COVID-19 & our travel community here at Wheel & Anchor

March 14th, 2020
COVID-19 & our travel community here at Wheel & Anchor

My dear Wheel & Anchor members,

You can well imagine that we have entered one of the most challenging periods of time not only in the travel industry but in society as a whole. As little as a week ago when I filmed my last newsletter from sunny Panama, events have unfolded at a dramatic pace that none of us could foresee.

I want you to know that the health and safety of all of you is my main concern and is shared by all of my team here.

As I’m sure you’ll understand our email inboxes and phones have been overloaded with concerns about the trips that we have scheduled in the coming months. I want you to know that we are looking into our options for all of these and that the situation in many places is changing faster than anyone can stay on top of.

I know that most of you understand that we, all of us, find ourselves in a situation with the spread of a virus over which we have no control. I realize that not knowing what will happen is frustrating, because it impacts all of your plans in your life. I know that a big concern for most of our members is the financial impact of all of this.

I have had many emails from members who understand the difficulties this situation presents…and I thank you for your understanding. I have also had emails from members who, as a result of this frustration, are demanding that we do something and/or that we refund all their money. 

First of all, I want to say to those members that I totally understand your frustration and if it were within my control nothing would please me more than to be able to resolve this situation to everyone’s satisfaction. I really do. And I want to reassure you again that my team and I are doing everything we can to address the situation in the best interest of our members.

I would like to take a couple of moments to explain the situation that we are in and what we are doing to mitigate the financial impact.

First of all, as I think you probably know, but I want to clarify again, we are travel facilitators - we put the effort into planning, organizing and executing trips. We work with airlines, cruise lines, hotels, local travel companies, guides and so on to provide the services your trip requires. We do not provide these services ourselves but rather we contract for them and then you contract with us for the whole tour program.

When you book a tour with us the monies you pay to us are used to pay for all of those services. The terms of those service contracts are mirrored in the terms & conditions of your contract with us at Wheel and Anchor.

If you have to cancel your trip with us then we in turn have to cancel the contract for all the services we have paid for on your behalf including paying any penalties that apply. When you get really close to a tour, say within a few months, those cruise lines, hotels and so on, often don’t refund any money because they can’t sell the room to someone else. This is why we recommend taking trip cancellation insurance because if something bad happens to you, then the insurance company will step in.

In situations where one or more of our service providers can’t provide the services that we contracted for, then they have to cancel the trip and they are supposed to give us our money back so we can give you yours. However, and this is an important point, if those airlines, cruise lines and so on, don’t cancel their services and remain ready to accommodate the guests, regardless of extenuating circumstances like these, then it puts us as the travel facilitator into a very difficult situation.

In normal times, the system works very well and insurance companies are there in a number of capacities. They act as a backstop for travellers who get sick or have some other emergency. In addition, in many cases, the travel suppliers have their own insurance to cover such situations. 

And finally, in cases where travel is made impossible or highly risky, such as when a Level 3 or 4 travel advisory is issued about a particular country or region, then the travel insurance company will also step in and refund an insured person’s money. Of course if you don’t have trip cancellation insurance, there is no one there to pick up the tab and you are left with lost money.

Nevertheless, the circumstances surrounding Covid-19 are far from normal. It has caused the biggest chaos and uncertainty in my experience and I have been in the travel industry for almost 30 years. It is perhaps the biggest chaos since modern-day travel has existed.

A few travel suppliers have gone to exemplary lengths in offering the opportunity for their passengers to rebook, albeit within a window of time that is not necessarily ideal for those of us who don’t have the flexibility to change all our plans on short notice.

However, the majority of companies, like airlines and cruise lines in particular, are trying to operate as normally as possible so that they don’t bankrupt themselves. That’s why almost none of them are offering to refund our or anyone else’s money. They stand behind their contract terms & conditions which are, quite understandably, designed to protect them from financial ruin.

Our job as the facilitator of travel is to try to fight through all this to secure the best deal for you, a valued member of our community, in an effort to make all of our members as happy as possible. In times like this, this is an incredibly difficult task exacerbated by the emails flooding in and the phone ringing off the hook, none of which I blame anyone for.

At the current time we are in contact with all of our suppliers to see what they are able to do for us and for you ! In some cases we are making headway, in other cases it is a bigger struggle partly because we are only one of hundreds of travel companies who are trying to do the same thing, and most of these suppliers simply don’t have the resources to address the flood of inquiries that have come in.

So, that’s a lot of information but I hope it explains the position we are in. In the end, like everyone else in the travel business, we don’t benefit from all this extra work - we do what we can to help solve the problem in the best way possible and we hope and pray that the situation will be over soon because we too have to pay for all of our overhead costs…and as many of you who have been in business for yourself know, this puts a heavy toll on all small businesses like ourselves.

So my final advice, if you are booked on one of our trips leaving in the next 8 weeks, please know that I and all of my team are doing what we can to find the best possible solution. If I don’t answer all of your emails or return your phone call right away, please understand - I’m busy working on figuring out a solution to all this. If you get advice from me that you don’t like because we can’t change the contracts that we are all bound by, please understand…I am advocating hard on your behalf and if I can change anything for the better I certainly shall.

Most of all you must all do what is right for you and make the choice about travel that is best for you. It might even mean that it will cost you some money…and believe me, it is costing all of us in this business a lot of money. 

But at the end of the day, as travellers, I think you know that nothing is predictable, that everything will eventually turn out all right, and that one day you’ll look back on all this as the madness of 2020…and be thankful that we are fortunate enough to have the ability to travel at all.

At this unprecedented time in our history, I ask you to follow the advice of the health professionals and do what you can to protect yourself and your friends and family and I promise you’ll hear from me again very soon… hopefully with some better news.

 In the meantime, hunker down and dream about all those amazing places in the world that you want to travel to… .and know that we will get there.

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