Getting Ready

Getting Ready

It will probably be three to four years before the effects of the virus stop impacting travelers to distant lands. Efficacy of the vaccines, mayhem in airline schedules, widely differing and radical airport rules for transfers and most importantly, the hugely damaged vendor communities are all just now being recognized as the travelers’ principle hurdles.

There’s little good evidence yet on the last three hurdles for a good prediction into 2021, although I venture some speculation below. On the vaccine issue, however, some things are coming into focus.

To travel to distant lands you will have to be vaccinated and the vaccination will have to be certified.

That simple statement will become much more complex in the months to come, so you need to stay abreast of the requirements that are just now being written at your countries of destination.

There are more than 150 vaccines currently in the pipeline. Right now Africa’s disposition is towards the Chinese and Oxford vaccines.

Sygnia’s Oxford vaccine began tests in South Africa earlier this month where it subsequently will receive favored distribution. China has “assured” Africa that it will receive its vaccine once it’s determined safe.

There are no offers from American vaccine companies for equitable distribution into Africa. Worse, America has refused to join the group of 150 countries pledging fair and equal distribution of a vaccine regardless of the country in which the first patent is lodged.

So there’s legitimate reason to be concerned that countries like Kenya and South Africa may not accept American certified vaccines for unlimited entry.

It’s possible, for example, that vaccinated Americans may also require a negative test for Covid-19 on entry. That was currently the policy of a number of African countries before the widespread ban on foreigners that remains in place, now.

When that was employed in places like Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa, the incoming passenger had to pay for a local Covid-19 examination and test ($100-$200) and then quarantine until the results were returned (as little as 5 hours in Rwanda to a few days in Kenya).

I think this is more likely earlier in 2021 than later. Travelers envisaging an earlier trip ought to presume, therefore, that they’ll need to arrive several or more days before the actual start of their safari.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll receive much more clarity on this issue until the vaccines are actually distributed.

As time rolls on, however, the other critical three issues will gain more focus.

So far American, European and even African airlines have been saved from liquidation by massive government loans. (We will know about South African Airlines in four days when Parliament makes the final decision on whether to bail it out.)

I wager this continues. The day of reckoning for these carriers will come much later, three or four years from now when the world economic downturn includes no more subsidies. Until then, though, I’d gamble that the major carriers will limp along.

Airlines have already released a third of their employees and more furloughs are expected. Schedules will remain severely reduced. As a perfectly Keynesian nevertheless hard to understand phenomenon, prices will go up.

When KLM, Qatar and Emirates believed following Tanzania’s June opening up that tourists and business people would actually return, they published schedules roughly a third that of pre-Covid frequencies at fares 50-100% higher. No one came to the party, of course, so those have been rescinded. But it does give us some insight as to what a traveler in 2021 might expect when travel really does begin, again: Higher fares and less flexible scheduling.

The only way to avoid these is to fly directly to your destination and right now the only likely countries into which Americans might be able to do that would be Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia flies now from Dulles to Addis. In addition I think Kenya Airways’ nonstop from JFK has some hope of continuing into 2021.

Delta and South African nonstops into South Africa look problematic.

So unless your sub-Saharan vacation is in Ethiopia or Kenya, the likelihood is that you will have to pass through at least one other airport enroute.

One of the most likely of those airports is Amsterdam’s Schiphol. Its current regulations are considered in the mid-range of levels of scrutiny and security in Europe. (Heathrow is the most difficult; Zurich the least.) Europe is well on its way towards opening up and travel within the EU has begun, so this is a good harbinger of what an American might expect in 2021.

All travelers must wear a mask. Security takes approximately twice as long as before. A “Health Declaration Form” is required. Officials meeting you at the jetway exit randomly corroborate the form by instant temperature checks and further questioning. If you’re suspected of illness, you’ll be detained and further tested at your expense.

How I view this right now is to expect a necessary planned overnight at an airport hotel at the point of transfer.

Droughts and politics have often stressed African tourist vendors, but nothing like this. Before tourists trickle back, at least three seasons of revenue will be lost.

Mergers, bankruptcies and greatly reduced services are all but certain. The biggest and the smallest have the best chances of surviving, creating a powerful downwards pressure on pricing. That and just fewer tourists will create necessary economies that are going to erode the high level of service we came to expect the last few decades.

So while there is still much to play out, the horizon of traveling is now visible, and properly preparing expectations will contribute to a smoother launch.