While the coronavirus is effectively shutting travel to some cities in China, most U.S. travel agents are not seeing any effect on planned travel to destinations outside of China.
Travel Leaders Network, the largest network of travel agencies in North America with more than 55,000 travel advisors and 5,700 agency locations, conducted a research survey of its travel advisors across the US and Canada to assess the impact of coronavirus on leisure travel bookings.
While approximately 30 percent of travel agencies reported a high to moderate number of cancellations for China and other parts of Asia, few reported cancellations to other destinations. Close to 400 travel advisors completed the survey.
“It is important to keep this in perspective,” said John Lovell, President, Leisure Travel, Supplier Relations & Networks, Travel Leaders Group. “While it’s true that there are roughly 45,000 cases in China; there are about 440 confirmed cases outside of China and 13 in the United States. Less than one percent of the cases are outside of China. Aside from a travel advisory to avoid travel to China, there are no travel warnings regarding any other destination.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that this flu season, which started in late September, there have been at least 22 million cases of the flu in the US with 210,000 hospitalizations.
When asked about cancellations due to coronavirus, advisors reported very few cancellations of trips to other destinations, including Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, the Continental US and other parts of the world due to coronavirus. Agencies reported that the vast majority of cancellations were for trips to China, followed by a lesser number of cancellations for trips to Asia outside of China. For example, advisors reporting no cancellations outside Asia ranged from 81% to 93% depending on the destination.
Sixty-four (64) percent of advisors said they had zero cancellations of cruise bookings due to coronavirus worldwide. The survey found that 13 percent of advisors said they saw a high number of cruise booking cancellations with the primary impact on itineraries that include China and other parts of Asia, Lovell said. With the health and safety of passengers the highest priority, cruise lines are taking extra precautionary measures such as enhanced screening and sanitizing protocols and denying boarding to passengers from China and Hong Kong.
Once the situation is addressed, 96 percent of advisors said they are confident their clients will rebook their cancelled trips.
“While we are getting inquiries, we are not seeing many cancellations outside of China and Asia,” continued Lovell. “This is the peak winter break travel period for sun and fun destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean. We are not seeing those destinations impacted by this. Cruise bookings in the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska are solid. People are not going to give up their vacations or stop traveling.”
The travel network has deployed an internal task force for monitoring the outbreak of coronavirus and ensuring accurate information is shared with advisors in a timely manner. Messages with supplier updates, such as airline changes, cruise itinerary changes, insurance policy updates, as well as resources from the state department and other government agencies are distributed several times a day. The company is also hosting webinars for advisors and corporate travel customers with travel medicine experts as well as risk management experts.
Travel Leaders Network advises travelers to review all official sources of information such as the CDC and the World Health Organization. Travelers should be wary of information posted on social media from unofficial sources.