Rediscovering our own backyard: How to travel safe in ‘The Ocean State’ 

On August 4, AAA hosted a virtual town hall with regional travel experts in discussion of safe, local tourism. Communities alike have been aching to explore while remaining cautious of procedures in place across towns and their businesses.  

Lloyd Albert, head of Government and Political Affairs at AAA Northeast, notes Rhode Island residents as wanderlust but curious about just how safe it is to seek adventure in the state. 

“In contemplation of traveling this year, just know how much work has gone into preparing for people to travel safely, said Evan Smith, President and CEO of Discover Newport. As a longtime AAA partner and advocate, Smith commended the efforts of the industry itself and its collaboration with organizations such as the American Lodging and Hotel AssociationNational Restaurant Association, and the National Council of Attractions and Experiences. 

Smith continued with sharing the six sectors of safe travel 

  1. Promoting health screening measures 
  2. Creating transmission barriers 
  3. Implementing touchless solutions 
  4. Establishing a set of procedures aligned with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) 
  5. Adopting and enhancing sanitation procedures 
  6. Following best practice in food and beverage safety 

According to Smith, these measures are necessary and require, “shared responsibility between travelers, businesses, and residents in the community,” in order to be effective. 

Newport currently features indoor and outdoor attractions that adhere with these guidelinesFor a more historical perspective, the Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport car museums, and two of the Newport Mansions – the Breakers and Elms, are open for tours. “Masks are required, and the key is reservations,” said SmithKeeping this in mind, Smith encourages visitors to explore options that are available, and of course safely. For an outside atmosphere there are boat, air and self-guided tours of Fort Adams and the Cliff Walk available. The Providence to Newport ferry ride is also in operation to explore the Narragansett Bay in its entirety.  

Also joined on the panel was Sarah Bratko, the Vice President of Advocacy and General Counsel of the RI Hospitality Association. Even through the fluctuating standards and closures of hotels and restaurants across the state, Bratko emphasized, “it does not matter what the rules say, people need to feel safe themselves.”  

As a response, R.I. Hospitality curated a series of best practices, and exceptionally as leaders in food and beverage training. A pledge to certify restaurant establishments with following state and industry-recommended practices was also spearheaded by the RI Hospitality team. “Access is at the forefront of consumer minds,” said Bratko. Industry-wide efforts, as previously stated, have continued to restore consumer confidence and enjoyable leisure experiences. Celebrations and entertainment have been altered, but the reality remains: these procedures provide ease and protection to everyone.  

A question on the minds of many – dare I enter an airport? John Goodman, Director of Media and Public Relations for the R.I. Airport Corporation joined the conversation to clarify. The changes at T.F. Green Airport are aligned with CDC guidelines, along with implementation of best practices in social distancing and safety. Long and shortterm parking lots are now closed and consolidated to one location. Face coverings are required, hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the terminal, electrostatic cleaners are in use, consistent sanitation takes place in high touchpoint areas, and limited food options are available due to reduced traffic. “We want to make people feel comfortable, but also encourage them to do their own research,” said Goodman. Airports across the country have united with similar procedures to cultivate a safe atmosphere. Currently, T.F. Green faces a 75-percent decrease in air travel, with downward surge to reoccur due to increased restrictions across states with rising cases. Although air travel remains an uncertain venture for many travelers, with collaborative efforts in place across terminals, security, and onboard experiences  flights will eventually bounce back. 

The last panelist to speak was another leader, Cyndi Zesk, Vice President of Travel for AAA Northeast. Cyndi opened with a note of appreciation for 250 travel professionals in the Northeast club alone across all team focuses: advising, information technology, product, and more. A significant number of agents possess expertise on destinations they have lived, worked and traveled to many times. “Agents are our resources … they are experts in certain areas, and help with not scrambling last minute,” said ZeskSpeaking to the future and comfortability of travel, Zesk shared the results of a sentiment study conducted at the height of the pandemic. “45-percent of members likely or definitely will travel in 2020 … they will lean towards quick and regional travel no more that a 7-hour car ride away,” said Zesk. In recent months, road trips have surged across the country as individuals opt-for a low-risk escape to nearby areas of their hometowns. Flexible policies remain an ongoing concern of those who have booked, or who are planning to. Travelers have expressed the need for flexibility when changing reservations or altering plans with little hassle or expense. The AAA team encourages members to utilize the latest AAA Travel Center, featuring tools such as the Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Map and other resources to make informed travel decisions.  

To watch the full AAA Town Hall webinar on Safe Summer Vacationing for Rhode Islanders, visit here.