What’s missing from travel? Amenities, fees — and people

missing from travel

So much is missing from travel, it’s hard to know where to start.

Consider what was absent from Andrew Selepak’s recent family vacation in St. Augustine, Fla.

When the Selepaks checked into their hotel, they weren’t greeted by an employee with a warm smile. Instead, a masked worker behind a thick plastic shield issued them a sanitized key card. The remote controls in their rooms were covered in plastic.

“The hotel was eerily quiet,” says Selepak, a professor at the University of Florida. “We found that many of the attractions were closed, and many of the restaurants were not open either. There was little to do other than stare at the ocean and drive back to the hotel.”

As Selepak’s experience illustrates, those who elect to travel during the pandemic will find the experience altered in ways large and small. If you expect to have the same vacation you would under normal circumstances, you are likely to be disappointed.

Expect a changed travel landscape

Corritta Lewis, a human resources specialist from Oceanside, Calif., recently visited a resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with her family.

“Because of the pandemic, many activities were closed,” she says. “You can’t help but feel a little slighted. You pay a high price to enjoy everything the hotel and parks have to offer, only to find out that they are temporarily closed.”

The lesson here? Expect a changed travel landscape.

Those changes often begin at your hotel. Like other travel businesses, hotels have adapted to the crisis in ways both welcome and unwelcome. For example, many have started cleaning rooms less often to minimize staff contact with guests.

“Some hotels have canceled daily housekeeping or turnover services,” says Juan Fernandez, a partner at Elli Travel Group, a boutique luxury travel agency. “The best hotels understand that clients’ preferences are different and are allowing them to dictate the number of cleanings and turnovers.” Others forgo housekeeping entirely and ask that guests place their trash outside their rooms for collection.

It’s the little things that are missing from travel

Turndowns and emptied wastebaskets are not the only things missing from the hotel experience. Alissa Musto, a musician from Boston, has noticed the disappearance of coffee in the lobby. “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it,” she says.

And if hotel rooms seem to have less in them, it’s not your imagination. Stationery, magazines, pens and pencils — all gone. “Any items that can’t be efficiently disinfected,” says Chris Hague, chief operating officer of HotelAVE, a hotel asset management company based in Providence, R.I.

Also among the missing are some travel features that, frankly, needed to disappear. Airline change fees have vanished, at least temporarily. The all-you-can-eat hotel breakfast bar — often a showcase of low-quality, unhealthy food — is largely gone. But some travel companies have taken advantage of reduced customer expectations to cut amenities and services unnecessarily, customers say.

Are travel companies using the pandemic as an excuse?

Ben Julius is unhappy with the service cutbacks. He understands why a hotel might close its buffet, but he believes that companies are using the pandemic as an excuse to reduce service and save money.

“I hope that travel brands don’t take too much advantage of this situation,” says Julius, who lives in Tel Aviv and founded a website about travel to Israel. “We need to keep the standards high and provide an even higher level of service to make people comfortable traveling again.”

Of course, some of the elements missing from the travel equation are less tangible than all-you-can-eat waffles.

“The freedom to go anywhere,” says Shaun Taylor, owner of Moriti Safaris, a specialty safari company based in South Africa. He is not talking about the obvious — the country-by-country restrictions that are keeping many of his visitors home. Even if you could get to Africa, you can’t just wing it once you are on the ground.

“People have to carefully choose which attractions to visit,” he says. “The more popular ones are crowded and will have strict attendance limits in place.”

Another thing that’s gone: spontaneity.

“It’s nonexistent,” says Chloe Gosiewski, a marketing executive from Camberley, England. “Everything has to be planned in advance.” She loves staying in hostels, where she can share a room and get to know the other guests. But the pandemic has removed opportunities to meet random travelers.

Where are all the people?

Perhaps the most important thing we have lost is the ability to connect.

“I miss people,” says Thomas Swick, the Fort Lauderdale-based author of “The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them.” “Now, after traveling thousands of miles, we’re still supposed to keep our distance. Gone is the handshake, the touch on the arm — the small gestures that make a traveler feel welcome. Not to mention the smiles lost behind face masks.”

Michael Brein, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., psychologist who specializes in travel issues, agrees. Brein says travelers are missing the nonverbal cues that allow them to connect. It is these small interactions, he says, that make travel memorable.

“Our biggest loss,” Brein says, “is the human connection.”

(By the way, the one thing you haven’t lost during the pandemic is us. My nonprofit consumer advocacy organization is still here and we’re always willing to help you. Here’s how to contact us.)

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Global Rescue

Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

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Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

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Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

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The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

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Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

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VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

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Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

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Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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