Whether you’re a tour operator, traveler or government, the pandemic is forcing everyone to learn how to mitigate risk to restart their operations.
The challenges are unique, but travel industry experts identified four actions to help restart travel operations: using written waivers, embracing current pandemic protocols, improving emergency capabilities, and partnering with a travel crisis provider.
Each activity addresses key elements to help manage the new reality of legal liability and duty of care for tour operators, travel agents and travelers.
Most travel businesses already have waivers but some do not.
“Tour operators should consider having COVID-19 waivers,” said Jim Sano, former president of Geographic Expeditions and Yosemite Park Ranger.
But tour operators, travel agents and travelers need to know if additional service providers used during an excursion have waivers, too.
“Tour operators need to know what their customers may be asked as the trip is happening. You need to know in advance if they’re going to be asked to sign something. You can’t hand something to travelers at the last second and expect them to legally be obligated to sign it,” said Jeff Ment, an attorney with expertise in travel related issues including legal liability and duty of care.
Medical Director Dr. Claudia Zegans advises tour operators need to follow established guidelines and steer clear of taking on responsibilities suited for medical experts.
“Tour operators must rigorously adhere to basic guidelines like washing down high-touch surfaces and creating situations enabling physical distancing but they should not stray into the medical lane of conducting tests. They should leave that to others,” Zegans said.
Ken Whitman, a liability specialist for tour operators and a senior program manager at AON, the world’s largest insurance broker, agreed. Tour operators need to be careful during the pandemic not to take on or assume additional responsibilities or obligations resulting in assumed legal liability for things for which they are normally not responsible.
“It’s better practice for them to put these obligations on the vendors that are providing the services, and to confirm they are fulfilling those obligations through proper vetting,” Whitman said.
As travel opens up internationally, everyone — from travelers to tour operators — must assess the medical capabilities and transportation infrastructure at the destination country.
“When someone gets sick or injured, things can go wrong quickly — unless a tour operator partners with a travel risk and crisis management company so medical emergencies are handled by trained health care professionals,” Zegans added.
There’s more we all need to learn about the new travel risk landscape. Tour operators are already taking steps to prepare for the return to travel with more than half (55% of surveyed respondents) saying they have risk management protocols as well as medical and security resources in place, but still have a few gaps to fill.