The coronavirus pandemic has forced many Americans to cancel their vacations and destination weddings planned for the next two months and left a looming uncertainty for those looking to travel this summer.
Mexico – one of the most popular destinations for American tourists – could be poised to take a big hit after President Donald Trump’s March 19 announcement that he was closing the U.S.-Mexico border to all nonessential travel, including tourism, through April 20.
Trump has not yet banned tourist flights to Mexico. However, the same day he made his border closure announcement, the State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans not to travel abroad.
Mexico is the top destination for American tourists, according to the the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office. In 2019, some 32.3 million U.S. citizens traveled to Mexico, the NTTO reported. The most popular cities include Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cabo San Lucas.
Now that the border is closed, USA TODAY is asking travel agents to help advise travelers about whether they should cancel and what it might cost them.
What should a traveler planning to visit Mexico in the next month do?
Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations Inc. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is among the travel agents scrambling to reschedule their spring vacations to Mexico for the summer and fall. She says a large swath of her clients are now booked to go to Mexico orother countries in June.
She is cautioning travelers to research cancellation policies before requesting a refund, lest they lose a portion of that sum to cancellation fees. Also, some hotels are not offering refunds at all, meaning the trip could be a complete loss if you choose not to reschedule the trip.
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Doncsecz recommends that travelers rebook their trips for later in the year. That way, the traveler remains whole and the tourism industry doesn’t lose money during this rough time.
“That keeps that other person’s job at the hotel, it gives you the vacation you wanted and it keeps the economy in the cycle,” Doncsecz says. “The worst we can do is cancel and get our money back and not travel.”
Some hotels may also offer lower rates, room upgrades and extra discounts for travelers who immediately rebook, Doncsecz adds.
The Hyatt Ziva, which has resorts in Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, is currently offering room upgrades at no additional cost when guests rebook their stay, she said.
What if someone has put money down for a trip that is scheduled between late May and August?
Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel in Palm Harbor, Florida, advises tourists with summer travel reservations to hold of on canceling or rebooking for now. If the pandemic worsens, the airline could cancel the flight or the resort could close, meaning the traveler is more likely to get a full refund.
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Levent also suggests that people on trip payment plans ask for a deadline extension.
“A lot of things can happen between now and May,” Levent said. “People are freaking out way prematurely. I would just wait and see.”
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Why aren’t all hotels offering automatic refunds given the spread of coronavirus?
Many hotels and resorts view the coronavirus as an act of nature, similar to a hurricane, which doesn’t make them accountable, Doncsecz says. And in most cases, trip insurance would not cover a pandemic.
Hotels and resorts also stand to lose a lot of money if they refund every customer. Many are already in jeopardy of closing if the deadly virus continues to force travel restrictions.
“Our economy needs people to not be scared,” Doncsecz says. “If we (the tourism industry) are the hardest hit, the world is going to have a huge unemployment crisis.”
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What has been the impact on destination weddings?
Doncsecz, who specializes in destination weddings, says most brides with destination weddings in Mexico or the Caribbean are postponing them for later in the year – such as July or August – or even 2021.
She says the biggest problem with rebooking is that some guests are unable to make the new date. And because most destination wedding venues require group contracts, guests may not be able to cancel their individual reservations.
In this case, the guest can either transfer their reservation to someone else or receive a credit for a stay on another date, she says.