Moving Forward With Purpose
Like all of you, we’ve watched the events of 2020 and 2021 unfold while travel took a backseat to the health and safety of those around the world. As more and more places reopen, ATA is hard at work ensuring that our partners and guests have a safe travel experience.
We're serious when we say safety is our top priority.
From R&D to on-the-ground experiences, we operate with an abundance of caution to take care of our partner organizations, our own tour staff, travelers, and the local communities they visit. When we decide to operate a tour, that decision undergoes a rigorous vetting process. Our team monitors vaccination and infection rates, local health and safety requirements, and hospital bed capacity in every destination. And even if a tour passes and gets the green light, that doesn’t mean we sit back and relax. ATA staff continue to monitor changes on the ground until travelers return home. Even with circumstances changing every day, our processes provide a solid framework to assess risk at any stage.
Cross-team collaboration means we've thought of everything.
Our Program Team works hard behind the scenes to design immersive, educational itineraries while our Guest Services Team works directly with travelers answering questions and preparing them for their upcoming trip. We know that our travelers are anxious about getting back out into the world – and we do the advance work to make sure we can anticipate and respond to their questions. To ensure a safe and high-quality experience, we have an all-hands-on-deck approach, strategizing and researching every possible scenario that might arise in each destination. The Program Team serves up expertise in locale and logistics and the Guest Services team provides knowledge and experience in knowing what travelers think, need, and want.
Get to know ATA's thorough tour vetting process.
We developed an in-depth feasibility plan prior to the wide availability of vaccinations. That plan is now coupled with a requirement that our travelers be up-to-date with their vaccinations before departure to ensure the highest level of safety. Our feasibility plan was designed to comply with the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) SafeTravels Stamp—a badge recognizing destinations and businesses that have adopted the SafeTravels health and hygiene global standardized protocols. The feasibility plan has four levels of assessment: basic regional access, tour staff, travelers, and destination protocols. Literally dozens of factors are examined for each destination under each of these umbrellas:
Is the destination open for travelers? Are face coverings required? How is social distancing defined locally? What is the current regulation on group gatherings? Are there quarantine mandates?
Have daily flights to the destination resumed? Are there new procedures on arrival/departure? Are Track & Trace applications required to be downloaded prior to entry?
Do local requirements dictate how many people can travel together on a bus? Are high-touch areas sanitized each time passengers disembark? Will drivers be vaccinated, masked, and/or provide a negative COVID test result?
Are hotels adhering to WTTC SafeTravels requirements? Are all hotel staff trained on COVID safety and hygiene protocols? What is the hotel staff policy if someone tests positive? Does the hotel have enhanced cleaning protocols for both public spaces and individual guest rooms? Has elevator capacity been reduced? What is the policy if any hotel guest tests positive? Will rooms still be cleaned regularly? If not, what can our team do to set traveler’s expectations?
Are all restaurants on the itinerary open? Do they allow for group dining? Have ATA staff/local staff inspected all restaurants? Will our group be seated in the main dining room, a private space, or outdoors? What are the protocol requirements for waitstaff?
Sites (e.g. markets, museums, etc.)
Will new protocols affect itinerary logistics? Will planned tours be able to operate? Can we use our own Quietvox listening devices rather than the venue’s audio guides? Is there a backup for local guides/guest speakers in case they fall ill?
Is COVID testing available for anyone who presents with symptoms? What is the turnaround time for results? Is there a full-service hospital with ventilators within a 1.5-hour drive? Are there any concerns about bed capacity? Is there an urgent care facility near the hotel to address other health and safety issues that may arise on tour?
And even after all that, we maintain an 85% rule—if we can’t guarantee at least 85% of the original itinerary, we won’t operate a tour. Because not only do we care about health and safety, we want to make sure we are still delivering a top-tier travel experience.
When do you determine a trip can move forward?
Due to the ever-changing traveling guidelines and CDC and State Department recommendations, we begin vetting using the feasibility checklist 90 days before departure. This provides a more realistic assessment of the situation on the ground. At the 75-day mark, we present a strategic memo to our partner about whether and how to proceed with a tour. Our team makes a final “Go/No-Go” decision no fewer than 60 days prior to departure. This timeline assures that our decisions reflect the latest situation, while still giving our travelers time to make flight arrangements and prepare for their journey.
If it has been determined that a trip can move forward, the Program Team will start making weekly assessments of COVID levels in the destination including vaccination rates, confirmed infections, hospital and ICU bed capacity and deaths reported. At any point if there are numbers that trend in a troubling direction (If any number raises a red flag), we meet as a team and make additional assessments. Just because a trip has been “green-lit” to run does not mean that it will operate. If we deem the destination to be unsafe a day before the scheduled departure, we will not hesitate to cancel it and refund travelers. The safety and well-being of our travelers and employees has been and always will be our top priority.
Pre-departure Zoom meetings
While this detailed health and safety assessment gives the ATA team confidence that a tour can proceed, we know that our travelers still have questions. We also know that passengers will only truly be safe if we can ensure compliance with our policies. One week before departure, our guest services team convenes a pre-departure Zoom meeting where travelers have a chance to meet one another and tour staff and hear about ATA’s policies and their personal responsibilities for keeping the group safe. These include compliance with our mask-wearing expectations, separation from the group and testing requirements when symptoms arise, and acceptable behavior during time at leisure. This helps put the group at ease – and ensures that no one is caught by surprise on tour.
While the Program Team conducts its destination feasibility studies, the Guest Services team makes sure our travelers are prepared to embark on their trips as safely as possible. To begin, the team reviews each individual’s vaccination status and encourages the purchase of trip insurance that covers trip cancellation or interruption due to COVID. The team purchases trip insurance for tour staff, as well, and arranges their flights to minimize transfers and time in transit. In the pre-departure information our Guest Services team provides, they remind travelers to pack snugly-fitting masks, hand sanitizer, and rapid self-testing kits. They also ensure that the tour staff has a supply of rapid test kits available for use on tour. Finally, the Guest Services Advisors stand ready to answer any questions travelers have about entry and exit testing requirements, what to expect regarding covid protocols in destination, and simply to help anxious travelers assess their risk.
Our return to travel isn't possible without our partners.
Creating life-changing travel experiences is a collaborative effort and we couldn’t have returned to travel without everyone’s help. Our elaborate health and safety plan would not be possible if our partners did not help us gather details about each destination on the ground. We also rely on our partners to offer flexibility on deposits and payments during this uncertain time. This flexibility allows us to keep traveler safety at the top of our list. We are endlessly grateful for the opportunity to work with partners as resilient and passionate about travel as we are. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together – and with the support of our global network, we know that we’ll be able to provide memorable, immersive, and safe experiences for our travelers.