As the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to lower in Canada and worldwide borders, economies, airlines and resorts start to re-open, the possibility of travel are again within reach. But with the virus still raging in other parts of the world and in the USA, how risky can travel actually be right now? Here are the top ten factors that will help you weigh out your travel decision.
1. KNOW YOUR BOOKING TERMS AND CONDITIONS INTIMATELY
There are four major tour operators in Canada and different travel suppliers have different booking terms and conditions, and all of which have now added different sets of flexible COVID-19 policies depending on your original booking and departure date. This has led to a lot of confusion for the average traveler. According to Section 36 of the Travel Industry Act, 2002 (Act), all sellers of travel must provide you with the conditions of travel, cancellation fees and non-refundable amounts, insurance and other terms and conditions of the sale. Your exact booking terms and conditions should be detailed on your travel invoice, on the website of your travel agency and tour operator and/or the website in which you booked. In general, there is always a non-refundable booking deposit which has been used to hold your space. Cancellation penalties will occur based on when you cancel your trip and can be anywhere from 20%, 50% or 100% loss. If you cancel within two weeks of departure for example, you will generally lose all of your money, that's if you didn't have travel insurance.
|Read The Fine Print of Your Booking Terms and Conditions|
But then COVID-19 happened, which led to closing borders, resorts and cruiselines and suspending flights across the globe, thus causing a force majeure, which legally frees both parties from obligation and liability due to extraordinary circumstances. However, instead of stranding clients and enforcing the general booking terms and conditions as detailed above, all Canadian tour operators implemented flexible COVID-19 policies. In essence, if you were booked prior to March 15th, 2020 and were set to travel between March 15 - July 31st, 2020, your reservation would fall under this. The Flex Policy allows you to change your reservation without penalty or cancel with full refund by way of Future Travel Voucher, no questions asked. However, if your travel reservations currently do not meet these booking and departure date criteria, the standard booking terms and conditions will still apply.
But wait, there's more....As many travel suppliers re-open and try to stimulate new bookings, many tour operators have introduced yet another set of flexible booking policies which will allow up to 100% full refunds back to the original form of payment less a lowered non-refundable deposit and longer cancellation thresholds - some allowing you to cancel up to 3 days prior to departure with zero penalty. These are typically for brand new bookings made May 15th onward.
Helping you navigate through this ever-changing environment and keeping you updated and being available to clarify your booking terms and conditions is certainly one added benefit of working with a professional travel advisor.
2. WHAT IS A FUTURE TRAVEL VOUCHER ANYWAYS?
The definition of a Future Travel Voucher or Future Travel Credit is whatever you paid towards your trip, will be held in trust of the supplier with whom you were originally booked. This means that you can re-book any available travel product for any date to any destination, as long as it's booked with the original tour operator and through the original travel agency. If you were originally booked as part of a group reservation, you can re-book again in a future group reservation or as an individual reservation. Currently, Westjet Vacations has transferred all payments of suspended trips to each passenger's individual Westjet Dollars Account, which allows you to re-book directly with Westjet or Westjet Vacations, or through your original travel agency. Sunwing's FTVs expire on June 21st, 2022, Transat Holiday's expire 2 years from your original travel date and Air Canada Vacations FTV's never expire and are fully transferable to another traveler. When you re-book, if the new price is higher, you will be responsible for difference of the higher price. If your new price is lower, the remainder will be kept in trust for a future trip or can be used towards upgrades or stay extensions. For added protection, if you are unable to redeem a Future Travel Voucher issued by a TICO-registered travel agency or tour operator because they went bankrupt, became insolvent or ceased to carry on business and that failure is related to COVID-19, you can make a claim again the Travel Industry Compensation Fund until March 31, 2022. In essence, the Future Travel Voucher guarantees that your travel investment isn't lost and helps you stay positive in looking forward to a holiday in the future.
3. THE CANADIAN-THING TO DO
One thing that we've learned from this unique situation, is that Canadian companies will continue to do whatever is needed to take care of it's customers. As soon as a global pandemic was issued, the airlines took immediate action in the repatriation of flights to get all Canadians home safely. Sunwing spent $26 million dollars and operated over 400 repatriation flights, even if the passengers were non-Sunwing customers. "It was the Canadian thing to do." stated Stephen Hunter, CEO of the Sunwing Travel Group. Air Canada and Westjet repatriated another 18,000 Canadians stranded worldwide.
|Westjetters Welcome Repatriated Customers|
On March 13th, 2020, the Canadian government issued a global travel advisory and by March 18th, 2020, every tour operator in Canada approved the issuance of Future Travel Credits for all affected travelers in full, with no penalty and no change fees. It took less than a week to devise and develop an entirely brand new flex policy, and this proved to our whole industry that they always put the customer's needs first. It is in seeing and watching these executive decisions take place during such a difficult time, that can give us all added reassurance that our travel reservations are in good hands. If that's not enough, the Canadian government also introduced Air Passenger Protection Regulations last year. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is in charge of ensuring Canadian air passengers are always protected and have been closely monitoring the issuance of Future Travel Vouchers and are ready to take action if any affected Canadian is having difficulty in getting theirs. Not all Canadians know of this so it's important to understand both the risks and how you are also being protected.
4. KNOW YOUR RISKS WHEN TRAVELING
We cannot deny that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Some countries are more successful than others in controlling it whilst other countries are impacting our over-all statistics in a very negative way. But regardless, the risks are real. Consumer survey shows that the biggest obstacle facing traveling Canadians right now, is not the current travel advisories, it's the Quarantine Act which requires returning Canadians to self-isolate automatically for 14 days. However, we know that this can't continue forever as movement around the world needs to exist. Will the Canadian government start implementing travel bubbles with other safe countries as seen recently with Australia and New Zealand? Will advisories be lifted for countries deemed safer? Will we make it mandatory for COVID-19 tests upon arrival into Canada instead of the the Quarantine Act as more tests become available. We understand it's a balancing act but Canada continues to lead in keeping a viable balance.
In addition to the current Quarantine Act, travelers may also be subjected to health screening, health questionnaires, COVID-19 testing, or even quarantining during their travels, and at their expense. They may also have difficulty obtaining essential products or services, face strict movement restrictions and consular services may be limited at their travel destination of choice. Also, we are not aware of any travel insurance companies to date who will cover you during the pandemic. However, destinations themselves, like Jamaica, are reviewing options to provide visitors with insurance and will be announcing something on the matter shortly.
Then finally, the other risk is obviously your health and safety, which is covered in #5.
5. TRAVEL HEALTH AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS
To coincide with the announcement of 100 summer flights to destinations like Barbados, Cuba, Mexico, and Jamaica, regardless of the travel advisory against non-essential travel worldwide, Air Canada led the pack with introducing new health and safety protocols called The Clean Care Plus program. This includes mandatory pre-flight temperature checks, no adjacent seating nearby until June 30th, personal care kits containing disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers, electrostatic cabin spraying, PPE's for all employees, in addition to their existing HEPA filter system (which are also used in hospital operating rooms to clean the air from microscopic particles including viruses and
|Palace Resorts Introduces "Purely Palace" Health and Safety|
More information on each of the top travel suppliers health and safety protocols can be found at http://romanticplanetvacations.com/futuretravel/
6. THIS IS AN EVER-CHANGING ENVIRONMENT
If you think back to how you felt about this situation on the first day, 30-days into it, a month ago and today, chances are, they are all different, with quit a varying degree of comfort levels. We all processed the copious amount of news and information that was rapidly flowing differently. Some of us bunkered down into isolation and adhered strictly to the rules - even sanitizing every grocery item that entered the house and not allowing any household member to walk past the front door without taking off their shoes and heading straight to the shower. As we enter into more flexible phases in our provinces and municipalities, many of us are beginning to view things differently and becoming more flexible. Just keep in mind that where you were, where you are now, and where you might be when it comes time to pay your final payment or when it comes time to traveling may all be different. One thing that is for certain for Canadians, is that we are all currently heading in the right direction.
7. RESPECT ALL COMFORT LEVELS
Drive by any public park during the summer weekends and you'll see a variety of comfort levels being shown by Canadians. Some are practicing social distancing while other larger groups have formed. Some are wearing face-masks while others are not. And it's all okay. As long as all are following the law, there is no right or wrong. What's most important is to understand your own comfort level, honor it, know it will change and also respect the comfort levels of all others. This is most apparent if you are booked as part of a group reservation, such as a destination wedding. Some wedding couples are comfortable in continuing one with their wedding plans and that's okay, it's their wedding and it's their dream that has been impacted the most. And to those wedding couples, they too need to understand that not all wedding guests will be comfortable enough to travel right now and that's okay too. It's all respecting each other's own comfort levels and knowing they will all change as fluidly as the situation does.
8. PRIVATIZE YOUR TRAVEL
|Beachfront Butler Suite at Sandals Royal Barbados|
9. WAIT IT OUT
And finally, if you have the time to wait it out, do so. From now until your final payment deadline, the terms will generally remain the same. There is no rush to make a hast decision if your final payment isn't due for months. As mentioned above, if your trip is outside of the COVID-19 flex policies, than the standard cancellation policies apply, and that means loss of deposit in most cases, and more losses closer to the departure date. So much has changed since the beginning of all of this and so much will continue to change. More insurance options might become available. Maybe the Quarantine Act will be lifted or travel advisories for your destination, or another destination you can change your reservation to. Closer to your departure date, you'll definitely have a better picture with the number of worldwide and local cases and where the economy and it's subsequent job loss or return. The majority of job losses due to COVID-19 resulted when the country was put in a mandatory lock-down but as we begin to re-open, so will the businesses and so will the jobs. Waiting weeks or months will provide you with so much more information to make the best informed decision possible.
10. BUT DON'T WAIT TOO LONG
It's possible that you were originally booked to travel in the Spring of 2020, and have postponed until fall of 2020, and now you might be considering to postpone yet again for sometime in 2021 to help ease your uncertainty concerns. However, if you are waiting for more certainty, like when the Quarantine Act is lifted or a vaccine is distributed, you're in the exact same boat as the majority of the millions of other currently affected 2020 worldwide travelers. And this is not good for the "supply vs. demand" graph. Right now, the prices for 2020 and early 2021 are extremely competitive because simply, nobody is booking right now. But when people start to feel comfortable enough to re-book, combined with those new travelers who book every year, this will certainly drive the prices up and availability down.
Laurie Keith is the founder of Romantic Planet Vacations, Canada's first nationwide specialist in destination weddings and honeymoons in Canada, proudly serving Canadians since 2004. www.romanticplanet.ca 1-866-247-8123