Due to increased tensions around the world, with the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State recently advised U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution. The situation is fluid, but here is a sampling of what travel advisors have recently experienced as a result.
“Yes, we are finding that clients are shifting their mindset away from some types of travel and specific destinations,” said Angela Rice co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors.
“We've had several clients re-evaluate their upcoming travel plans,” said Rice. “We’ve contacted clients traveling to areas of greater concern, referring more to Egypt, Jerusalem, Israel, and Turkey to determine if changing or canceling their travels was a good idea for them. We want our travelers to be looking forward to their travels, not stressed and feeling unsafe.”
Rice said that in some cases, cancellation terms are flexible, and the cost to change or cancel plans is immaterial. “Knowing that they can cancel or change plans at a later date for a refund, some clients are holding their reservations to maintain the availability and price that was secured at the time of booking,” she said.
“Others have chosen to pivot their travel to other destinations,” she added, “while others have canceled and are postponing plans to re-book their travels when they feel comfortable re-booking their desired trip.”
Each year, Rice’sagency focuses on two or three destinations to inspire clients, and for 2024, one of these destinations was Egypt. “We invested in learning about these destinations and improving our Egypt supplier relations,” said Rice. “Two of our advisors recently visited Egypt for the personal knowledge they shared with our other advisors and clients. We were planning several trips to Egypt for clients, and the planning of these trips has all been placed on hold.”
But, Rice said, over the last few weeks, the agency has reimagined the strategy, looking to inspire travel to other markets less likely to be deemed a concern for 2024–destinations like South America and expedition cruises to once-in-a-lifetime destinations like Antarctica. “We’ve also seen a dramatic increase in requests for Japan, Costa Rica, and domestic travel, including Hawaii and Alaska,” she said.
Africa is also an ongoing focus. “We have not had any of our safari-bound travelers cancel their travel plans,” said Rice.
However, the agency has adjusted logistics to avoid layovers and pre and post-travel.
“For example, we recently modified a couple's flights for their safari journey in January 2024. Instead of spending two nights on the front end in Istanbul, they canceled their airfare with Turkish Airways. They plan to re-book airfare with Delta Airlines and layover in London. This change cost them $450 per person (the penalty charged by Turkish Airways) plus a $50 processing fee. Their new airfare will cost substantially more based on airfare prices that layover in London. The prices to layover through London were higher when the client originally booked the flights with Turkish Airways, and they remain higher based on today’s quoted prices as well."
Europe was already going to be less popular with the Olympics being in France, she said. “Travelers want to steer away from unnecessary crowds and issues of security and safety, which are elevated with big events like the Olympics that attract travelers from around the world.”
“Gone are the days when you can guarantee a smooth travel plan,” said Elisa Espinoza, founder/CEO, of Dreamworld Vacation Concierge.
“I had a couple who had to cancel,” said Espinoza. “Fortunately, I was able to work with each of the travel providers and was able to cancel without a penalty. The airline provided the waiver code. However, because the flight was booked through a consolidator, I am still waiting for confirmation to see whether they will be waiving their fee. An email was sent to them highlighting the fact that this is due to the conflict in Israel, but no confirmation has been received yet.”
Not all advisors are experiencing cancellations—but they are seeing concerns.
"I am not seeing any cancellations,” said Marisa DeSalvio, owner of DeSalvio Travel in Washington State. “I just had five new trip requests in the past week. I have several people traveling this month and no one has asked about the warning.” DeSalvio is working on trips to the Maldives, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Vienna, Scotland, and Vietnam, and has clients traveling in Canada, Hawaii, Austin, California, Miami, Hudson Valley, New York, and Mexico.
However, DeSalvio emphasized that these same clients who are planning travel to overseas destinations (Maldives, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Vienna, Scotland, and Vietnam) have all inquired about insurance and have ultimately purchased insurance.
“I have not had anyone's plans canceled due to the war in Israel, however, having gone through multiple cancellations during the pandemic, I have learned how to navigate the rearranging of travel as well as refunding and insurance processing for travel plans that don't go as expected,” said Tracy Schatz, owner of Pennsylvania's Elite Travel Journeys.
“Travel advisors provide a level of customer service to our clients that helps them make the decisions that are best for them. We are able to explain the supplier jargon, answer questions, be a sounding board, spend minutes to hours to days on the phone getting the answers from suppliers in regards to their canceled travel plans, etc. We are their advocate for these circumstances.”
Travelers should always enroll in the Safe Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP), said Schatz, which is a free service that allows Americans to receive the latest situational updates in regard to the country they are traveling to, and also allows the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to contact the travelers in case of an emergency.
“We’re naturally seeing some increase in cancellations in the Middle East due to safety concerns,” said Matt Berna, president of the Americas at Intrepid Travel. “In response, we have relaxed our terms and conditions to accommodate affected customers, which has been well received,” said Bernal.
Updated information can be found on Intrepid’s Travel Alerts page, said Berna. “We also encourage U.S. tourists on international trips to sign up for STEP to receive important safety alerts from the U.S. embassy in the country they are visiting.”
“The world is in a messy place, and this is causing us to reflect on our priorities,” said Rice. “In my opinion, this is going to re-think travel that is perceived as more of a luxury or indulgence. However, I don’t think this will completely derail travel, but it will change the intentions of travelers and where they travel.”
Rice said she expects that travelers will lean toward more “experiential and wellness-based travel such as a glamping experience to the Inca Trail or an expedition cruise to Antarctica.”