Agents have reported to TTG a significant spike in enquiries about the coronavirus after the infection hit several European holiday hotspots this week.
Several cases were confirmed across northern Italy, with travellers returning to the UK from areas north of Florence and Pisa told to self-isolate if they develop any symptoms.
Elsewhere, more than 700 guests, including around 100 Jet2holidays passengers and a small number of Tui customers, found themselves holed up at a Tenerife hotel after an Italian guest tested positive for the infection.
Jet2 has since said it won’t fly any guests home until they complete two weeks’ quarantine at the hotel, ending 10 March, or explicitly test negative for the virus.
Agents, meanwhile, have told TTG of how they have been stopped in the street to answer coronavirus travel queries, and some of the lengths to which they’ve gone to put clients’ minds at ease.
Nearly half (49%) of the 250 respondents to a snap TTG poll on Thursday (27 February) said many clients were concerned, and that they were also “extremely worried” about the virus’s impact on enquiries and bookings. A further 41% said they had had at least a few people asking about the virus.
Idle Travel’s Tony Mann said: “With the news from Tenerife, we’ve started to have customers contact us with their concerns, especially those who are due to travel shortly.
“Our biggest selling destination for 2020 so far is Tenerife. So far, we’ve had no one change their holidays, but we’ve also had questions about Croatia and Barcelona.
“Our agency is attached to a Morrisons supermarket where I was accosted four times by people asking about coronavirus when I dropped in to get a sandwich. You’re always on duty as a travel agent.”
Mann, however, said the developments weren’t having a major impact on Idle Travel’s bookings after a busy January and the agency having already exceeded its February target.
Tailor Made Travel chief executive Simon Morgan, meanwhile, said staff were directing clients to official information sources, and called for “positive, good PR” from industry bodies.
Morgan said clients were being cautious about certain destinations, citing a particular impact on cruise and touring. “There’s certainly friction and concern out there,” he said. “Business is fairly flat, but we’re still 20% up on February.”
Westoe Travel director Graeme Brett said the agency was proactively contacting customers due to depart in the next two weeks for destinations affected by coronavirus. “We’re monitoring it every few hours,” he said.
“It’s important to be proactive to reassure clients rather than having people come to you. It shows the reassurance you get from using a travel agent.”
Elsewhere, The Travel Network Group has set up a dedicated helpline for members and hosted a webinar with its legal advisors, while Barrhead Travel said coronavirus was informing clients’ questions and queries about upcoming holidays. The Scottish independent has convened a dedicated round-the-clock crisis team, and has rebooked a number of clients.