Stop promoting travel. Seriously. Stop.

promote travel

It’s time to stop promoting travel. Seriously.

And by “promoting” I mean pushing those two-for-one deals and deep discounts that are meant to lure you back on the road.

This isn’t the time.

We’re inside a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prices are low, but the risks are high. And within the travel industry, a debate is raging about what to do.

I had a front-row seat to the conflict when one of my recent columns appeared on a Facebook page for travel agents. You might remember the holiday travel advice story where I suggested readers avoid traveling.

The agents were so livid about my common-sense advice that they tried to have the person who posted my story fired. (And after this story appeared on USA Today, they tried to have me fired, too.)

The controversy opened my eyes to a travel industry fighting for survival and willing to do almost anything to get you traveling again – including possibly exposing you to a deadly virus. As it turns out, both sides of this debate make valid points. But you have to decide who’s right.

The case for promoting travel

For some people, the pandemic is yesterday’s news. It’s time to get back out there. Travelers already know about the dangers. The greater tragedy would be not traveling.

“Yes, it is ethical to promote travel,” says Katy Kassian, a business consultant and frequent traveler from Regan, North Dakota. “Without people like us traveling, there is no industry. There are no more roadside attractions. The diners will shutter, train and bus routes will be dramatically altered and ultimately, we will become even more disconnected from ourselves, our friends and family and all the fabulous places in our country.”

A complete travel ban doesn’t make sense, say travel professionals. Sangeeta Sadarangani, CEO of Crossing, a multinational travel agency headquartered in London, says some travel is safe.

“There are hotels that are safe and places that are safe for travel right now,” she says. She’s comfortable recommending travel to her clients, as long as they follow all the COVID-19 procedures – including wearing a mask, sanitizing and practicing social distancing. Sadarangani says it all comes down to trust – knowing your travel advisor is looking out for your best interests.

But for her, “profit or transactions are not the motive.”

The case against promoting travel

But ethicists say this is the wrong time to tell anyone to travel.

“With both infections and hospitalizations increasing in many countries, including the U.S., it’s worth remembering the most fundamental ethical principle of all: do no harm,” says Bruce Weinstein, an author and ethics expert. “With that in mind, it is ethically unintelligent to travel now – especially for leisure.”

Consumer advocates agree.

“I do not think it is ethical for companies to be recommending travel,” says Emily Waddell, who publishes a blog called The Honest Consumer. “The travel companies are just looking out for their own best interest in regards to sales. They’re not taking into consideration the seriousness of the pandemic and how more people traveling could increase the spread of the virus.”

It’s not safe to travel, but it’s safe to plan

Travel companies need to weigh the damage to their business against the potential harm they can cause customers by encouraging them to travel, says Robert Foehl, professor of business law and ethics at Ohio University.

The correct answer to the question, “Is it ethical to recommend travel now?” is no. Telling people it’s OK to take an all-inclusive vacation to Mexico during a spike in COVID-19 cases is clearly wrong.

“We should heed the recommendations of public health experts such as epidemiologists to make scientifically and ethically sound recommendations about when and under what conditions it may be safe to resume nonessential travel,” says Sarah Hull, the associate director for the Yale School of Medicine’s program for biomedical ethics.

That’s a hard reality for travel companies and advisors to accept. But these companies need to weigh the damage to their business against the potential harm they can cause customers by encouraging them to travel, says Robert Foehl, professor of business law and ethics at Ohio University.

“We have an ethical duty to prevent harm to others,” he says.

Don’t promote travel yet

That said, recent changes in the travel industry may make it OK to plan a spring break or summer trip now.

Most travel companies are offering favorable cancellation terms. For example, many airlines have eliminated change and cancellation fees. That allows passengers to plan a trip without the stress of paying extra fees if they have to cancel.

“Even if your next trip is quite a ways off, it’s a good time to plan a discounted trip for some point in the future,” says Jeff Klee, CEO of Qtrip. “With this extra layer of flexibility built in, it’s nice to know that even if you’re not comfortable flying at the moment, you won’t lose the money.”

Bottom line: Don’t buy travel from anyone selling you a leisure trip in the near future. Travel companies must put their customers before commissions – and wait until it’s safe. The good ones already are doing that.


Is your travel advisor giving you dangerous advice?

Here’s how to tell if your travel company is promoting travel when it’s unsafe:

They lie

If your travel advisor tells you something that contradicts a public safety guideline or suggests a way to “get around” a mandatory quarantine, you might be talking to the wrong person. “Omitting, downplaying, or outright lying about recent data that would affect someone’s decision to travel to a particular destination is unethical,” says Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, a business consultant.

They tell you not to worry

If your travel advisor dismisses your questions about travel safety, quarantines or travel, that could be a sign of trouble. People rely on travel advisors “for an honest and complete assessment of travel situations, with full disclosure of risks,” says John Thomas, a law professor at Florida International University’s school of hospitality and tourism management.

They fail to mention COVID-19

If your travel agent fails to mention the risk of a coronavirus infection or discusses the risks of travel, don’t walk away – run! Travel is always risky. But now it’s riskier than ever. Advisors who are not talking about COVID are probably just thinking about their commissions.

If you have a problem with a company that pressured you into booking a trip, please contact my consumer advocacy organization. We’re here to help!

Posted in On Travel Tagged , ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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Global Rescue is the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Founded in 2004, Global Rescue has exclusive relationships with the Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine Division of Special Operations and Elite Medical Group. Global Rescue provides best-in-class services that identify, monitor and respond to client medical and security crises. Learn more about Global Rescue.

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Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

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Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

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VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

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Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

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TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

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Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

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