Travel agents save their clients both time and money. (photo via Yuri_Arcurs / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
It’s one of every travel advisor’s worst scenarios – what to do when a client tests positive for COVID while traveling internationally.
With mask mandates being lifted around the world, many travel advisors are trying to determine how to advocate for clients who test positive while traveling internationally.
Here are the stories of three travel advisors who dealt with that issue.
Have a Plan (and a Back-up Plan) in Place
Trish Gastineau of Simply Customized Travel has had three different trips canceled or interrupted by COVID.
In the first case, a mother and two daughters who were traveling to Jamaica had to cancel their vacation in January 2022 when one of the daughters tested positive prior to the trip.
“One of the daughters lives in a remote rural location in the country and had to drive hours to get to a CVS to have her test done,” Gastineau said.
“On her drive back home, she received notification that she had tested positive. It was less than 24 hours prior to their departure, but thankfully we had taken a Cancel For Any Reason with the option to get a Future Travel Credit waiver that the travel partner provided.
“We jumped on the phone and got it canceled right away! The client has a credit she can use, and part of my commission was protected. The client was very thankful that the positive test happened at the start of the trip instead of while they were in Jamaica.
“I don’t think that the possibility of having to quarantine overseas and not come home right away was real for her until that point. She says they will not be traveling internationally until the test requirement to reenter the US is dropped.”
Sunrise in Jamaica. (photo by Codie Liermann)
More recently, two sets of Gastineau’s clients tested positive for COVID while on an upscale river cruise in Europe.
About three days into the cruise, the wife of one of the couples began to feel unwell and tested positive for COVID.
The line gave the husband and wife the option of being put in separate rooms, but they chose to stay together. “I worked with the travel partner to put some options in place in case the client didn’t test negative by the end of the cruise,” Gastineau said.
“The afternoon prior to the end of the cruise, the husband tested negative again, so we implemented the plan to transfer them to a Virtuoso hotel that would accept them while they quarantined.
“Unfortunately, they were traveling with friends and one of them tested positive at the same time, so we just rolled them into our plan and got them a room of their own.
“The country that they were in would only allow a re-test to be done five days after the first positive test.”
The original couple both tested positive, so their five-day clock had to start over.
The second couple both tested negative, and Gastineau was able to get them on a flight the next morning.
After five more nights, the original couple both tested negative, and Gastineau booked them flights home the next day.
“The first thing that I did when working with these clients, before they put money down, was to talk with them about the potential of testing positive and what that might look like for them,” Gastineau said. “There are always so many moving parts, and there is no one way to give an accurate description of what exactly would happen. We talk about a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and then a Hail Mary Plan.”
Gastineau also discussed the best options for travel protection insurance, detailing what would – and would not – be covered.
“Be careful here – get the insurance company on the phone to answer specific ‘what if’ questions,” she said. “Don’t put yourself in a position where you might give false or misleading information. Go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
“If the client doesn’t want this valuable coverage, cover yourself by having them sign a waiver.”
Gastineau also recommended that advisors check with the airline and their supplier partners to determine what their COVID policies are.
“We did this prior to each one of these cases so that when we got the positive tests, our resources were ready, and I didn’t have to waste time.”
She noted that it is important to stay in close contact once a client tests positive.
“I used Facetime’s voice feature to call my clients every day just to say, ‘Hi, how do you feel?’ and to offer suggestions when 11 days of the same room service menu got to be too much.”
It’s important to stay in contact with clients while they quarantine. (photo via Pixabay)
It’s Crucial To Have Travel Insurance and Follow the Rules
Katie Levent of Elite Travel Group booked a small group of women on a birthday celebration trip to Mexico and when they took the required COVID test prior to departure, “the birthday girl tested positive and everyone else was negative,” she said.
“She called me in a panic because she didn’t purchase the offered travel insurance and asked me what she should do, so I advised her that the hotel would give her a discounted rate for the time she needed to quarantine there.”
Resort staff informed the woman that she was not to leave her room, and she agreed.
“However, she left her room later that night to go get something to eat at one of the restaurants and they caught her,” Levent said.
“So, they told her she was no longer allowed as a guest at the resort and had to leave. She called in a panic, and I was in disbelief.
“She asked me to book another hotel for her but for ethical reasons I told her I was unable to, and she would have to take care of it on her own.”
Quarantine room (photo courtesy tzahiV/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Showing Support Will Go a Long Way
Julie Lanham of Vacations To Remember had three clients test positive for COVID – two in Mexico and one in Paris.
In January 2022, two of her female clients tested positive at different resorts in Mexico. One was on her honeymoon, and the other was a mother vacationing with a family of five.
“They both contacted me within an hour of each other and I assisted by communicating with the resort, changing flights, rebooking transfers and lots of keeping them calm,” Lanham said.
The resort where the honeymoon clients were staying let them test each day until they received negative results, which took three days.
“The resort allowed her husband to stay with her for $280 per night,” she said.
“The mom sent her husband and kids home and was moved to another room but did not have to pay to stay. She was not allowed to retest and given a letter of recovery on day five to fly home on day six.”
During the week of May 9, 2022, another client became ill on a tour vacation in Paris.
The French Flag waving with Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the background. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/Querbeet)
The woman’s husband was moved to another room for the last two nights and flew home as planned. “The wife stayed and was actually very sick,” Lanham said.
“I rebooked her flight, stayed in touch with her multiple times a day, had the hotel concierge arrange for a doctor to come to her room and on day eight she tested negative and flew home on day nine.
Lanham recommended that advisors remind clients it is a possibility that they could test positive for COVID and “that you will be there to support them and help navigate but that you cannot change the outcome or answer specific questions as there is no rule book for this,” she said.
“There is no concrete answer on how long one particular country will require quarantine or how long before they might test negative. Clients look to us as the authority when they are traveling and in this case, we have very little – or none. We think the airlines have answers or a guideline and they do not.”
In the end, like COVID itself, there is no definitive rulebook regarding solutions to help clients who are quarantined internationally.
Welcome to the new normal.