I have not traveled further than my grocery store since March. The last time I dug my toes in the sand on a Caribbean beach was in January.
But I was excited to speak with a travel advisor who had flown to Jamaica and stayed five nights at two resorts on a fam trip in early August. I had many questions for her.
Angie Fanning is the owner of AwayBug Travel in Wilmington, N.C., an independent affiliate of the Travel Experts' network.
She had 75 trips on the books when Covid-19 shut down travel in early March, mostly to Europe, the bulk of her business. Most of those clients ended up moving their trips to 2021. "It was chaos, and as the pandemic stretched on and Europe remained out of bounds, I realized I had to pivot and develop some new markets for business," she said.
A few weeks ago, a sales rep for the four Couples resorts in Jamaica told her he was organizing a fam trip to two of the properties the following week. He invited her to join the group of 13 travel advisors. She quickly began to figure out the logistics.
"I wanted to experience the travel, the entry process for Jamaica and the resorts, because I want to be able to give the best possible advice to any clients headed there," she said.
"I've been selling the destination, but I'd never been there."
Arriving passengers must complete and submit an online travel authorization form between two and five days prior to their planned arrival. Once travelers are approved, they receive a certificate that must be submitted during the airline check-in process.
In addition, travelers from certain U.S. hotspots must upload the results of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than 10 days before departure. (After Fanning's trip was completed, Jamaica changed its requirements to require all residents of the U.S. to upload proof of a negative Covid test.)
Our updated map on which islands are open to U.S. tourism, and the entry requirements.
Fanning flew from Wilmington to Montego Bay via Charlotte. The flight was crowded, she said, but everyone wore masks. "The American flight attendant gave me a paper bag with a bottle of water and a package of Biscoff cookies when I boarded," she said.
She used the Club Mobay Greet Arrival Service when she landed at Sangster Airport. "It was great. The greeter was waiting, brought me to a special line where I had my temperature taken. I squeezed hand sanitizers at seven different stations on the way to Immigration and Customs, and in the arrival hall, a health official asked me if I had ever taken malaria pills," Fanning said. "I said yes. I took them for an Africa trip a few years ago. That was no problem, and it took only one hour from disembarking to getting into the shuttle for Couples Negril. She was the lone passenger. Both she and the driver wore masks.
Check-in at the resort "was a breeze," she said: A Plexiglass screen separated her from staff at the front desk, staff wore masks and her room was ready and clean.
The group of travel advisors toured the resort wearing masks, sat at tables for four instead of at one large group table in the restaurants and got a pep talk on the resort's cleaning procedures.
They also toured Couples Swept Away in Negril. Two days later, the group moved on to Couples Sans Souci in Ocho Rios and toured Couples Tower Isle.
visit, Couples Negril and Couples Sans Souci have had to close again until Nov.
"I felt super safe," Fanning said. "Some of the other agents told me that they felt safer in Jamaica from the health standpoint then they did in the U.S.
"Before I left home, there were so many unknowns regarding the entry process, but now that I have done it, it is not scary," she said. "I had a high comfort level throughout the trip."
She said the trip inspired her as it did her fellow travelers, adding that no one in her group had any problems with arrival, check-in at the resorts and departure.
Fanning recognized that Covid has hit the travel industry hard. "Being in Jamaica, which is so dependent upon tourism, I could feel in my bones how the people there are suffering," she said.
"The trip was a very positive experience. I will be going back to Jamaica."