Chris Anderson was planning on taking his kids to Washington, D.C. for their first “Dad and kids road trip” over spring break.
But with the number of coronavirus cases growing in the U.S., Anderson, 44, says his children, ages 9 and 12, will now stay at home in Indianapolis instead. On the agenda: Board games, bike rides and unfortunately for the kids, school work.
“I’ll also use the opportunity to teach the kids skills involving refinishing furniture and home improvement projects,” Anderson said.
As the coronavirus spreads, business and leisure travel is grinding to a halt as many consumers decide to stay home. The U.S. Department of State advised U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to COVID-19. President Donald Trump on Wednesday issued travel restrictions for visitors arriving from many European countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also advised older adults and people with chronic medical conditions to avoid crowds as well as cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
The travel industry is feeling the effects of lower demand. Airlines are cutting flights and freezing hiring while cruise lines are temporarily suspending operation.
In an online survey of 432 Americans conducted March 6-8, travel media company Skift found that 29% of respondents had deferred their travel plans.
As the virus news gets worse, many travelers remain in a state of watchful waiting.
Olivia MacLeod Dwinell of Portland, Oregon, and her two friends, all in good health and ranging in age from 54 to 60, have been meeting and talking with their travel agent to decide what to do about a planned two-week European trip in May.
“We’ve met four times since the virus has been on the radar, and we’re texting seemingly non-stop,” said Dwinell.
She added, “One of us is ‘Oh, hell, no, I won’t go’; one of us feels she’d die happier having made the trip; and the third is persuadable either way depending on the soundest information available.”
The group plans to meet — remotely — on Sunday and make a final decision by mid-April, Dwinell said.
Others have opted to skip their trips and found creative ways to vacation in place. Due to a preexisting condition, Washington, D.C. resident Alyne Ellis, 70, gets sick easily. She’s canceled all travel and is staying busy at home, going through boxes of old papers and creating a daily photo journal.
Ellis and her husband did venture out for a walk a few days ago, though, and chose a place they were sure to encounter few other souls: D.C.’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.
“We’ve been researching family history and had been there before,” said Ellis. “As we continue our self-imposed isolation, we plan to continue hiking other D.C. cemeteries.”
And rather than return to their house in virus hotspot Kirkland, Washington, to start packing for a long-planned trip to Spain in May, Roz Sobel, 63, and her partner Lyle Gillman scrambled to cancel and are instead staying put in their second home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“Lyle is using the unexpected time to take group and private golf and Spanish conversation classes, and I’m enjoying hiking and art lessons,” said Sobel. “Since this is not high season and fewer foreigners are traveling, we also plan to hit all of the restaurants we’ve been dying to try that are usually very crowded in season.”
With so many airline and cruise schedules getting cut or suspended, the industry is scrambling to offer other options. Some hotels are even offering staycation packages to lure travelers who want a break but don’t want to go too far from home.
Provenance Hotels, with properties in Portland, Seattle, Palm Springs, Nashville and New Orleans, rolled out “stay in town” packages that include a $30 a day credit to spend on in-house dining and amenities. And Kimpton Epic Hotel in Miami put together a last-minute stress-busting package that includes a massage, a yoga class, a bottle of champagne and a cabana by the pool.
Meanwhile, travel advisors are scrambling to help customers cancel or delay long-planned trips or book alternative destinations.
For clients who canceled a big trip to Japan, Kay Fahlberg of Virtuoso agency Ippo Travel proposed to instead bring a bit the Japanese culture to their home.
“One of the highlights of their journey was going to be a tea ceremony experience in a Japanese garden,” said Fahlberg. “I have authentic tools handed down in my family and am a Japanese travel expert. And while it’s not the same, I offered to provide them a preview of their experience as something to look forward to when they’re ready to pack up and go.”