The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has responded in harsh terms to the U.S. State Department COVID-19 advisory recommending that U.S. citizens – in particular older travelers with underlying health conditions – not travel by cruise ship because of the higher risks that demographic faces. ASTA’s statements are a PR executive’s nightmare considering the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak for “at-risk” travelers.
ASTA President & CEO Zane Kerby must have sipped too many umbrella drinks to have made statements like the following:
“Given the importance of the cruise industry to travel advisors, ASTA is gravely concerned about the impact of this advisory on our members’ businesses. As we shared with the White House before the advisories were issued, the vast majority of cruise trips go off without a hitch, and government actions should reflect that fact and be targeted and temporary. We hope this advisory lasts days, not weeks.”
Kerby (at left via ASTA) went on to emphasize how “only” two ships having had what he termed “a coronavirus problem.” Of course, there are 365 cruise ships sailing the 7 seas, and they are carrying 700,000 passengers aboard, just as the ASTA CEO says. And it goes without saying that the world is in a panic of the spread and lethality of this virus. But, Kerby and his colleagues calling a diligent warning by officials “irresponsible” is an attempt to turn the tables and the clock back on COVID-19.
Kerby brings into play the “info-demic” taking place, and he tries to lever those considering canceling cruise bookings to think twice. Here’s what the ASTA executive thinks about travel customers:
“Those who have underlying health conditions should consult their physician to evaluate a variety of activities including travel.”
To make matters worse, Kerby tossed in a demand that the 12,000 members of the ASTA will be needing some financial relief because of the effects of the viral outbreak! You read that correctly. The top dog of American travel agents just told old people to tune up and certify their health before boarding their next “death cruise,” lambasted officials trying to avert disaster, and told the White House and the Congress to divvy up so tour companies could stay afloat.
“On behalf of ASTA and our 12,000 members across the country, 98 percent of whom are small businesses according to the Small Business Administration and two-thirds of whom are owned and operated by women, we urge the Administration to work with Congress on a legislative package of targeted relief for the travel industry, especially the small businesses at its core
As the former owner of one Everything PR News, and as a former senior partner in a travel public relations firm, I am gobsmacked at the audacity of Kerby. The psychopath travel agents will now descend on the U.S. Congress to prop up an industry Kerby just turned into money-grubbing Wall Street wannabees. The reports on Kerby’s lunacy continued with:
“Items such as federal grants, low- or no-interest SBA loans and regulatory relief for small businesses should be considered. Tomorrow, ASTA will testify at the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee to provide specific examples to Congress for how to help travel advisors continue to serve their clients and highlight suggested policy priorities to be considered.”
Meanwhile, Italy’s neighbors are closing borders. ITB was canceled. Schools here in Greece are closed. Festivals around the world, concerts, and sporting events have been put on hold. Stocks tumble, billions of people are affected in one way or another, and thousands have died.
Worse still, no one on Earth knows for a certainty WHAT will happen next. And in the midst of all of the chaos, travel agents want to be first on the agenda to get relief? This is madness, imprudent, callous, and just plain stupid. Let me emphasize just how stupid. Ryanair just announced, without and fanfare I might add, the cancellation of all domestic and international flights to Italy. The whole country is on lockdown, many companies and institutions are just taking the hit and living with it, and America travel agents put their chief whiner on the stage?
A report from Science cites Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist, and physician at Yale University talking about how school closings will help push back COVID-19. When asked about proactive school closures, before there are any infections associated with a school, the professor said:
“Proactive school closures—closing schools before there’s a case there—have been shown to be one of the most powerful nonpharmaceutical interventions that we can deploy.”
Christakis is not alone. Schools are closing everywhere. Events are closing. Arenas are closing. The state of Israel is more or less closed. Yes, the Israelis fear the outbreak enough to demand that everyone entering the country be quarantined. And in the genius wisdom of the head of greedy travel agents cruisers should pack themselves into seagoing germ ovens and head off into their liquid paradise dreams. The U.S. Army in South Korea takes the virus seriously too, as in the image below.
Interestingly, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has come out with logical, sentient, and more pragmatic approach on COVID-19. This came out a couple of days ago. Advanced screening measures for passengers, how about that? Instead of bashing those who would take responsible action, the worldwide cruise organization puts in place procedures. Maybe American travel executives are just that arrogant? Who knows why some leaders would rather sink and industry and beg for a salvage crew than to simply do damage control. To hammer home my point, here is the statement from Kelly Craighead, President, and CEO of CLIA.
“We remain in close contact with local governments around the world, and while we regret that these changes will result in the denial of boarding for some of our guests, travelers should know that their health and safety is the absolute priority for the industry.”
The crisis we face is a clear sign that we all need to work together, and to share the burden of our unpreparedness. COVID-19 should be a lesson in how the world is interdependent. Instead, there are those who can only think of profit.