Note: This article has been updated on March 1, 2020, to reflect that flights to Milan, Italy have been suspended by Delta Airlines effective March 2, 2020. The US Foreign Travel Advisory has raised the Travel Advisory Level to Level 3 for Italy and Level 4 to Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy.
This is the most important question everyone is asking; whether to travel or postpone travel arrangements. Travel Industry, in particular, Travel Advisors are suddenly being asked on the best approach to address these concerns during our global crisis.
First, let us settle on the basics. If you have made arrangements to travel in the near future, or plan to book travel this year, ask yourself these questions:
- Is your destination affected by the coronavirus outbreak?
- Are you part of a group that is at risk of a coronavirus infection (elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions)?
We want to tell you upfront that while we are Travel Professionals, we are not Medical professionals. Therefore, nothing written in this article will or should trump what the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying or may say in the future.
We also want to acknowledge that by the time you read this, a new wave of information may become available because the reality is, this global incident is rapidly changing when it comes to COVID-19.
Our take on the information available at the moment
If your travel plans involve one of the most affected countries like China, South Korea, Iran, then you should absolutely consider revising/canceling your trip. However, if you are headed to a place where new cases are being identified and reported (which is much of Asia and most of Europe now), but not under a lockdown or restricted by the government for travel, then you have some more digging to do for your safety.
If you are elderly, have a weakened immune system, respiratory illness (asthma, etc.), then you are more at risk from this illness than a person without these conditions. So, you need to assess your personal health. If you fall into these categories, you should not travel to any place that has detected cases of the outbreak.
Truth About Travel Insurance
Do you have travel insurance and will it cover your cancellation?
Unfortunately, this is filled with all kinds of gray area, but there are some absolute facts about what travel insurance will cover and what it won’t and we’re here to shed some light on that:
- Coronavirus was declared as an event and no longer meets the insurable requirement of being “unforeseeable” as of January 21, 2020. This means if you purchased travel insurance prior to this date and your policy covered “unforeseeable event” (check with your policy provider and read the fine prints), then your insurance may cover your travel cancellations. However, if you purchase travel insurance after that date, coronavirus no longer qualifies as an “unforeseeable event” and canceling your trip will not result in a refund.
- The most important thing to note is that “standard travel insurance” does not cover you if you decide not to travel because of the virus outbreak.
- Know what your policy ACTUALLY covers. This sounds simple but it isn’t. Most travelers don’t really read the ins and outs of what an insurance policy covers. In order to qualify for insurance coverage for a particular incident/event, that specific incident/event must be covered in your policy. The main reason claims get denied is because travelers file a claim for something that is not covered by their policy.
- “Cancel for Any Reason” travel insurance is a real thing. It will cost upwards of 40% more than the standard policies according to SquareMouth, but it will also reimburse up to 75% of the insured trip cost. However, there are some important guidelines to follow when making this purchase:
- The policy must be purchased within 14 – 21 days of making the first payment for the trip.
- It must insure 100% of the trip cost (meaning all pre-paid travel arrangements that are subject to cancellation penalties by the travel supplier).
- The cancellation must occur no less than a defined number of days or hours prior to the scheduled trip departure (this varies from insurance company to insurance company).
While travel insurance is not a black and white area, there are ways it can help you, subject to all the details mentioned above (and some more).
Don’t Just Read the Headlines
The news outlet is extreme when it comes to any kind of negative information and the fear-mongering is always at its highest. So, if you’re just reading the headlines, then you’re being seriously misled. If you’re just following one form of news (exclusively US Media Channels or similar), then you’re also being misled. What you need to do is read the full articles and then consider your sources. If something comes down from the World Health Organization (WHO), take it seriously. WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with world public health.
Instead, read the actual content of the articles, look for details:
- Who is getting sick?
- Where are they getting sick?
- What are the actual symptoms?
- What is the death rate?
- How are those infected but not dying reacting?
- Who wrote the article? Why? Do they have something to gain from it?
Listen to what the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are saying. Make sure to track travel advisories of the US government, and also the other leading governments in the world. Yes, some information will be contradictory — a good portion of the world has the USA under restricted travel, so keep perspective.
Importantly, reach out to your travel advisors; for they are monitoring this global crisis with a hawkeye to educate and help clients become more informed. At Spirited Navigators, we are taking this very seriously.
What We Are Doing
We have quite a few travels to Europe coming up in the next couple of months and then Asia later in the year. We have not canceled any of our trips. We are taking it one day at a time and monitoring the situations to the countries we are set to visit.
We are also watching to see if the airlines are making any changes. Should a massive outbreak occur, we presume the associated airlines will take some action. Many airlines, cruise lines & hotels are waiving fees for cancellations and changes in travel dates to the most affected areas. We expect this trend in behavior will continue for any future destinations that become a global threat. So, for now, we are planning our trip(s) as usual, with the mindset that anything can change anytime, and we will not risk our health at the end of the day.
Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Coronavirus Infection
No matter where you live or travel, it is always advisable to use your best judgment; here are some of the tips we advise our clients:
- Frequently clean your hands by washing them with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or alcohol-based hand rub/sanitizer (CDC says using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, source: CDC).
We are not well versed in what the best hand sanitizers are but there are plenty of articles already covering that. Here are a few recent articles on the subject. We recommend going with the brand that overlaps in all three articles.
- When coughing and sneezing cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately and wash your hands with soap.
- Avoid close contact with anyone that has fever and cough.
- Make sure your workplaces are clean & hygienic. Surfaces (e.g. desks & tables) & objects (e.g. phone, keyboards) should be wiped with disinfectant regularly.
- Drink filtered water.
- Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times.
- Avoid any contact with those who could be ill.
- Avoid large crowds and gatherings.
- Be mindful of places to visit and restaurants to eat.
- Avoid any lockdown areas in the world (China, Iran, South Korea, Italy [increased warnings], essentially any areas that authorities have blocked off).
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel Health Notices (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices)
- Novel Coronavirus Map (https://infographics.channelnewsasia.com/covid-19/map.html)
- USA Foreign Travel Advisory (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html)
- UK Foreign Travel Advisory (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- Canada Foreign Travel Advisory (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories)
source: World Health Organization (Facebook)
The world thrives on fear and the onset of panic is not necessary. In fact, it is detrimental. Being powered with knowledge and staying apprised on the latest developments is the best way you can ensure you are making the best (travel) decisions for yourself.