Written by Celece Krieger, Travel Connection President
In the fall of 2001, I was employed by a tour operator and my job consisted of making travel arrangements for large groups. I was working with a choir planning their performance tour through the Yucatan in Mexico. Because of the local interest in traveling with the choir and the attraction of the Yucatan and Mayan Ruins, the group had grown to over 300 passengers. I even invited my mother to join me so we could enjoy Mexico together. Making travel arrangements for a group of this size was no small task and a huge responsibility. We chartered flights; over 100 hotel rooms were reserved; and seven motorcoaches were ready to transport us. Every detail from daily meals to performances and sightseeing tours throughout the area were confirmed. We were eagerly awaiting the departure date in early October.
Then came the morning of September 11th. I was getting ready for work and watching the news as I learned about the tragedy that had just occurred at the World Trade Center. It was only a few months earlier that I was in the top of that tower, gazing at the beautiful New York skyline. It seemed impossible that it was now coming down. After I arrived at the office, we continued to watch the tragic events of that day unfold. Time stood still for what seemed like days and our industry was in a state of chaos. After a few days, calls were pouring in from everyone awaiting the choir’s arrival in just a few short weeks. We were all wondering if the choir would choose to travel after such a tragedy. I admit, it was scary to think about the “what-ifs” and being responsible for a group of that size, including my own mother.
A few days later, the choir chose to proceed with the trip as planned and chose faith over fear. We arrived at McCarran Airport and it was like a ghost town. Normally, I would appreciate the fact that I did not have to wait in long lines, but the feeling was eerie. Security was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before and I had no idea this would soon become a normal procedure. Our charter flight was delayed for several hours, but we finally arrived in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan. As we stepped off the plane around 2:00 a.m., I noticed crowds of people gathered near the baggage claim area. They were locals and travel industry professionals waving American flags with tears in their eyes. This greeting was not just for our arrival at the airport; they arrived at every performance with the same greeting, waving American flags all week long. As the choir sang God Bless America and other patriotic songs, there was not a dry eye in the audience. I still get teary-eyed when I think about it after all this time.
That week in the Yucatan was an experience that I will never forget and changed the way I think about travel. It showed me that despite terrible tragedies, it is the American spirit that helps us persevere. It also showed me that compassion can be shown despite language and cultural barriers; and there are caring people around the world.
Ironically, as I type this almost nineteen years later, our industry is now faced with another challenge that is changing the way we travel and creating fear: Coronavirus. You can’t turn on a television, go online, or read a paper without Coronavirus making the headlines. People are trying to decide if they should travel, if it is safe, and some are just cancelling regardless. Travel suppliers are changing their cancellation fees, sanitizing procedures, and health screenings. They are trying to work with customers the best way they can. So, what are we to do? Educate ourselves.
The Coronavirus situation is constantly evolving. Monitor the State Department for travel restrictions at travel.state.gov and check the CDC’s latest reports along with the World Health Organization. Making the decision whether to travel or not is a deeply personal choice.
So here I am with my own personal choice to make. I have a special trip planned for myself, my mother, and my daughter. It was a birthday surprise for my mother’s “big birthday” and we are scheduled to travel to Paris and England in May. This is a “bucket list” trip for my mother as she always wanted to see where her ancestors came from. She is also a retired history teacher, not to mention a big fan of The Crown, Victoria, and Downton Abbey. I have so many special experiences and surprises planned for this trip. Do I let the “what ifs” set in, feed the fear, and cancel? OR do we go as planned and create some amazing memories together?
The answer for us is easy – we are going and it was unanimous. We do not have any control over what could happen a few months from now or ever. We are prepared to take all of the safety precautions and follow the instructions provided by the CDC on their website.
One thing that has not changed through all of this is that travel brings us together. Regardless of how, where, and why, travel will always unite people. Perhaps the quote on my office wall says it best: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”