It’s hard enough staying COVID-safe in our own neighborhoods these days, much less in a rapidly reopening world. After all, if you’re the kind of person who ends up wondering if your next-door neighbor wore (or should have worn) a mask when kindly baking you cookies, you’ll probably also worry about whether the bellhop at your hotel is required to use hand sanitizer before delivering your suitcase. Luckily the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), along with governments and health experts, has created a new set of “Safe Travels” global health and safety protocols and a corresponding stamp to help us all navigate the new normal more easily.
Even before borders started to reopen, travel companies around the world scrambled to draft safety protocols that would allow them to operate responsibly moving forward. But the WTTC quickly realized that it was hard to keep track of all those individual efforts. Additionally, the onus would be on the traveler to decide if a certain company is actually doing enough to keep guests safe.
So the WTTC set out to standardize safe travel, developing new global standards and a stamp that would help travelers recognize the businesses and destinations following best practices. For a destination to receive a Safe Travels stamp, it must ensure that its own safety guidelines align with the WTTC’s core requirements. Businesses must follow more specific protocols, which are divided up by different sectors of the travel industry and include:
- Outdoor Shopping and Retail Establishments
- Tour Operators
- Convention Centers
- Short-Term Rentals
- Car Rentals
Each set of protocols takes into account current World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and was developed with help from relevant industry leaders, such as Marriott, Virtuoso, the Expedia Group, Intrepid Travel, Airbnb, Emirates, United Airlines, and others. On its website, the WTTC stresses that these standards are living documents and will be updated as new information about COVID-19 becomes available.
The entire Safe Travels effort has received the backing of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The protocols outline actions that travel industry players should take both behind the scenes (retraining staff, revising cleaning procedures, working with governments to provide financial relief through the sector) and when welcoming guests (mandating masks where required, monitoring guest numbers to facilitate social distancing, creating new signage to encourage guests to use safe hygiene practices). Once a company has implemented the new protocols, it is eligible for the bright green safety stamp, which it can display on its website. Approved destinations will help the WTTC award the stamp to smaller local companies.
According to the WTTC, protocols have been embraced by more than 1,200 companies and 80 destinations already. However, not all stamp holders actually use the logo on their site, so it’s not always easy for travelers to verify whether the tour operator they want to travel with or the hotel they’re planning on staying in is a WTTC Safe Travels company. But it’s always worth researching the health and safety policies of any company you’re traveling with, so if you don’t see the stamp, feel free to ask about it. The WTTC’s website also lists the destinations that have been approved so far, including Aruba, Barcelona, Egypt, Ontario, Jordan, Slovenia, Turkey, Vienna, and more.
It’s important to remember that the Safe Travel protocols don’t guarantee safety—the WTTC acknowledges as much—but they constitute a big step toward restoring travelers’ trust. “For the first time ever, the global private sector has rallied around Safe Travels protocols which will create consistency across the sector,” WTTC CEO and president Gloria Guevara said in a statement. “Implementation by governments around the world will restore much-needed confidence in order to restart the Travel & Tourism industry.”