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Destination I Do
Monday, March 9, 2020

Your Destination Wedding & COVID-19

Words by Jennifer Stein
Photos courtesy of Jenny Quicksall Photography

5 FAQ's and Advice From A Pro on Your Travel Plans

Things seem oddly familiar to when the world was hit with news of Zika, Ebola, H1N1, SARS, MERS, the list goes on. The news media is covering it 24/7, people are doomsday prepping and your Aunt Linda has stood her ground saying there is no way she’s traveling to your destination wedding for fear that she might catch something. So what do you do?

Do you cancel? Postpone? Go anyway and laugh in the face of the histrionic media? This is your wedding day after all! We get it.

First things first, do your homework. Go to the CDC and World Health Organization websites for updates. Those are the most reliable sources with up-to-date information on the destinations impacted.

Second, know what’s happening where you’re headed. There are countless places around the world that haven’t experienced any outbreak. Others (a select few) have been quarantined. Some destinations only have one or two cases. Should we take this illness seriously? Of course, but we should also use some common sense.

If the destination, let’s use Italy for example, has been quarantined, and your wedding is happening April 2020, you will need to postpone your plans. No doubt about that. But if you’re planning to head to Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii and less populated areas, you’re not as likely to run into issues. Therefore, you can breathe a sigh of relief and proceed as planned. Aunt Linda might not join you and if that happens, you’ll just have to respect her decision. Unfortunately for her, she’s just going to miss out on all those margaritas.

For others, you may look at this as a great opportunity to travel. You could hop a plane to elope and get deals of a lifetime! Just know the destination you’re heading to and what you might expect when you get there.

To help us navigate this a bit further, we’ve enlisted the help of our invaluable expert, The Honeymoonist. Susan Moynihan has been planning travel for couples and their groups and problem solving travel snafus for years. Now, keep in mind, Destination I Do and The Honeymoonist are not doctors, we are not government officials – so use this information simply as a guide. Our goal is to help you figure out what the best solution is for you. But instead of hitting the “cancel” or even “postpone” button on your wedding travel plans, consider the following:

1. If we have a destination wedding happening in the near future, should we cancel?

The Honeymoonist: Keeping or canceling travel plans is purely a personal decision, based on all sorts of factors: your personal risk, destination, time available to travel, and of course the money you have on the line. But with a wedding, you have to take your guests’ comfort factor into account along with yours. It’s always key to talk to your “must have” guests and get their feelings on traveling before you commit to having a destination wedding, but even more so now.

Whatever you decide to do, you need to let your guests decide for themselves what they want to do, with no judgement on your end.

If your event is within the next few months, I suggest checking with your key guests, and then talking to the host property and seeing what your options are. You may be able to reduce size or shift the venue without the typical penalties attached, or have them reduced with advance warning. Hotels and vendors are generally much more disposed to work with a couple who wants to keep their event but perhaps change the scale or move it to at a later date, rather than cancelling it outright.

2. Are there certain destinations we should avoid if we're planning our wedding for 6-12 months out?

The Honeymoonist: There’s no way to tell what the situation will be like that far out, alas. Some clients will be wary of places that have been in the news for outbreaks, while others will think it’s a great time to find deals there. No matter what, be more aware of payment deadlines and cancellation penalties. Where couples may have glossed over the fine print before, depositing and assuming they would travel no matter what, we all know all too well know how quickly things can change on a global scale. So make sure you understand all of the penalties before you sign on any dotted lines or put down any deposits. And look to insurance to help keep you protected; it’s a budget line item that many couples forego, but if you ever need it, it can be a lifesaver.

3. Can we buy travel insurance now even if we've had our plans booked for a while?

The Honeymoonist: I’m a huge proponent of travel insurance for any trip, regardless of coronavirus. Depending on the provider and plan, it can help compensate you for anything from delayed flights and lost luggage to medical assistance and even evacuation should you get hurt or sick on your trip.

You can typically purchase insurance after you have booked your trip; I’ve had clients add it as close as a week out. But know that most travel insurance applies for “covered reasons”—typically documented illness, death of a family member, even job loss or house damage — and those are spelled out in the policy details. But it will not cover for fear of illness, like cancelling because your destination has some documented cases and you’re worried about traveling.

For that, you need Cancel For Any Reason  (CFAR) insurance, which typically needs to be purchased within a short window after your initial deposit on a trip. For example, if you’re depositing $100 towards the cost a honeymoon with a balance due 9 months later, you’ll likely need to purchase the CFAR insurance at the time of that initial deposit, not later on when you pay the bigger balance. 

Also, it depends on whether you are purchasing insurance through the vendor, like cruise line insurance with your cruise, or going with a third-party insurer such as Travelex, to cover your whole trip cost. I always recommend the latter; you want insurance that covers all aspects of your trip, not just when you are traveling with the insurer’s partner. For instance, cruise line insurance can protect you on the ship and on ship-arranged excursions, but it may not apply to flight cost or excursions you set up on your own, or to any pre- or post-travel you do around the cruise.

4.  If we have an upcoming honeymoon, should we cancel and/or reschedule?

The Honeymoonist: Again, this is purely a take on what your personal risk factor is. I have couples headed out on safari in three weeks with complete confidence, and other clients who have cancelled Europe this summer.

If you are honeymooning soon, especially in a country reporting cases of the coronavirus, know that some public places may be closed. The Louvre in Paris, the Tokyo National Museum and Disney parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong all closed for periods in early March due to virus concerns. In Italy, all of that country's museums are shuttered for the remainder of March, even those outside of quarantined areas. So, be flexible with your expectations, and shift daily plans if need be.

Many countries are using thermal screening in an effort to detect ill passengers before they enter, so expect screening delays, and only travel if you are sure you are healthy. French Polynesia recently announced that anyone flying there needs a health certificate less than 5 days old showing proof that they’re virus free before they’ll be allowed to board a flight to Tahiti. It’s key to keep as up-to-date on procedures as you can, either through the CDC website, your airline or cruise line, or your travel advisor.

5. How is the travel/tourism industry handling this as a whole?

The Honeymoonist: I personally have been hugely impressed with how so many hotels, airlines and tour companies are stepping up the plate, allowing for reduced or waived change fees and flexibility with payment schedules as we all react and adjust to an ever-changing news flow. So whatever your situation, it is well worth talking to your travel partners and seeing what accommodations can be made for changing travel plans. But know that while some partners may be able to be flexible with penalties and fees, others may not be able to.  It’s not that they don’t want to; it’s that we’re all in unchartered waters. Now, more than ever, kindness and patience go a very long way.

Just remember, this will pass. And we will keep traveling—some of us sooner, some of us later. And that’s essential. Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, and in many parts of the globe it is a lifeline for community survival and for international connectedness and understanding. Bad things can happen anywhere, and disease has no borders. But this world is too wonderful and multifaceted and beautiful to miss out on seeing it.

For more from The Honeymoonist, visit her at thehoneymoonist.com.

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