The term "going viral" these days typically refers to a social media post which has gotten extremely popular. Why? Because the phrase means the post spread quickly and widely. The term obviously comes from biological viruses, such as the flu, which have been doing the same for as long as humans have been around.
COVID 19, the new coronavirus, is causing havoc in certain parts of the travel industry (ocean cruises to Asia for example). Interestingly most of our clients are actually more concerned about being guaranteed than actually having serious or fatal symptoms. Although our clients have been asking lots of questions, we've had only a few outright cancellations thus far.
Here's what's currently going on as of March 2020:
Travel to China, Italy and South Korea has virtually stopped
All other trips are running smoothly with no disruptions
Most suppliers are offering additional flexibility with respect to final payments and cancellations
Most clients are watching carefully and taking advantage of added flexibility from their travel suppliers.
But what about my insurance?
Virtually all insurance contracts have exclusions. And a typical exclusion is coverage based on epidemics. Travel insurance is very important since it covers you for cancellations due to many situations as well as medical coverage during the trip. But nothing associated with epidemics. (yes, you should read your insurance policy carefully when purchasing).
The main way to insure against epidemics as a cancel for any reason policy. These generally cost more than those with exclusions, but the extra cost might be worth the extra expense
Not all travel suppliers are the same
Some travel suppliers have not changed their policies at all. We've noticed this mostly with land tour operators such as Globus and Trafalgar. But others, like Tauck have been very good - they are delaying final payment dates and allowing customers to rebook the tour a year later at no penalty.
In the river cruise space, AmaWaterways was the first to offer what we think is a very fair and reasonable offer. They offer to sell their travel waiver plan (only $175 pp) to customers who have already made final payment which allows the customer to receive a full voucher good for 2 years from booking. Essentially takes the risk off the table for AmaWaterways customers.
Viking is now offering excellent flexibility by allowing their guests to change or cancel their reservations up to 24 hrs before departure. Uniworld however have not shown much flexibility until just recently.
Ocean cruises of course have been very flexible with their cancellations and changes.
Ok fine but should I cancel my trip?
Everyone has to make this decision for themselves. Our advice is to work with your physician. What's right for a healthy 45 year old is not right for a 75 year old with respiratory issues.
We understand people's concerns regarding COVID 19 - testing kits have been slow to arrive, there's no vaccine available yet and the fatality rate (on average) is higher than the common flu. Yet we each take risks all the time: driving and getting the seasonal flu (each of which kills approx 40,000 Americans a year and are much higher risks than COVID 19 is today) are things we do all the time. So we each have to balance our risk and reward situations.
Our best advice: Stay informed by checking in with the CDC web site. It's informative, trustworthy and up to date.
Flexibility, but we're going
For our part, Dave and I have a trip planned for May and fully intend to go. We've had our flu shots. We will be washing our hands frequently and we have some packets of hand sanitizer available as well. We'll try to avoid anyone hacking away, of course. In our estimation, the risk of getting seriously ill from COVID 19 is very low. But we'll continue to monitor the situation and adjust.
Flexibility and an open mind are essential in travel - but especially today.