Stay updated on the latest news about coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, and share only official sources of information with clients.
That's the general advice for travel advisors dealing with the virus and its impact on their clients' willingness to travel.
"To help guide those conversations we recommend to stay informed, refer clients with questions to objective third-party sources of information like the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] and State Department and raise the issue proactively if a client is traveling to an affected area," said Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners.
Like many agency networks, Cruise Planners is providing its agencies with information and resources on Covid-19. The major consortia are doing the same. Advisors should lean on those resources for the latest information.
The State Department, the CDC and the World Health Organization also have informational sites live that are updated regularly.
In a recent Travel Leaders Group webinar, Dr. Geoff Tothill, chief medical officer at International Medical Group, gave some details on Covid-19.
It's a coronavirus, many of which infect animals and some of which infect human, Tothill said. It is believed that Covid-19 spread from animals to humans, possibly at a seafood market, but there are still doubts about that. It is similar to viruses found in bats and snakes.
Covid-19 has an asymptomatic incubation period of two to 14 days. It is believed that the virus can be transmitted during that period, but exactly how is in question. Tothill said most people who contract the virus have been close to an infected person who is coughing and sneezing.
The virus is not a flu virus, Tothill said, but it causes flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. Most who contract Covid-19 experience fairly mild symptoms; twenty percent get more severe symptoms. The disease's mortality rate is about 2%, Tothill said, but that is only among those who have been formally diagnosed. He believes the actual death rate is less than 1%, which is lower than SARS or MERS.
According to Tothill, unless a traveler is headed to an area where there is an active outbreak of Covid-19, they have little to be concerned about.
Around the industry, many have reported canceled bookings and predicted further impacts.
Garcia said sales at Cruise Planners haven't slowed down.
"However," she said, "moving forward we just don't have a crystal ball to know if it will affect them down the line."
In addition to encouraging advisors to stay informed, Garcia also encouraged them to work with travel insurance companies.
"Most specifically, we make sure to remind agents that they are not insurance agents and to work with our preferred insurance company, since some clients may want to know about refunds," Garcia said.
Travel advisors are also reminded that while they should present their clients with factual information from trustworthy sources, they should not offer their opinions on whether or not a client should travel.
"Ultimately," said Brian Chapin, Ensemble Travel Group's senior director of supplier relations, "the client has to make that decision as to whether or not to travel to impacted regions."