With the coronavirus expanding its reach to Europe, agents and tour operators are addressing client concerns about traveling to the destination, particularly Italy and Spain, which along with several other countries have confirmed cases of the viral infection.
Generally speaking, they noted that customers are not yet canceling trips.
In terms of travel to Italy, “client reactions are varied at this point,” said Trish Gastineau, of Simply Customized Travel, an independent contractor with Travel Experts. “One client that is still in the planning process told me that she wants to move forward with her original plan. She said that if it gets to the area of Italy she plans on traveling to, that she may switch locations.”
A primary client concern “is the possibility of being quarantined if someone on an aircraft, on a ship or at a hotel shows symptoms,” Gastineau added.
Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Planning, an independent contractor with Travel Experts, said her clients are “absolutely 100 percent concerned about all of Europe. I have people who are traveling to Italy as early as Sunday and others traveling in March, April and May, and they’re very concerned. I think the consumer’s gut reaction is to say, ‘Do I need to cancel?’ But they’re not canceling right this second.”
Lukovic also has clients booked on a cruise calling at ports in Spain this spring. “I think they may very well cancel because they’re elderly and they’re concerned, and rightfully so.”
Claire Schoeder of Travel Edge has a number of clients traveling to Italy this year, including areas in northern Italy.
“One couple travels next month and the remainder are during the summer months,” she said. “The couple traveling next month emailed me and said they were adopting a wait-and-see approach. They are experienced travelers and plan not to cancel out of fear.”
She added, “If clients are set on canceling I will do that for them, but I am cautioning against making hasty decisions they might regret in a couple months when things die back down.”
Gary Pollard of Ambassador Tours reminds his clients that if they cancel they will be “subject to any and all cancellations [fees] assessed by the suppliers.”
He added the main question clients are asking is, “Should we do it or not?”
Andrea Griswold of IC Bellagio, a destination management company based in Lake Como has been reaching out to travelers regarding coronavirus.
“We have committed to three per day on social media and via email to keep people informed on what is new and happening on the ground,” she said.
The majority of travelers are simply asking for more information to enable them to understand the situation better.
“Some people who were due to travel in March have chosen to cancel. For trips already booked for May onward, the response has been that people would prefer to keep all as is and see what happens,” Griswold said. “But most surprisingly to our entire team is the high number of new requests for trips we are receiving on a daily basis, and also confirmations for 2020 trips and some deposits already for 2021.”
Gary Portesi of Authentic Italy said the company has yet to be inundated with coronavirus queries.
“As much of our business is seasonal, with peak season from May to October, few have contacted us to date,” he said. “The few who have are asking great questions about travel insurance coverage mostly, or of postponing their trip. Our clients tend to be well-educated professionals and understand that the media is likely blowing this out of proportion and understand that the risk factors are similar to a typical influenza.”
At Collette, the coronavirus has had a limited impact on the tour operator’s Europe business, said Jeff Roy, executive vice president.
“Beyond China, we’re largely finding that people are continuing with their travel plans, and booking volume has remained strong through February with destinations in Europe, Africa and North America leading the way.”
In the end, Gastineau noted, “it has, and most likely will continue to be a roller coaster ride for those of us in the travel industry.”
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