As a travel agency, we are often asked our thoughts on global situations that impact our industry. The one currently dominating headlines? COVID-19, or coronavirus. We’ve faced health issues in the past – SARS, Zika – and understand that this outbreak can make travelers uneasy. Our first priority is the health, welfare, and overall comfort of our clients. Although we cannot decide for you whether you should travel, we can provide updates to inform your decision.
1. What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus COVID-19 is a virus that can cause respiratory illness and was first detected in Wuhan, China. It has since spread from China to countries around the world, including the United States. On February 3, both the CDC and the WHO have recognized COVID-19 as an epidemic, and on March 11 the WHO publically characterized it as a pandemic: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
2. Where can I obtain the most up-to-date information on coronavirus and affected areas?
With media sensationalism and potential misinformation, it’s important to get the facts from a reputable source. We recommend checking the CDC Website for general information on the virus and destinations with diagnosed cases: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
3. I was looking forward to a trip to China – what now?
China is a wonderful country to visit as a tourist, with many unique historical and natural sites that cannot be found elsewhere. We look forward to sending clients on trips to China in the future, but at this time we recommend postponing travel plans until the CDC declares it safe and all tourist sites reopen.
4. I’m planning to visit Italy – should I cancel my plans?
As of March 9, the Italian government has released a decree prohibiting movement in public areas except for justifiable work reasons, basic necessities, and health emergencies. The decree also cancels sporting events and public gathering and closes schools, universities, and recreational facilities through April 3.
The US State Department has upped the travel alert to a Level 3: Reconsider Travel, and discourages any nonessential travel. We love Italy and eagerly await its reopening to tourists, but in the meantime we advise postponing travel until the Italian government reverses its current lockdown. Ask your advisor about options for postponing your travels to later in the year or to 2021 – many hotels and tour companies are offering more flexible terms for postponing reservations.
5. I’m planning to visit a country with known cases of coronavirus – should I cancel my plans?
Despite the outbreak, our advisors are still helping travelers plan trips to every continent. We understand any hesitations you may have, and are ready to assist, regardless of the destination. When in doubt, check with the US Department of State to see their current travel advisories and decide what you feel comfortable with.
If you have travels already booked and are concerned about coronavirus, please talk with your advisor to see what your options are – there may be more than you think! Many cruise lines, hotels, and tour companies are modifying their cancellation policies to allow travelers more flexibility and the option to “wait and see” how the situation develops prior to Spring or Summer trips.
6. Will insurance cover cancellations due to coronavirus?
As of February 3rd, coronavirus COVID-19 has been declared an epidemic. Many travel protection plans exclude losses caused directly or indirectly by an epidemic. Please refer to your plan to learn whether this exclusion applies to you. It is important to note that fear of travel, travel advisories, and destination being inaccessible due to this illness are not covered risks under most insurance plans.
If you are in initial stages of trip planning and would like additional coverage, a Cancel for Any Reason upgrade may be available at time of initial trip deposit – ask your River Oaks Travel advisor for more information.
7. I have a trip booked already – what are my cancellation terms?
As the coronavirus COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, many travel providers are changing their cancellation policies. Most cruise lines are offering future cruise credits and allowing reservations to be cancelled very close to departure, so make sure to check with your advisor to see what your new options are – there may be more than you think! The airlines are also changing their policies, with some waiving change fees and instituting “book with confidence” policies – you can see the current updates on our blog here.
8. I’m planning on traveling – what precautions can I take?
- Arrive to the airport early and make sure you have a longer connection time between flights – many are now instituting health screens or extended security checks to try to limit the spread.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Work with our travel agency – beyond just planning your trip, we are all your travel advocates. We’re here to assist before and during your trip. We can help navigate any concerns, assist with travel changes, and provide emergency contacts on-the-ground should the need arise.
- World Health Organization Risk Assessment
- CDC Recommendations for Italy
- US Department of State Country Information
- IATA’s Travel Restrictions By Country
- Conde Nast “Coronavirus Travel: 10 Steps to Follow Before Rethinking Your Plans”
- Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health Map
- Worldometer Coronavirus by the Numbers
Have more questions about travel and the coronavirus?
While we cannot guarantee answers to all of your questions, our team of advisors is here to assist with any questions you may have about upcoming travel. Contact us or make an appointment with one of our Houston travel agents.