For those who love to explore the world, it borders on torture to walk into Jefferson Travel on Watertown’s East Main Street in this time of pandemic lockdowns.
The office that has launched so many mind- and spirit-expanding excursions for hundreds over the years is adorned with bright and colorful foreign flags, posters of exotic locales, photos of clients sipping umbrella drinks and postcards from parts unknown.
As the COVID-19 virus appears to be subsiding slightly, it’s growing harder to be patient and wait for world travel to resume in earnest. A conversation this week with the partners who own Jefferson Travel — Pat Ziwisky and Chris Ingersoll — however, can do wonders to increase optimism.
The pair said it appears their clients are opening up to the idea of, at least, limited travel in the coming months as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out and reach the arms of eager, would-be globe-trekkers. The travel and hospitality industries are also opening up in small increments.
“We are getting more inquiries about future trips,” Ziwisky said. “There is quite a bit of interest in train travel. We also are hearing from people who are thinking about taking family trips over the holidays.”
In an interview in late 2020, Ziwisky said she and Ingersoll weathered many storms in their decades in vacation planning. In that conversation, she said their commissions from the airlines disappeared in the 1990s. They were then blind-sided by the terrorism of 9/11 that left many people fearful of flying. She said the economic downturn of 2008 hit the travel industry particularly hard, but called the COVID-19 pandemic, then at one of its peaks, “the worst.”
This week, Ziwisky said Europe is still not available to U.S. travelers, but there are plans in place to exit lockdown in some countries and, she said, “This makes us very hopeful.”
According to Ziwisky, cruises are still on pause until, at least, May 31.
“Alaska may not be possible again this summer, because Canada is not allowing the ships in their ports,” she said, adding there are many requirements in place in a lot of countries and even in some states, such as Hawaii. “The protocols are changing frequently.”
Ziwisky said she is not sure why there is such an interest in train travel.
“There has always been an interest in trains among people who just don’t like to fly and among people who would like to see more of the country a little closer than 30,000 feet,” she said. “It is a great way to visit the national parks.”
According to Ziwisky, Amtrak is adhering strictly to COVID-19 protocols and that is likely putting some minds at ease.
“So there is enhanced cleaning, social distancing and masks are required for all staff and passengers,” she said. “If passengers are in compartments, there will be very little contact with other travelers.”
Discussing the renewed interest in family vacations, Ziwisky said families are looking at places where they can finally be together, with activities for all ages.
“That usually includes a beach and good weather,” she said. “During the past year, people missed out on being able to be together for holidays, special birthdays, graduations and events like that. They finally are starting to feel comfortable being together and want to make it a special time.”
Ziwisky and her family recently returned from a trip to Perdido Key in the Florida panhandle.
“This time of year the area is very quiet,” she said. “The beach is not like the ones we are seeing pictures of from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I talked with many people who were there with their extended families. One grandma was from Michigan. Staying with her was a daughter and her family from North Carolina and a son and his family from Illinois. They had not been together in over a year. Same for another extended family whose members were from Wisconsin and Michigan.”
Ziwisky said the conversations she had with these people were very similar.
“The first question,” she said, “is always, ‘Where are you from?’ This year the next question was, ‘Have you been vaccinated?’”