Could the government pay for your next vacation?

Jun 17, 2020

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It’s no secret the travel industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. But around the world, there are promising signs that travel and tourism are beginning to recover.

Major tourist hotspots such as Greece and Spain are reopening to tourists this summer, as are popular domestic destinations such as Miami, Las Vegas and the Florida Keys. But with so many travelers still wary about the idea of hitting the road (to say nothing of the skies), many popular travel destinations are looking for ways to incentivize would-be travelers.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

For example, Japan recently made headlines when reports emerged it would offset costs for travelers — though the subsidies will only be available to residents interested in domestic travel. It was one of the first countries to announce such a program, and others quickly followed suit.

In Italy, a country formerly ravaged by the coronavirus, the regional government of Sicily said it would introduce a 50 million euro program that would help cover expenses of travelers who visit this year — yes, even travelers from abroad — including plane tickets, hotels and entry charges for attractions, The Times reported. The initiative was brought to the table months ago, said Marzia Bortolin, head of communications and marketing at the Italian State Tourist Board. But she told TPG the plan was never finalized.

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Even though American travelers may not be able to take advantage of either program right now — or ever — many countries around the globe are clearly realizing that simply reopening hotels and restaurants might not be enough to entice travelers to return. And the burgeoning trend toward reimbursing travelers is taking off much closer to home, too.

In the United States, for instance, lobbyists are considering a $4,000 tax break for residents who travel the country, not unlike the Japan Tourism Agency’s plan to buoy domestic travel. The goal here is for people to begin spending again at hotels, theme parks and more, the Orlando Sentinel reported. While right now, the so-called “Explore America” tax credit is still just an idea floating around Congress, it could be an early indication of how the travel and tourism industry could be reshaped in the near future.

So, will governments start subsidizing your trips?

Stephen McGillivray, the chief marketing officer at Travel Leaders Group, the largest travel agency organization in North America, told TPG such an incentive would kickstart business and leisure travel, and that value-added incentives are a tried and true marketing tool. “It’s a much better alternative to discounting, which devalues a supplier’s product,” McGillivray explained, adding that deep discounts can “negatively [impact] the traveler’s experience and won’t assist companies in bringing back jobs.”

All across Mexico, entire regions are preparing to reopen to tourists in the next few days and weeks, although current border restrictions will keep Americans from returning until July 21, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in a tweet.

Even as reopening plans materialize, the Hotel Associations of Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres, the Riviera Maya, Cozumel and the Grand Costa Maya are already working on especially generous plans to welcome tourists back, including free hotel nights and car rentals, Insider reported.

As part of the deal, guests will get two free nights for every two nights paid, as well as two complimentary days of a car rental for every two days paid. Up to two children can also stay for free when two adults book a stay, and travelers can also enjoy up to 20% off at select theme parks, golf courses and spas that are participating in the program.

The campaign, which launched on June 15 and has approximately 200 participating businesses, allows discounted bookings to be made through August 15.

“Different hotel associations in our state, along with the tourist industry in general, are 100% committed [to] participating in this campaign, and aim to reactivate travel to our destinations after the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roberto Cintron, president of the Hotels Association of Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres, said in a statement, according to Insider.

Related: The 9 best points hotels in Mexico 

Of course, plenty of destinations are relying on straightforward price slashing. Greece, another tourist favorite, began to reopen to some international visitors on June 15. While the reopening will come in phases and arrivals will initially be limited to certain countries, the country is already making an enticing offer: more affordable flights.

It plans to cut the value-added tax (VAT) nearly in half on certain purchases — reducing it from 24% to 13%, the BBC reported in May. This would apply to purchases such as airplane tickets, bus and train fare, and food, so expect your Greece vacation to be slightly cheaper.

Across the Mediterranean, Cyprus is taking a slightly different approach to bringing back tourists, offering to cover costs — including food, hotels and medicine — of travelers diagnosed with COVID-19 while visiting, according to a statement from the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The country is also designating a 100-bed hospital for foreigners who fall ill with the disease, although additional beds can be made available if the situation arises.

Cyprus has also created a 500-room “quarantine hotel” for families and friends of infected travelers where they can stay if necessary.

“This will not only ensure that they are properly taken care of, but it will also provide peace of mind to other travelers, that their accommodation is free of COVID-19,” the Cypriot government said in a statement.

While these perks may be appealing to particularly trepidatious travelers, the country is still being selective about who they are letting in — and how. As of June 20, only people flying from countries such as Greece, Denmark and Croatia will be permitted entry without any travel restrictions.

And some countries, such as Iceland, are simply tossing in free coronavirus tests. Additionally, on the idyllic island of Maderia, Portugal, tourists will need to prove they tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure. If they don’t, they can get tested upon arrival and the government will foot the bill.

Related: Will you need a coronavirus test to fly? Everything we know right now

The question still remains: Will these incentives be enough to get people traveling again?

“We have not seen any incentive programs to date from destinations that are really creating demand,” McGillivray said, suggesting that travelers will only go when they’re truly comfortable. Others may already be en route — with no incentives to speak of.

Much depends simply on when you’re looking to book.

McGillivray said there are two periods of travel to think about: While demand for travel further out in 2021 remains strong, travel for closer dates over the summer and fall of 2020 are what’s really in flux. This is due to the fact that nearly every destination globally has closed down to tourism, and there’s no regional coordination of removing restrictions and restarting the tourism economy.

Related: How a global outbreak has left the travel industry reeling

These concessions, discounts and perks are a giant step for the travel industry on the path back to normalcy. But as travel resumes around the world, only you can make the extremely personal decision about when you’ll hit the road again. And before you book any trips, we still recommend you talk to your doctor and follow the guidance of health and government officials and research local travel restrictions.

If you do decide to book a trip to one of these countries — or anywhere, really — you’ll want to be mindful of hotel and airline cancellation and rebooking policies. Many airlines will temporarily allow you to book new flights now and cancel for a refund or credit later. You’ll also often have the ability to make changes throughout the year and even into next.

And even if a coupon code isn’t clearly available when you go to book your next trip (quite likely, as so few destinations seem to have actual plans for reimbursing or discounting travelers) it never hurts to ask your travel provider if they’d be willing to lower the price. Who knows? One day soon, you might be able to simply ask the government to foot your travel bill.

Featured image by arthur gonoretzky/Getty Images

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