After the U.S. State Department released a statement Monday urging elderly travelers or those with pre-existing health conditions to not board cruises amid the COVID-19 outbreak, travel advisor Rosemary Reifsneider began getting calls.
“One wanted an upgrade,” Reifsneider said. “The other is traveling later in the year, and they're more concerned about what's going to happen if they're still going to be a risk at that point.”
As concern grows over the potential of contracting the virus while traveling, travel agents are finding ways to mitigate concerns and make last-minute travel changes.
“We’re the people who kind of make sense of the craziness,” said Jeannie Smith, a travel advisor with Odyssey Travel in San Marco. “We can call our preferred partners and see what's going on the airlines, the cruise lines, and see what they're doing, and what they're offering for our clients.”
And while concerns are rising from customers traveling in the next two to four months, so is interest in snagging a deal.
“We definitely are getting calls,” Reifsneider said. “And it's regular clients more than anything. They're saying, ‘Are there any great deals? I have this booked, do you think I can get an upgrade? Any perks for me?’”
So, are there travel deals?
“There are some deals out there, I'm sure,” Smith said. “But they haven't really been pushing the deals yet because they're so busy taking care of all the clients that have already booked.”
Both agents said the information released from the state aligning with many traveler’s spring breaks have caused a lot of pressure for cruise lines to find alternative options.
Overall, they say they’ve seen minimal change in the amount of calls they’re getting to set up future vacations.
“There's a little bit of a slowdown, we're not booking as much as we normally do during this time,” Smith said.
“It's hard to say,” Reifsneider said. “Typically, January and February, we never get a chance to stop and breathe. It's a little bit slower this week. But it's hard to know if that's because what people are reading and hearing or if it is the traditional slowdown that we get once January and February are over.”
Smith said she’s had to shift travelers set to embark on flights and cruises to drivable locations.
Despite the recent struggles, she believes the travel agency won’t take a big hit economically.
“We weathered 9/11,” Smith said. “We've weathered all kinds of things in the past. Hurricanes disasters, volcano eruptions. So, you know, it's all part of the business, it's all part of life, you have to deal with whatever hits you.”
At last check, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was recommending that people avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. It’s also recommending older adults or those who have chronic medical conditions consider postponing travel to Japan.
A full list of Coronavirus travel advisories can be found on this CDC webpage.
On Saturday, the Florida Department of Health released a statement suggesting all people aboard a Nile River Cruise in Egypt self-isolate for the next 14 days upon returning to the states.
Both travel advisors said they hope people will listen to their doctors, and not information they catch on social media, on whether they should travel or not.
“We need to all take a step back and really stop listening to Facebook and talk to your travel advisor,” Reifsneider said. “Don't talk to your neighbor, talk to somebody who knows what's happening, because there's so much information that's out there, and it's growing and it's growing.”
- WJCT’s Bill Bortzfield contributed to this report.
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