2 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Cruise bookings drop, agents predict hefty discounts

7:49 pm on 2 March 2020

People should expect major discounts on travel amid the Covid-19 coronavirus, but people should decide for themselves if it's worth the risk, a travel agent says.

House of Travel director Brent Thomas told RNZ's Checkpoint bookings for cruises had dropped by double digits, and they had also seen an increase in customer postponements and cancellations.

"We've seen significant number of people coming into the stores and enquring about it," he said.

"Cancellation wise ... it's still a lot less than 10 percent ... the postponement or delaying of bookings is in the double digits but certainly nowhere near half.

"We are seeing a significant double-digit slowdown in terms of passengers booking, however it is such a long lead time there is still the opportunity for people to reevaluate it, consider their risks and still book to go on cruises, particularly given some of the pricing that is coming to market."

He said the virus would mean major travel discounts.

"Ultimately airlines, hoteliers, car rental companies, they've all got assets that they have to keep moving to create revenue. So there'll be some fantastic deals coming for the New Zealand public and there will be a significant number who still travel in 2020."

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A cruise ship at night. (stock image) Photo: 123RF

He said people would have to assess the risks for themselves and consider whether to travel or not.

"I guess people will have to assess that risk ... what we do know is that New Zealanders are very resilient travellers.

"We've been through things like Sars, we've had terrorism, etcetera, and the booking pattern surprisingly does jump back into normal patterns within about six weeks after the event.

"At some stage the coronavirus will run its course, and then the booking pattern will get back to normal because New Zealanders still want to see the world."

He said most people would have to make their own decision about the risk and should be getting their advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Safetravel website.

Travel insurance

Thomas, who himself is overseas in California - where several new cases of the coronavirus have been reported - said he was not too worried.

"Do I have concerns? No, not really, it's a matter of just making sure that you do the normal things when you're in flu season which is wash your hands more regularly than perhaps what you normally do.

However, most agencies were no longer covering for Covid-19 related claims.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton told Checkpoint it would depend on people's individual insurance policy.

"Most insurers at the moment, it's become a notified event or regarded as an epidemic and depending on when you purchased your insurance ... one or two insurers are still providing some cover," he said.

"The general advice to the public would be to talk to your insurer or your insurers about whether you would get cover."

Grafton said the spread of the virus would not increase the costs of travel insurance, rather people would progressively be less able to get cover for costs related to it.

"The price of travel insurance, remember, is still worth purchasing for all other medical expenses - broken limbs, accidents, loss and theft of baggage and cancellations ... added costs for all other sorts of reasons that you might be travelling.

Thomas said he had insurance for health expenses - even those related to Covid-19 - but not additional costs.

"Obviously it comes down to the insurance company whether they accept that or not, and that comes down to just how the claim was submitted and what their response will be to it," he said.

"Most people have got to just make their own decision about the risk."

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