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‘Now Boarding’

“Now boarding.”

Whether it’s an airplane, a train, a cruise ship or a motorcoach, the act of stepping on board and making your way to your seat marks a milestone in the travel experience. After a long time of planning, preparing and waiting, you’re finally about to get underway.

Sometimes, the boarding call is a call to adventure. You’re on your way to somewhere you’ve always dreamed of going, with a week or more of bucket-list experiences ahead of you.

Other times, the boarding call is a call to work. For those of us who make a living in the tourism industry, many of our workdays begin by stepping on a plane and flying off somewhere to do business and pursue prosperity.

There is another kind of boarding call, though: the call home. At the end of a trip, boarding a bus or a plane means that the people and places I love most are almost within reach. The journey may take a while — sometimes more than a day if I’m returning from the other side of the world. But once I’m on board, the feeling of movement makes the waiting easier.

We chose “Now Boarding” as our theme for this issue’s cover because we believe this phrase perfectly encapsulates the moment the tourism industry is in right now. The past 10 months have felt like a strange and painful exile. We’ve been on a collective trip that none of us wanted to take, without any certainty of when we would return.

Now though, there is change on the horizon. There’s a path forward. The journey may still be long, and some stretches will be difficult. But at last, there is a way home. It’s time to start boarding.

We have said from the beginning that travel could still be safe and enjoyable despite the pandemic, and in this issue we’re telling the stories of some companies and organizations that have proven that to be true (see “First Responders” on page 10). But despite our confidence, we have also known that many people won’t feel comfortable traveling again until the pandemic subsides. And finally, we’re seeing the beginning of the end.

As I write this in mid-December, the first COVID-19 vaccine has been approved and begun distribution. By the time you read this in mid-January, at least one more vaccine is likely to be on the market as well, with more to follow in the coming months. This has been an extraordinary feat of science, and it will take an equally impressive feat of logistics to administer these vaccines to the public at large. But with any luck, widespread vaccination could bring us to the point of herd immunity sometime this summer.

It will still take a while before we’re truly home again — or, in the case of tourism, on the road again. But now that we can see the way forward, it’s time to begin making preparations. Now is the time for travel planners to start booking trips and recruiting travelers. And now is the time for destinations to begin marketing themselves to groups.

Change is headed our way, this time for the better. So let’s come together, shake off the terrible year behind us and embrace a brighter future.

It’s time to board. Are you coming?

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.