CLEVELAND — As more Americans get vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions loosen, people are itching to travel.
“Ninety percent of travelers are going somewhere. Half of them, 50% of them, said that they are going to go to places that have protocols in place,” researcher Amir Eylon said.
Art Nittskoff has devoted decades of his life to sending Ohioans exactly where they want to go, but some of his loyal cruise line customers have been forced to stick to planes, trains and automobiles for the foreseeable future as popular cruise lines clash with conservative governors in major port states.
“It’s really hurting the cruise industry. The colder it gets here, the more people want to be someplace warm, so that's why we do a lot of cruises in January, February, March. A lot of spring break cruises,” Nittskoff said. “Royal Caribbean and then Carnival came out and they were saying that in order to cruise, you had to be vaccinated. The governor of Florida said, ‘No, we're a totally open state. If you want to operate out of our state, you can't require a vaccine.’ And then Texas just did the same thing.”
Eylon said 87% of Americans have plans to travel somewhere within the next six months.
“We asked folks to what extent, if any, will a specific state or city’s rate of COVID-19 vaccinations influence their destination choice?” Eylon said. “American travelers, 52% to be exact, told us that the vaccination rate of a destination will play some either some influenced or strongly influenced their choice in destination.”
Eylon said the back and forth about vaccination passports required to board a cruise may deter customers altogether.
“What I can tell you is this—some of those policies may actually fly in the face of what travelers want. Some of these policies may be done with the intent of making it easier for people to travel, to get going,” Eylon said. “Things like that may be important, maybe for those places of business that can offer that added level of perception of safety to their guests, or their guests may go elsewhere.”
Nittskoff has spent the last 16 months recovering from the financial blow the pandemic has taken on his travel business, but said his customers haven’t given up altogether.
“There's still a lot of people that are looking to cruise and are waiting until some cruises have gone and come back,” Nittskoff said. “I’ve had several people that have booked and said, ‘You know what, I'm not going to just try to do this again and see. Let's just go someplace I know I can go.’”
Instead, Ohioans looking for warmer weather and summer sunshine have detoured until the cruise industry gets back on track.
“A lot of my cruise people are now doing all-inclusives in Mexico, Punta Cana, Jamaica, Aruba, Cabo. That's most of what my cruise business is going to,” Nittskoff said. “I booked one today. A five-day cruise on Royal Caribbean next February and this is probably the first cruise I've booked in months.”