No, this is not enough

The travel industry's half-hearted attempts to make your next trip safe could cost you dearly

The federal government took its first step toward a vaccination requirement for air travel last week when it announced plans to require foreign nationals to show proof of immunization. 

But it's probably not enough.

How do I know? Because you told me in no uncertain terms in our Friday Forum: The government must require shots for all passengers, foreign and domestic.

Will it happen? From what I hear, some advisors are pushing for a total vaccine requirement. Others are adopting a wait-and-see approach, as in, "Let's wait and see how this deadly variant does this fall."

(Umm, what do deadly variants do during the fall? They spread!)

You’re missing the best part of this newsletter!

Don't have a full subscription to Elliott Confidential? Then you missed Friday’s debate about vaccinations and travel, as well as my Monday Briefing. And that briefing has lots of exclusive information that will make your upcoming trip or consumer purchase better.

Here's how to subscribe and get a full year of Elliott Confidential for just $60 — a 40 percent savings!

Both the government and the travel industry have a long track record of doing the bare minimum. It's a fine line between being welcoming and locking everything down so tightly that no one can visit. Unfortunately, your health hangs in the balance.

The hotel industry's so-so cleaning initiatives

Hotels have adopted all kinds of protocols to make guests feel safer. In May 2020, for example, Marriott announced its Commitment To Clean pledge. It created a new Marriott Global Cleanliness Council of health experts. It added new cleaning technologies to its hotels, such as electrostatic sprayers and more powerful disinfectants. And it promised "changes" to its cleaning regimen.

But Marriott's promise, like those of the rest of the lodging industry, was short on specifics and looked as if its PR department had drafted it. In fact, the only change guests really noticed was that their rooms weren't serviced as often. 

Some of the changes also didn't work. A few months after Marriott's announcement, the Sydney Marriott went on lockdown after a hotel guard tested positive for the virus. There was also a COVID cluster linked to a hotel during the Tokyo Olympics this summer. 

If you think I'm nitpicking, remember the mother of all superspreader events, which took place at a Marriott in Boston last winter at, of all places, a biotech conference. That one outbreak mushroomed to more than 300,000 COVID cases. 

What does work? The World Health Organization has some guidance on avoiding a COVID infection at a hotel. It recommends washing your hands frequently, including after exchanging objects such as money or credit cards. WHO says you should use hand sanitizer before going into dining halls, restaurants and bars. It also suggests maintaining at least a one-meter distance from staff and other guests.

Oh, and no hugging, kissing or shaking hands. 

Airlines are opposed to vaccination requirements

Airlines don't want any vaccination requirements, arguing that it would present too much of a paperwork burden. They won't even require their own employees to get vaccinated, although some are offering bonuses and other incentives for crew members who get the jab. 

Why are they so dead-set against vaccination requirements? Because most of their customers — at least in the United States — haven't had their shots. More than half of adult U.S. travelers (58 percent) remain unvaccinated, according to a new study. But even if most of their customers were vaccinated, the airline industry would probably still fight a vaccination requirement. That's because it is instinctively against any type of government regulation, even if such regulation would benefit the airlines, their employees, and their customers.

The industry's staunch opposition to vaccination requirements may at least partially explain why the federal government has been so timid in its response to the pandemic. It reluctantly required masks on public transportation, and only last week added a vaccination requirement for non-U.S. passengers entering the country. The government treats the airline industry with kid gloves, spoonfeeding it $80 billion in pandemic aid and then lightly regulating it.

Something just doesn't look right, fellow passengers.

No question about it, there's a heated debate happening inside the corridors of power even as I write this. Some people want to require vaccinations for all airline passengers, perhaps as soon as there's a green light for kids under 12 to get their shots. And others want to wait to see what the current incremental safety precautions will do.

But if the airlines were self-regulating, there would be no masks and no vaccines on some airlines. That's why we need the firm hand of government to regulate their behavior. Generally speaking, airlines have a dismal track record of taking care of their customers unless those customers happen to be sitting in first class.

There has to be some accountability, according to many travelers.

Is it enough?

Overall, the travel industry has a long history of giving short shrift to COVID safety. We can't trust the industry to self-regulate.

So what is the answer?

For now, it comes down to personal responsibility. Take care of yourself. Make sure you have your shots before you travel. Practice social distancing and take all of the necessary precautions. Because the travel industry — and indeed, the federal government — isn't doing enough.

It's doubtful that market forces will move hotels and airlines in the right direction. How about requiring all guests and passengers to show proof of vaccination? No exceptions, no exemptions. No shot, no travel.

The CDC says it best: If you're not vaccinated, you should delay travel. The virus can't travel if you don't.

But the government has an important role to play here, too. It already knows that the travel industry wants to remove all restrictions and fill its customers' heads with empty promises written by its publicists. It knows what it has to do. Some say the federal government, which regulates airlines, has to mandate vaccinations for all passengers and crew. And they say state governments, which regulate hotels, should do the same for all hotel guests.

What's your take? Would a vaccination mandate across the tourism industry kill the industry or save its customers? How much government regulation is enough? The comments are open.

Leave a comment

About the art

Artist Dustin Elliott says he wanted to portray a hotel guest with an obsessive desire to clean. "Is it really clean enough?" he asks. He paid special attention to the cleaner's finger’s blister from the repetitive motion within the glove.