An unprecedented worldwide Stage 4 travel advisory has been issued by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the majority of coronoavirus cases in Australia are still coming from overseas sources. Mr Morrison held a press conference Wednesday, warning all Australians, “regardless of your destination, age or health, our advice is do not travel at this time.”
The travel advisory is a government recommendation, and a strong one, but it’s not a binding law. Airlines are private companies, and some flights continue to operate, but most international travel is closing down as travelers across the world cancel or postpone plans.
Thursday, QANTAS announced it would be grounding all international flights, including overseas Jetstar routes, and standing down two thirds of its staff.
At Helloworld in Tumut, Margaret Langridge was referring to advice from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, who advice that travelers make “a personal decision,” based on their individual circumstances, encouraging travelers to rely on official sources of information, like the World Health Organisation, Smartraveller.gov.au, and the Australian Department of Health.
“Instead of booking our clients dream holidays, we are currently spending all of our time ensuring that we are able to source the best outcome for each of our clients individual bookings,” said Margaret on Wednesday. For some clients, that was a refund, for others, it was a travel credit.
The problem facing many travelers is the uncertainty of the travel advisory and the developing coronavirus pandemic. Smaller, regional airlines aren’t sure how – or if – they’ll weather the storm, and larger airlines have announced massive cutbacks and delays on purchasing new planes.
“As information is rapidly changing, we are being advised by our Suppliers and Airlines the steps they are taking and we will be (as they are) dealing with this on an individual basis on date of departure order,” said Margaret.
On Wednesday, some companies, like Hawaiian Airlines, were asking customers not to call about their travel arrangements unless their departure was within the next 72 hours, trying to triage the situation and deal with the most urgent cases first.
“Obviously at this stage this pandemic has not been good for our business,” said Margaret, “But it also not good for a lot of small businesses.
“As a community it is now more important than ever to keep supporting our local businesses.”
Margaret was asking Tumut’s travelers to get in touch with their agent to check the details around their flights or cruises. She said wholesalers and airlines each have different policies and cancellation rules have been changing “hourly.”
“Continue [your] research,” said Margaret. “This will not last forever!”
Some suppliers have started offering a ‘Book With Confidence’ option, trying to restore confidence by allowing future flight changes at no fee.
“Once this pandemic is over there will be amazing deals available throughout the world,” said Margaret, looking to the future.
“As Scott Morrison said on Wednesday ‘Domestic air travel is low risk,’ so why not holiday here this year?” she encouraged.
The slog of cancellations and changing restrictions has been difficult for staff at Helloworld, but Margaret said customers have been loyal, supportive, patient and understanding.
“Please do not panic,” she said.
“Be kind to each other and we will get through this!”