Time to Start Thinking
About Travel Again
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2021 -- I have good news and bad news about travel this week, but the best news is that there's very little bad news.

Bad first: The CDC this week released new guidance for fully vaccinated people--that's now 10% of the U.S. population--and it still suggests you don't travel.

We can argue about this bit, of course. Some of you have flown throughout the pandemic. Some of you can't wait to fly. And with President Biden aiming for all to be eligible for vaccines by May 1, this is not an unimportant piece of government guidance.

Here's my suggestion: Unless you have to fly, don't fly until, oh, maybe Memorial Day. If your business requires it, do it. If not, hang in for a little longer. It's been a year or more for many of us, what's another couple of months?

If you do travel, please beware: All carriers except Delta Air Lines are selling every seat and you might be squeezed cabin-wall-to-cabin-wall with unvaccinated folks. Airports will be more crowded than you think since flying has edged up to around a million passengers a day lately. You'll run the old gauntlet of counters and corridors and shuttle buses--and they may not be as socially distanced as you want them to be.

But enough of the bad news. Let's talk good news.

I personally have survived this year of lockdown and virtual prison by thanking the stars for historian Charles A. Beard and his seminal work, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.

When you read Beard in high school, as I did for AP American History, you tend to look at everything from an economic point of view. Hell, if James Madison and the other Founding Fathers were all about the Benjamins, as Beard posits, you begin to feel as if everything is about dollars and cents and sense.

So this last year I've hung my worldview on this belief: Too many places we love can't afford another year of lockdown no matter how bad the pandemic is. The economic pressure would force travel to reopen, countries to welcome visitors again, cities to begin returning to something like normal.

I won't lie to you: If I never climbed on another aircraft again, I'd be fine. If I never saw an airport again, I'd be okay. There's nothing a hotel can do to make me say that I have to visit.

I don't miss the travel at all. But I miss being places.

I miss talking to new people, meeting folks in places I've never been before, reintroducing myself to friends and acquaintances scattered around the block and around the world. I want to see the Pacific Ocean from Diamond Head again. I want to see the rain pouring through the oculus of The Pantheon again. I want to go to Hong Kong again and see for myself if we've lost that once-great city. I want to go to a boring convention at McCormick Place again.

There are huge swathes of the world I have yet to see. There's that 4K tour of Central Asia I want to do as soon as David Rowell can schedule it. Huge chunks of America to see. I want to mingle with the poor boys and pilgrims with families as I bounce into Graceland. For reasons I can't explain either, some part of me also wants to see Graceland.

And all through the wishing and hoping--and telling clients I hate Zoom, can't we just do a conference call?--I have thought of Beard and his dollars-and-sense look at America. It's all about the Benjamins, baby, and we're seeing this now.

More than 6% of Greece's GDP relies on tourism spending. It lost 2020. It can't lose 2021, too. Hence, the announcement at a trade fair in Europe this week that Greece tourism hopes to reopen by mid-May. Ditto Spain, where 12% of the economy depends on tourism. Other countries will follow. Italy needs the business. Portugal needs the business. London hotels, the most overpriced in the world, are running below 25% occupancy. It's why Boris Johnson has committed to opening England again by mid-May.

It'll take longer for Australia and New Zealand, of course. Japan actually curtailed travel to the country this week and apparently will bar foreigners from the Olympics this summer. But the Japanese will get it soon enough. China may be off-limits for who knows how long, but it, too, eventually will bend to the economics.

But we are on our way now. Some countries--Israel and, finally, us--are doing better with the vaccines than others. Europe and too much of South America, Asia and Africa are struggling. But the Beard Syndrome--it's about the Benjamins--will rule the day. Example: Germany, Switzerland and Sweden each loosened some travel rules this week even as they wrestle with the virus and lack of vaccines.

Twenty-twenty was the year of living virtually, as David Danto says this week. Twenty-twenty-one, I am sure, will be the year we travel again.

We have lost a year. And when we finally go back to the places we love--or the places we hate, but have to go to--things will be different. I know some of my favorite joints are gone. Worst of all, 2.5 million of us who were alive last year are gone. We'll never meet them now. There will be no chance encounters at the Democracy Arch in Mumbai or at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The joy of 2.5 million people who we could have met is lost to us forever.

But we see the future now. Because of the vaccines' efficacy or Beard's economic imperatives, the world will reopen this year.

Me, I'm only halfway there. I got my first shot last Friday and my next is due on Good Friday. I'll be clean by Easter Sunday and the end of Passover.

Then I intend to make good on a promise I made in this space last Easter/Passover: 2021 will be about travel, about being together again.