From Here to the DR: One Insider’s Experience

There is no doubt that traveling looks different now. And as part of GOGO’s commitment to offering you expert guidance, we want to share any valuable insights with the travel advisor community. And what better insight is there than GOGO Vacations’ President, John Van Den Heuvel, working remotely in the Dominican Republic? This is what it’s really like to travel internationally right now.

What were your overall expectations and thoughts prior to departing?
I was definitely excited to travel. I’m still in destination (the Dominican Republic), and just as excited and confident as I was when I arrived here seven weeks ago. I wasn’t nervous about traveling as my expectation was that our partners—resorts, airlines, and DMC operators—would adhere to the new protocols put in place to protect myself and other travelers.  And I have found that to be the case almost 100% of the time. In addition to our partners’ enhanced quality, health, and hygiene measures, I myself travel responsibly; carrying and utilizing hand sanitizer, wearing my mask in public areas, and practicing social distancing.

What were your destinations?
I have been traveling in the Dominican Republic since October 23rd and I will be here until December 17th. I will have visited 14 resorts by the end of my journey within Bavaro, Macao, Cap Cana, La Romana, and of course, the Punta Cana area. The purpose of this trip was mainly to explore the health protocols of traveling in the Dominican Republic, to experience the service, and to engage and support our partners as we—as an industry—begin to re-open the world.

What was your experience like at the airport?
I have flown four times now during COVID, and every time my airport experience has been both fluid and flawless. I’ve flown in and out of Wisconsin airports, Boston’s Logan airport, Newark, and Chicago’s O’Hare, and I’ve flown into Cancun and Punta Cana. I have found the airlines and the airports to be significantly cautious, better prepared, and on alert during this pandemic than local supermarkets or other places you might typically visit in your hometowns. No extra time was needed and no delays occurred. Cancun and Punta Cana airports were just as—if not more—efficient than the American airports I departed from.

How would you describe the general mood of travelers and airport employees?
I definitely found all travelers to have a positive kick in their step, and the airport employees overjoyed to have people traveling. There are those travelers and employees who are not pleased about wearing masks. Yet for the most part, I witnessed the majority of people in masks almost the entire time. But again, I feel that as long as I am personally strict with my own protocols, I can travel confidently even if I see someone who isn’t adhering to a rule.

How was it boarding and flying on an airplane right now?
Many of the aspects of air travel remain the same, but there are some differences. Now you can easily check in with little interaction or touching of documents and tickets. Another difference is the plane was fogged and sanitized prior to boarding, and all guests were wearing masks. Flight attendants are in masks and gloves. Every guest is given disinfect wipes upon boarding to wipe down their seats and areas, and people like me bring their own to sanitize even more. I sanitized the bathroom before I used it and I wore my mask the entire flight. In addition, if you’re in the first class cabin, the meal service comes packaged, which is understandable and more sanitary.

Do you feel the resorts you experienced adhered to newly enhanced quality, health, and hygiene protocols?
I’ve had an incredible journey here in the Dominican Republic visiting 14 hotels and resorts in total, including Dreams Macao, Excellence El Carmen, Majestic Mirage, Hard Rock Punta Cana, Iberostar Selection Bavaro, Casa de Campo, Grand Reserve at Paradise Palma Real, and Hilton La Romana. Every hotel is a preferred partner of GOGO Vacations and I’ve been impressed along the entire journey. Several of the hotels have just opened in the last two to three weeks, and sanitary precautions is the top priority at all 14. If there was a concern I saw, it was typically with a guest on property not following a protocol. Most hotels would interact with that guest, or another guest (like me) would step in. The great thing about every hotel and partner of GOGO Vacations is they’ve all created a health and safety program that can be previewed by both customers and travel advisors alike before departing on a trip.

What are some of the things the hotel/resort(s) did to ensure extra health measures were taken?  There is a common theme across most hotels and resorts, which makes it comforting to know the industry is acting in a unified way to protect all travelers. Some of those include:

  • Temperature checks taken in and out of all restaurants and upon arrival to all properties.
  • Hand sanitizer available upon entrance to all restaurants and bars and facilities.
  • Rooms being sanitized and fogged after every stay.
  • Social distancing in restaurants and common areas.
  • Sanitization mats upon entry to the lobby and restaurants.
  • Masks are worn by all staff at all resorts.
  • Masks are often required to be worn in common areas at certain hotels .
  • Buffets are no longer self service (for the most part) and the new designs of buffets actually enhance the experience.
  • QR codes are used instead of “hand held” menus at most resorts .
  • Many items are now shrink wrapped or sanitized like remote controls, room service utensils, toiletries, telephones, and even your luggage.

I could go on and list even more, but you can get all these details in advance by reviewing each resort’s program. One more thing that I think is important to note is that that many resorts and DMC companies (like the one I used, DISCOVA) test all of their employees for COVID every 15 days. For DISCOVA, it’s mandatory, and that is the case at several hotel partners as well.

What was your room like and was the experience any different than traveling pre-COVID?
Each room is fogged and sanitized prior to the guests’ arrival. Most resorts have an external company that comes in to provide the service, and some have learned this protocol and employed the service on property themselves. Depending on the resort, certain items come wrapped in plastic, giving you piece of mind because you’re the first person to touch it after sanitization. Room service is handled differently now at each resort, with each having its own way of managing the protocols. Some resorts currently don’t allow the staff to enter your room while you are in it, and many give you the choice to not have cleaning service should you want complete privacy during your stay. I think it’s important for travel advisors and customers alike to be aware that health regulations will be a fluid process. Personally I feel strongly that, although some processes will most likely cease, many of the extra sanitizing protocols put in place will remain long after COVID.

Did you eat at resorts or other establishments and what were their protocols like?
I have eaten many, many times in the last seven weeks during my stay at these resorts. Actually I think that’s all I’ve done in the last seven weeks. 😊  The protocols are pretty consistent across the board:

  • QR codes for menus.
  • Temperature checks upon entering.
  • Masks required to enter but removed for eating.
  • Sanitization mats at entry.
  • Social distancing in the restaurants.
  • Self-service buffets have mostly been suspended.
  • The most important thing to note, is that the food is just as good if not better than before. And the service levels have improved in some establishments as well.

What was the process like when you returned from your travels?
I have chosen to get a COVID test prior to traveling, during my travel, and I will upon my return as well—just to be safe. I have had no reason to feel I was exposed, but I’ve chosen to do so as an extra precaution. I will also quarantine upon return to ensure the safety of my family, and will wait until after my test results to re-join my bubble.
(Editor Note: The CDC rules for mandatory COVID-19 testing in destination and prior to returning home to the United States were released after this interview.)

What are some of the things a travel advisor can do to help travelers prepare for their journey?
Using a travel advisor is more important than ever. Which is why I’m proud to say that GOGO is thoroughly committed to offering the travel advisor community confidence-boosting reassurance backed by the guidance, value, peace of mind, and service that you need. I recommend helping your customers learn about the health protocols of their airline, their resort, and their DMC prior to traveling. It’s also important to be aware of the entry requirements both of the country visiting and for the return. Our Traveler Resources Hub will keep you up-to-date on the everchanging travel policies for destinations around the globe. Finally, travelers can gain extra reassurance with TripSecure Credit and our Peace of Mind Collection knowing they can cancel or change their vacation plans for any reason.

Please note: Travel requirements and health standards are continually changing. For up-to-date information, visit our parent company Flight Centre Travel Group’s COVID-19 Travel Map. Advisors, if you have any questions, always feel free to contact us. More important than ever, the travel experts at GOGO Vacations are equipped with advice and information to help you travel confidently and responsibly.  If you’re a traveler with a question, please reach out to your GOGO-backed travel advisor for more information. Travel with us.