“Do you know where you’re going to?” Diana Ross asked in the haunting theme song from the 1975 movie “Mahogany.”
I don’t want to be glib – Ross’s film character, Tracy Chambers, was considering far more profound existential questions in the poignant lyric than her next vacation abroad – but following a Covid-ravaged 16 months, it’s certainly a question on many people’s lips.
Where is it safe to go? When will we know? When should we book? So many questions and, for each one, a dozen or more answers. So, to glean the best intel on the subject, I turned to some of the savviest people in the industry.
While the travel experts at Scott Dunn USA, the bespoke, high-end travel agent and tour operator, sensibly say they are not encouraging clients to travel beyond their comfort level, they can provide all the resources needed and all the current facts for their clients to travel responsibly. Indeed, they are booking vacations for increasingly confident travelers in a growing number of countries, but Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean are among the most popular. The relative proximity of these destinations, coupled with their safety protocols and encouraging Covid statistics, makes them especially appealing to travelers from the United States — something I heard repeatedly from a number of agents.
But Scott Dunn is also taking a longer view, with “big-ticket, bucket-list trips” that readers should have on their radar for travel in 2022. With capacity constraints on popular bucket-list destinations — number quotas in Bhutan and Machu Picchu, say, or gorilla trekking in Rwanda — and with a likely run on capacity once the pandemic is well and truly in retreat — they are advising very early booking, in some cases well over a year ahead.
The agency has prepared a Scott Dunn “timetable” of where to book and when, and it includes making reservations now for cherry blossom season in Japan next spring; between July and October this year for Kenya’s Great Wildebeest Migration in summer 2022; and from November through next March for a penguin-spotting trip to Antarctica in the winter of 2022. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Using the services of a reputable agent is something that transformative travel expert, Michaela Guzy, founder of the influential editorial content site, OhThePeopleYouMeet (OTPYM), also advises.
Guzy reiterates that Mexico’s Gulf coast and the Caribbean itself are good travel choices right now. She also believes that the great outdoors will win out over big cities for the foreseeable future. Plus, Panama is going to be “a new frontier for barefoot luxury,” she says, and gives a special shout-out to the just-opened, Catalina’s Hideaway, a snorkelling paradise where the jungle meets the beach, near Santa Catalina on the country’s Pacific coast. She also name-checks the hugely attractive and Covid-conscious Las Clementinas, serviced apartments in Panama City’s enchanting Casco Viejo (old town), for those who can’t live without an urban metropolis.
On the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, meanwhile, Guzy recommends the Park Hyatt and Marriott Resorts, both running special “Vacation in Place” packages through September, including activities like painting, meditation, mixology and beach activities. St. Kitts, she adds, is one of three Caribbean destinations ranked a Level 2 Travel Advisory by the U.S. State Department and a Level 1 Low COVID risk by the CDC.
She goes on to point out that cruising, too, is restarting in Europe and the Caribbean this summer, with the big news from Norwegian Cruise Line that in 2022 it will be launching a whole new class of ship, Norwegian Prima. This luxury floating hotel will offer unparalleled standards at sea, with what is possibly the most luxurious amenity of all — abundant outdoor space.
Like Guzy and most other industry professionals I spoke to, the founder and CEO of the prestigious Larchmont-based Island Destinations Travel Group, Maurice Bonham-Carter, reiterates that Mexico, the Caribbean and — in Island Destinations’ case, Hawaii, too — are sky-high on people’s “safe lists” right now.
With the vaccination program taking root, he told me during the course of a phone call, there has been an incredible resurgence, not so much of travel itself, but for future bookings — which also speaks to Dunn’s advice about early booking.
“As of now, by November we will back to where we were in 2019,” Bonham-Carter asserts, before going on to point out two major factors. The first, he calls “destination compression.”
“As we are coming out of the pandemic here, do you really want to go to, say Italy, find you may have to wear a mask, socially distance, have a curfew, can and can’t do this, and all the rest of it? People are desperate to travel, but there are very few places they feel comfortable about going.” As for Bali, Vietnam and Thailand — which, anyway, is still closed — “it’s going to be a long time,” he says. In the Caribbean, though, “it’s gone from famine to absolute feast in the last two months.”
The other factor is “time compression” — or, making up for lost time. “You’ve got people really hurt by the pandemic — if you’re in travel, tourism, hospitality. But if you’re affluent, are a doctor, accountant, attorney, whatever, you’ve been drawing your usual pay, haven’t been commuting, haven’t been going out to dinner, or traveling. You have money in your pocket and you want to spend it.” That alone is going to make for a lot of crowding in many places.
As for how we will get to these places and get there safely, Guzy recently interviewed Preston Peterson, director of Customer Experience Air Innovation for American Airlines on OTPYM’s InspirationStation. Peterson’s work, during 2020, focused on delivering contactless options for all airport touchpoints. He was also charged with creating partnerships to deliver a digital wellness passport for Covid-19 testing and documentation requirements. These innovations and doubtless others like them may have been developed and introduced as a response to the pandemic, but their ramifications and benefits will endure, once Covid-19 is long forgotten.
But, of course, having done your due diligence and factored in your own comfort zone, ultimately the only person who can decide where, when and even if to travel at all is you. So, while international travel to some degree is undoubtedly back, the bottom line is, if you’re not ready to go, then don’t.
Perhaps Biancalucia Pierna, of the BSpoke luxury travel PR agency in London, summed it best in a recent email. “If you can’t go yet,” she wrote, “then wait. Capri isn’t going to disappear any time soon.”
For more on Scott Dunn, OTPYM and Island Destinations Travel, visit scottdunn.com/us, ohthepeopleyoumeet.com and idtravelgroup.com.