Since my last eTN article on this issue a few short weeks ago, there have been some worrying developments in Australia. Although swine flu is overwhelmingly a relatively benign condition, there have now been seven deaths attributed (in part) to this disease out of over 3,500 recorded cases which have been recorded in Australia since the initial cases were diagnosed in early May. Virtually all the deceased suffered from other health problems and in these cases swine flu was a tipping point.
The increased prevalence of swine flu in Australia, which is now in the midst of its traditional winter flu season, is creating problems for both inbound and outbound tourism. From the inbound perspective, some intending travelers have canceled or postponed travel to Australia. Not many, but is it an issue that is concerning Tourism Australia. While the Australian government is actively addressing the issue and the nation is certainly not gripped with any sense of alarm, some travelers remain nervous. A swine flu vaccine is due to be released in Australia very soon.
However, some outbound travelers from Australia are experiencing concern at their foreign destinations. In Bali, one of the most popular destinations for Australian travelers, local authorities are taking a very cautious attitude to arrivals from Down Under, and there was something of a media fracas when it was alleged that Australians arriving in Bali were subjected to blood tests. It appears that this only happened in cases where arrivals were actually suspected of carrying the virus but the more lurid denizens of the press falsely declared that all Australians were being jabbed on arrival.
The issue of swine flu was brought home to a company I work closely with recently when an Australian family of one of our travel agency clients informed the agency that two of the children in the party were diagnosed with swine flu in Greece and were ordered to an isolation ward at a provincial Greek hospital and were obliged to cancel a coach tour on which they were booked. This would be unremarkable except for the fact that they had assumed that their international credit card company’s travel insurance would cover the expenses. The travelers were informed that the policy would not cover any claim related to swine flu on the grounds that the World Health Organization had declared it a pandemic. For the record, many travel insurance companies will provide coverage related to swine flu.
The lesson for all eTN readers who sell travel is to check what travel insurers do and don’t cover, as this particular matter is not an exclusively Australian concern. These travelers and many others who face a similar situation are certain to incur considerable out of pocket costs because, like many travelers, they automatically assume that taking out travel insurance is a panacea for any problem which may confront them. This is a warning, read the small print on your travel insurance policy before you either sell or buy. In our litigious international environment, travelers who are slugged huge medical bills which partially arises out of their own failure to get the right insurance coverage will come legally gunning for the travel agent. Regrettably people rarely blame themselves for their own mistakes and travel retailers need to ensure they have done all they can to ensure that they have taken reasonable steps to offer travel insurance, and, equally important, insurance which will cover their clients from the most likely risks they may face when travelling.