Hotels

Amelia Earhart at Union Club Hotel in Indiana

Here’s a nice way to celebrate the life and legacy of Amelia Earhart during Women’s History Month.

In West Lafayette, IN, Purdue University’s recently renovated Union Club Hotel now has an installation with 14 different images of Amelia Earhart projected on the two-story bookcase behind the reception desk.

Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and the first person ever to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.

She also earned money from product endorsements: her “real aeroplane” luggage was a big seller.

Courtesy Purdue University Libraries, 

The installation at Purdue’s Union Club Hotel is especially appropriate. Earhart served on the university faculty as a career counselor and an adviser in aeronautics. The University helped to finance her first airplane. And today there is digital access to the Amelia Earhart Collection.

The collection is a treasure-trove of photographs, artifacts (luggage, goggles, smelling salts), postage stamps, letters, and papers.

We’re looking forward to checking into this hotel and spending time in the library learning more about Amelia Earhart.

Travel on the rebound? Bookings say yes.

[This is a slightly different version of the story we prepared for NBC News]

As the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations is ramping up, so is consumer confidence — and with it, a surge in travel bookings.

“Many travelers are feeling optimistic that they will be able to vacation abroad this year. Many people are already actively planning their next big trip; even for trips more than four months out,” said Shibani Walia, senior research analyst at Tripadvisor.

2020 was the worst year in history for air travel demand, according to the International Air Transport Association, with global passenger traffic falling more than 65 percent, compared to 2019. The hotel industry also tanked, surpassing 1 billion unsold room nights, according to hotel industry research firm STR. The story was much the same for cruises, attractions, and tours, with the World Tourism Organization calling 2020 the worst year on record.

Pent up demand fuel bookings

With a comprehensive vaccine schedule and pent-up demand for leaving home, vacation planning and bookings are on the rise for late 2021, 2022, and beyond.

Spirit Airlines announced Thursday it would start training new pilots and flight attendants as of next month, in preparation for a spike in leisure travel.

“We just got our first shot. So maybe we could plan a trip this summer or later this year,” says Vicky Stein of New York. “I’d love to visit my son in Vancouver, B.C. But that depends on the regulations in Canada. At this point, I’d be happy to go to Vermont.”

A recent Tripadvisor survey found that 80 percent of U.S. consumers planned to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021. Just over one-third of respondents planning at least three domestic trips this year. Popular destinations such as Orlando are already seeing a hopeful booking rebound.

“The region expects 2021 spring break travel to mirror the Christmas and New Year holidays, when occupancy reached 50 percent,” said Daryl Cronk, senior director of market research for Visit Orlando. “This would be a significant improvement over last year’s 12 percent, one of the lowest points of the year.”

Tripadvisor’s survey also found a strong interest in international travel planning. Nearly half (47%) of all respondents said they are planning to travel internationally in 2021.

Already, the majority of hotel clicks for trips taking place from May onwards are to international destinations, Tripadvisor noted. “This is an early signal that travelers are feeling increasingly confident they will be able to travel abroad in 2021, at least in the back half of the year.”

Italy, France, Japan, Australia, and Greece are at the top of most travelers’ lists, said Misty Belles, managing director at Virtuoso travel network, citing customer planning.

Cruises may make a comeback

Travelers are also eyeing cruises, a good sign for the many cruise lines that had to abandon entire sailing seasons.

“We’re seeing growing confidence from cruisers as vaccines begin to be distributed,” said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief at Cruise Critic. “Both because they see it as a step in the right direction for the return of travel, and because they’ll feel most comfortable sailing knowing that they and their fellow passengers have been vaccinated.”

Many cruisers are making their bookings further out.

“Our 136-day 2021-2022 Viking World Cruise sold out more than a year in advance,” says Richard Marnell, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Viking. “And we have had such strong demand for our new Mississippi River cruises that we opened additional dates for sale in 2023 sooner than expected.” 

Rich and Suzi McClear of Sitka, Alaska, whose 2020 Holland America Line world cruise was cut short due to the pandemic, are anxious to go back to sea. “We’re rebooked for a 2022 world cruise. We’re also booked for the 2023 world cruise, which we view as an insurance policy in case the 2022 cruise does not go,” they said in an email.

Should you book a trip too?

Most travel companies now have flexible and more generous booking and cancellation policies, and prices are historically low. So, it can be a good time to book future trips.

Airfares, for example, are 20 percent lower compared to last year, said Adit Damodaran, economist for travel app Hopper. “Domestic airfare prices are expected to rise in mid-to-late March and gradually return to 2019 levels over the course of the year. And it is not too early to book for 2022, especially if you’re booking with trip protection or flexible booking options.

Hotels add COVID-19 testing to amenity lists

Courtesy Arora Group

Skip the lines and get a COVID-19 test at your hotel

(This is a slightly different version of our story for NBC News)

You may not be able to work out in hotel gyms or hang out in lobby bars just yet. But at an increasing number of hotels, guests can now get COVID-19 tests as part of their stay.

The tests are offered in partnership with a local laboratory or medical company and at an extra, sometimes hefty expense. But now that a negative COVID-19 test is required for crossing many state and country borders, hotels hoping to stand-out are adding medical testing to their list of amenities.

Results before you fly

“Test and Rest” packages starting at about $240 at the Sofitel Heathrow and about $200 at the Sofitel Gatwick allows guests to check-in and take a self-administered saliva COVID-19 test from a kit.

Twice a day, the hotel sends test samples via courier to a HALO testing laboratory. Results, plus a certificate to be printed at reception, are emailed to guests so they can go from the airport hotel to the plane.

“It seemed to be the right thing to do to both encourage travel and get people booking airport hotels again,” said Raj Shah, Commercial Director – Hotel Division of the Arora Group. The company operates several hotels at both Heathrow and Gatwick.

COVID-19 testing at resorts and boutique hotels

In Las Vegas, the REVIV wellness spa at the Cosmopolitan offers COVID-19 PCR testing ($100) with results and documents promised within 24-hours. Antibody tests ($40) are also available, with discounts offered to guests who bundle their tests with some of the spa’s treatments.

With HELIX Urgent Care, Florida’s Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa provides COVID-19 testing for guests three days a week. The fee is $125, with results promised in 48 hours or less.  

Both the W South Beach in Miami Beach and Chateau Marmont Hotel, Cottages and Bungalows in Hollywood are partnering with Sollis Health to offer guest COVID-19 PCR tests with a 24-hour turnaround. Test prices are $175 at the W South Beach and are included as part of the amenity package at Chateau Marmont, where rates start at about $475 a night.  

For $299, the Nemacolin, a resort in Farmington, PA, is offering guests rapid COVID-19 tests that are analyzed on-site, with results in 15-20 minutes. “Should a positive test result occur, you will be expected to re-test immediately,” the resort tells guests.

And at the Nobu Hotel Palo Alto in California’s Silicon Valley, guests simply ask their private concierge to arrange an on-site COVID-19 test. A licensed medical professional then arrives in full personal protective equipment (PPE) to administer the test. And couriers take the samples to a certified laboratory for expedited results. The white-glove service starts at $500.

What do you think of this new hotel amenity?

How will the pandemic leave its mark on travel?

Dreaming about travel? Us too. But how will our journeys be changed by the pandemic?

(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for NBC News.)

Sanitizing stations, “stand here, not there” floor stickers, and cotton swabs up the nose were not part of the travel experience before the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as travelers edge their way back into airports and hotels and onto airplanes, cruise ships, and ski slopes, they will be dealing will all that – and more.

But for how long? We asked some industry experts to tell us which new travel trends, technologies, and protocols they think will stick around.

Who will travel and what will they expect?

“Businesses are connecting with their customers virtually and leisure travelers are discovering the joys of staying local,” says Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in the SC Johnson College of Business. “Many business travelers will lower their number of trips, and leisure travelers will shift from ‘hyper-global’ to ‘hyper-local’ travel for the foreseeable future.”

For well into 2021 travelers will be expected or required to wear masks and observe physical distancing. And airlines, airports, hotels, and cruise lines will be expected to continue making health, safety, and cleanliness a priority.

“People will look at a dirty rental car or bus or airport or airline cabin or hotel room and wonder, ‘Uh oh, am I putting myself at risk?’ says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “Travelers will continue to hold travel brands’ feet to the fire to keep their facilities clean.”

Entertainment

Once we move past this pandemic “we’re going to have amnesia about some of this and likely go back doing many of the same things we used to do before,” says Devin Liddell, futures and design strategist with Seattle-based Teague global design consultancy.

Theme parks, museums, and other attractions will reopen, and Liddell says the best operators will retain systems put in place to orchestrate the flow of people. For example, “ski resorts that require reservations will likely create a better experience for everyone on the lift lines,” he says.

Hotels

Hotels will likely maintain flexible cancellation policies and keep in place the intensive protocols for cleaning guest rooms and public spaces.

But instead of housekeeping only upon request or not at all during a stay, “elective housekeeping will be more about providing guests with an easy ‘opt-out’ of housekeeping services,” says Bjorn Hanson, adjunct Professor at New York University’s Tisch Center of Hospitality. 

Cruising

Most major cruise lines are maintaining – and extending – the voluntary suspensions of sailings until sometime in 2021.

When sailings resume there will be changes onboard.

“The buffet will move away from the more traditional self-serve approach toward a more crew-served style – something that lines have already said will likely be a more permanent change,” said Colleen McDaniel, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic. And “changes to muster drills could also stick around beyond the pandemic. Rather than mass events that put all passengers in small spaces at once, we’ll continue to see this more self-driven.”

Airports

At airports, “the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of countless new technologies and protocols to keep people healthy and safe and streamline the entire air travel experience,” says Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International-North America.

“Many of these changes will outlast COVID-19,” he adds.

Those technologies and protocols include sanitizing robots, restrooms that alert maintenance crews when cleaning is needed, contactless check-in, bag check and credential authentication, and the increased ability to order and pay for food or duty-free items from a mobile device and receive a contactless delivery anywhere inside the airport.

The current pandemic will change future airports as well.

“We plan to implement many public health procedures into the design of our new terminal building,” scheduled to open in 2023 said Christina Cassotis, CEO at Pittsburgh International Airport, “It will be the first post-pandemic terminal to open in the country that will be designed with these issues in mind.”

Materials in airports are going to change, too, says Luis Vidal, president and founding partner at Luis Vidal + Architects. “The use of new photocatalytic devices based on antibacterial, antiviral, and ‘autocleaning’ material, such as titanium dioxide, silver or copper, in high-use areas will become the norm.”

Airlines

(PRNewsfoto/United Airlines)

Airlines will maintain stringent cleaning and sanitizing protocols. Generous rebooking and cancelation policies may stretch out for a while. But most airlines will soon stop blocking middle seats.

Coming back soon: the full range of in-flight services, especially at the front of the plane.

“The traveling public is not happy with the bare bones on-board experience right now,” says Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research. “They understand the need for limits, but people are saying they won’t accept paying for a premium experience and getting something that is subpar.”

Vaccines, Travel Corridors, and insurance 

As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, it may become a ‘must-have’ for travelers.

The new normal for global travel may also include digital health passports displaying a traveler’s vaccine or negative test status and, by spring, travel corridors (also known as travel bubbles) that allow travel between countries with low COVID-19 infection rates, says Fiona Ashley, VP Product & Solution Marketing SAP Concur.

While there are some great fare deals being offered right now, as demand returns, so will higher prices.  And going forward, travelers will likely need to factor in the added costs of COVID-19 tests and travel insurance.

“Travel insurance may become a non-negotiable as destinations continue to require medical insurance, and travel suppliers tighten their refund policies,” said Megan Moncrief Chief Marketing Officer of travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth

“The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of the global travel industry. I think travelers will be more cautious about investing in expensive trips without insurance.”

How sad it is out there in the world of travel?

You know that the current health crisis has caused people to cancel trips and airlines to temporarily slash flight schedules to the bone.

Here are few other measurements that underscore how bad it is right now.

TSA screening numbers hit record low

On Tuesday, April 7, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 97,310 passengers and flight crew members at all airports across the country.

That’s a record low for TSA and down 95% from the 2,091,056 passengers screened at airports a year ago on the same weekday.

TSA screening officers also continue to test positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, April 8, TSA reported that in the previous 14 days, 43 screening officers and 7 non-screening officers who’d had limited interaction with travelers tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA is updating that list daily. The agency is also posting the airport, last day worked, checkpoint location and shift times for each TSA officer who tests positive. So you can check to see if you may have been exposed.

Hotel occupancy rates way down

Hotels around the country are experiencing shocking year-over-year declines, according to data from STR.

Comparing the week of March 29 through April 4, 2020 with the same time period last year:

Occupancy across the country is down 68.5%, to 21.6% and average daily rates (ADR) are down 41.5% to $76.51.

When you look at the Top 25, the numbers are worse:

The Top 25 markets were down over 74 %, to 19.4%, with the Oahu, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Seattle markets getting hammered the worst.

In some cities, hotels are renting rooms to local governments to house health care workers, first responders, military personnel, people who have been ordered to quarantine, infected patients and homeless people at risk from the virus.