Traveller health has been receiving so much media coverage recently and it’s understandable to feel concerned about upcoming business trips.
Although many regions are still considered safe to visit, the recent Australian government advice to defer non-essential travel and introduction of a 14-day isolation period for international arrivals in Australia could impact your decision to go overseas.
Travel restrictions have been increased and there has been a reduction in discretionary travel around the world. But latest stats show that a majority of domestic corporate trips are still scheduled to go ahead. So what should your company consider when deciding to travel? How can you improve your chances of staying healthy on work trips? And if you do need to change or cancel your business travel arrangements, what are the options with hotels and airlines?
Is it risky to fly?
We know that the risk of catching any airborne virus on a plane is extremely low, thanks modern aircraft being fitted with HEPA filters. In addition to the filters, airlines are increasing their aircraft cleaning processes. These include using high-grade disinfectant on tray tables, window shades, arm rests, lavatories and other hard surfaces. Some airlines are adding a deep cleaning method, known as ‘fogging’, to aircraft that have flown in China. There are also additional disinfection guidelines in place, should an infected passenger have travelled on a particular aircraft.
Airlines are working hard at improving traveller health and you can read more on Business Traveller about measures being implemented. Scientists are backing reports that the air on planes is cleaner than in your office building or local shopping centre.
What should you do before booking?
It makes sense to look carefully at cancellation or amendment policies for airlines and hotels and your CBT consultant can assist with this. Many suppliers are now showing greater flexibility. Be sure to check the policy for the rate or fare that you’re booking, as well as any waivers that are currently in place. The temporary waivers may help you avoid cancellation fees or offer more considerate rebooking policies in light of the coronavirus situation.
Also if you don’t have annual travel insurance cover, consider taking out a policy at the time of booking. Travel insurance policy terms vary considerably and the devil is always in the fine print of the specific policy you purchase. Check whether or not COVID-19 is considered a ‘foreseen event’ or if you will be covered if circumstances change and you need to cancel. Many insurance providers have now withdrawn the ‘cancel for any reason’ option, but if available then this may be the best way to maximise the likelihood of being covered.
What if you need to cancel?
Several hotel companies have eased their cancellation policies, as well as extended loyalty program expirations for certain members.
Accor will accept cancellations without penalties until 31 March, 2020, for any guest travelling to properties in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In a recent update from Accor, guests who previously booked a non-flexible rate and are scheduled to arrive prior to 30 April, 2020, may now modify their reservation for future travel until 31 December, 2020 without penalty by contacting the hotel directly.
Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt, Intercontinental, Marriott, Radisson, Shangri-La Hotels, Best Western and Choice Hotels all have similar waivers in place.
Major airlines that travel to/from Asia and Italy now have waivers available for passengers to make changes to their travel dates or cancel reservations without being subjected to airline fees.
We are also starting to see other carriers come on board with more flexible booking conditions, such as British Airways, Delta Airlines and Lufthansa. Qantas will waive change fees for new international bookings made before the end of March, for travel commencing up to 30 June, 2020.
Airlines are continuing to adjust policies and schedules in the current climate and your CBT consultant can let you know the latest details.
What can you do while you’re away?
It’s natural to want to take some precautions to feel more confident on your work trips, but the same rules apply for travel as they do at home.
Wash your hands frequently and properly – that means a full 20-second wash with warm water and soap. Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice and that should cover it!
Try not to touch your face and eyes, and sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm.
Avoid touching others and shaking hands.
Take flu medication with you. If you do get a heavy cold or flu, at least you won’t have to track down a pharmacy in an unfamiliar city.
It can’t hurt to have disinfecting wipes on hand, not just for the plane, but also for your hotel room (don’t forget to wipe the TV remote!) and on public transport.
For surgical masks, science suggests that you don’t need a mask if you’re not the one who’s infected. Most masks are designed to prevent an already sick person from spreading germs, and it doesn’t work as well the other way around.
Where to get reliable information?
Many health advisors are concerned that the amount of misinformation is spreading faster than the coronavirus. So the big tip is make sure information comes from an official source.
World Health Organisation – www.who.int
Smartraveller – www.smartraveller.gov.au
Department of Health – www.health.gov.au
CBT is focused on helping your business trips run smoothly and safely. As you would have seen, circumstances are changing almost by the hour. We will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates as it evolves. If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (07) 3393 1833.