Despite ongoing pandemic, agents say ‘people are traveling again’

CLEVELAND — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, local travel agents report a substantial pent-up demand for warm-weather getaways and, in some cases, has already resulted in sold-out resorts.

This week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, citing the high transmissibility of the virus between people within close quarters. Additionally, airlines are continuing to struggle with daily cancellations amid a pandemic-related staffing crunch. On Wednesday alone, more than 1200 flights were canceled nationwide, the vast majority of which were not weather-related.

Despite the ever-evolving pandemic, Solon-based travel agent, Art Nittskoff of Gamble America Tour and Travel, has experienced a significant increase in clients seeking trips to countries like Mexico, Jamaica, and other warm-weather destinations.

“March is off the rails. Everybody is booking for spring break. A lot of stuff is sold out already,” Nittskoff said. “Luckily, knock on wood, people are traveling again. People are starting to travel again.”

Nittskoff, a 40 year veteran of the travel industry, has survived through numerous travel industry crises over the years, including 9/11, the SARS outbreak, and other maladies. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has been unlike anything else.

While many of his clients understandably have questions about COVID-related restrictions and policies, most are growing more comfortable with the idea of traveling again.

“ I think if you’re vaccinated and boosted and you use a little common sense, it’s pretty safe to go almost anywhere,” Nittskoff said. “One of the things that people will tell me is, “oh, Mexico is a (CDC Travel) Level 3. Well, the US is a Level 4. It’s much safer to go to some of these places than it is to come here.”

Nittskoff said the overwhelming majority of his clients have opted for his so-called ‘cancel for any reason’ insurance, which can be at most $149 per person but is priced on a sliding scale depending on the cost of the vacation. The intended destination also has some influence on consumer confidence.

“I did have a group that was going to Jamaica this week that canceled because they were nervous but they will go later in the year. Other than that, people are doing it with the peace of mind from the insurance,” Nittskoff said. “I have a lot of questions about it. It has not meant any cancellations. You have to remember that most of the people that I send are going to a resort. Usually, you don’t leave the resort.”

Nittskoff said many hotels in destination countries have also implemented amenable policies for those that test positive while in-country.

“Most of the hotels, if, God forbid, you are positive — they will put you up for free, although some will have a reduced rate. Some will put you up for free for 10 to 14 days depending on however long it is until you take a negative test,” Nittskoff said. “The latest statistic that I read was less than 0.002 percent test positive while in-destination. None of my customers have tested positive while in destination, knock on wood.”