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Coronavirus and Business Travel: Everything You Need to Know

By Mike Baker, published on Mar 2, 2020
Coronavirus and Business Travel: Everything You Need to Know

Updated: March 18, 2020


Quick references:

 

In the last few months, Coronavirus (also called COVID-19) has gone from localized outbreak to full-fledged global health emergency. In doing so, it has taken a serious toll on healthcare providers, the stock market and, especially, travel. Indeed, the last few weeks have seen the global travel industry spin into a state of confusion, complicated questions, and outright panic. Thousands and thousands of travelers have cut back on discretionary travel as they try to weigh the relative risks.

But what about business travel? How have companies and corporate travelers approached trips that are seen as essential to their work? What about events and industry conferences? How are airlines and hotels working with companies to mitigate the impact of postponed, altered, or outright cancelled business travel? 

We know this issue is important and urgent for corporate travelers (and we’ve been getting a ton of questions from our customers), so we sat down with our award-winning team of travel experts (the Wombats!) to answer the most pressing questions about COVID-19 and business travel. 

Does travel insurance cover COVID-19? 

It depends, but not typically. Travel insurance policy terms vary dramatically, so the answer really depends on the fine print of the specific policy you purchase, but here are the broad strokes:

Any travel arrangements made since the broad news coverage of the virus started (approx. end of January 2020) would likely not be covered as the outbreak of coronavirus is now considered a “foreseen event” and travel booked during this time would have been made with the knowledge of current world events. 

However, some types of travel insurance are more inclusive. Purchasing  “cancel for any reason” or “change of mind” coverage upgrades are the best way to maximize the likelihood of being covered. Otherwise the policy fine print should outline what the provider covers in cases of public health emergency. 

Can I get a refund from airlines and hotels for trips cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns? 

Airlines have become more flexible and generous with their cancellation policies, but there is no blanket policy about refunds, outside of airlines implementing new policies (fleshed out in the next question). Generally we are seeing change penalties, which usually range from $125-300, being waived & non-refundable tickets being converted to non-transferrable  travel credits for future use. 

If an airline cancels a flight, which is happening more regularly due to low passenger demand & budget cuts, you can always receive a refund. If a hotel can not accommodate you a refund is also due. If you are attending a conference or meeting that gets canceled over Coronavirus concerns the refundability of your hotel and flight reservations would be up to the discretion of the provider. 

How are different airlines approaching the impact of COVID-19? 

Right now many of the major airlines have waivers in place for passengers to make changes to their travel dates or cancel travel entirely without being subjected to airline fees.

For more global policies and granular information about airport / lounge closings, you can check out this detailed article from Business Traveller

How are different hotels approaching the impact of COVID-19? 

For the most part, rate rules still apply to hotel cancellations and refunds. Some hotels are being more flexible with their refunds (especially in light of major conference or expo cancellations), but this is up to individual hotels.    

Some hotels that have been impacted by the Coronavirus have taken safeguard measures of shutting down completely, or confining guests if there has been a known positive case. Such measures have been taken in places like Tenerife, a Spanish resort destination in the Canary Islands.  

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Where can I get the most up-to-date information about travel restrictions and guidance?

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Is there a list of the most affected countries / regions?  

As of right now China, Italy, Iran, Spain, and Germany are the top 5 affected, but the list is constantly evolving.  The World Health Organization does a good job of releasing regular updates about the global picture, the State Department maintains an updated travel advisory listing, and Johns Hopkins University offers a nearly real-time map of confirmed cases by country. 

What are airlines doing to help travelers? 

Many airlines have implemented new measures to reduce the risk of the infection spreading in-flight, including more frequent disinfection of the aircrafts and lounges, advising the crew to wear masks, reducing in-flight services to avoid unnecessary contact, and conducting temperature checks before passengers board the plane.

What are hotels doing to help travelers? 

Many hotels have incorporated additional measures and precautions to ensure the safety of their guests. Routine cleaning and hygiene protocols have become more rigorous and frequent especially in public spaces, hospital-grade cleansers have been widely adopted, and hand sanitizing stations are regularly provided.  

Should I cancel all domestic business trips? 

At this time there is no CDC issued travel health notice for domestic travel, so it ultimately remains an individual business decision. However, we at Lola.com are recommending companies halt all non-essential travel to limit the spread of COVID-19. If you need assistance in cancelling or postponing travel booked through us, please reach out to our travel support team for assistance. 

What are the most effective ways to reduce infection risk if I still need to travel? 

  • Don't! Stay home if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sneezing, achiness, etc). Rescheduling and/or adapting to meet remotely is fully encouraged at this stage. Don’t forget about the tools most companies already use daily. Many work remotely at least part of the time, or self-quarantine when we are sick because of the ease of technology in doing our daily work. This can be an appropriate time to apply those rules and host remote meetings.
  • Regularly wash your hands for a full 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” 2x in your head...or out loud, you do you!), with warm water and soap. 
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially sick individuals. The current recommendations is to keep six to ten feet distance between yourself and others, and to practice social distancing whenever possible.
  • Consider skipping out on the traditional hand shake and adopt the elbow bump as a greeting instead. 
  • Sanitize all surfaces, like the tray table, arm rests, and any common surfaces on the plane. This includes items like magazines, touch screen TVs, and remotes. 
  • Stock up on flu medication and bring it with you. If you do get sick, the last thing you want to have to do is track down a pharmacy to buy meds in an unfamiliar city.
  • Face masks, of the common surgical variety, will not offer protection against airborne virus, however, wearing such a mask if you do get sick, can help protect those around you. 
  • Prioritize a good night’s sleep over going out with coworkers or sneaking in that extra hour of meeting prep. 
  • Get the flu vaccine. (This won’t necessarily help protect against COVID-19 itself but helps save medical resources and generally improve against weakened-immune ailments like bacterial pneumonia.) Do keep in mind that the full immunity effects of the vaccine take up to 2 weeks and should not be relied upon as an immediate safeguard.

 

How can I help ensure I'm keeping my traveling employees safe?

 

Staying up to date with the latest news from the CDC will help ensure that travelers from your company are not heading into high-risk areas, but it's still your responsibility to know where they are at any given time. As the locus of the virus grows, this becomes even more important. You can learn the essentials of providing duty of care for your traveling employees in this recorded webinar

 


About the Author: Mike Baker
Mike is Director of Marketing for Lola.com and a former journalist, farmer and teacher.