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Tune up your COVID policies for travel’s return

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posted March 9, 2021
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In his NTA webinar “We Will Travel Again,” attorney Jeff Ment had encouraging news for tour operators hoping to restart programs—and he said they should share it.

“We need to be communicating with our clients that travel is beginning to bloom,” Ment said during the March 3 session. “It’s not here yet, but we can see that it’s coming. It’s time to share some of the good news.”

According to Ment, principal at Ment Law Group, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine opens the door for many travelers, but it also creates issues that operators must work through. On the topic of whether requiring vaccines will help or hurt business, Ment said operators should weigh several factors:

  • Your market: “Marketing to travelers under 65 is more difficult if you require vaccinations.”
  • Airlines and destinations: “Maybe you should plan trips to countries that are less regulated because you have clients who don’t want the vax. But maybe you should sell to countries that require it to avoid travel restrictions.”
  • Suppliers’ requirements: “It’s no longer operators’ rules that carry the day; travelers must also follow the rules at each attraction.”

And Ment said it’s OK for operators to inquire about medical information. “You get to decide who you take on your trip,” he said. “But you can’t discriminate based on religious objections or ADA conditions. Tread lightly and call for help to make a more careful decision.”

Ment also discussed ethical considerations that come with requiring vaccines for travel or entry, including the uneven rollout of vaccination programs among destinations, age groups, and socioeconomic factors, as well as consideration for people who either cannot or choose not to be vaccinated. Ment said that amid differences of opinions, he hopes everyone can stay focused on helping people travel safely, and he shared a policy he is comfortable with.

“You could require proof of vaccination, of COVID recovery, or of a negative test three to five days before travel,” he said. “This tells people who won’t get vaccinated to go get a test.”

Ment acknowledged that tour operators are concerned about their liability when travel resumes, and they are worried about their exposure if a passenger is diagnosed with COVID. He explained the duty to warn.

“You’re a tour operator; you’re not a guarantor of safety,” he said. “You are required to warn people of an unreasonable risk of harm where you know more about it than they do. Your duty to warn is less if it’s a risk that is widely known.”

Ment said that operators should not get hung up on the issue of liability, explaining that they have always had liability exposure that comes with moving people around the world.

Clear communication is a key ingredient for both risk management and customer relations, and Ment outlined topics that operators should focus on:

  • COVID waiver: Sent with pre-trip documents, your COVID waiver should be conspicuous. “You must show that the burden is on both operator and customer to understand the risks.”
  • Cancellation policy: Have a policy that spells out clear cancellation penalties, and advise guests that they are subject to contracts the operator enters on their behalf with suppliers.
  • Supplier policies and updates: By providing details of COVID protocols and safe visits, suppliers can help operators sell a tour. 
  • Travel insurance: Learn exactly what it provides and which government regulations apply to each trip.
  • Sickness: Have a plan for what happens if a passenger falls ill.

Ment covered additional topics, including grants for live venues and language for COVID waivers and cancellation policies. To listen to the webinar and to view the accompanying PowerPoint, go to NTA Online’s page on seminars and webinars and scroll down to Recently Recorded Sessions.

Top photo ©yayasya/Adobe Stock

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