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International advisories and warnings creating tough decisions for travellers

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March 13, 2020 - 8:00 AM

A Kamloops woman and her family have been left with thwarted travel plans for a trip they’ve been looking forward to for years.

Last October, Mairin Lougheed and her family members booked much-anticipated tickets to Italy.

It was the trip that she, her mom, and her sister had been planning for well over a decade.

“We have been trying to take this trip since I was 16 years old… this was the year to do it. Now we’re going to have to rearrange, and hopefully it doesn't take another 14 years.”

Canada has imposed an advisory discouraging travel to Italy. Lougheed says the advisory is in place until April 30, which leaves the trio in an odd situation.

“All flights have been suspended until April 30, but our flight is on May 1 so we’re kind of in this unknown period... We have not made any decisions yet because if we cancel now, maybe we would lose out.”

The trio planned to visit Florence and travel through the country, eventually taking a train to Switzerland to see some friends. Now, the border is being shut as train crossings close.

Lougheed says her mother and sister are both public health nurses, who understand the situation. Although the trio have been eager to go on the trip for years, she says their own health is priority.

“It’s a huge blow, but I think one of the major things for us is that we’d rather be safe than sorry,” Lougheed says. “My mom is over 60, she lives with my dad who is over 70, and this seems to be getting older people so I don’t think we’d take that risk.”

Even if the travel advisory is lifted in time for their May 1 flight, Lougheed says they’ll likely reschedule and take a small loss on fees.

“We have the luxury of cancelling this… we’re very lucky because we can just replan it when everything is okay,” Lougheed says.


They're far from the only ones having to change travel plans as countries react to the COVID-19 pandemic. But those who choose to go anyway might want to check on changes with their travel insurance.

Those who took advantage of the cheap flights due to travel advisories, in particular, might find themselves in a very sticky situation, according to the owner of Okanagan Valley Insurance, Grant Stobbe.

Stobbe says that major insurance companies such as Allianz, GMS and Tugo have changed trip cancellation policies so that anyone purchasing a ticket to a country with an advisory will not be covered.

“You can’t get anything to do with cancellation, they're just not going to give it to you,” Stobbe says. “In general, it's just mainly the trip cancellation and interruption that all of the travel insurance companies have placed something on, you won’t get your money back.”

He says the change has just been implemented within various companies at the beginning of the month, and says more are joining the movement.

“If you’re going to book your trip, you can buy trip cancellation and as long as it has nothing to do with the coronavirus, they would pay. If it has anything to do with the coronavirus, you’re out of luck.”

Stobbe says the connection between COVID-19 and trip cancellation goes beyond government-issued advisories. He says if you book a trip while the new policy is in effect and you fall ill with the virus before departure, the insurance won’t cover the cancellation.

Stobbe got back from a month long vacation in Thailand, and called the partner insurance companies to see what would happen if he fell ill with the virus while on vacation. He was told that they would cover an individual's hospital fees if they feel ill in a country without an advisory, but not in a known high-risk nation.

“If you're not supposed to go there, then they won't cover you,” Stobbe says. “If you got there and then it became a problem, they’d have to cover you.” 

If someone had booked a ticket and secured insurance before the change, the previous policy stands. He notes that credit card companies might also have cancellation policies, which may help.

For now, he says many people are simply choosing not to book any trips, and says the quietness has been noticed in the office.

“I haven't done travel insurance since I’ve been back here, and that’s been two weeks.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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