How Agents Are Easing Travelers’ COVID-19 Fears featuring Jennifer Doncsecz
Caribbean destinations are increasingly an alternative for concerned travelers. (Photo by Brian Major).
With travelers’ COVID-19 coronavirus concerns continuing, experienced travel agents are implementing strategies focused on recommending alternative destinations, most frequently the Caribbean and South America, while providing fact-based data on the illness and also emphasizing travel insurance’s key role.
“Lots of folks are concerned,” said Linda Dancer, owner of Honeymoons, Inc. “It seems clients are fine, but family members watching the news are freaking out and causing clients to question what to do.”
“We are definitely hearing from clients with questions,” said Jennifer Doncsecz of VIP Vacations. “Many are asking hypotheticals such as ‘what happens if flights are canceled back into the USA?’”MORE TRAVEL AGENT
“I’m getting a lot of valid questions,” said Garey Bell, an independent consultant with ProTravel. “Anyone who is scheduled to travel in the next few months, we’re having conversations about alternative destinations.”
Just the Facts
Agents contacted by TravelPulse are providing clients with updated information from authoritative sources. “At VIP, we like to share stats and facts,” said Doncsecz. “As of [March 2], directly from the CDC, COVID-19 has caused 3,085 reported deaths worldwide [including] six deaths in the U.S.,” she said.
Conversely, “The seasonal flu caused 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide [and causes] 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year,” she said. “If the seasonal flu hasn’t shut down access to the U.S., it will take a lot more than six deaths to do so.”
Dancer is careful to communicate supplier updates plus information on the illness from the CDC and other recognized sources. “I am sharing any updates from cruise lines [and] tourist boards,” she said. “Sandals Resorts and several airlines have put out their Coronavirus official advisories. I just keep sharing information as I receive it.”
Dancer’s perspective has been shaped by prior illness-related scares that impacted travel over the last decade, a point she emphasizes with clients.
“I share similar media frenzy experiences with clients regarding bird flu, zika and all the other outbreaks we have gone through in the last 10 years,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to minimize the risk, but I try to speak reason with [clients]. My son is traveling on a European cruise in May and I’ve been talking through this with him as well.”
“It really boils down to educating, being smart and giving my clients the ammunition to make the right decision,” said Bell. “We had our monthly meeting yesterday and [ProTravel] is using all the advice from the CDC and all of the partners are sending us updates on how they’re handling the situation.”
European destinations and (predictably) countries and regions where the illness has been reported are experiencing the most profound travel declines, while resorts in the Caribbean and Central and South America are emerging as the most popular alternatives.
“Some clients traveling to Europe in the next 30 days or so have decided to delay their trip and book a mini-moon to Caribbean or Mexico,” Dancer said. “We will plan the Europe itinerary again at a later date.”
On his agency’s Facebook page, Tom Carr of Preferred Vacations says travelers who are “Looking for a place to hide from the coronavirus [should] head to Costa Rica!”
PHOTO: Beautiful and rugged Costa Rica is being regarded as a highly preferable alternative destination. (Photo via Hans Brunk)
While the Caribbean is the most-often mentioned alternative destination, isolated instances of the illness have reached its shores. A 62-year-old Italian tourist staying in a Dominican Republic hotel was diagnosed with the illness and has been placed in isolation, according to one local media report. In addition, an MSC Cruises ship was not permitted to dock at two Caribbean ports this past week by local officials who expressed concerns regarding the illness.
Yet Dominic Fedee, St. Lucia tourism minister and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), said Caribbean destinations continue to welcome leisure travelers while also proceeding with crucial health protocols.
“It’s not us versus the ships or the passengers, but it is really is an attitude of ‘let’s hold hands and do this together,’ and I think it’s the only way we’re going to win,” Fedee said. “I think we have to be extremely cautious that we are safe rather than sorry. [Coronavirus] is a global crisis that demands a creative approach.”
Fedee said tourism-reliant Caribbean destinations, through CTO, are working with global health organizations. “We’re getting constant advice from the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization and a lot of our respective countries are dealing with CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency). So we’re getting the very best expert advice.”
“CTO is working with CARPHA and following their protocols,” added Neil Walters, CTO’s acting secretary-general. “On an ongoing basis, CARPHA has been updating us and our members with new information pertinent to managing and controlling the spread of the virus. They have issued several protocols to us thus far. That will [continue] during the outbreak of this illness.”
Fedee said that despite tourism’s crucial importance to Caribbean economies, “This is a case where health must take the lead and tourism must follow. The health and safety of our citizens, our customers and humanity, in general, come first as we approach this crisis,” he said. “Our safety is bigger than any individual cruise call or airline flight.”
Bell said he is using this opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of travel insurance with his clients, specifically “cancel for any reason” policies purchased prior to departure.
“The one thing I would add is travel insurance, travel insurance, travel insurance,” he said. “People are spending $20,000 to travel and when you bring up travel insurance, because it’s not tangible, and it’s not sexy, people don’t want to pay a couple of hundred dollars for what ultimately can protect their entire trip,” he said.
“All of a sudden, we’re having [travel insurance] conversations and people are willing to pay. Travel insurance should always be a part of the conversation. But I think people are more comfortable keeping their trips if they’re protected.”
Doncsecz, Jennifer, and Brian Major. “How Agents Are Easing Travelers’ COVID-19 Fears.” TravelPulse, Northstar Travel Media, LLC, 4 Mar. 2020, www.travelpulse.com/news/travel-agents/how-agents-are-easing-travelers-covid-19-fears.html.
For more information about this COVID-19 article contact a VIP Vacations specialist.