After a year of being cooped up, Americans are ready to get—as Willie Nelson sings—“on the road again.” And according to the Transportation Security Administration, they are also ready to hit the airports and start flying again. However, since COVID-19 is far from being under control, travel and tourism will look different for the foreseeable future.
“Compared to the latter part of last year, more people are flying today,” says Kim Gustavsson, owner of Concierge Travel, Inc. He notes that young people and fully vaccinated individuals hoping to reunite with relatives make up the bulk of today’s flyers. “Overall, even if air travel is slowly easing its way back, tourism is badly hurting and has not made much of a recovery at all.” Due to the pandemic and early lockdowns, cruise ships, resorts, and those who book them have had almost no income since March or April of last year, and current bookings are nowhere near pre-pandemic numbers.
Although cruise lines still have a few kinks to work out, there is a high demand for the few Caribbean cruises that are scheduled to sail this summer, notes Peter Weeks, franchise owner and travel advisor for Cruise Planners. “Land-based vacations are the most popular right now. Domestic travel is on the rise, but with summer upon us, we would recommend an all-inclusive resort. Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica have the highest concentration of options, with others spread out throughout the Caribbean.”
Tom Baker of Aquafest Cruises, which specializes in LGBTQ cruises, agrees.
“Mexico is the hottest ticket for Houstonians,” he says. Both Puerto Vallarta and Cancún have been hits, as restrictions have been very light. While not necessarily the safest place to travel because COVID is a massive problem there, many travelers have been willing to risk going there.”
Week says passengers will always experience a degree of risk while traveling. To stay safe, flyers must consult their travel agent and follow current travel advisories implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the State Department’s website.
“There’s a ton of things you can do to be safe: bring extra masks, bring travel-size antibacterials and, most importantly, know everything you can about your destination’s safety requirements—and what requirements there are when you return home,” he says. “For example, if you are traveling to an all-inclusive resort, make sure it is one that is offering free antigen tests to return home.”
Baker encourages flyers to get vaccinated, carry their vaccination card in their passport if they’re traveling overseas, follow COVID testing routines where required, wear a mask, and practice social distancing. “I suggest being considerate to others, as the virus is real and people are still getting sick and dying.”
While resorts and vacation homes in Mexico are currently hot (or at least more so than last year), short getaways to Galveston Island are also popular among Houstonians.
“We are definitely seeing an uptick in weekend day-trippers and hotel guests, now that the weather is warmer, more people are vaccinated, and fewer restrictions like capacity limits at businesses and restaurants are in place,” says Michael Woody, chief tourism officer at the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We predict a strong spring season with the return of special events, and the kickoff to the summer tourism season that begins on Memorial Day weekend.”
For people who want to avoid crowds on the Island, there are still plenty of activities they can participate in. “If you’re looking to stay socially distanced, there are several walking tours you can experience on your own time,” Woody says. Vacationers can take part in Galveston’s African American History Tour, which takes participants to significant markers, statues, churches, and other sites like Ashton Villa, the birthplace of Juneteenth, when federal troops came to the Island to announce the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. They can also check out Galveston’s public art program known as Turtles About Town, featuring turtle-inspired artwork placed throughout neighborhoods and the downtown district. The Island City’s Tree Sculpture Tour allows visitors to see one-of-a-kind art made from oak trees that were damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Before COVID-19, Galveston was home to the fourth-busiest cruise port in the country. “That has definitely changed!” Woody admits. “But we’re optimistic that they will return stronger. In fact, Royal Caribbean is committed to building a brand-new terminal here in the coming years.
While Galveston’s status as a cruise port is currently in murky waters, other sailing options are on the horizon. “We are still hopeful that several smaller ships, riverboats, and Royal Clipper sailings will happen this year,” says Gustavsson. “For those that are interested, the booking terms and cancellation policies are very favorable, given the continuous changes and updates that occur monthly, if not weekly.”
Although tour prices hit rock-bottom last year, things are looking up for cruise lines in 2022. According to Gustavsson, VACAYA, a new gay cruise operator on the scene, has already sold out three cruises on smaller high-end ships for 2022, and each one sold out in less than two weeks. Brand g Vacations, which operates smaller ships and tours, has several sold-out departures for 2022. Despite the uncertainty over cruise lines being allowed to operate at full capacity, Atlantis Events’ 30th Anniversary Caribbean Cruise in January 2022 has also sold out.
“The future of travel is very strong, and we expect things to normalize more by the end of the year,” Weeks predicts. “Travel is certainly on the rise, and travel agents have never been in greater demand. With so many people itching to travel, resort and cruise prices are sure to rise. We love helping our clients bypass all the stress of searching endless websites for what they’ve been wanting for over a year now.”
Learn more about LGBTQ 2021 travel by following the links below:
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.