Illinois Tourism & Travel

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Flexibility is key: Expert explains how to safely book a winter getaway

When it comes to winter getaways, hotspots, all-inclusive resorts, and tropical destinations are slowly making a comeback. But with COVID-19 adding uncertainty to travel plans, flexibility is more important than ever.

That’s one of the key messages from Claire Newell, president and owner of Travel Best Bets, a BC-based travel agency with two locations and over 500 agents. She spoke with Daily Hive about popular winter destinations and how to navigate travel amidst a global pandemic.

Newell explains that there are three groups of travellers that currently exist: those who are comfortable travelling while taking safety precautions on the way, those who are waiting for others to travel and safely return, and those who don’t plan to travel until the pandemic is over.

“Bookings started to increase in the summer,” she said in an interview. “We saw a real uptick in bookings for those who are comfortable.”

While there was a steady increase over the summer, the biggest surge in bookings was seen after the advisory on non-essential travel was lifted in October.

“We really saw people start to put their winter vacations on the books,” Newell says. “And we as a company chose to advise people to only book trips that had flexible terms and conditions and to buy travel insurance.”

Airlines such as WestJet, for example, offer flexible change or cancellation policies for travel affected by COVID-19. This typically comes in the form of a change or cancellation, with credit being stored in the user’s account.

“The one thing that we’ve learned above all else is that things can change quickly. And we’ve seen this now with variants of concern coming to the forefront… we’ll see countries open and then maybe they’ll close or they’ll put on more restrictions. And we’ll continue to see this until the pandemic really comes under control.”

So, when it comes to booking any future vacation, flexible terms, as well as staying on top of changing restrictions and requirements, are perhaps the most important factors to consider.

Travellers entering or returning to Canada will also need a COVID-19 test on arrival. And while random testing is already taking place at many airports across the country, Newell says to expect increased testing and extended waiting periods while waiting for results.

“The process is already quite streamlined at the airport; it’s just that the volume is going to increase,” she says. “So while it takes about 24 hours to get your results now, it’s probably going to go up to 48 hours… For some people, that’s going to pose challenges.”

As for the most popular places to travel to, Palm Springs, California, Scottsdale, and Phoenix are among the most sought-after US destinations. And with winter climates quickly approaching, tropical destinations are in high demand.

“We’re also seeing a lot of people do all-inclusive vacations to Mexico and the Caribbean from Vancouver, particularly the ones that are non-stop flights,” Newell says. “And a lot of interest in Hawaii.”

But if you’re looking to book for the upcoming spring and summer, expect European destinations like Greece, Croatia, and Italy to be among the most popular. Individuals looking to travel should be just as prepared to hunt for a good deal as well.

“It’s the law of supply and demand,” Newell adds. “We are seeing really high prices in places like Hawaii, where there is a lot of demand. Regardless of where you’re going, it may be difficult because airlines are slowly and cautiously ramping up their flight schedules based on demand. So for certain destinations, it could be triple the price it normally is to fly.”

And as for uncertainty around COVID-19 and different variants of concerns, Newell says that she’s cautious but not panicking and always looks at the terms and conditions.

“We’re going to see these ups and downs along the way, so it’s very important to keep that in mind when you see a deal that you like and want to take advantage of. It has to be booked with the right terms and conditions.”