One of the perks of sharing my perspective on travel is meeting amazing journalists. I recently listened to Mark Chesnut on a Travel Pulse Podcast and asked him if he could share some insight on travel during COVID.
Mark Chesnut: “When I first started traveling during the pandemic, back in June 2020, it was very strange for the first several trips. I felt almost like I was discovering new worlds, even though I was mostly visiting places like Cancun, Los Angeles and Mexico City, which I’d already visited many times before. But the reality had changed everywhere, so experiencing and navigating the new pandemic hygiene protocols made everything seem new. I gradually got used to it and have been following all the safety protocols that I can, even after getting vaccinated.”
Scott: Of all the countries you’ve been to over the last 12 months, are there any you feel are doing a better job than others trying to keep tourists safe?
Mark Chesnut: “I’ve only visited three countries during the pandemic: the United States (where I live), Mexico and the Dominican Republic. One thing I’ve noticed is that the United States has been far less consistent than Mexico in terms of its adherence to pandemic safety protocols. I’ve traveled in some U.S. destinations where no one was wearing a mask. I even checked into a hotel in Florida at the height of the pandemic where not even the hotel staff wore masks. That was shocking. In Mexico, meanwhile, I’ve visited seven states during the pandemic and have always seen a consistently thorough approach to pandemic safety. So overall, I’d have to give Mexico the best rating.”
Scott: It seems to me that cruising has resumed to some degree overseas, yet the CDC will not let us cruise from U.S. ports. Do you you believe that we will sail from cruise ports in the United States this year, or will it more likely be 2022 before we sail again?
Mark Chesnut : “That’s a very good question and it’s hard to say exactly how the cruise situation will play out in the coming months. As a reporter, I’ve interviewed some travel agents who are advising their clients to book cruises for 2022, because they’re not fully confident that every cruise will set sail this year. So there’s some uncertainty there — and definitely a good reason to consider travel insurance!”
Scott: Virgin Voyages is launching an adults-only cruise experience unlike any other. I’ve always been in favor of this type of cruise vacation, but some wonder if their are enough of that demographic to make it profitable. Do you think Virgin Voyages can be a successful brand?
Mark Chesnut: “Virgin is such a distinct and strong brand, I think it’s great that they’re expanding into cruises. The brand is known for taking unique and innovative approaches to every concept they try, and that will certainly be the case with cruises as well. I do think they’re going for a very specific market segment which means that the potential market will be limited, at least at first; many travelers have surely not experienced any Virgin products or services before. But if they’re savvy about marketing and positioning (which Virgin usually is), I do see good potential to perhaps expand the market of cruisers, by attracting people who are fans of the Virgin brand but maybe hadn’t considered cruising before. Virgin resonates as “cool,” and that could be a refreshing new option.”
Scott: For years, cruising has been an affordable vacation option, but I’m concerned that since cruising has been paused for over a year, cruise lines will try to recoup their loses by charging high fares. Your thoughts?
Mark Chesnut : “The cruise industry is in a tricky situation right now, with unique challenges that other segments of the travel industry aren’t facing. I believe there will be some pressure to offer good deals, to entice cruisers back on board. Yet at the same time, the fact that not every cruise will be operating normally, at least not at first, may mean that there is high demand for a few kinds of cruises, which could result in higher prices. So I think the fares will depend in part on how many cruises come back and when, and how willing people are to start booking again right away. I heard from one Cancun hotelier recently who said that they’ve upped their room rates this year in spite of the pandemic, because there is so much pent-up demand they have no problem filling their hotels. It may be the same case with the cruise industry, so shopping around, being flexible and strategic with cruise travel plans may be especially important.”
Mark Chesnut : “The mood was overwhelmingly positive at the WTTC conference. People were excited to be meeting again in person and talking about the future. I was impressed by the extensive talk about things like sustainability and diversity in the tourism industry; it seems that during the forced pause that the travel and tourism industries have taken, they’ve been able to think even more about what matters most. Industry leaders and tourism officials are laser focused on rebuilding business and getting people to travel again, but they want to do it in a way that’s thoughtful, balanced and protects destinations and communities. And that’s a good thing.”
Scott: Mark, thanks so much for your insight and perspective! Where are you heading next?
Mark Chesnut is a New York City-based journalist, editor, content producer and public speaker with more than 20 years of experience covering travel, tourism and hospitality. The 2019 winner of the NLGJA Excellence in Travel Writing Award, Mark manages his own travel blog, LatinFlyer.com, and has written for a variety of trade and consumer media outlets, including Fodor’s, Forbes Travel Guide, HuffPost, Latin Trade, the Miami Herald, Orbitz, Travel + Leisure Mexico, Travel Weekly and the New York Times bestseller “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” and the inflight magazines of Aeromexico, American Airlines and Avianca.
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