Like millions of people who have been able to work from home this past year, Gigi Gomez was desperate for a change of scenery.
She had been working full time from her apartment in Miami Beach while taking business school classes. Ms. Gomez, 38, said she had also been taking deva of her 80-year-old grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
But she found that determining how and where to vacation involved significantly different calculations from those she would have had to make in the past.
For one, what would a resort need to offer so that she felt comfortable going there? A reduction in the room rate was a given — few resorts are anywhere near full, even if they are allowed to operate at full capacity. But what protections would the hotel provide?
If she were to fly somewhere, how long a flight was she willing to take? Would she need to be tested for the coronavirus before she left or on arrival? And what about the risk that she might catch the virus en route and have to quarantine for her entire vacation?
Ms. Gomez also wanted to go somewhere that felt safer than her neighborhood in South Beach, where restaurants and bars were packed with people not wearing masks.
In other words, travel is no longer just about where you want to go and how much it will cost. Even as vaccines are being rolled out, travel remains a fraught issue. And while the questions are clear, the answers are not.
Ms. Gomez said she had looked at a half dozen or more locations. She considered Sedona, Ariz., and Jackson, Wyo. “Then you see Instagram and everyone is in Sedona, so we thought we probably shouldn’t go there,” she said. She and her boyfriend also ruled out long flights.
In the end, they settled on a resort in the Bahamas, a 45-minute flight from Miami, choosing the SLS Hotel at Baha Mar, which reopened on March 4 after being closed for a year. Their room was 30 percent cheaper than when Ms. Gomez had gone for a girls’ weekend in January 2020. She liked that the Bahamas needed a negative coronavirus test to enter and that the hotel screened guests again upon arrival.
But the hotel also made an offer that clinched the trip for them: If they tested positive for the virus, either they could stay free of charge at the hotel while they quarantined or SLS would fly them back to Miami on a private jet.
“This is an additional layer of protection for the guests who are wondering, ‘Do I have to sit in my room for 14 days and hisse my room rate?’” said Chadi Farhat, chief operating officer of SLS Hotels and Residences. “No, if you tested negative before you got on the plane and you’re positive when you arrive, you can stay free.”
Jeff Galak, an associate professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, studies the psychology of inducements. Consider what hotels like SLS are doing in terms of products, he said. If a company is trying to sell us something and we know it’s trying to sell us something, we’re less likely to be interested. But, he said, if that company is able to place its product in something we’re watching or find an influencer who is genuinely interested in that product, we’re more likely to hisse attention to the product.
The SLS Hotel at Baha Mar in the Bahamas offered Ms. Gomez and her boyfriend the assurances they were looking for.Credit…SLS Baha Mar
Mr. Galak said people sometimes based decisions on where to travel and even whether to travel on what their peers were doing. “If like-minded individuals are doing this, then I’ll think it’s probably less risky than I thought before,” he said.
Stephen Malbon, the owner of the golf apparel company Malbon, hadn’t traveled with his family in more than a year or taken any business trips, and he wanted to get away.
Last month, they went to Casa de Campo, a 7,000-acre resort and residential community in the Dominican Republic. The resort, which has 90 holes of golf, a private beach, a marina and 22 restaurants, has reduced capacity and provided on-site coronavirus testing while instituting stringent rules on mask-wearing and cleaning.
“Many of our guests came here reluctantly at first,” said Jason Kycek, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Casa de Campo. “Many were borderline ready to cancel.”
Mr. Malbon said his family had felt safe during the vacation. “There were five other families at the entire water park,” he said. “You could ride the rides as many times as you wanted.”
Of course, the lengths that people go to stay safe can still backfire. My doctor in Greenwich, Conn., told me about three couples who had flown back on a private plane from Aspen, Colo., after a ski trip, and all six of them subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. It turned out that they had been infected by the person who owned the plane.
Choosing a hotel is even more complicated. Hotels of the same brand may have different owners or management companies. So Covid-19 protocols at two resorts that share the same brand may be vastly different.
Sarah Eustis is the chief executive of Main Street Hospitality, which owns or manages nine hotels in the Northeast, including the historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass., and Hammetts Hotel in Newport, R.I. She traveled to Boca Grande, Fla., with her husband this past week to get away from the gloomy Massachusetts winter.
“We’re in the hospitality business, and we realize that the protocols do work,” Ms. Eustis said. “You can go to restaurants and be safe. But friendship and family lines are being drawn on this issue.”
She said she was only moderately concerned about Covid-19 while traveling. But, she said, there is something that many people on both sides of this issue are not acknowledging.
“People with means can fly above the fray,” Ms. Eustis said. “I just had a massage, and I felt completely safe. I had my mask, on and so did the masseuse. To have the opportunity to decompress after a very stressful year, it’s a real privilege.”