COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has had a big impact on the travel industry – particularly for Baby Boomers whose age puts them at higher risk. Travel coronavirus impact of the pneumonia-like virus has the travel industry bracing for up to a full year of economic interruption.
According to reputable surveys at the beginning of February, only 14% of Americans would consider a trip to anywhere in Asia (National Geographic), and 75% have canceled their February and March vacations in Southeastern Asian countries (Bloomberg) even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers those countries to have a lower, level one risk for coronavirus. And these numbers were aggregated at the beginning of February; no doubt they are more drastic now.
Origin and Spread
It is believed that the COVID-19 originated from a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals, birds, and fish. These kinds of open markets present a high risk of viruses that can jump from the animals to humans because sanitation is difficult to maintain in the areas where live animals are being kept and butchered.
There are now over 80,000 cases (probably more), leading to it being called “the Chinese Coronavirus.” Over the last month, the virus has spread throughout much of the world, hitting Iran, South Korea, and Italy hard. The United States is also experiencing an escalation in infections.
The coronavirus is not an equal-opportunity attacker. Older people have a much higher risk of fatality, and men have a higher risk than women.
Take a look at these charts to see important percentages.*
*Death rate is per 1,000 cases
*Source of stats: Worldometers and Ourworldindata
As of right now, there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, but there are some preventative measures that may help prevent or spread the disease. I know what you’re thinking… “If I hear ‘wash your hands’ one more time, I’m going to set my hair on fire!” But at the risk of repetition, here are the precautions recommended by the Center for Disease Control:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
Alcohol-based hand gels are known to effectively inactivate harmful bacteria. You may find the shelves completed depleted of hand sanitizers, as well as online. If that’s the case, here are three DIY remedies.
- 1/3 cup of aloe vera gel
- 2/3 cup of isopropyl alcohol
- 2 gallons of isopropyl alcohol 99.8
- 1.76 cups hydrogen peroxide 3%, which is used to inactivate bacteria
- 0.6 cups Glycerol 98%, which acts as a moisturizer
- Sterile distilled or boiled cold water
- 3 TB aloe vera
- 2 TB witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, if using alcohol reduce to 1 TB
- 1/2 tsp vitamin E oil
- 20 drops tea tree essential oil
- 10 drops lavender essential oil
For Americans traveling outside the U.S., precautions are in place to notify you of conditions to be aware of:
- Before Booking: Check the website for the Center for Disease Control which tracks the coronavirus around the world.
- After Booking: Sign up for STEP – a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It keeps registrants informed of changing advisories and conditions abroad.
If you are thinking about making travel plans soon, you should book hotels, flights, tours, rental cars, etc. that are refundable. Yes, it’s a little more expensive to do it this way, but worth it should you want to cancel.
I would like to say that my experience with Delta Airlines was wonderful. I had non-refundable flights for my trip to Sicily (canceled) but they allowed me to take a credit that I could use within a year. Since my TBEX-Sicily conference is allegedly going to be rescheduled later this year, I was grateful at not having lost the $1100 spent on international flights.
Other airlines such as America, Jet Blue, Southwest (always great with rescheduling), and others have been stepping up to the plate to help, too. Several are offering flights made within the next month or so which normally would have cancellation fees to have free rescheduling if needed. There are also some new cleaning measures in place to help mitigate the spread of any virus particles.
Cruises, because they are so enclosed, can be a petri dish for spreading sickness. The risk of person-to-person infection is higher for all diseases, including coronavirus. If you are elderly or have an underlying health issue, you should not go on a cruise right now. Some cruise lines are giving vouchers to travelers who want to change plans.
There’s a lot of confusion as to whether or not standard travel insurance will cover any losses if you have to cancel air travel or hotels because of the coronavirus. In general: NO. It’s important to read the terms and conditions of your policy, but in general, they do not cover “fear of travel” associated with an epidemic or pandemic; nor do they cover something they consider a “foreseen” event unless purchased before a specific date.
Most standard travel insurance plans do not include CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) option because it’s so expensive. But even plans that do cover Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR), most of the insured will usually only get a partial refund and/or receive future travel credits and only after restrictive requirements have been satisfied.
However, most traditional travel insurance plans would provide cancelation coverage if a traveler contracts the virus before the trip or trip interruption relief if the virus is contracted during their trip. In that case, coverage would likely include emergency medical expenses and some carriers even provide medical evacuation back home or to a more suitable medical center. Again, I can’t over-emphasize this – make sure to read the fine print in your coverage as carriers and policies differ.
Having said that, it’s extremely important, and I do recommend purchasing travel insurance for each trip or a yearly policy if you travel a lot like me. Random, unplanned things can happen. And I should know –I was involved in a horrendous car crash in South Africa in 2014.
Stocks and Economy
The volatility and plunges of Wall Street in reaction to the worldwide spread of the infection has had a huge impact on Baby Boomers, many of whom are already retired, and others who are eagerly looking forward to it soon. Travel stocks, in particular, have been pummeled as has the global travel industry as a whole.
Again, because I’m Pollyanna, I used it as an opportunity to add a few really great and bullish stocks to my portfolio that had previously been out of reach.
It seems unlikely that China’s tourism (which had already seen a decline because of negative press about the US trade war) or economy will rebound anytime soon, and this could impact the global economy as China is a vital source of supply.
It could be a tough year ahead, with a significant decline to global tourism if COVID-19 spread and fears do not subside.
NOTE: I’m not a doctor or lawyer; my opinions in this post are based on my empirical evidence and should not be relied on for your own decisions – we are all different in physical makeup, condition, emotions, and risk assessment. I make no judgment on those who do not agree with me, and will permit a civil discussion in comments but will delete hateful vitriol from those who disagree with me. This is my platform and neither condescending or disrespectful dialogue will be tolerated.
I recommend you use the CDC for facts and guidance, as mentioned above.
On February 29th, when the U.S. issued its Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Italy, all my travel plans began to unravel, much to my dismay. I mean, Sicily is 1000 miles away from the northern Italy area outbreak. I was not happy.
Admittedly, my penchant for risk is much higher than pretty much all my boomer travel colleagues that I know of. Why is that?
- Pollyanna Principle – my lifelong, overriding personality trait. I couldn’t change it if I tried (but don’t want to, it has served me well).
- The unceasing 24-hour media coverage is driving people into unnecessary hysteria, panic, and frenzy. While any disease should be taken seriously, keeping rational and calm is called for. Seriously, I’ve heard of wide-spread toilet paper sellouts in stores! How ridiculous!
- I’ve already paid my dues…I had a death-defying travel experience in South Africa in 2014, so the odds of having another traumatic medical emergency is kind of like getting hit twice by lightning.
- I’m not a high risk. I’m in excellent health and physical condition for a Baby Boomer. I’m 5’4”, weigh 116 lbs., never smoked, hardly ever drink, do Zumba once a week, weight-bearing exercises once a week, hike when I can, and stretch when I remember. I have no underlying medical issues that would put me at higher risk, such as heart conditions, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory diseases, or lung cancer.
- I’m not afraid of dying if I do get the virus – I don’t want to be quarantined abroad, or worse, not be able to get back to the U.S. if they refuse to let flights back in, like with China.
I was packed and ready to head to Europe THE NEXT DAY when my conference was canceled at the onset of the Level 4 advisory. Even with Level 3 advisory, I had still planned on going, though admittedly, with some reservations.
My concern was not that I’d contract the virus. Even if I did, I was confident I’d have mild symptoms and/or recover quickly; my concern was in getting home after my three weeks in Malta and Sicily. I did not want to get quarantined for 14 days, or worse, not allowed to enter back into the US from Italy.
When Level 4 hit and the conference was canceled, that took the decision out of my hands. In the end, albeit of bitter disappointment, it worked out. Restrictions in Italy have been increasing every few days, and as of March 9th, all of Italy has been restricted from moving around at all. Sure glad I’m not stuck there for who-knows-how-long, and thankful that TBEX CEO, Rick Calvert, made the call to cancel to protect attendees, staff, and tourism professionals. The conference will be rescheduled and I will attend.
My most recent cancelation came a few days ago, when my April birthday trip to Cabo Verde, Africa was canceled – by Cabo Verde Airlines, no less because they don’t want people flying from DC to Sal Island! Yeesh. America is a big country with nowhere near the number of infections as other parts of the world. That surprised me, but c’est la vie.
I’m an adrenaline junkie, tenacious, and have a low threshold of boredom, but I’m resigned to the fact that I’m just going to stay put for now.
Below are experiences and opinions from 15 of my expert Baby Boomer colleagues about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, which you might find more reasonable in line with your thinking.
1 Michele Peterson, A Taste for Travel
Being a boomer who shares responsibilities for the care of elderly parents, infant grandchildren and family members with compromised immune systems, I’ve been especially conscious about avoiding circumstances with the potential to inadvertently transfer coronavirus (COVID-19) to my family or be quarantined myself. In order to reduce the threat of infection from coronavirus, I’ve canceled a planned skip-gen trip for March Break with my teenaged grandson as well as a conference in Europe, a press trip to Mexico and a cruise. Some planned print editorial coverage of certain European destinations has been canceled or postponed by the intended publications, so I’ve been substituting “staycation” ideas. I’m also avoiding large public gatherings such as conferences and media events in my home country of Canada and have shifted to working from home as much as possible.
2 Noel Morata, Travel Photo Discovery
A lot of people are scared of traveling during the flu season and uncertain influence around the Coronavirus. Instead of taking big and far trips abroad, I’ve decided to spend more time closer to home and explore local or regional areas, doing more hiking tours and road trips. This doesn’t expose you to more crowded places and popular tourist attractions; in fact, you can opt for back road experiences and finding those dive spots that are a real gem in traveling. I also love finding old or small mom and pop eateries and some local favorite eating holes that give you a sense of place and local vibe. Instead of being scared of airports, airplanes or crowded transportation, you can take your car, bike or even walk yourself to something different or revisit some of the favorite places in the past you haven’t done in a while.
Don’t let your sense of travel and imagination keep you locked in your home, community and local environment which you can still control and enjoy. This is my way of being alive and enjoying the spirit of travel within a convenient distance and not worrying too much about the implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
3 Kristin Henning, Travel Past 50
Our response to the growing coronavirus outbreak is typical and age-appropriate:
- We don’t want to be responsible for passing any virus on to our elderly parents or young grandchildren.
- We don’t consider ourselves particularly vulnerable.
- While we’re not booking travel at the moment, we’re not canceling either. We wait and we’ll see. Experienced travelers are supposed to be flexible, after all.
With the coronavirus fallout hitting the travel industry so hard, I’m not so concerned with our travel, but with the impact on small businesses and communities dependent on tourism. Back in my former career, I consulted with small businesses wanting to know how to stretch their limited advertising budgets. Research showed that those who could anticipate the recovery with their message would reap the most benefit once things improved.
So to travel industry folks, whether destinations or media or travelers, I encourage you to stay poised. The recovery will come, and we should all be ready to go, even if with a fresh supply of protocols and antiseptic wipes. In the meantime, I’ll try to stick to my plan for March: to improve our website and do a better job encouraging people to travel the world.
4 Janice Chung, France Travel Tips
I hate change and during my recent trip to France, everything changed. My plan was to attend the Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) in Menton for a week, a few nights in Nice, and then on to Sicily for a conference. The day before I left, the festival was canceled due to the spread of the Coronavirus. Fortunately, many of the lemon and orange sculptures could still be seen, but the parade, nighttime garden displays, and festivities were canceled.
During my stay, I was preoccupied with the Coronavirus updates and worried about going to Italy. The outbreak was in the north but I was concerned about being unable to get out of the country if things got worse. (They did). The conference was canceled, so my decision was made for me.
I spent valuable “sightseeing time” researching my options and canceling flights and hotels. I decided to just stay in France and change my flight home. I incurred extra costs but not for some hotel bookings that were canceled early enough. It wasn’t the most relaxing trip but once I had made all the necessary changes, it became more enjoyable. Hopefully next year I can see the Fête du Citron in action.
5 Carol Perehudoff, WanderingCarol
Coronavirus has upended my travel plans, as it has so many others. I should be on board a plane for Thailand today. Would I have still gone if my conference hadn’t been canceled? Yes, probably. Would I have been worried? Yes, that too. What I feel is fear, fear for families relying on tourism in poorer countries – or any country – that won’t be able to feed their families. Fear for the travel industry as a whole. Fear for people who are sick and suffering. What I’ve noticed lately is that most people don’t want to admit they’re afraid of getting sick themselves – as if it’s admitting weakness. Guess what? It’s okay to be afraid for yourself, too.
6 Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Travels with Carole
For many reasons, I canceled a flight that I was supposed to take on Monday with my sister to visit our 99-year-old mom. We had planned the trip a month in advance and were looking forward to hanging with our mom and with each other. But as the date approached the coronavirus craziness increased, and I was convinced we shouldn’t go. As was my sister. Our concerns were that we would be in crowded, germ-laden conditions at the airport, on the plane, in the rental car, and everywhere in between. Mostly I was worried that if we did, indeed, pick up the virus we might unwittingly deliver it to our mom. And then there was the concern that future flights might be grounded, and we might be stuck (we were going to stay in a motel). Or worse yet, sick and stuck. So we canceled. Southwest returned my frequent flier miles to my account and the small associated fee to my credit card. My plan now is to drive down from San Francisco to San Diego within the next few months. Obviously, time is not on my side, but I plan to wait until the perception of danger lessens. However, if my mom takes a turn for the worse, I will be driving through plague storms to see her. What a sad mess.
7 Suzanne Fluhr, Boomeresque
The Covid 19 Corona Virus clearly has had an enormous impact on the travel sector of the economy in my home city, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I’m currently suffering from vertebral compression fractures. However, my misery turned out to have a silver lining. My husband was scheduled to fly to Seattle, Washington for a medical meeting. He decided not to attend given my limitations. Two hours after his flight from Philadelphia would have arrived in Seattle, he received an email canceling the meeting due to the virus.
Yesterday, his employer, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, informed all staff they were to cancel all domestic and international work travel, and that even if they travel for personal reasons, they could be quarantined for 2 weeks upon their return.
Two major March conferences expected to bring 21,000 attendees to Philadelphia have been canceled, affecting some 70,000 hospitality industry employees.
8 Lis Sowerbutts, Midlife Travel
We are continuing to travel -in fact, we booked another cruise in May – it was a deal too good to pass-up; thanks coronavirus.
We only returned home to New Zealand in early March. Having seen first hand the controls at both airports and cruise terminals to minimize the risk of someone with the disease boarding, I’m comfortable that the only real risk on a cruise is the chance of closed ports. So far South Pacific ports that have closed are closed until early April. Cruising in May is too early to tell what will happen by then. They will reopen, tourism is the main industry on many of those islands, the only question is when.
If I was planning a trip to China in May or later, I’d say it’s looking hopeful that this will have passed there by then. The track of the illness is easy to see in the published data – the harder part to predict is when governments and airlines will reopen attractions and t flights.
“A life lived in fear, is a life half lived” – Baz Luhrmann, Strictly Ballroom (movie).
9 Mary Walker, Dine Dream Discover
I went to Disney’s Epcot Flower and Garden show the other day with my grandkids because I want to spend time with them while they are young and enjoy them. We full-time RV so that we can visit our family across the country and the Coronavirus isn’t going to stop us from doing that.
My sister passed away from cancer at the age of 51 and her husband passed away 3 years later at the age of 55. I thank God every day that I get the chance to enjoy my grandkids because my sister and her husband did not.
I also have a weakened immune system, but that’s not going to stop me from traveling and enjoying life. Just be smart about things and wash your hands like we were taught when we were young.
Am I concerned about the Coronavirus? You bet! Am I going to stop traveling and enjoying life because of it? Not a chance! Why? Because with all the disease and cancer in the world right now, we can go at any time. Tomorrow is not promised so enjoy the day that God has given us.
10 Carol Esguerra Colborn, RV Cruising Lifestyle
We’re so glad we are driving through Mexico. We were in Mazatlan, Mexico for our annual three months’ winter vacation when the news about coronavirus broke out. In fact, we are right now in Puerto Vallarta on a two-week getaway. What we are really glad about is that we drove down and so we don’t have to go through riskier travel options of buses, planes, or ships. Still, as seven cases have been reported in the country, we are careful and made our own hand sanitizer when the supply ran out, opted for the thicker more expensive gloves that were the only ones in stock, and use CDC-approved disinfectant sprays to further clean our rooms.
Upon return to Phoenix, Arizona—which also has seven cases reported—we have canceled a reunion in Santa Ana, California which is one of the hardest-hit states and a planning conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in April. We hope to continue with our road trip in July-August through Utah, Alberta, Montana, and California and our week in Puerto Penasco, Mexico in September. Then we are back in Mazatlan in December and do hope everything is back to normal by then.
11 Irene S. Levine, MoreTimeToTravel
We’ve found cruising to be one of the most seamless, convenient and hassle-free ways to travel: It enables you to get from place to place without having to book accommodations, make restaurant reservations, or arrange tours and activities—and you only have to pack and unpack once. However, with the recent outbreak of COVID-19, cruise passengers on at least four ocean cruises have been quarantined at sea. For us, large-ship cruising has lost its luster, at least for the time being.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) didn’t mince words, strongly recommending that travelers over the age of 60 (especially those with underlying health problems) avoid taking cruises because of the increased risks for older persons. We were really looking forward to a European river cruise in April but realized that it isn’t prudent to take a trip (either on a big boat or a small one) now. A recent news story reported that a river ship on the Nile, with only 64 cabins, got quarantined. Once we made the tough decision, our river cruise line was very accommodating. We may have to pay an airline cancellation fee but were advised to wait as long as possible to see if the airline cancels our flight.
12 Betsy Wuebker, PassingThru
According to the CDC, I’m at higher risk due to my age and cardiovascular issues, for which I’m slated for surgery at the Mayo Clinic within the week. I’m hopeful the ten-day stay there will eat up any potential local increase in the number of cases here in Minnesota while I’m safely cared for. Right now there are only a handful. We’ve taken precautions at home such as ordering N-95 masks and three months’ supply of medications. We’ve also stocked the pantry with non-perishable food in case we need to curtail time out of the house. My recovery is going to be at least a month or two, so self-quarantining shouldn’t be too difficult as I’m not going to feel like doing much anyway.
13 Rose Palmer, Quiltripping
I was supposed to be traveling the whole month of March starting in Sicily for a conference and then on to Greece. Just as I was starting to think about whether I should change my travel plans, the decision was made for me. The conference was canceled, and I had to start canceling a variety of accommodations, flights, and other scheduled activities. Fortunately, I was able to get refunds for everything except one Ryanair flight. Still planning to go back to both destinations sometime later this year.
For now, though, I am grounded and staying home for the month of March. Not because I am afraid of getting ill, but because my husband and I have a big bucket list trip to the Galapagos scheduled for early April and I do not want to do anything to put that trip at risk. At this point, it’s a question of priorities, and that trip is at the top. After that trip, I am planning on getting back to regular travel again come May.
14 Lisa Chavis, RPh, What Boundaries Travel
As a pharmacist and frequent traveler, I try to stay a step ahead of most healthcare issues when we leave the country. However, this year the Coronavirus has moved so quickly and with so much media attention it’s been a challenge to find the best and most reliable sources of information without wasting a great deal of time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information out in the social media world.
We left the United States on 2/29/2020 for a planned trip 4 month trip to the UK just as the Coronavirus was starting to reach our area. By consulting trusted sources at the CDC and WHO, we felt we were equipped with enough information to make the trip as safe as possible. Our plan is to stay in the Scotland area until late May when we’re scheduled for a cruise to Russia if countries and cruise lines permit. As we’re updating our information on a daily basis, we realize we may have to quickly make a travel decision or even stay for a period of quarantine if the area requires it.
The Coronavirus has definitely changed our travel, but we don’t want to let our fear take away something we love so much. Our day starts with a check-in to the CDC and WHO as well as the local governments of the country we’re in at the moment. Our choice is to get out and explore and write about our experiences while keeping a very watchful eye on what’s going on around us. We have alerts set up on our phones in case anything changes quickly, and, of course, we’re washing our hands and disinfecting everything in sight!
15 Elaine Masters, Trip Well Gal
One thing years of travel has taught me is to pivot. I may be tense about it but changing an itinerary, mixing up reservations, negotiating with airlines – it’s all do-able. There was nowhere to turn with the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Instead of canceling my entire trip centered in the far south of Italy, I decided to make what I could of the non-refundable reservations. By landing in Madrid first I wasn’t eligible for refunds. My best decision thus far was deciding to go to Spain regardless. Granada was the first destination. I connected with a local food blogger, Molly Sears-Piccavey, who invited me on a food tour. My Airbnb host helped me visit the oldest Moorish Hammam (bathhouse) in the city and I finally walked through the Alhambra Palace.
The last stop was Barcelona to visit the interior of the Sagrada Familia and last, I spent a day going to Montserrat. That was about the extent of it! Everything was solo but with moments of great company, laughter and the occasional scent of hand sanitizer. I’ve been using mine, taking natural immune boosters, cleaning my hands every twenty minutes it seems, wiping things off, and not pushing myself to see and do as much as I can. It’ll be great to get home but I worry about what the situation is in the US. It’s early to definitively tell but I feel great. I might self-quarantine if that’s advised and will likely cancel the next conference in Mexico unless they cancel me first. Rolling with the punches.
It took the World Health Organization four months to contain SARS and another five months to wrap it all up, at a cost of $10 billion to airlines, and more to the global travel industry. There could be an even bigger hit for COVID-19.
On the bright side, we will get past the Coronavirus. Whether that’s when the weather turns warm, similar to seasonal flu, or if it takes longer, we are resilient humans and resourceful Americans and we will prevail.
There could be a huge boom in the travel industry once coronavirus is contained. People suffering from cabin fever and wanderlust suppression will come out of the woodwork.
And I will be chief among them.
The opinions expressed in this piece are soley those of the participants and should not be relied on as medical advice.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. We encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC.
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All photos courtesy of Pixabay.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.