In January, news began to seep out of China about a mysterious illness inflicting citizens in the city of Wuhan. Word soon got out that a virus known as “SARS-CoV-2” was causing a disease named “coronavirus disease 2019.”
In just the few short weeks since it was first discovered, coronavirus has infected more than 125,000 people around the world, and on March 11, it was declared a global pandemic by The World Health Organization.
The news, virus, and unknowns have caused justifiable panic among travelers wondering if it’s still safe to go about their business. After all, scientists are still not quite sure who is really at risk, how the virus spreads, and just how to treat it. But, in the luxury travel industry, it all comes down to being prepared.
From private aviation companies to luxury hotels, companies are implementing best practices to make their current and future guests feel as comfortable as possible at this time. We spoke to several companies on how they’re dealing with both the impact of a quieter spring travel season as well their plans to welcome those whose business still mandates a dire need to travel, including medical professionals, government officials, those working on global security, and more. Here’s how the luxury travel industry is planning and coping with the spread of coronavirus.
Private Air Travel
Though flying private can afford people a bit more leeway when it comes to typical travel, it cannot break the law. For companies like NetJets that means complying with the U.S. Department of State’s travel restrictions to areas impacted by COVID-19.
“A cross-functional team of specialists meets daily to review the latest data released by the federal government, as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and Federal Aviation Administration,” the company shared in a statement. “We will continue to align with these organizations regarding restrictions and access to impacted areas.”
The company additionally notes, it put a protocol in place to immediately remove any aircraft from service should it be exposed to anyone known—or suspected—to have coronavirus.
Air Partner says it’s experienced an unexpected spike in business as well. Including charter flights evacuating people from Wuhan.
“Travelers are coming to us for private aviation services due to the enhanced safeguarding measures we have in place,” CEO Mark Briffasays. “A lot of our requests are coming from customers who are wanting to fly themselves or their families out of infected areas.”
Briffa adds, the company is seeing an uptick in requests for our corporate air shuttle program, which allows companies’ employees to fly between cities. “We’re working hand-in-hand with groups so they can continue essential work and meetings without delay and with more peace of mind,” he says.
Like NetJets, Air Partner, too believes private aviation allows customers to mitigate some risk. They also believe private aviation could serve those aforementioned people who absolutely have to continue their travels.
“A key benefit of utilizing private aviation during situations like this coronavirus outbreak is the ability for customers to fill the void of suspended commercial flights, keeping up with essential [travel],” Briffa says.
As for Wheels Up, it simply says in a statement provided to Departures, “The health and safety of our Wheels Up employees, pilots, and members is our top priority. Our Wheels Up team continues to deliver the same trusted flight experience for our members, during this time and always. As such, we are prepared and have the availability to meet the needs of the uptick in demand we are seeing from our corporate and individual members.”
Luxury hotels, many of which cater to business travelers, are also taking precautions and implementing new guidelines and practices to keep their staff and customers as safe as possible. That's especially the case for hotels located in particularly hard-hit areas, like Rome.
“The Italian government has announced extraordinary measures to contain the coronavirus. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared the entire country a ‘red zone,’ meaning people should stay home except for work and emergencies,” a representative from the Bettoja Hotels, which operates the Hotel Mediterraneo, Hotel MassimoD’Azeglio, and Hotel Atlantico, shares. “This situation has deeply affected our business, but at the moment, we are all hoping to overcome this situation in the best way, strictly following the government measures and suggestions.”
The representative further explains the hotel’s guests and staff safety remains the highest priority. Though it has always taken “great pride in maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene,” the hotel is further following recommendations regarding precautions and are taking all possible steps to help keep guests and staff safe. That includes increasing the frequency of cleaning of all “high-touch” areas, which are being treated with advanced cleaning products and additional disinfectant. That includes extra cleanings of staff entrances, lockers, the laundry, and offices.
Bettoja Hotels has also decided to meet guest expectations by offering them flexibility on travel. All new reservations that are scheduled for arrival before April 30, 2020, can be changed at no charge.
Across the world at the Malibu Beach Inn in California, Gregory Day, the hotel’s general manager, explains it, too, is preparing with its own crisis management plan.
“We have crisis plans in place for a number of potentials, so, fortunately, we were not starting from zero,” he says. “Our best method of handling this thus far has been straightforward communication to both guests and staff, and of course we are taking that lead from the Centers for Disease Control. This is all expanding so quickly, the best thing we can do is be clear, consistent and patient.”
The team at Malibu Beach Inn is preparing with a “significant effort at sanitizing,” as well as an increased on-property communication plan, and even new auto-hand-sanitizer stations in each guest room. The property even has a house doctor on call, and just like in Rome, anyone who needs to cancel their reservations or, depart early due to illness or concern, will be allowed to do so without penalty at the Malibu Beach Inn.
Precautions to Take No Matter Where You Go
At this time, only necessary travel is advised, however, you should also be prepared if you've decided not to cancel your travel plans. That means staying on top of the latest travel news, including the State Department’s travel warnings, which currently state everyone should reconsider both personal and business travel anywhere in the world.
Prior to departure, make sure to also check in with your airline, charter service, and hotel, to ensure it is both still taking reservations and has proper procedures in place.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests asking yourself a few questions before traveling domestically and internationally, including: Is COVID-19 spreading where you’re going? Will you or your travel companion(s) be in close contact with others during your trip? Are you or your travel companion(s) at a higher risk of severe illness if you do get COVID-19? And, do you have a plan for taking time off from work or school, in case you get exposed to, or are sick with, COVID-19?
Beyond this, it all comes down to avoiding the dangers of coronavirus by washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and staying home if you’re feeling ill. This way, you can remain healthy to take as many trips as you want in the future.
How to Get Home if You’re Stuck
If you’re overseas and find yourself stuck in a country that isn’t your own, the first thing to do is stay calm. Then, it’s time to understand the facts.
President Donald Trump implemented a travel ban, which bars most foreign nationals from entering the United States from the continent of Europe for 30 days. However, the ban only includes nations in the Schengen area, the 26 nations that are part of the European Union’s borderless zone, according to The Washington Post. This excludes visitors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, as well as U.S. citizens, U.S. residents, and relatives of U.S. citizens, among others. (More information on traveling home from different coronavirus hot zones can be found on the CDC’s website.) There are also exemptions for flight crews and those working for the United Nations. This means, if you are abroad and fit into this category you can still get home. It just may take a bit of effort.
As CBS explained, Americans will be funneled through 11 different airports on return: Atlanta; Dallas-Fort Worth; Detroit; Newark, New Jersey; Honolulu; Kennedy Airport in New York; Los Angeles International; Chicago O'Hare; Seattle; San Francisco; and Dulles International outside Washington, D.C.
American Airlines will continue flights for another week to assist in getting Americans home, but will only operate flights from Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona.
Meanwhile, CBS reported, Delta will suspend its routes after Friday, while United Airlines will fly its regularly scheduled routes to Europe through March 19 and cut back after that.
Lufthansa will continue flying to Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., from Frankfurt, Zurich, Vienna, and Brussels to maintain "at least some air traffic connections to the USA,” CBS reported. Norwegian Air will only operate flights from London.
And, when you do get home, expect to spend some time alone. The CDC is now recommending anyone returning from an international trip go on a more relaxed, but still highly important, self-quarantine for up to 14 days. During this time, travelers should monitor their health and limit interactions with other people. But, remember, we are all in it together, and the only way out is through. So reschedule if you can, but if you must travel on, do so with care and kindness to all around you.