CHAD COTTER

Chad Cotter views a webpage with information on how to safely and successfully travel to Hawaii. Cotter said Hawaii still has strict travel restrictions compared to other states.

After the COVID-19 pandemic kept many from vacationing or visiting family last holiday season, travel experts are expecting big numbers this year.

Chad Cotter, the general manager at TotallyTrips in St. Joseph, said several factors have caused travel demand to increase recently. In fact, he said, the travel industry has seen record sales.

“We are having better sales than we did in 2019, and it’s kind of that perfect storm of all those things coming together,” Cotter said.

He said not being able to travel last year has many people tired of being cooped up and ready to get back out. On top of this, people who planned to travel in 2020 received credits from canceled trips that need to be used before the end of 2021. Some people also have stimulus money to spend.

Nick Chabarria, AAA spokesperson at the St. Louis regional headquarters, said the demand for travel is back and that will be especially true through the holidays.

“People are wanting to travel more,” Chabarria said. “In fact, just October bookings for AAA travel are up about 30% from 2019 numbers at that time. So that means travel is back to where it was prior to the pandemic, and even then some.”

Both Cotter and Chabarria said travelers can expect large crowds at airports. Cotter said extra health regulations and travel restrictions will contribute to longer lines.

“The airlines are having to check those and police that basically before people get on the flights,” Cotter said. “You do need to allow more time at the airports because it is going slower because of the extra stuff the airlines are having to check.”

Chabarria also said airports will be more crowded than what had been seen this summer due to the U.S. opening travel back up to foreign guests.

“The biggest thing that we could tell folks is pack your patience when you’re at the airport or if you’re on the roads,” Chabarria said.

Along with an increase in travelers, prices also are expected to go up. People are booking holiday trips earlier than ever before, leaving fewer open seats on airplanes, rooms in hotels or keys to rental cars. Chabarria said when demand goes up, the prices will follow.

One of Chabarria’s tips to avoid headaches is to book early. AAA even recommends booking rental cars before airline tickets due to shortages. Booking early like this gives travelers the best options and more time to prepare when a flight cancellation occurs.

Another tip is to know the cancellation procedures. Both Cotter and Chabarria advise purchasing travel insurance that allows cancellations for any reason. This ensures that if someone gets sick or COVID-19 numbers begin to rise, a trip can be canceled easily.

Another tip is to speak with a trusted travel advisor who knows the travel restrictions. Cotter said TotallyTrips has seen a large increase in clients this year because people don’t want to have to figure out the COVID-19 restrictions on their own.

“There’s so many things that if you don’t do what’s required of you, the airline can keep you from flying,” Cotter said. “So, it’s very important to book with a travel agent who knows those restrictions and can guide you and tell you what to do, not only going to the destination but also for coming back, too.”

Cotter said most U.S. states only require a general health screening, except for Hawaii. It and most other countries will require a negative COVID-19 test or a health questionnaire to be filled out. Anyone who leaves the country will also have to perform these acts before coming back to the United States.

He said the popular spot this year seems to be Florida, as a lot of travelers are choosing to stay domestic. But for those who do want to go international, Cotter said Mexico and the Dominican Republic have the lightest restrictions right now.

Chabarria said driving still seems to be the preferred method of travel this year, and the busiest travel dates are still right around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Morgan Doyle can be reached at morgan.doyle@newspressnow.com

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