What should travel agents do if customers test positive for COVID-19

It’s one of all travel consultants’ worst-case scenarios – what to do when a client tests positive for COVID while traveling internationally.

With mask mandates lifted around the world, many travel consultants are trying to figure out how to advocate for clients who have tested positive while traveling internationally.

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Here are the stories of three travel advisors who have dealt with this issue.

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Put a plan (and backup plan) in place

Trish Gastineau of Simply Customized Travel has canceled or halted three different trips due to COVID-19.

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 before the flight.

“One of the girls lives in a remote rural part of the country and had to drive hours to get to CVS for her test,” Gastino said.

“On her way home she received a notification that she tested positive. It was less than 24 hours before they left, but fortunately we took a cancellation for any reason with the option to have a waiver of future travel credit provided by the travel partner.

“We jumped on the phone and canceled it immediately! The customer has a balance she can use, and a portion of my commission is protected. The customer was very grateful that the positive test happened at the beginning of the trip rather than they were in Jamaica.

“I don’t think the prospect of her having to quarantine abroad and not go home immediately was a real one for her up until that point. She says they won’t travel internationally until the test requirement to go back to the US is rescinded.”

sunrise in jamaica
Sunrise in Jamaica. (Photo by Cody Lerman)

Recently, two groups of Gastineau customers tested positive for COVID during an upscale river cruise in Europe.

About three days into the cruise, one of the husbands’ wife started feeling unwell and tested positive for COVID.

The line gave the husband and wife the option to put them in separate rooms, but they chose to stay together. “I worked with the travel partner to put some options in place in case the customer didn’t test negative by the end of the cruise,” Gastino said.

“In the afternoon leading up to the end of the flight, the pair tested negative again, so we implemented a plan to take them to the Virtuoso Hotel, which will accept them during quarantine.

“Unfortunately, they were traveling with their friends and one of them tested positive at the same time, so we included them in our plan and got them a room of their own.

“The country they were in would only allow retesting five days after the first positive test.”

Both original pairs tested positive, so their five-day watch had to start over.

The second couple tested negative, and Gastino was able to get them on a flight the next morning.

After another five nights, the original couple tested negative, and Gastino booked a flight home the next day.

“The first thing I did while working with these clients, before they cut the money, was talk to them about the possibility of a positive test and what that might look like for them,” Gastino said. “There are always a lot of moving parts, and there is no one way to give an accurate description of exactly what will happen. We talk about Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and then Plan Hill Mary.”

Gastino also discussed the best options for travel protection insurance, explaining what will and won’t be covered.

“Be careful here — have the insurance company on the phone to answer specific ‘what ifs’ questions,” she said. “Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might give false or misleading information. Go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

“If a customer doesn’t want this valuable coverage, cover yourself by having them sign a waiver.”

Gastino also recommended that consultants check with the airline and their supplier partners to determine their COVID policies.

“We did this before each of those cases, so 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 customer is positive.

“I used Facetime’s voice feature to call my customers every day just to say, ‘Hey, how do you feel? “And to make suggestions when 11 days of the same room service menu is too much.”

German smartphone apps
It is important to stay in contact with clients while they are isolated. (Image via Pixabay)

It is essential 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 their required COVID test before departure, “the birthday girl tested positive and everyone tested negative,” she said.

“She called me in a panic because she didn’t buy the travel insurance shown and asked what she should do, so I advised her the hotel would give her a discounted rate for the time she needed to quarantine there.”

The resort staff informed the woman that she would not leave her room, and she agreed.

“However, she left her room later that night to go get something to eat at a restaurant and they caught her,” Levent said.

“So, they told her she was no longer allowed as a guest at the resort and she had to leave. She called out in panic, and I was in disbelief.

“She asked me to book another hotel for her but for ethical reasons I told her I couldn’t, and she would have to take care of it on her own.”

quarantine room
Quarantine room. (Image via tzahiV/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Providing support will go a long way

Julie Lanham of Vacations to Like had three clients tested positive for COVID – two in Mexico and one in Paris.

In January 2022, two of its clients tested positive at various resorts in Mexico. One was on their honeymoon, and the other was a mom vacationing with a family of five.

“They both called me within an hour of each other and I helped with contacting the resort, changing flights, rebooking, and a lot of keeping their cool,” Lanham said.

The resort where the honeymoon clients are staying allowed the test every day until they received negative results, which took three days.

“The resort allowed her husband to stay with her for $280 a night,” she said.

“The mother sent her husband and children home and they were moved to another room but did not have to pay for accommodation. She was not allowed to retake the test and got a recovery letter on the fifth day to go home on the sixth.”

During the week of May 9, 2022, another client on vacation touring Paris fell ill.

The French flag waving Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the background.
The French flag waving Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the background. (Image via iStock/Getty Images Plus/Querbeet)

The woman’s husband was moved to another room the last two nights and went home as planned. “The wife stayed and was actually very ill,” Lanham said.

“I rebooked her flight, kept in touch with her several times a day, asked the hotel concierge to come for a doctor to come to her room, on day 8 the test result came back negative and she went home on day 9.

Lanham recommended that counselors remind clients that they are likely to test positive for COVID and “that you will be there to support them and help navigate but you can’t change the outcome or answer specific questions as there is no rule book for that,” she said.

“There is no definitive answer about how long a particular country will need to be quarantined or how long a negative test might take. Customers view us as the authority when they travel and in this case, we have very little – or nothing we have. We think airlines have answers. or guidelines but it is not.”

Ultimately, like COVID itself, there is no definitive rulebook regarding solutions to assist customers who are quarantined internationally.

Welcome to the new normal.

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