Mo Noubani, president of the Travel Box International in Orlando, recently returned from a nearly monthlong trip to Colombia, which evolved out of a trip to meet his agency's new in-destination specialist in the country.
Upon his return, Noubani reported that the hotels and sites he visited had all implemented Covid-19 restrictions he felt comfortable with, even more so than in some places in his home state of Florida.
He has also completed four bookings to Colombia since his return, all from requests directly from Facebook, where he documented his trip.
Noubani said that, as an advisor who specializes in complex international trips, he felt a responsibility to show that travel can be done safely today.
"Because if we don't start leading the way and doing that, and showing the public there is a way to get all of this done safely, who is?" Noubani said. "So I felt a big responsibility [as] a person who specializes in international, bucket-list destinations."
Noubani began his trip in Bogota, to meet his agency's new in-destination specialist. Last fall, Travel Box International introduced a service to clients in which the agency connects them with local specialists to help plan their trip. Colombia was not part of the initial rollout of the program. Noubani decided to turn his business trip into his own familiarization trip in the region.
The trip is an easy one from Florida, with flights only lasting two and a half hours, Noubani said; it's quicker than a trip to Boston. With clients, he is positing the destination as accessible -- especially for those in the southeast U.S. -- and affordable (Noubani recently saw round-trip flights as low as $180, and he visited a number of three-, four- and five-star properties clients would enjoy).
On to the Amazonas
In Bogota, he conducted a number of site inspections before he headed to the Amazonas region, where he stayed in a number of lodges. His home base was the Calanoa Jungle Lodge, a low-impact, four-unit lodge.
Noubani has already gotten four bookings as a result of sharing details of his Colombia trip on Facebook. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mo Noubani
Noubani visited several indigenous tribes with his translator. He was, reportedly, the only visitor they had in a long time because of Covid-19. He was welcomed to one village by a speech from the elder, an experience he said he will keep with him for the rest of his life.
"You realize in this world we have all these differences, yet we are all so similar at the end of the day," Noubani said. "You have your loved ones around you. You have some kind of job to provide. We all do the same thing, but we're so wrapped up with 'You're this' and 'I'm that.'"
The wildlife in the region was "amazing," Noubani said. He particularly enjoyed making friends with a group of monkeys who greeted him each morning.
Daytrips across borders
During his trip, Noubani was also able to cross open borders with Brazil and Peru, taking daytrips to the countries.
He ended the trip with a skydiving adventure.
Noubani was impressed with Covid precautions at the sites he visited in Colombia. He also took precautions of his own. He took a test before leaving, downloaded an app required by the Colombian government and filled out a healthcare questionnaire 72 hours before departing. He provided proof of those measures at the airport.
He also took a test the day before he returned to the U.S., satisfying this country's entry requirements. Noubani stumbled upon a third test along the way while in-destination, too, with one property requiring he take a rapid test before entering (and provided him with a pina colada and a beach view while he waited).
Most of the hotels he visited had temperature checks for entering guests as well as hand sanitizer. Some even had a series of mats visitors were asked to step on to sanitize their shoes before entering. Noubani also reported many outdoor dining opportunities.
"Due to Covid, everything was mostly private," he said. "It was great. It was amazing."