By: Andrew Shibuya
As the world has remained in their homes this past year and a half, traveling abroad seems to be the light at the end of a very long tunnel for many. While globetrotters stayed home bound and planned their trips for the second restrictions lifted, the travel industry underwent a rapid and drastic transformation. As such, many experts claim that travel – and particularly global travel – will be forever changed.
In the midst of the pandemic and the ubiquitous desire to be anywhere but home, travel destinations have begun to accommodate traveler’s concerns in the face of the virus. In some cases, it was changing the distance between tables in a restaurant or limiting the capacity of occupants in a hotel. In other cases, however, the only changes were claims of improvements or safer accommodations. While many hotels and restaurants truly began taking necessary precautions, some did not adapt – despite claiming to.
And such, in the age of the internet and modernity’s obsession with bureaucracy, innumerable COVID safety certificates – some valid, and some pure and simple money grabs – were born. Resultantly, the great saturation of these valuable assurances ultimately renders them to be valueless. For even the avid travelers and eagle-eyed among us, such certifications will likely prove to be a nuisance at best, and a health concern at worst.
In the travel industry, the remaining agencies have sought various solutions to this issue of verifying credibility. What happens when someone who is particularly at risk for COVID is infected by the virus at a supposedly safe hotel? Why even take these risks at all?
This past week, 360 Magazine attended an event with several travel experts who discussed this very issue and presented potential solutions. Though the situation is troubling and promises to only get worse, experts are beginning to craft plans and act against this rubber-stamping.
Terrence Suero of Buffalo-based travel agency Toca Travel has a promising and apt response to this new strain of scammers. While he is confident that the world will never return to its pre-pandemic state, Suero understands that travel is an essential part of many people’s lives. Even now, just months after the commencement of vaccine distribution, Americans have started to travel. While most are now staying within United States’ borders, some are wandering to more distant corners of the globe.
But, every new strain and ensuing restriction springs new doubts and trouble for the average traveler. And for travel agents, their work has only gotten more difficult–not only in the face of these conditions, but also regarding the endless onslaught of dubious safety certifications. To this end, Suero has started Safe Travel Pathways – a new endeavor that he hopes will eradicate, or at the very least assuage, travelers’ health concerns related to COVID.
Safe Travel Pathways at its core is an open-source directory of vetted hospitality companies. The company hopes to begin its directory abroad in Costa Rica, and if successful, to gradually expand globally. Behind Safe Travel Pathways is Suero’s ethos as a travel agent: to treat travelers as adults. His aim is simply to provide helpful and accurate information, with the goal being that travelers can make their own informed decisions.
The main criteria for Safe Travel Pathways’ approval includes adherence to internationally accepted health standards, a third-party audit system that can determine the provided level of safety and strict governance. Safe Travel Pathways uses a grading system from one to five that considers various accreditations, verified safety precautions, and guidelines to evaluate companies. The idea behind this system evinces once more Suero’s desire to allow travelers to choose their own itinerary in light of the safety information provided. While certain places may receive lower scores than others, Suero acknowledges that some people are more comfortable than others regarding COVID safety precautions.
However, Suero has more than just coronavirus in mind. His future offerings likely will include restaurants and other accommodations that have been vetted for specific allergens and other necessary health considerations. Suero was careful to note that most travel agents are not health specialists. With these future additions, he hopes to assuage as many health concerns as possible, for both travel agents and travelers. Such other future additions may highlight businesses that are accessible, sustainable, or accommodating for similar travel concerns.
Safe Travel Pathway’s test run is starting soon in Costa Rica to gain a greater understanding of its capability and viability as an international travel database. Suero hopes to soon expand into Europe and South America with the help of travel bureaus, which validate businesses on a local level. The database is free and accessible to all, with certain features limited to travel agents or agencies.
As the world reopens, much is still left unclear. With each new strain and constantly shifting guidelines, creating travel plans can be unnecessarily convoluted and stressful. Though the world may never return to “normal,” tools like Safe Travel Pathways can hopefully move us in the right direction.