(The Canadian Press)

Safety is the new hospitality: A guide to summer travel during COVID-19

Any kind of travel comes with risks, experts say, so Canadians overcome by wanderlust need to take precautions

After a dreary winter and months of sheltering in place, many Canadians may be keen to skip town and get away from it all this summer.

Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Any kind of travel comes with risks, experts say, so Canadians overcome by wanderlust need to take precautions before they head out on vacation.

For tips on how to travel responsibly, The Canadian Press spoke to Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Toronto; Frederic Dimanche, director of Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management; and Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Toronto-based travel company G Adventures.

Stay at home, or at least close to it

From a public health perspective, Tuite says the best travel advice is “don’t.” But if the road is calling your name, Tuite recommends not straying too far from home.

Every place is dealing with its own epidemiological challenges, and has its own restrictions aimed at containing them, she says.

If you live in a city with a high rate of infections, there’s a danger that you’ll spread the disease to a community that has COVID-19 cases under control, says Tuite. Conversely, people from low-incidence regions who venture out of town run the risk of bringing the novel coronavirus back with them.

“The resources in these in many rural areas are quite different from what we have in big cities,” says Tuite. ”If you have an influx of people, and consequently an influx in disease, it doesn’t take much for those health-care systems to get overwhelmed.”

Morever, every time you cross the border, you have to contend with the complex web of travel restrictions that lie on the other side, says Tuite. Those can include health screenings, border closures and self-isolation requirements upon arrival or return.

Dimanche notes there are economic benefits to exploring your own backyard.

Tourism is big business in Canada, says Dimanche. The industry brought in more than $80 billion in spending from January to September of 2018, and supports 1.8 million jobs in across the country, according to a Statistics Canada report last year.

But as the COVID-19 outbreak brought international travel to a near standstill, Dimanche says many Canadian tourism enterprises are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Many operators make most of their profits during the summer months, says Dimanche, so it’s up to Canadian patrons to make sure these businesses survive to see next season.

Plan ahead, but be flexible

Tuite says preparation is key to staying safe while in unfamiliar territory.

She recommends travellers pack their bags with masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to keep the virus at bay.

She says folks hitting the road should try to bring their own food and supplies in order to limit their exposure to locals. And if you’re driving a long distance, Tuite warns that you’re unlikely to find an available bathroom along the way.

Dimanche says many tourism operators have had to limit their capacity in accordance with physical distancing protocols, so it’s better to book now than later.

However, he warns that travellers may not always get the vacations they paid for, or at least when they planned to take them.

Airlines and other travel companies are taking reservations based on murky predictions about how the pandemic will unfold, he says, and often offer credits in lieu of reimbursement for cancellations.

Poon Tip says tour guides will have to be nimble about changing plans based on conditions on the ground.

That means asking customers to roll with the punches and embrace uncertainty as part of the adventure, he says.

Safety is the new hospitality

Tuite says camping is likely the least risky form of travel, followed by heading to the cottage, so long as you stay on your property.

She says tourists looking for lodging should avoid shared spaces in favour of private accommodations, and be sure to sanitize high-touch surfaces before they settle in.

Hotels are probably preferable to home stays, which don’t have the same strict cleaning standards, she says.

Dimanche says guests will notice a few differences from the moment they arrive at their hotels, with some establishments adopting phone or online registration systems to prevent loitering in the lobby.

When they get to their room, guests may notice that some amenities are missing, such as mini-bars and branded pens, which could have been touched by previous occupants, says Dimanche.

“Safety is going to be the main modus operandi for the customers,” he says. “A number of things are going to change people’s behaviour and expectations of what a clean room should be.”

Poon Tip says G Adventures, which has suspended tours until July 31, is shaking up itineraries to make customers feel more comfortable.

That includes skipping high-traffic destinations, such as museums and historical monuments, in favour of more remote attractions.

Take it all in

Even before the age of COVID-19, seeing the world always meant accepting some degree of risk, says Dimanche, whether it be pickpocketing or local cuisine that disagrees with your digestive system.

Dimanche recognizes that the danger of a contagion has a much farther reach and potentially fatal consequences.

However, he says if people are aware of the risks, and take steps to protect themselves and others, they may find there are mental-health benefits to exploring the world beyond their COVID-19 bunkers.

“This pandemic has shown that we’re so connected as a planet,” says Poon Tip.

“My hope is that travellers on the other side of this are more connected to destinations.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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