility. The remote controls, the light switches, the faucets, anything the time touch. All of the companies are going to have all of the protocol on their websites to do some research and do that and just make sure that if you find a deal that you can always get out of it or change it. You're not left holding the bag. Those policies are going to be in play for the next few months. I anticipate they won't be around forever. There's no way these companies can endure it. But, you know, if you want to book for Christmas or Q1 of next year, you know, you're going to need a holiday in January, February and March of next year. I encourage you to book it if you can book with those flexible terms that because, say, September, they could be gone.


Andie Skene: [00:20:26] Right. Right. That's pretty good advice. I'm going to get on my next trip. Something to look forward to. I know. Can you remind, making clear of your Web site so that we can now run and check?


Claire Newell: [00:20:40] Yeah, it's really simple. We haven't closed during this. And if even if you just have a question you're not ready to book. Our agents are in the know and if they don't have the information, they certainly know where to get it for you and get back to either via email, info, travel, best bet dot com or a one eight hundred number, which is on the Web site.


Andie Skene: [00:21:00] That's great. So where do you think those hot spots are going to be this winter? For families to book in advance?


Claire Newell: [00:21:06] No, we're already starting to see a lot of people looking to Hawaii, Maui, Honolulu, Hawaii and Kona. We're seeing a lot of the Mexican destinations where the all inclusive resorts have actually issued their safety protocols and done a very good job with it. In fact, the area on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, and Islam Harris, north of Cancun, that was one of the very first that was given their stamp of approval by the World Travel and Tourism Council. So they've done very well. Yes. So we're seeing a lot of that area, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. And I think some of the destinations that have done remarkably well and normally quite expensive to go to like French Polynesia and Tahiti. There's no case there's been no cases of Koban since made the twenty nine. So they've done very, very well. They're reopening their borders. June 15th. And I do see people looking online to find out where we're safe. We know New Zealand has no new cases. They're considered. They're not opening their borders. And once they do that.


Andie Skene: [00:22:18] I mean, potentially even safer than being here because it's almost, you know, that their economy relies on travel. Whereas I think we perhaps have maybe become a bit too complacent that we've had such low numbers that people might not take it as seriously here as they would say in these destinations where they do rely on travel and if they really can't afford to have problems in the future.


Claire Newell: [00:22:46] No, they can't. And we're actually seeing that with certain parts of Asia that we're very, very careful. When did the cases began? They they got into gear and made sure that they were not hit hard places. Then we as Western Canadians visit often Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Valley, all fared extremely well through all of this. They were the first Asia was the first to be hit, but it's also the first to come back. So we are seeing bookings to that part of the world. You know, there's that initial gut reaction. Asia. I don't really want to go down and take a look at how Thailand and Vietnam and Indonesia fared. You'll realize that it's a safe place to go. Yes. Fantastic. Yeah. Anyway, I hope this helped you and really help quell incur encouragement to people. You know, it's been a time to really hunkering and stay safe. And we we do want to stay safe moving forward. But there is something to be said about having something on the books to be looking forward to. Like you said, whether it has something local or further afield, but there are some deals to be had and some really good terms and conditions to take advantage of at the moment.


Andie Skene: [00:23:59] Well, that's what's really reassuring is if you do book that you've got those those guarantees in place that will protect you if you do have to cancel because things get a second wave or whatever it may be.


Claire Newell: [00:24:11] That's right. Anyway, I really appreciate you having me, Andy, and you happy travels to everyone went here.


Andie Skene: [00:24:19] Thank you. Thank you so much for your time and your knowledge and your expertise. I think it's going to be useful to a lot of people.


Claire Newell: [00:24:26] Thank you. My pleasure. Take care.