Richard Turen
Richard Turen

Given the hysteria and misinformation being spread about the Covid-19 coronavirus, I decided to try to outline a few important points for your clients and mine:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not been invited to assist Chinese authorities, so information coming out of China and appearing in the consumer media is trending toward sensational. But the virus is a major global health issue, with Covid-19 appearing to have a fatality rate of 2% to 3%. Johns Hopkins University estimated 2,800 worldwide deaths caused by the disease as of Feb. 29.

Clients are urged to visit and other travel industry journalism sites for the latest and most accurate information involving travel abroad, cancellations, reroutings and government warnings and updates.

Our agency website evaluates and ranks the 10 top cruise lines in the world. Not one of these has any reported cases of coronavirus. Given their experiences with norovirus outbreaks, cruise lines are actually quite adept at cleaning and sterilizing onboard surfaces and equipment.

Flying is considered safe, but clients should consider flying in business or first class to limit exposure to fellow passengers who might be coughing or sneezing. Anyone in any section of an aircraft can be sick, of course, but given the increased distance between passengers, the higher quality air circulation and a reasonable expectation of satisfactory personal hygiene standards, the front of the plane does offer health advantages.

Anticipation is one of the major side benefits of international vacation travel. If you are going to be filled with dread as your date of departure approaches, strongly consider canceling your trip.

It is too late to purchase insurance that will cover the Covid-19 outbreak. Travel policies do not cover a global health crisis. The virus, from an insurance standpoint, became "known" on Jan. 21. Any insurance purchased after that date would not cover any illness outbreak that is "known" to the general public. If you are susceptible to the virus and have an insured pre-existing condition, it might be worthwhile to see your physician and to obtain paperwork stating you are unable to travel given current risks.

If you are booked to travel but made your reservations directly with a tour operator or cruise line, make every attempt to have your booking turned over to a travel advisor you can trust. You will need an advocate.

If you took out cancel-for-any-reason insurance, you are covered for a cancellation related to your concerns about Covid-19. But such policies normally only pay 75% of your cancellation cost and almost always in the form of a future credit, not a cash return. The average cost of a cancel-for-any-reason policy is 14% of the cost of your trip.

If you are not traveling for several months or longer, it is wise to do nothing. In the vast majority of cases, travelers who have made deposits will be subject to full cancellation policies as outlined in brochures and on supplier websites. If, however, the cruise line or tour operator makes major changes to an itinerary or cancels your departure completely, it is likely that you will receive a full refund plus a nice incentive for rebooking at some point in the future. Savvy travelers will wait for the supplier to pull the switch and not rush into costly cancellation penalties.

Try to look at the statistics without fear: The seasonal flu has killed more than 10,000 people in the U.S. already this year and has sickened 19 million. There were 36,560 deaths on U.S. roads in 2018, along with 14,623 gun deaths. The U.S. is 84th in rankings of the safest countries. Travel to most parts of the world, Asia not currently included, is safer than staying at home. And not by a narrow margin. That statistic has not changed.

Editors note: Comparisons of Covid-19 to the seasonal flu have been modified.


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