March 4, 2020
Today I attended a special webinar on COVID-19 hosted by the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), of which I am a member. The webinar was hosted by Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor, LA Times, and included three panelists: Julie Loffredi, Manager of Media Relations, Insuremytrip.com; Erika Richter, Senior Director, Communications, American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA); and Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, TravelZoo. Obviously, COVID-19 is a topic that is of great concern, particularly for those of us who travel frequently, and health and safety is paramount as we await a vaccine.
Several topics were discussed:
Should I cancel my trip? Yes, no and maybe. With so much changing so quickly, the panel’s advice is that you should do what makes you comfortable, based on your risk tolerance level, and what is best for you personally. This is not a situation for bravado – just be yourself. The consensus on the panel is that it’s too soon to tell if the majority of people are actually cancelling or postponing travel right now. They mentioned that thankfully they had observed an increase in handwashing and sanitary techniques when travelling, such as wiping down trays, covering your mouth while coughing, etc. It goes without saying that you should check your destination for potential risks, as with all travel.
What are the most trusted sources of information? This is a highly fluid situation, with data constantly changing. As a result, we are being bombarded by information, not all of which is accurate. The top three sources recommended (keeping in mind this an American panel) were; the Center for Disease Control (CDC), State Department (US) and World Health Organization (WHO). A world map of confirmed cases is here and a risk assessment of each country is here. Canada’s page on COVID-19 is here.
What does my travel insurance cover? This is a tricky area and there’s no simple answer. Insuremytrip, which has seen a 245% increase in policies sold since January 21 (the ‘known date’ for Covid-19 in the US), reminded us that doing ‘add-on’ insurance to a plane ticket isn’t the same as buying a separate third-party insurance policy. If you purchased a plan prior to the outbreak in your country, you will likely have more options. If you are concerned about Covid-19, make sure your policy includes ‘cancel for any reason.’ Some insurance companies are changing their coverage policies daily, so going to a comparison site can help you understand your options. One question was whether travel insurance covers quarantine situations. This is something you need to check with your specific insurance provider. It is always recommended that you buy insurance as soon as you book a trip.
What should I do if I still feel wanderlust? If you want to travel, this could be an opportunity to stay closer to home or try a destination that is off the beaten path. Travelzoo noted that it is seeing an increase in inquiries related to ‘drive markets’: road trips, short distance trips, and train travel.
How can we prevent the spread of the virus? According to Health Canada and the CDC, coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person through respiratory droplets when you cough or sneeze; close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; touching something with the virus on it, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.
To reduce the spread of infections
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands;
- avoid close contact with people who are sick;
- cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not your hands; and
- STAY HOME IF YOU ARE SICK to avoid spreading illness to others.
If you choose to travel, I hope you do so safely and well. I’ll do my best to keep you apprised of information and advice from credible sources.