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Change of plans: consumers look to receive compensation for cancelled travel

by Ben Spradling | Apr 30, 2020 11:47:47 AM

Spring break excursions have been shelved, summer vacays are
getting suspended and weekend getaways have all but gone away. Global
stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus are wreaking
havoc on travel plans. With trip itineraries now either obsolete or in serious
jeopardy, erstwhile vacationers are looking to recoup some of their paid
expenses.

Many of them are feeling deserted.

Recent reports reveal that close to 60
million Americans
are expected to lose money as result of canceled travel
plans. Valerie Hines, Customer Service Manager for RedWeek, a timeshare rental and resale
marketplace based in Kent, Washington, has been on the frontlines of
communication with clients concerned about joining that population. Her
conversations have not always been easy.

“There was a lot of anger at first,” Hines says of the first
days of the pandemic. “That’s understandable because it’s a scary thing; the
anger is justified. But as things are calming down, people are willing to work
with one another more. They’re realizing, ‘Maybe I don’t need to panic right
now. Let’s see what happens.’”

Much of what’s happening so far with how the travel and
tourism industry is responding to customers is all over the map. Each company
handles its refund requests differently, and the tactics used can vary based on
the traveler’s individual circumstances. Customer complaints and company
responses filed to Better Business Northwest + Pacific have offered glimpses
into how policies can differ.

Large online travel agencies are working closely with
hotels, resorts, airlines, and other vendors to provide consumers with vouchers
or refunds. Their priority is resolving issues involving current travel plans
first, with an extended focus on customers who have upcoming trips scheduled.
Other companies are offering credits for future stays used within the next
12-18 months, reimbursing at least portions of payments, and updating their
websites to make the cancelation process easier.

“I would say the majority of companies are doing well,” says
Dene’ Joubert, Investigations Manager for BBBNW+P. “The issues that we’re
finding are mainly with the companies that offer accommodations. They don’t
seem to have the financial ability to be as gracious with these consumers.”

These companies and others are recommending customers
reference their travel insurance for recovering expenses, assuming coverage was
purchased ahead of time. However, travelers who did pursue that option are
finding their requests for help rebuffed because pandemics weren’t specified in
the terms of the coverage agreement. As a result, lots of policies are starting
to get rewritten.

“We’re experiencing changes to policies on a daily basis,”
says Hines. “It’s kind of amazing. We’re seeing companies changing things,
literally, almost every day based on the governmental regulations going on.”

Given how quickly things are moving, it is now especially
tough for customers to identify how to fix things when travel plans fall apart.
An effective course of action likely begins with communication. More
specifically, connect with the company used to book the trip.

“I would encourage travelers to first try and work something
out with the vendor that they’ve purchased their vacation through directly,”
says Joubert. “If the vendor isn’t willing to work with them, they can always
turn to the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint. They can also turn to
the attorney general’s office in that state where the vendor is located and
even their own state.”

For those optimistic travelers who either have a trip
scheduled in the near future or are thinking of booking one soon, the best
advice may be to stay informed. Resorts, tourism boards and common sites like Google
all offer updates that can be delivered via text or dropped into an email
inbox.

“I’m letting people know that the most important thing they
can do if they do want to travel is to make sure they’re paying attention,”
explains Hines. “Sign up to receive travel alerts for the areas where they’re
traveling. Pay attention to government recommendations, local recommendations
and the recommendations of the hotel where they’re going.”

Those actions fit into a larger need for travelers to know
exactly what it is they’re committing to when they book a trip. Inside or
outside of a pandemic, experiences and excursions are not necessarily
guaranteed. Plans are always subject to change.

“People really need to look at where they want to go and
what risk they’re willing to take,” say Hines. “I don’t care who you book
travel through, it’s a risk. Airlines and resorts could change their policies
tomorrow. It’s a risk.”

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