The rapid spread of the coronavirus has jeopardized the international travel industry as more travelers are choosing to stay home for fear of contracting the virus, stated Ruairi Casey of Al Jazeera, a media company in Qatar.
Companies and global sports bodies are canceling major conferences or postponing/relocating key tournaments, respectively. International airlines are also halting flights to hard-hit areas such as China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea. Despite that, do you still want to achieve your #travel goals?
Surveys Highlight the Reluctance of Americans to Travel
In a survey by YouGov involving 1,124 US adults (March 5-6, 2020), a global public opinion and data company, 23% of Americans who said they had one or more leisure trips planned this spring have taken extra precautions to avoid infection while traveling because of the virus, quoted Jamie Ballard. 17% have changed their plans, 9% decided not to make any future travel plans, 8% canceled their travel plans.
When asked how comfortable or uncomfortable they would be traveling to a destination where there was a coronavirus outbreak, 40% said they would be “very uncomfortable” and 24% said “somewhat comfortable.” 11% answered “don’t know,” 10% said “somewhat comfortable,” and 6% stated “very comfortable.”
As of March 25, market research firm Harris Poll found that 51% of Americans have canceled or postponed upcoming travel plans due to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Suzanne Rowan Kelleher of business news site Forbes. Out of 2,023 US adults surveyed from March 21-22, 2020, 70% said they would not get on a plane right now, up from 60% 10 days. 66% would not eat at a restaurant, up from 37%. Women were taking a more cautious approach than men with regard to their willingness to travel.
For instance, 77% of women were unwilling to travel on an airplane during the outbreak compared to 62% of men. When the respondents were asked how long after the curve flattens before they get to do various activities such as dining out, 43% said they will do it within 30 days. This figure rose to 66% when including those who will dine out at a restaurant within three months, which applied to both men and women.
21% of Americans said they will stay in a hotel within a month of the curve flattening while 20% will stay within three months. By six months, 60% of Americans said they will visit a hotel. For the airline industry, 15% of respondents said they will fly within a month after the government informs the public that the COVID-19 is abating. 16% said they will fly within three months. However, only 49% of Americans thought they will be ready to fly within six months.
Meanwhile, the cruise industry will have the slowest recovery time from the outbreak, with a combined majority (57%) of Americans saying they will only go on a cruise after a year or more. Further, 10% of Americans said they will board a cruise ship within a month of the curve flattening and only 26% will be ready to set sail within six months. John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, predicted that some of these concerns may lift when the US starts to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
Should I Cancel Or Postpone My Travel Plans?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends elderly travelers and those with underlying health conditions to delay or avoid travel to areas that have ongoing transmission of COVID-19. While it is mild in 80% of cases, the virus can be fatal for individuals above 65 years or who are afflicted with chronic illnesses.
If you decide to cancel a trip you have booked because you are afraid of contracting the virus, it depends whether you purchased a refundable ticket or have the right kind of travel insurance, said Adrian Ma of NPR (National Public Radio), a non-profit media organization. Regular travel insurance won’t cover cancellations due to travelers’ fears of the virus. Rather, you will need to purchase a “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) policy.
Some credit cards gave automatic travel insurance for trips booked by their holders, so opt to check with your provider to see if you are covered. Bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to travel insurance policy, said Christopher Elliot, founder of Elliott Advocacy.
Factors such as your age, the length of your trip, and what you want to cover influence your decision on which travel insurance policy you will choose. Elliot suggested reading the insurance contract before purchasing one to check if it applies to “worst-cases scenarios” like sickness or flight days.
Is International Travel Less Risky?
Again, it depends. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center, advised not to travel to countries that are included in CDC’s “warning” list to avoid non-essential travel. However, this doesn’t mean domestic travel is 100% risk-free. “We already have community transmission within the United States. So, at some point, it's not going to be any riskier to go to another country than it is to stay right here,” Doron asserted.
What If I Want to Push Through With My Travel Plans?
If you decide to travel to countries without major cases of COVID-19, you should take into account your own risk factors as well as the quality of health care in the country you are going to if you get sick, advised Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
You should also consider the possibility of being caught in quarantine if an outbreak occurs in the region you are traveling to. Watson warned, “Travellers should be aware that this is a possibility, they may be stuck somewhere for an extended period of time and they should plan for that.”
Don’t forget to practice good hygiene such as washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth when coughing, and avoiding close contact with individuals who show signs of the coronavirus, said the WHO.
Arm yourself with knowledge about how COVID-19 is transmitted and how you can protect yourself such as maintaining your own protective zones while traveling, said Bharat Pankhania, an expert in disease control at the University of Exeter in the UK.
It’s your choice whether you want to push through with your travel plans. Be sure to do your research about the country you are traveling to. This will help you gauge if the quality health care is up to standards or there’s a possibility of being stuck in quarantine. Most importantly, practice good hygiene to protect yourself and other people.