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A message from Bunnik CEO and CATO chair about coronavirus


COVID-19: Who can you trust in a worldwide panic?

A simple scroll through social media and various news outlets at the moment and it is pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that the world is doomed! We’re all about to be eaten up by the Coronavirus and should stop everything immediately.

 

It’s not too far-fetched to say that this is causing a worldwide panic. What started off primarily in China is now spreading globally with Europe and North America currently in the grips of the panic and its associated irrational behaviour.

 

I’m no medical expert and never will be. However, one thing I do know is that I will not be taking medical or travel advice from social media nor news headlines.

Dennis Bunnik

 

In my role as chair of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and Joint-CEO of Bunnik Tours my job is to make decisions based on the best credible information I have available. This is not always easy when the situation is changing on a daily basis. 

 

How do we separate fact from fiction? Firstly though, I would like to touch on why there are so many sensational headlines at the moment.

 

News Outlets Love a Dramatic Headline

Dramatic headlines create clicks and sell papers. So, when a Government Minister talks about reviewing the National Emergency Action Plan and details the different threat level responses the media naturally leads with what the ‘worst case’ scenario looks like as this will create more interest for the story. It is not until you read the body of the story that you realise the headline has been over dramatized. The problem is most people only read the headlines.    

 

Of course, governments and professional businesses need to have emergency plans in place and at times like this it makes sense to review them and make sure all is in order. The World Health Organisation, similarly has protocols in place and has been calling for all governments to prepare.

 

The news media is simply amplifying this message. It does not mean however that the worse-case scenario is any more likely than the best-case scenario. 

 

Adding further fuel to the fire of dramatic headlines are the politicians who will take any opportunity to look strong in the media to help their opinion polls – for example by shutting borders or prematurely declaring a pandemic when one does not exist. This impact then snowballs and creates further unnecessary angst in the community.

 

Social Media Loves Drama – and a Conspiracy Theory

Social media and instant access to information via smart phones is overall fantastic. However, spend enough time online and you’ll be convinced the earth is flat and man didn’t land on the moon. As I mentioned before, I don’t take medical advice from strangers on social media. 

 

Sadly, the result of all of this panic is that holidays and even public events are being cancelled for no valid reason. 

 

The head of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this week, “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself, it’s fear, rumours and stigma”. He stressed that fear and misinformation were the biggest challenges to overcome. 

 

Fear, misinformation and panic are leading to irrational decisions which in turn is placing entire industries and economies under threat. Thousands of jobs have already been lost and it is not inconceivable that a number of airlines and companies relying on travel, tourism and events will stop trading as a result. 

 

The biggest impact of COVID-19 will be economic rather than medical. 

 

So before making any decisions it is important that you are armed with up to date information from reliable sources. At Bunnik Tours and CATO, we use the Australian Government's Smartraveller (www.smartraveller.gov.au) site and World Health Organisation (www.who.int) website to guide our decision-making process. 

 

The Next Steps – To Travel or Not To Travel?

If you are travelling in the next 2-3 months:

  • Closely monitor www.smartraveller.gov.au and the information available on www.who.int.
  • Check with your insurance company as to the level of coverage you have.
  • Check with your tour operator as to the status of your tour.
  • Your decision to travel should be based on the advice from the above sources taking into account your personal circumstances – consult with your doctor regarding any increased risk.

If you are travelling from 1 June 2020 onwards:

  • Do nothing now. The situation will likely change significantly in the next 3 months and making a decision to cancel or delay your booking now may result in unnecessary cancellation and amendment fees.
  • Keep monitoring the information sources above and keep regular contact with your travel consultant.

 

Bunnik Tours Actions

We are monitoring the situation daily including receiving reports from our local agents overseas. Our staff travel is unaffected. We currently have 3 member of the leadership team in Europe, one staff member in Mexico and 9 staff due to travel to Egypt in early March.

Some tours have been cancelled including all departures to China and several departures to South Korea. All other tours are operating as normal however extra hygiene measures are in place. 

Cancellation and amendment fees are being assessed on a case by case basis as we work with our airline and ground partners to minimize the impact on our clients.


A Final Note

Travel restrictions from China and other parts of Asia are having a significant impact on visitor numbers to many destinations. Similarly, there are many irrational cancellations from the western world. As a result this could actually be the best year to see some of the world’s most popular destinations without the mass crowds.

 

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Written by: Dennis Bunnik
Published: 2 March 2020


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