As a growing number of cruise lines, destinations and hospitality operators roll out strict Covid vaccination requirements, many advisors report that traveling-while-vaccinated is quickly becoming something of an industry standard, especially at travel's higher end.
"Most of my clients are vaccinated and are looking for fully-vaccinated travel options," confirmed Suzy Schreiner, owner of Seattle-based Azure Blue Vacations, a Travel Planners International affiliate. "The handful of my clients who aren't vaccinated are, for the most part, the ones that are sitting and waiting. They don't want the hassle of booking a trip and having it switch to vaccinated-only."
Schreiner also reported that the pool of nonvaccinated clients is starting to shrink, as some are now reconsidering their decision to remain unvaccinated as travel protocols shift.
"There's this huge divide between the pro-vaxxed and pro-unvaxxed, but there are also people who are just kind of on the fence and unsure," said Schreiner. "I had clients who were traveling this fall who weren't yet vaccinated, but as we were getting more information on cruise line protocols, they decided to go ahead and get vaccinated, because now they're finding it to be an imposition on their vacation."
Marc Kazlauskas, president of Frosch's U.S. branch operations and leisure division, confirmed that he's also seen a trend toward unvaccinated clients opting to get the shots in order to broaden their travel options.
"We have heard, anecdotally, clients saying, 'I didn't know that I needed a vaccine to be able to go to France,' and then that has become the tipping point for them" to get vaccinated, explained Kazlauskas. "We look to provide the facts, and there's no question that being vaccinated has become the standard in mitigating any potential stress or headaches while traveling."
We explain entry requirements in place for U.S. visitors travelers in each Caribbean country. Many islands have eased protocols for fully vaccinated travelers.
According to Kazlauskas, Frosch is "strongly encouraging" that clients looking to travel get vaccinated, because unvaccinated clients are largely being limited to U.S. mainland travel or travel to a handful of Caribbean islands, like the Dominican Republic.
He added that the FDA's decision Aug. 23 to give approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will likely "empower more destinations and companies to require vaccinations."
Aanchal Gandhi, who serves as vice president for West Coast leisure and independent advisors at Ovation Travel Group, said she's found client conversations around vaccination "easy to navigate" thus far.
"I have personally not seen clients pushing back on the vaccination requirements," said Gandhi. "In fact, most are proactive to ensure they have met the requirements."
Likewise, Daria Westerfield, owner of Houston-based River Oaks Travel Agency, a Virtuoso network agency, reports that she's gotten "very little pushback" from clients over the issue of vaccination requirements, with close to 90% of her client base being vaccinated.
"Because a lot of the cruises we do are on the luxury side, the demographic is a bit older, so many of them have been vaccinated since the first wave," said Westerfield. "And the handful of our clients who are not vaccinated, I think are now contemplating going and getting vaccinated."
That said, Westerfield is keeping a close eye on whether cruise lines could make booster shots necessary in the near future.
"Because the majority of cruise bookings we have are for 2022, we're curious to see how they're going to navigate booster shots," said Westerfield. "We're actually already seeing some of our older clients scheduling or getting their booster shots, but will they be required?"
Some advisors, however, have had a decidedly more challenging experience transitioning toward vaccination-only travel.
Earlier this year, DeeAna Archer, owner of Texas-based Archer Luxury Travel, a Virtuoso-affiliated agency, said that around 80% of her clients said they didn't plan to get vaccinated. Fast-forward to today, and "they still aren't interested in getting the vaccine," said Archer.
When it comes to cruise travel in particular, Archer said she's been forced to cancel or reschedule people "like crazy." Most recently, Archer has had to cancel six bookings to Turks and Caicos, where proof of vaccination will be required come Sept. 1, as well as move "a ton" of cruises for September and October to next year.
"My clients are moving to places where a vaccine is not required or the island will take a doctor's note," said Archer. "Mexico and the Dominican Republic are looking better and better."
River Oaks Travel Agency's Westerfield has also seen some booking hesitance among clients with young children, as those under the age of 12 remain ineligible for Covid vaccines.
"We are entering this phase where we're seeing families with children pausing for travel altogether, because they're worried about kids getting sick," explained Westerfield.
Still, most advisors recognize that as vaccine-related protocols continue to proliferate, travelers will have no choice but to take such restrictions in stride.
"As more people get vaccinated, that's where the market is going to be," added Azure Blue Vacations' Schreiner. "Travel agents need to put their own personal thoughts and biases aside, because as business owners, we need to always pivot to where the market is. And for myself, the market is now vaccinated travelers and vaccinated travel."