Is this thing going to get better, or worse? That's the question travellers will all be asking themselves right now as they ponder future plans, as they decide to stay or go, to risk or hedge.
Is the coronavirus outbreak likely to die down, or are we at the beginning of something bigger and scarier? Has all this toilet-paper hording been happening for a reason, or are people completely crazy? (Hint: definitely crazy.)
No one knows exactly what 2020 will bring. It's hard to even say what will happen in the next week. However, if you're still tossing up going travelling in the next few months, this is what you are likely to find.
Travel will continue
This is an important thing to stress. The travel industry is taking a big hit right now, but it's still on its feet. Attractions remain open, even in some of the places worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Hotels and resorts are still open. Restaurants and bars are still open. People who live in a lot of affected areas continue their daily lives. Everywhere else, life goes on as usual. If you want to travel, you can.
You (probably) won't be insured
Here's the thing with travel insurance: if you have bought a policy in the last few weeks, or you plan to buy one now, it's very likely you won't be covered for anything coronavirus-related. Medical bills, flight changes, extra accommodation… you won't be covered. Insurers usually don't cover "known events", of which covid-19 demonstrably is. CoverMore currently says it will cover for Covid-19; some companies are still offering "cancel for any reason" policies. That's probably the best most people will be able to do. And even if you bought a policy months ago, plenty of insurers don't cover pandemics. Check the wording carefully.
Your flights might change
Plenty of airlines are scaling back the number of flights they're operating for the next few months, which means if you booked a while back you may have already found yourself bumped to a different date or time. Expect that to continue to be a possibility. You'll need to be flexible.
There could be restrictions that will disrupt your plans
This, for me, is the greatest risk in regard to travel right now. You might see your chances of actually contracting Covid-19 as being fairly slim, and you're probably right. But you could still be affected by government travel bans and closures that are out of your control. Say you're transiting through Thailand on your flights home, but the Thai government suddenly decides to ban arrivals from the country you happen to be in right now – you have no way to get home. And insurance won't cover the costs of rerouting. That's a problem.
There will be discounts
There's an argument to be made that this is actually a great time to be travelling, particularly if you want to go somewhere that hasn't been particularly hard hit by covid-19 hysteria. The entire travel industry is struggling at the moment and there are going to be plenty of tempters out there to get people back on the road. Look for discounts on hotels, attractions and flights in the next few months.
You will have to accept risk
Coronavirus exists. It's out there. It's right here, in fact, in Australia. When you travel for the next few months, you're going to have to accept that and its consequences. You probably won't get the virus and if you do it probably won't be too serious. But it's there.
You will have to take precautions
Travel is going to look different for the next little while. It's going to feel different. You're going to have to pay more attention to hygiene. You're going to have to wash your hands a lot. You're going to have to get used to not touching your face. You're going to have to wipe down surfaces on planes or trains or anything else that multiple people use. This is the new normal.
Destinations will have to be chosen carefully
You can still travel over the next few months, for sure. But I would think carefully about where you're going. Some destinations have obviously been far worse affected by coronavirus than others. Some - like Italy - are completely off the table right now. Neighbouring nations also seem more likely to suffer in the coming months. In countries such as the USA, meanwhile, medical costs are astronomical and if you get sick there you will be up for a whole heap of money. All worth taking into consideration.
Some popular places will be very, very quiet
I'm in Rome right now, and it is quiet. The Pantheon is quiet. The Colosseum is quiet. The coronavirus drama will die down eventually, but travellers' reluctance to visit will probably take a lot longer to dissipate. In a few months this could be a great place for a tourist to be.
Cruises will be cheap
The Australian and US governments have issued warnings about taking cruises right now, but if you're really keen on doing one, this is probably a cheap time to purchase. Cruises have copped some bad publicity in the last month or so, and there's sure to be discounts. In addition, many are allowing you to book with the option to postpone or cancel a no charge if you change your mind.
Australia is going to look good
As if you needed another excuse to travel domestically this year. The bushfires ravaged plenty of Australia's tourism destinations this summer, and the drop-off in foreign visitors thanks to covid-19 has also hit hard. If you want to support the local industry, plus avoid some of the potential dangers highlighted above – medical costs not covered by insurance, restrictions preventing you getting home, even having to fly anywhere – then make 2020 your year for checking out Australia.
Are you still planning to travel in the next few months? Where are you going? What are you expecting? Will your behaviour change at all while you're away?
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