Jeremy Johnson new mug

Jeremy Johnson

Spring break excursions have been shelved, summer vacays are getting suspended and weekend getaways have all but gone away. Global stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus are wreaking havoc on travel plans. With trip itineraries now either obsolete or in serious jeopardy, erstwhile vacationers are looking to recoup some of their paid expenses.

Many of them are feeling deserted.

Much of what’s happening with the travel and tourism industry is responding to customers is all over the map. Each company handles its refund requests differently, and the tactics used can vary based on the traveler’s circumstances. Customer complaints and company responses filed to Better Business Northwest + Pacific have offered glimpses into how policies can differ.

Large online travel agencies are working closely with hotels, resorts, airlines, and other vendors to provide consumers with vouchers or refunds. Their priority is resolving issues involving current travel plans first, with an extended focus on customers who have upcoming trips scheduled. Other companies are offering credits for future stays used within the next 12-18 months, reimbursing at least portions of payments, and updating their websites to make the cancellation process easier.

“I would say the majority of companies are doing well,” says Dene’ Joubert, Investigations Manager for BBBNW+P. “The issues that we’re finding are mainly with the companies that offer accommodations. They don’t seem to have the financial ability to be as gracious with these consumers.”

These companies and others are recommending customers reference their travel insurance for recovering expenses, assuming coverage was purchased ahead of time. Travelers who did pursue that option are finding requests for help rebuffed because pandemics weren’t specified in terms of the coverage. As a result, lots of policies are starting to get rewritten.

“We’re experiencing changes to policies daily,” says Hines. “It’s kind of amazing. We’re seeing companies changing things, literally, almost every day based on the governmental regulations going on.”

Given how quickly things are moving, it is now especially tough for customers to identify how to fix things when travel plans fall apart. A useful course of action likely begins with communication. More specifically, connect with the company used to book the trip.

“I would encourage travelers first to try and work something out with the vendor that they’ve purchased their vacation through directly,” says Joubert. “If the vendor isn’t willing to work with them, they can always turn to the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint. They can also turn to the attorney general’s office in that state where the vendor is located and even their state.”

For those optimistic travelers who either have a trip scheduled shortly or are thinking of booking one soon, the best advice may be to stay informed. Resorts, tourism boards, and common sites like Google all offer updates that can be delivered via text or dropped into an email inbox. For more information on this topic and other related to COVID-19 you can visit bbb.org.

Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for Better Business Bureau, serving the Northwest and Pacific. Contact her by emailing jeremy.johnson@thebbb.org.