Finding Comfort in Travel
Over the previous few weeks, I read with interest the account of industry veterans who were venturing back out on the road again. I was nervous about an approaching trip that included a long flight and a week in another part of the country. As I sit in the Asheville, NC airport returning home, I thought I would add a couple of my own thoughts and perspective.
My trip to Asheville included a brief layover in ATL. I was in the Asheville area, staying in an AirB&B and the Hotel Arras, for close to a week for both work and play, returning through the same route I came.
1. Airline travel is more civilized than I ever remember
Checking in through Salt Lake City was a breeze. It's clear that travelers and airport employees alike have internalized the mask mantra and have adopted personal protection as a necessary appendage. Lines were sparse through security and boarding flights. Overhead bins seemed more spacious due to the overall lack of use, and on every flight, I had a row to myself. I noticed little idiosyncrasies that didn’t exist pre-COVID. For whatever reason, you could not buy a paperback book in the ATL airport. Observing 6 feet of separation made even small lines seem long, but also very quick to disperse. Flight attendants were less attentive by design and in-flight services suffered a little bit as a result. Ultimately, though I found the flying experience far easier, and far more civilized, than any time this century. I felt safe and well attended to.
2. Hotels with modern amenities have an inherent advantage
I had the pleasure of staying at the brand new Hotel Arras in downtown Asheville. The hotel itself was well imagined; the public space just seemed to work. As we all know, that is no accident, and bravo to those responsible for its creation.
While valet and front desk team members were obviously instructed to avoid significant contact with guest belongings, they were still there to route us where we needed to go and whisk us through check-in. Once inside, it was clear that technology and design elements they procured pre-COVID provided a distinct advantage. The elevators deployed touchless routing, with tasteful signs alerted guests that there was a two-person limit per elevator. The bar and restaurant area had very comfortable seating areas carved out of large floor space, providing ample social distancing without making the space look sparse. The rooms themselves had elevated ceilings, making the entire space feel more airy, aloof and most of all, safe. I think hotels without these built-in amenities could comfort travelers, but it will take more deliberate programming, training and communication.
3. Reactions to COVID don’t overwhelm personal safety
I traveled east from Park City, UT, a town often described as a liberal bastion in the heart of a red state. At home, masks are worn inside and out, groceries get sanitizer baths before reaching cupboards and indoor socializing/gatherings don’t exist. I found a familiarity with the experience in Asheville, but as I traveled outside of the city, precautions waned and distrust of the regulations grew. However, I was never ostracized in any way for wearing a mask or keeping distance. Everywhere I went, businesses and individuals had adopted enough caution to make me feel safe and in control of my health. I encountered lots of people with varying views on how best to live life in the midst of COVID but found the conversations and reactions to lack severe judgment. Instead, I found businesses and attractions have been extremely thoughtful about how best to operate safely while offering their customers rewarding experiences. If this is the experience; the expectations we as an industry can convey to our customers, we are not far from seeing our guests venture out again.
Ultimately, I am happy I made the trip. Ask me again in two weeks, but for now, I have felt safe and socially comfortable. I saw the incredible work of the people in our industry who aren’t furloughed or collecting unemployment but are instead making the gears of travel turn. Every day I think about the bleak times we are in right now, but this trip reminded me that they are out there doing their jobs and providing a welcoming, mask covered smile to weary travelers like me. GCommerce, as a hospitality digital media agency, is here to tell your stories and welcome your guests. Right now, there is a story to be told of a brighter future around the bend.