Travel advisors help navigate COVID

With summer approaching, people already are making travel plans for upcoming vacations.

However, travelers need to be aware of travel restrictions outside of the United States, warned Jim O’Brien, owner and travel advisor with his home-based Achieve Your Dream Travel in Farragut.

“There are limitations,” he said. “Various nations around the world had put a stop to non-essential, leisure travel.

“On the first of February, the government of France issued a prohibition for leisure or non-essential travel to the French overseas territories … French Polynesia (such as the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora),” O’Brien added.

Jamaica had changed its restrictions, he said, “so if by chance (a traveler) contracted COVID while they were in Jamaica, they would be quarantined by the Jamaican government wherever the Jamaican government wanted to put them for upward of two weeks,” he said.

“But there are other countries (such as Mexico) where they have gone way out of their way to do everything they possibly can to provide top customer service to their clients,” O’Brien said.

That included providing COVID testing in hotels and resorts before clients board an airplane to the United States. Within 24 hours, he said the client gets the results, and some resorts are allowing guests who test positive to stay at the hotel for up to 14 days at no cost.

Europe has faced a year-long travel ban to those countries, but Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, stated in a recent press release this week it “will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by (the European Medicines Agency).” She added the three vaccines approved for use in the United States — Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson—have all been approved for use in Europe, and travel may be possible this summer.

On the other hand, O’Brien said the U.S. State Department and Center for Disease Control have issued an update, increasing its number of countries to Level 4 (Do Not Travel) to about 80 percent of countries worldwide — that includes Canada.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose unprecedented risks to travelers. In light of those risks, the Department of State strongly recommends U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad,” the State Department stated on its website updated April 28.

Along with COVID concerns, there are other considerations, such as medical and travel insurance. As such, O’Brien warned and advised people to use a travel advisor to get the best trip experience.

“When people contract with a travel advisor, what they’re contracting for is the knowledge and the experience and the contacts that travel advisor has within the travel industry to help ensure whatever the client has in mind,” O’Brien said. “Whether that be an ocean cruise, river cruise or whatever; that travel advisor will match a particular person or couple with the travel provider that basically would meet whatever their particular desires are.”

Achieve Your Dream Travel is a boutique business, working with friends, family and referrals.

While many travelers try to plan on their own, O’Brien advises they use a travel agent to help them avoid pitfalls.

“People who are unfamiliar with the travel industry have a tendency to believe that it’s more expensive for them to use a travel advisor to plan their travel,” he said. “In some cases, that may be the case (where an extra charge is involved because of extra effort involved).”

However, with a majority of the trips. travel advisors are compensated with commission payments from travel providers, such as cruise lines.

With the apparent widespread success of the vaccines in the United States, domestic trips are not seeing the same pitfalls, he observed.