There’s nothing that has affected travel in the last decade as much as coronavirus. I had a call with a hotel booking startup yesterday morning, that had been scheduled some time ago. I told them they did not want coverage now, that it would do them no good. People aren’t booking hotels no matter what they’re offering, and stories about them now will be forgotten by the time people are ready to book.

Speaking to a loyalty program executive yesterday afternoon I suggested that promotions right now aren’t likely to move the needle, while people are paralyzed from booking out of fear, but once the risk and fear subside (it will) that’s when the need for loyalty programs will have never been greater – and strong promotions will be the best tool to encourage people to travel.

Over the last day we’ve seen new travel restrictions around the world, such as the extension of Italy’s quarantine to the rest of the country – this isn’t like China where people couldn’t leave their homes, they can still go to work – and changes in airline and hotel policies for customers with existing travel bookings. Here are (7) things to be aware of:

  1. Policies are changing rapidly. That’s why I told you to wait to cancel travel plans because (1) facts on the ground where you’re going could change and cause a waiver of penalties, and (2) policies might become less restrictive.Already since I wrote that Monday morning Hyatt started offering points to people cancelling non-refundable bookings and Delta extended their waiver of change fees to tickets that had already been issued in the past – not just to new ticket purchases. Alaska, United, and American (last) followed suit.
  2. How do you know if you might have COVID-19? The major symptoms are a fever and dry cough. These are also common with the flu but the flu is more likely to also come with aches and pains. If you’ve got a runny nose and sneezing that’s less likely from coronavirus and probably just a cold. This helps frame whether you should consult a medical professional.

  3. Qatar has banned entry into the country by people from 14 countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria and Thailand. That’s actually keeping Qatar Airways cabin crew from returning to the country.China, Iran, and South Korea are obvious. It’s interesting Italy isn’t on the list, and France and Germany have many more cases than some of the countries on the list.However the country is reacting out of fear after 8 guest workers tested positive for the virus, so the list includes countries where guest workers come from.
  4. Pakistan is reporting just 16 cases (up from 6 yesterday) but is on Qatar’s list. My guess for why their number are low is lack of good reporting and testing, therefore good reason to think the spread is worse there than realized. I asked a friend currently in Lahore who shares,
    ” Re reporting in pakistan: there is none really. I don’t think people really seek medical help for flu and mostly self-medicate. Definitely not much testing or reporting going on so I do suspect the cases are much higher, but folks are used to being sick and not taking it seriously.”
  5. I take current numbers to be ‘order of magnitude’ at best in some countries, and misleading in others. I believe China’s success at containment is real, but numbers could be worse than reported – the government is actually paying residential neighborhoods for reporting zero cases. That may incentivize under-reporting.
  6. South Korea’s success at containment is notable though recognizing that this isn’t done until it’s done, and of course could come back.
  7. Even with test kits finally becoming available for U.S. testing, do we have enough RNA extraction kits to actually run the tests?