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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘We’re hoping for the best’: Travel professionals weigh in on the state of the industry

As the pandemic nears the one-year mark, people are itching to travel. Royce Gorseth, co-owner of South Spokane Let’s Go Travel, believes that travel, particularly of the aspirational sort, should be slated for next year.

“I’m telling people to plan for 2022,” said Gorseth, a former Spokesman-Review travel columnist. “I’m fine with people booking trips now as long as the trips are easy to cancel. I also don’t believe in sending people out until it’s safe. We will help people with itineraries, which we’ve done for 26 years, but the trip has to be something that can be postponed. Who knows what’s ahead of us?”

The future of travel was a hot topic during the IMM travel conference last week. Travel professionals speculated during the virtual event about what would be possible for those anxious to venture abroad or gain confidence visiting domestic destinations.

A question bandied about is when the Canadian border will open.

“That’s a tough one,” Kootenay Rockies Tourism CEO Kathy Cooper said while calling from her Kimberley, British Columbia, office. “I’m hoping the border will open by autumn, but who knows?”

It’s a shame, since British Columbia is so close, but so far away from Spokane.

“You can say the same thing about the vaccine in Canada,” Cooper said. “It looks like I’m not going to get the vaccine until September. If most of us here aren’t going to be vaccinated until then, I don’t see the border opening sooner than September.

“We can’t wait until Americans can return to British Columbia. I can’t wait until I can cross the border, as well. I love going down to Sandpoint, but we’re stuck in our own country for now.”

With the exception of flights to Mexico, Americans are relegated to their own soil.

“It’s uncertain when Americans can fly abroad,” Paula Carreiro, who handles marketing and branding for the Department of Culture and Tourism for Abu Dhabi, said from her New York office. “It’s an unusual time for people now. Some people are nervous about going anywhere at this point.”

Carreiro was one of those reluctant travelers. During a recent visit to Florida, Carreiro was stressed out flying there.

“I was really afraid,” Carreiro said. “But once I got to the hotel, I relaxed when I was in the bubble. I got over my anxiety, and I’m glad I did because we need to get away. Humans need to take a break from all that is stressing us out. It was so invigorating to have the vacation experience once I calmed down.”

Florida has been open since the spring, and some cities offer a more relaxed environment than others. St. Augustine, which is the oldest city in the country, isn’t congested like Orlando or Miami. It’s a tranquil city with a quaint downtown.

“You don’t have to wear a mask in Florida, but all of the merchants require one here in St. Augustine,” said Barbara Golden, communications manager of St. Augustine. “We have social distancing, and we try to make it as safe as possible. Our trolleys have Plexiglas in each row. Our beach is wide open and beautiful.”

The Outer Banks is a similar destination. The North Carolina beaches are well away from bustling cities. Even sprawling suburbs are a drive away. Folks can immerse themselves on a beach vacation with plenty of distance between visitors.

“There’s no place where you’re immune to the coronavirus, but you are in control of your exposure here,” said Aaron Tuell, public relations director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, while calling from his Manteo, North Carolina, office. “You can come to the Outer Banks, rent a beach house and enjoy the beach in relative privacy – and you can surf and hang glide.”

There are options in the Southeast, but it’s a different story on the West Coast. The short flight to California should be postponed. San Francisco was a ghost town last summer, and not a great deal has changed. Disneyland is still closed and figures to remain so for months.

“That’s the way it is for now,” said Jay Burress, Visit Anaheim president and CEO, from his Anaheim, California, office. “We are hopefully going to reach that magical moment when the vaccinations are up and the positive tests are down, but for now we’re doing what we can. I’m afraid it will be the summer before we see the theme parks here opening up.

“But we’re doing what we can here. A hotel screened a Disney film the other night by the pool for those who need a Disney fix. We’re acclimating. We’re looking at what we can offer folks. We have an area here called Little Arabia. We don’t have a Chinatown here but Little Arabia, which is great. We’re promoting the culinary side of Anaheim.

“We’re trying to build things up like that so when the theme parks come back, we’ll be stronger. We’ll also be cleaner. The arena, the Honda Center, has a new filtration system. Things will be better and hopefully things will start opening up by summer.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about 2021. We’re hoping for the best, and I think everyone in travel in America is doing all that they can to improve things once things open up more than they are right now.”

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