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Health security protocols construct on tour operators’ strengths: Travel Weekly

As travel begins to slowly reopen in the age of Covid-19,
much of the industry has been focused on private trips and hotel stays and
experiences that promote isolation over mingling.

But for those who can’t afford that level of luxury or who
prefer the social interaction and variety of group travel, companies and tour
operator associations are adopting comprehensive and innovative protocols to
reassure travelers and help make the case that, when done right, group travel
can actually be safer than traditional FIT.

The Travel Corporation, for instance, this month told
members of its advisory council that in addition to previously announced health
and safety protocols that include the usual social distancing and enhanced
cleaning procedures, it will be adding “wellbeing directors” to all of its
Luxury Gold, Insight Vacations and Trafalgar trips to ensure guests, staff and
suppliers are following guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Meantime, given the unique challenges presented by adventure
travel, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) last week released
guidelines for hiking, biking and rafting trips, with more to come.

The new protocols underscore not only the complexity tour
operators face as they move groups from city to city and hotel to hotel, but
also the safety they can provide, said Luxury Gold CEO Ulla Hefel Bohler.

“When you just book everything on your own, you don’t know
what you’re in for,” she said. “You have no idea whether that hotel that you’ve
chosen takes hygiene seriously. And then you’ve got to choose a restaurant for
dinner.”

Group travel done right, she said, actually provides
travelers with their own bubble, where guests can relax and let their guides do
the worrying.

“I honestly believe that trusted advisors, trusted brands …
can have an advantage in this new world because it’s just so complicated out
there,” Hefel Bohler said.

Terry Dale, head of the USTOA, called the Travel Corporation’s
addition of wellbeing directors “brilliant.” 

“It’s one more layer of assurance for their customers,” he
said, agreeing that the pandemic offers the sector an opportunity to
distinguish itself.

“We have always said, even before Covid-19, when you travel
with a tour operator, you’ve got this built-in safety network,” Dale said. “Whether
it’s [complications from] a geopolitical event or Mother Nature flexing her
muscle, when you travel as a group, you’ve got somebody looking out for you,
somebody who is going to vet everything you do.”

To help tour operators across the globe prepare for post-pandemic
travel, the USTOA, the Canadian Association of Tour Operators and the European
Tourism Association have also developed joint Covid-19 health and sanitizing
guidelines, along with a TourCare seal of approval their members can use to
show they are compliant.

TourCare guidelines are based on recommendations from the
World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the Public
Health Agency of Canada and local governmental health authorities. 

As is the case with guidelines being developed across the
travel industry, TourCare protocols call for staff training on sanitization,
social distancing and the use of masks and hand sanitizer by staff and guests.
TourCare also calls on members to oversee the health and safety practices of
hotels, restaurants and other suppliers to ensure they are in compliance with
the guidelines and all local health rules.

In the adventure travel sector, meanwhile, the ATTA
partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to develop both general guidelines and more
in-depth, comprehensive protocols for various adventure activities.

Among other things, they include detailed recommendations on
when to wear masks and when to increase social distancing beyond the general
6-feet rule. That includes increased social distancing for cyclists following
each other, because of the potential for airborne spread beyond 6 feet in the
downdraft.

For hikes, they include cautions about interacting with
nongroup members on trails. On rafting trips, the ATTA recommends masks be worn
on the water because guests are so close to each other. 

In addition to its guidelines for biking, trekking and
rafting trips, the ATTA said protocols for seven other adventure sectors will
be complete by the end of July.

The guidelines were developed in collaboration with member
companies, and like the USTOA’s, they build upon standards and resources from
the CDC, the WHO and governments, the ATTA said.

“We have been listening to our community through think tanks
and surveys, and consistently, one of the most resounding needs was a global
consensus on health and safety guidelines for adventure activities,” said
Shannon Stowell, the ATTA’s CEO. “With the support of leading businesses and
organizations in our community, we were able to make it happen.”

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