Travel changes forced by pandemic may not end soon

Special Reports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Warm weather months are the prime time for traveling, but in the midst of a pandemic travel looks much different. The changes are presenting unique challenges for those who depend on the travel industry, like the city of Gulf Shores.

“Our only industry down here is tourism,” Mayor Robert Craft said. “And we depend on it to run everything that we do.”

Gulf Shores has already lost significant revenue after having to close its beaches during part of the pandemic. The beaches are back open now, and Craft said he’s been amazed by the number of people who have visited. But with business restrictions that remain in place, he said it’ll be tough to recoup everything they’ve lost. And the problem could last more than one summer.

“I do worry that the way we look at vacations is changing,” he said. “We may see kind of an earth-changing shape here of how we all commingle together and how we all worry about our safety.”

It’s a reality airlines are dealing with already. Southwest and United have announced enhancements to their cleaning procedures, and Candace O’Neil, marketing manager with the Birmingham Airport Authority, said those changes could represent the new normal.

“We know the airlines have put out a lot of communication about how the new cleaning procedures and measures that they’ve done will now become standard just across the board,” she said. “So I don’t see any cleaning measures or proactive measures for safety being relaxed anytime soon.”

Travel agencies are taking their own precautions, like AAA, which set up sneeze guards to keep agents and clients safe. Agent Sandy Johnson says she’s seeing a different mindset from clients during the pandemic.

“Now more than ever, members, travelers are saying, ‘I really want travel insurance,'” she said.

The pandemic is not stopping some travelers from planning trips or visiting beaches. Craft said it has him feeling hopeful.

“I think our folks that come here will adapt and want to come back,” he said.

But he also knows the pandemic adds pressure. Visitors won’t come to the beaches if they don’t feel safe. So he hopes to prove that beach safety is possible before the prime vacation season begins on Memorial Day.


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