Industry shifts toward encouraging personal responsibility

American Cruise Lines asked passengers to do their part, sending them masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
American Cruise Lines asked passengers to do their part, sending them masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Last month, Sonoma County Tourism unveiled a video campaign titled "Safe Travels Promise," encouraging visitors to wear masks, wash their hands and obey social distancing guidelines while in the California wine destination.

The video even encourages visitors to urge anyone not wearing a mask to do so, but "with kindness."

"Tourism isn't dangerous, being irresponsible is," said Crista Luedtke, chef and owner of Sonoma's Boon Eat + Drink and Boon Hotel + Spa. "It's a simple ask, just wear a mask."

As the virus continues to surge in much of the U.S. but travel begins to resume, Sonoma and Luedtke are among a wave of tourism stakeholders urging travelers to take personal responsibility when it comes to preventing the spread of Covid-19.

It is a change in tone from the early days of the pandemic, when the focus was on asking travel suppliers how they would protect customers. And while suppliers are still expected to put processes in place to keep guests safe and healthy, emphasizing individual responsibility is being viewed as the most effective way to prevent outbreaks.

"Tourism isn't dangerous, being irresponsible is." -- Crista Luedtke, Boon Eat + Drink
"Tourism isn't dangerous, being irresponsible is." -- Crista Luedtke, Boon Eat + Drink

"We're all doing everything we can to provide safe spaces, and then I think the burden needs to fall on individuals to do their part, as well," Luedtke said. "We can't do it for them. I am not shy to call people out when they are not wearing a mask or social distancing. But my job isn't to sit around and watch everybody. If you're going to be out, you need to play by the rules. And we're not making the rules. These are [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations and state-issued regulations." 

For Luedtke and other travel suppliers who closed down in the early days of the pandemic, their livelihoods depend on individual responsibility to prevent another lockdown.

That's prompting travel associations to implore members and the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. The U.S. Travel Association has been tweeting messages like "Don't ruin summer. Wear a mask." The American Hotel & Lodging Association asked its members to require guests to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces, which major brands Hyatt Hotels and InterContinental Hotels Group both did starting July 27.

In advance of its first planned sailing this summer, which was ultimately canceled due to the recent surge in cases, American Cruise Lines sent passengers a letter asking them to get a Covid-19 test four days before traveling, if possible, and to try to self-quarantine for seven days before the trip. The line also sent passengers a care package with masks, hand sanitizer and gloves. A letter reminded them to limit contact while traveling and gave detailed instructions for hand-washing, wearing masks and safely sneezing.

American Cruise Lines CEO Charles Robertson said that, due to the ongoing surge, the company expects to require more of guests when it starts sailing. 

"We're going to be requiring that they wear face masks for much of the cruise, including when they are exploring on their own in towns," he said.

When Windstar Cruises in July said it would retrofit its ships with hospital-grade air filters and UV-C light that kills Covid-19 as part of its cruise restart plan, executives at its parent company, Xanterra Travel Collection, said that outbreak prevention was still incumbent on travelers.

"It gets down to asking all of our guests to adopt certain behaviors, carry a mask, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, and we're trusting that they will comply and be a participant in the community that we create," said Betsy O'Rourke, Xanterra's chief marketing officer. 

Xanterra also mandates the wearing of masks indoors at all of its national park locations, which O'Rourke said was warmly received. 

"We got so many beautiful comments on our social media posts saying thank you," she said. "People want that protection, and they are willing to comply."

Luxury tour operator Overseas Leisure Group, meanwhile, launched a Responsible Traveler Challenge, offering a $250 credit to travelers who test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of departure, which they can apply toward activities, incidentals or restaurants during their trip or donate to a global health care organization.

The company also partnered with the EntrSafe app, which enables customers to evaluate their own exposure, symptoms and risk before and during their travels. 

Overseas CEO Felix Brambilla said he developed the program after seeing the virus surge in Florida, where the company is based.

"After witnessing the shocking acceleration of Covid-19 cases in my hometown, related to a resurgence in tourism, I felt the essential need to put measures in place that ensure travelers take ownership and responsibility for their own risk to others," he said, adding that he hopes the program will "get people to act a little differently."

For at least one of the many travel advisors starting to travel again, being responsible means doing more than what is required.

Kacie Darden, owner of Blue Pineapple Travel in Marietta, Ga., went to Los Cabos this month. Although Mexico doesn't require travelers to provide a negative Covid-19 test prior to arrival, Darden got one because she felt it was the right thing to do, especially since she lives in a hot spot. 

"I am a huge believer that the only way to successfully restart travel is if we all act responsibly," she said. "To me, that means going above and beyond what is required."

Darden, who also recently went to the Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Florida, uses her experiences to talk with clients about how to travel in the safest manner possible. Her next stop is Aruba, which requires all incoming visitors to get tested.

"I know it's not a fail-safe solution, but when combined with social distancing, consistent mask-wearing and also hand-washing, we can start to reopen carefully," she said. 

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Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report. 

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