My advice for traveling during the coronavirus pandemic has remained constant and simple since March: Don’t. That may sound odd coming from a travel editor whose job is to always find a way to get out and explore the world—and stranger still considering the extreme duress that border closures and social distancing have placed on the hospitality industry’s shoulders. They need visitors as much as we need a break.
But those who run hotels and guide excursions will hurt much more in the long run if we don’t heed the call of the moment by staying home just a bit longer.
In the meantime, the industry has adopted a previously unthinkable set of practices that put the focus squarely on providing the safest experience and best service possible, whether it’s antimicrobial TSA bins or blocked middle seats and every-other-row seating configurations. Hotels are regularly disinfecting lobbies, and their concierges are using SMS-based communications instead of having guests line up face to face.
Look at Peninsula Hotels, whose 10 properties around the world are bastions of white-glove hospitality. Until lately, the company’s energy had been concentrated on curating art for public spaces and drumming up exclusive, expensive activities such as a multicourse brunch on the Great Wall of China. Sure, these flourishes added sophistication to an already fabulous brand. But you know what guests will really appreciate? The ability to check in and out at any hour of the day, free of charge—an amenity Peninsula is rolling out in January.
Gimmicks won’t sell in 2021, but flexibility—that formerly forgotten tenet of hospitality—will. It used to cost more than $200 to modify the dates on even a cheap domestic flight. Now, American, Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines have all committed to nixing a majority of those inane change fees for the foreseeable future.
As for where we go? That may evolve for the better, too. We’ve seen that the waters of Venice are clearer without cruise ships passing by daily, but that community-owned conservation in Kenya is almost impossible to pull off without the flow of tourism dollars. Whether we reshape our bucket lists to prioritize tourism-dependent destinations instead of tourism-spoiled ones is up to us.
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