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The Novel Coronavirus is still spreading and causing alterations in travel. Those in the tourism industry have to properly communicate with clients and potential travelers to make sure the correct information is shared.

Today, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency.

Because of the outbreak in China and the travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State, USTOA conducted a survey of its Tour Operator Members that offer programs to China to determine the reaction of guests and travel advisors, and what steps the travel community is taking in dealing with this virus. According to USTOA, the majority of members who responded to the survey report that they are in contact with guests and travel advisors (as applicable) to discuss the concerns and options for travel that’s already booked. Some members reported having few or no calls as of yet because of seasonality or timing of travel programs taking place later in 2020.

Each tour operator member is prioritizing the health and wellbeing of its guests. The USTOA says its members are handling the issue based on the company’s procedures and policies that might include refunds, postponements or offering guests alternative travel options. USTOA and its members will continue to monitor the news and statements from various organizations such as WHO, CDC, and the State Department.

Delores Wright, owner of The Wright Way to Travel, says, “I have a group in Thailand now and another going in July. The July group is very nervous.”

Novel Coronavirus Alterations in Travel
Views of MSC Splendida. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises.)

MSC Cruises Reroutes Grand Voyage
As of today, MSC Splendida, which is deployed in Asia for the 2019-2020 season, has canceled its next three 4- and 5-night scheduled sailings from Shanghai in China and will reposition to Singapore to start her 27-night Grand Voyage to the Middle East and Europe for a Feb. 14 departure.

The decision to reposition the ship from Shanghai to Singapore has been taken in the best interests of the safety and wellbeing for our passengers and crew, as was the decision to cancel our next three scheduled sailings from China,” says Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises, in a press statement.

Currently, there have been no reported cases of the virus among MSC passengers or crew on board MSC Splendida.

“Many major airlines have either canceled or reduced their flight frequency to China, and the Grand Voyage, a maritime tradition whereby a ship moves from one part of the world to another for a new sailing season, was entirely booked with guests flying from abroad to enjoy the experience of a unique itinerary.

“In light of Singapore becoming a new embarkation port we have had to cancel calls to Naha, Japan and Hong Kong but it has also created an opportunity to update and enrich the Grand Voyage’s itinerary with four additional new ports; Langkawi, Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, plus Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to create a new, one-of-a kind memorable cruise,” adds Onorato.

MSC states that customers who booked an outbound flight ticket to Asia will need to contact their airline or travel agent for a refund or possible re-protection to Singapore.

Any pre-paid excursions during the Grand Voyage that are canceled to the ports of Naha, Japan and Hong Kong as a result of the new updated itinerary will be refunded to the customer’s ship board account.

In addition, MSC Splendida’s 4- and 5-night sailings from Shanghai to Japan on Feb. 1, 5 and 9 have been canceled.

The cruise line is also implementing additional public health measurements across its fleet to ensure guests’ safety.

These precautions include:

  • Guests from all nationalities are required to fill out a pre-embarkation questionnaire to ensure no-one boards their ship who has traveled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days. Anyone who has traveled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days will be denied access to the ship
  • Mandatory non-touch thermal scans conducted for all guests and crew prior to embarkation for every cruise operated by the company anywhere in the world, and persons with signs or symptoms of illness such as fever (≥38 C°/100.4 F°) or feverishness, chills, cough or difficulty breathing will be denied embarkation
  • Elevated deep-sanitation on every ship in the line’s entire fleet
  • Guests who may have fever symptoms will be isolated in their stateroom and the same measure applies for their close contacts, including guests staying in the same stateroom and family members, as well as any crew member who may have served these guests.

These measures follow previous actions that were taken last week. Guests and crew who traveled last week from mainland China were already screened for symptoms upon embarkation, and were requested to report any symptoms of illness to the onboard medical center.

Novel Coronavirus Alterations in Travel
Views of Chengdu and the China River.

Take Precaution
Currently, there are about 7,000 people infected with the virus in more than a dozen countries, and at lest 170 have died. According to the CDC, it can take two to 14 days after exposure to the virus for symptoms to begin.

According to Allianz Global Assistance’s senior medical consultant, Lori Calavan, PA, PA-C there are five steps travelers should keep top of mind to try to stay safe and free from infection of the Novel Coronavirus.

  1. Use proper hand hygiene. According to the CDC, “hand hygiene is the most important measure to prevent the spread of infections.” Use soap and water, especially when your hands are visibly soiled, or an anti-microbial alcohol-based sanitizer.
  2. Sanitize. On an airplane, wipe down common areas (tray tables, seat backs and arm rests) with anti-microbial sanitizing wipes.
  3. Practice proper respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette—cover your mouth when coughing and cover your nose if you sneeze. If you are coughing when you travel, use a mask. Protect yourself and others around you. Dispose of any used tissues and wash/sanitize your hands after using any tissues.
  4. Do not travel if you are ill. When fighting illness, you are susceptible to other disease processes and people around you (especially the very young, very old and immunocompromised people around you) are susceptible to your infection.
  5. Reconsider your travel plans if you are going to an area of concern. The CDC has advised travelers to reconsider trips to China and many travel suppliers are waiving penalties for changing or canceling trips to certain cities there. Travelers may want to take advantage of the opportunity to postpone their trip until Coronavirus has been contained.
Novel Coronavirus Alterations in Travel
Travel insurance can help make traveling less stressful.

Push for Travel Insurance
As a travel advisor, it’s your job to make sure your client gets the best travel experience. With that comes the assurance that they’ll be covered if something such as the Coronavirus outbreak happens and deters a traveler’s trip.

”There is a huge need for vacationers to purchase a travel insurance policy to protect themselves from a potential loss,” says Jason Schreier, CEO of APRIL Travel Protection, in a press statement.

“We don’t just say this because we are in the business to sell travel insurance,” adds Schreiber. “That’s the obvious, but we are travelers ourselves and when our family and our friends are planning business trips and vacations we are all concerned about the growing possibility that something will disrupt those plans and we will both miss our vacation and lose valuable money paid in advance.”

Delays, natural disasters, weather, illnesses are all realities that can disrupt the most perfectly planned vacation. Travelers “have had medical emergencies while traveling and needed treatments while abroad or an emergency flight home,” she adds.

Schreiber notes that though some media outlet’s reporting may have incited panic within the travel market, APRIL is encouraging travelers and the travel agent community to take these reports as an important reminder that preparedness and common sense precautions can make a difference between life and death.

For situations such as the Coronavirus, travelers who purchase a policy with APRIL can utilize the company’s video triage as a first step versus visiting an actual ER abroad. This keeps keep the cost of the company’s premiums lower than the industry average, notes Shreiber.

For more on what to tell worried travelers, check out “Novel Coronavirues Travel Questions—What to Tell Wary Travelers.” And for more intel on the virus outbreak, don’t miss “The Novel Coronavirus Shuts Down 3 Cities in China—What You Need to Know” and “China Cancels Tours: What This Means for International Travelers.”