virtuoso global March 2020 What Virtuoso Advisors Want You to Know About Traveling and Coronavirus

What Virtuoso Advisors Want You to Know About Traveling and Coronavirus

Keep calm and use a travel advisor.
Keep calm and use a travel advisor.
Photo by Getty Images

This story was updated on March 17, 2020.

To call COVID-19 a disruption to the travel industry (and the global economy) is an understatement. Since its origin in Wuhan, China, late last year, the virus (aka novel coronavirus) has become a global pandemic that the World Health Organization calls a “public health emergency of international concern.” To date, people have tested positive for the virus in more than 100 countries; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new Travel Health Notices on all international travel; and the U.S. has heavily restricted air travel to and from Europe. Travel plans are – we’re not going to sugarcoat it – in a state of disarray.
If you have a vacation booked in the coming days, weeks, or months, it’s valid to feel some disappointment and confusion. With a global crisis comes uncertainty, both at home and abroad. Fears of the contracting the virus are valid (we cannot stress this enough – wash your hands!), as well as getting stuck in quarantine while traveling overseas. Ultimately, choosing to go forth with future travel plans may be out of your control this point. So how do you manage all of the change?
“Right now, we’re letting travelers know we’re here to support them in making the best decision for their family, and giving them the facts to help make that decision,” says Virtuoso agency owner Cristina Buaas.
These really are the moments when having a travel advisor is key. Seamless trip planning and travel perks aside, an advisor is a traveler’s number-one advocate. They arm you with the information needed to make confident decisions, provide informed answers to any “What would you do?” concerns, and handle the logistics that sometimes can’t be avoided, from last-minute flight changes to spring break contingency plans.
Here’s what we’re doing: We are not panicking. We’re staying positive, because this too shall pass. As of this week, we’re pausing our current travels until it’s safe to explore again, but we’re carrying on with future travel plans – responsibly, of course, by heeding CDC warnings and being extra diligent about our travel hygiene. We feel OK because we’ve had help from Virtuoso travel advisors while making these decisions. We’ve been talking with them a lot recently about how they’re dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and what they’re telling travelers. Here, what they want you to know:

When it comes to future travel, there is no wrong decision.

Right now, travel has come to a rightful halt, as the world fights to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak. Every Virtuoso advisor we’ve talked to has emphasized that whatever call you make regarding future travel plans, it’s the right one for you. Older travelers or those with compromised immune systems should continue to be especially cautious, as well as those who are concerned about potentially being quarantined abroad or missing work upon return home.
“It’s important to give my clients all of the facts about their trip, their destination, and the policies of their travel supplier,” says Virtuoso agency executive Amanda Klimak. “I then help them make a decision about travel based on the facts. I also recommend they speak to their personal physician to discuss the risks based on their medical history. Then I let them know I’m here to help, no matter what they decide.”
Your advisor can tell you if airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and tour operators have waived change and cancellation fees (many have): “The entire travel industry is in uncharted territory now due to coronavirus,” says Virtuoso agency executive Mary Kleen. “As travel advisors, our current role is to listen to travelers’ concerns and provide the most up-to-date options so they can make informed decisions at a minimal cost.”
“Traveling is meant to be fun and educational,” says Virtuoso agency executive Angela Wallace. “If you’re going to be worried and anxious about your trip, instead find something that you’ll be comfortable with and enjoy. If that means you sit out travel in the short term, that’s fine. But while you’re waiting, look forward to the recovery, because it will come, and you’ll need to be ready to jump on that trip you’ve been drooling over.”

It will be OK to travel again.

Virtually all current travel plans have had to be altered, but that doesn’t mean outright cancellations are the new norm. For down-the-road getaways, travelers are choosing closer-to-home locations, including the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and Mexico. “I do have some clients switching from Northern Italy, but other than that, if it’s not on the Department of State list, they’re going,” says Virtuoso agency executive Tania Swasbrook.  
“I have and will continue to still travel,” says Virtuoso agency executive Kemi Wells. “I just got back from Thailand. I did have to adjust my flight and cancel weekend layover plans in Beijing to be safe – but this was not out of fear of actually contracting the virus, but due to the high risk of quarantine because of the travel restrictions affecting mainland China at this time. I plan to keep my future trip to Europe as well as everything else I have in place for the rest of 2020.”
When you are ready to make future plans, travel advisors are ready to help with an array of options: “One couple exchanged a Tauck tour to Italy for a great one in New Orleans,” Wallace says. “My recommendations include a Natural Habitat Adventures polar-bear expedition in Churchill, Canada, this fall; the national parks; a healthy stay at Canyon Ranch, Miraval, or another wellness resort; a Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain combo trip; or somewhere in South America – the Galápagos Islands, Colombia, and Peru are all fun places to explore with lots of outside time and low crowds.”

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica, an alternate vacation destination suggested by travel advisors. 
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica, an alternate vacation destination suggested by travel advisors. 
Photo by Getty Images

Don’t get impulsive about changing summer travel plans yet.

Buaas recently suggested the wait-and-see approach for a traveler planning to take her children to Greece this summer. The situation is evolving rapidly – if you’re traveling to Europe in June and your tour, cruise, or hotel has a 30-day cancellation policy, for example, you don’t have to make a decision until May. As almost every Virtuoso travel advisor we talked to pointed out, things might look very different by then.
“Our advisors have spent most of their time in the past week fielding questions about COVID-19,” says Virtuoso agency owner Josh Bush. “Very few of those conversations result in cancelations, and that’s because the situation is so fluid and not definite. We are advising travelers to wait and see, especially if there is little or no financial risk to do so.”
Virtuoso agency owner Charlotte Harris, who is based in Hong Kong, is also an advocate for waiting and seeing. “Hong Kong has been through some pretty challenging times over the last 12 months with the protests and now the coronavirus across the border,” she says. “Thankfully, many of our travelers here are quite positive and determined to postpone their plans instead of cancel.”

Travel insurance is always a good idea.

Only “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policies may be able to partially cover trip adjustments related to issues that stem from the novel coronavirus outbreak – and that’s only if you purchased the policy shortly after making an initial trip deposit. (Travel insurance can be tricky, and time limits vary by policy and country; you should have your travel advisor check with your travel insurance provider to confirm.) If you want to book a trip for later this summer, advisors recommend that “cancel for any reason” policy. But for those who already have the trip on the books and are outside of the policy’s initial window, it’s not too late to at least add some travel insurance: “For those who are still planning on traveling, make sure you have travel insurance that will cover medical expenses should you become ill while traveling,” Klimak advises.

When you go, be smart.

Honestly, these travel hygiene rules apply to all future travel. First off: Wash! Your! Hands! As soon as you get through security at the airport, beeline to the restroom to scrub, Swasbrook advises. Wipe down airplane surfaces, wash your hands before and after using the restroom on the plane, and read up on our favorite travel hygiene pro tips. Wallace and her colleagues travel with eucalyptus and Doterra On Guard oils, which may boost immunity. And about those masks? You don’t need them unless you’re already sick, the World Health Organization says.     
“If you develop any kind of symptoms, self-quarantine or follow instructions given to you by local authorities,” Harris says. “Mental health is just as important, so don’t forget to take time out to look after your mind as well.”
Buaas refers travelers to the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites for the latest information, and Klimak tells her travelers to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is one of our favorites to download before we travel – while you’re at it, swipe that phone with an antibacterial wipe, please.