Taking an overseas holiday is still possible but this can come at great risk to travellers’ pockets, finds Angelique Ruzicka.
Differing social distancing rules and travel bans imposed by countries and airlines have done much to disrupt the global travel industry, andthe South African travel industry has been no exception.
It’s been one of the hardest-hit sectors since the pandemic began. Thousands of trips have been cancelled or postponed and thousands of jobs have been lost.
“The industry is approximately 60-70% down over 2019 with inbound travel being even harder hit. The move to Level 3 in December resulted in mass cancellations and changes over the festive season, so you can just imagine how travel agencies had to scramble over one of the busiest periods for the market,” says Lyle Scritten of Travelstart.
The uncertainty and travel restrictions have done much to spook travellers. Many have adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach to see when and if travel bans will be lifted or if the vaccine rollout will make a difference to safety concerns.
For those still keen on travelling abroad, we explore the pros and cons of booking an overseas holiday shortly after lockdown.
Could you secure a good deal if you booked now?
With many people reluctant to book a trip abroad, travel agencies and flight specialists are dropping their prices to keep their businesses afloat and to encourage consumers to spend on an overseas holiday.
Bagging a bargain is possible but travellers have to be prepared to take a risk.
Scritten says: “Prices are really good at the moment for many destinations, in particular for the second part of the year. Prices can be around 40% off but we are in a very volatile environment and travel bans, airline restrictions and strict travel and quarantine policies may very well still be in place later on in the year.”
While overseas travel is possible, travel experts say this remains a decision only travellers can weigh up.
Kim Taylor, customer experience director at the Flight Centre Travel Group, adds: “Once again this remains a personal choice. In South Africa, you are permitted to travel domestically with health and safety precautions in place. The Maldives and Zanzibar remain open to South African travellers at this time.”
What are the risks?
Although travel to South Africa is permitted for all countries, any individual departing from South Africa would need to adhere to the entry requirements of the country they wish to visit, and this could all change in an instant.
One of the biggest risks is if travel corridors are shut at short notice, and it’s not possible to get a refund or to reschedule your trip.
Taylor points out: “Since mid-January 2021, various countries have prevented entry to passengers travelling from South Africa in light of the newly detected Covid-19 variant. This has resulted in many airlines adjusting their flight schedules or cancelling their flights for a period of time.”
Will travellers get their money back for cancelled bookings?
This all depends on the terms and conditions set out by the airline or travel company through which the booking was made.
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) offers limited protection as there’s no specific clause related to a global pandemic.
Taylor says: “Covid-19 is unprecedented and when it comes to travel cancellations, there is a vast supplier chain to consider in addition to the consumer.
“Although the majority of suppliers had initially extended vouchers/credits for future travel at the start of the global pandemic, re-accommodation policies have changed over time and many suppliers now offer refunds. Refunds however may be significantly delayed as suppliers work through volumes of queries.”
Many travel companies do offer flexibility in one way or another but there’s no set standard that the entire industry needs to adhere to. It’s therefore up to travellers to protect themselves by understanding the booking terms.
Some will issue refunds if cancellations are made before a certain period prior to travel while others may opt to give travellers credit or a voucher instead.
Taylor adds: “Should a consumer not be able to take their overseas holiday in light of a travel restriction, there would generally be a supplier re-accommodation policy in place. If a consumer is unable to travel due to illness, hospitalisation or any other medical reason, they would likely have some recourse in terms of the CPA.”
Travel insurance is one way of ensuring there’s some form of compensation if travel operators refuse to offer a refund or change a booking.
However, travel insurance only covers an event that happens to the individual such as contracting COVID. It does not cover cancellations made by a supplier.
Emirates airline, for example, offers travellers multi-risk travel insurance that includes out-of-country emergency medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation up to $500,000 (R7.33 million). It also offers trip cancellation up to $7,500 (R109,530) for non-refundable costs if a traveller or relative (as defined by the policy) is unable to travel because they are diagnosed with Covid-19.
The benefits of a staycation
Travellers are more likely to react and adapt to the changing travel rules if they stay locally so the staycation is being fully promoted.
Scritten says: “Travel local! Book out a beach house and bunker down with your “bubble” for a weekend, week or even a month while ‘working from a new home’! A change in scenery is good for every soul and our country has a little bit of everything and the industry needs our support!”
But checking if your travel company or accommodation provider offers cancellation cover or refunds before you book a domestic trip will still go a long way to giving you peace of mind.
Flight Centre, for example, offers a MoneyBack Guarantee on all their domestic travel accommodation packages. Taylor says: “This allows you to obtain a full refund should you cancel your booking more than 24 hours prior to departure – no questions asked.”
Five top tips for risk-free travel
- Book your travel with a reputable agent or accommodation provider. Kim Taylor, customer experience director at the Flight Centre Travel Group, adds: “Ensure they have a 24/7 support team who are available to assist you at any time.”
- Make sure you’re covered. Does your overseas holiday include multiple flights and destinations? If so, check your travel insurer will cover it all.
- Check the entry requirements of the country you wish to visit regularly before your trip. Foreign travel advice can be found on respective government websites or your travel agency may also offer info. For example, The Flight Centre Travel Group launched a Travel News information hub last year, which allows travellers to search for any country and get up-to-date Covid-19 travel information.
- Find out if you need to get a Covid test. Some destinations insist on proof of a negative Covid-19 test before you can travel.
- Do your research. A spokesperson for Go2Africa says: “Knowing what to expect on the ground can help to settle nerves, as can hearing others’ travel stories or getting advice from an agent who has planned trips for other clients during this time.”
This article first appeared in City Press.