As most of the travel industry’s email inboxes were getting flooded with questions surrounding the potential threat the coronavirus poses to travelers, Jennifer Carr, an advisor with The Tropical Travelers, in Malvern, Pennsylvania, was conducting business as usual.
That’s because Carr’s main areas of expertise, the Caribbean, Mexico and other tropical getaways, happen to be among the destinations travelers still feel safe traveling to, despite the ongoing, global spreading of the coronavirus, according to travel experts we spoke to.
And although two cases of the virus were recently reported in Mexico, both Carr and Tom Varghese, owner of Travel Tom, in Washington, D.C. and one of the top Mexico specialists in the industry, told Travel Market Report they had not received any calls from concerned Mexico-bound clients, as of late Friday afternoon.
This might have to do with the fact that the virus was reportedly contracted nowhere near any of the country’s popular tourism sites. According to ABC News and other media outlets, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico's assistant health secretary, said one of the patients is in Mexico City and the other is in the northern state of Sinaloa.
“Right now, I am seeing a skyrocket of interest in the Caribbean and Mexico again,” said Leah Bilquist, an advisor with Tzell Travel, on Long Island, New York, “which is [ironic] because at this time a few years ago, we were faced with the same questions regarding the Zika virus. Back then, our Caribbean clients were rerouting overseas and now the roles have reversed.”
Also ironic is the fact that several agents, including Varghese and Paul Smith, vice president and co-owner of the Travel Smiths, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, have reported spikes in Dominican Republic bookings. Just months ago, the Dominican Republic was reeling from low visitor arrivals due to the exaggerated news reports coming out of that destination for most of the second half of 2019. The Dominican Republic also reported it's first case of the Coronavirus from an Italian national over the weekend.
“Most people are afraid of the process of traveling and passing the virus via planes, trains, etc., to their destinations,” said Bilquist. “Clients are feeling safer flying to an island closer to America than going overseas where you will pass a large amount of international travelers at mainstream airports.”
Smith also noted that Antigua, St. Lucia, and Jamaica are all hot sells right now in the Caribbean.
In Mexico, Carr said Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Los Cabos are doing very well. Varghese and other agents also said they have been getting an increase in bookings, and overall inquiries, to Hawaii.
Amanda Bisack, founder of Travelista Travels, an affiliate of the Tzell Travel Group, in Port Jefferson, New York, told Travel Market Report she had clients heading to Bali, Thailand and Japan who canceled and are now considering Hawaii, Greece and Costa Rica.
Bisack said Panama, the Caribbean, the Maldives, Bora Bora, and such U.S. mainland destinations as Arizona, Florida and New Orleans, are beginning to pick up as well.
Kacie Darden, owner of Blue Pineapple Travel, in Atlanta, said she had a student group scheduled to travel to South Korea next weekend contact her earlier this week when South Korea’s travel alert was moved up. She is currently looking at sending them on a small group trip to either Peru or Costa Rica.
“We are working with G Adventures to see what groups they currently have space in, so that these scholarship students can still have an educational and adventurous trip for their spring break next week,” she said. “All of the suppliers have been very accommodating to try to find a quick turnaround and a great adventure for these college students on short notice. They immediately found us some Machu Picchu hiking permits and we are working to accommodate this group.”
Angie Courtney, a travel associate with Sunflower Travel, in Wichita, Kansas, also told Travel Market Report that she was seeing a spike in bookings to Peru. She has been booking a lot of Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Mexico trips, as well.
Erica Drake, owner and CEO of American Grit Travel, in Chicago, also said South America is a great option for worried clients and noted that bookings to India have seen an increase lately. She is also among the many agents who continue to sell a lot of Caribbean vacations. She said Antigua is particularly a trendy booking for her agency.
Camille Sperrazza, owner of Brooklyn-based The World Awaits Travel, said many of her clients are “staying close to home” because of not only fears of contracting the virus, but also worries of being quarantined in a foreign country. For example, she has clients considering changing their vacation from visiting Rome to instead cruising from San Juan.
“The bigger issue is the risk of possibly becoming quarantined for weeks, not only in Italy, but in this country as well,” said Sperrazza. “No one wants to be away from home, family, work, for endless weeks at a time.”
Although Sperrazza’s clients may reroute their vacation to Italy, the country is actually still a destination some travel agents continue to book, depending on how far out the trip is and the location within the country. Caitlyn Gambino, an advisor with Aum Journeys, in Detroit, said she has clients heading to the Amalfi Coast and Sicily who are now concerned. Those trips are slated for May.
Varghese also told Travel Market Report he had a client cancel a Sicily trip slated for next month. Varghese, however, said clients who are not slated to head to the country until the end of the year, and have purchased cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance, are playing a wait-and-see game.
Courtney also said she has clients heading to Florence and Rome who have not expressed concern. Drake said her Italy business has not been hurt at all. In fact, she has trips planned all over Italy with multiple couples. She said those trips are scheduled from May through September. She also has a November Italy trip in the works.
Ultimately, most experts Travel Market Report spoke to agreed it’s hard to predict where travelers should go in the near future because the virus seems to be growing and spreading fast. And although top doctors in the field have said the coronavirus is not something people should panic about, that’s not keeping weary travelers from altering their travel plans.
“You can't be completely scared and have that stop you from traveling, but you can be cautious,” said Bilquist. “There are plenty of destinations out there right now that aren't in the higher numbers of coronavirus cases. I recommend to not let fear stop you from seeing the world.”