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Approximately 100 people working in tourism gathered Thursday in Edmonton for an industry conference that touched on the novel coronavirus and its impact on travel.

The coronavirus COVID-19 has reached every continent except for Antarctica and has upheaved the travel industry, disrupting flights, accommodations and tourist attractions around the world.

The conference included tour suppliers as well as independent travel agencies in the city, and some agents said they are busy fielding calls from concerned travelers.

Hidar Elmais, manager of Travel Gurus, said the agency was busy last month repatriating travellers who were stuck overseas in infected areas.

He said this month, the agency is working with travellers who are uncertain about booking a trip or mulling whether a trip should be cancelled.

Elmais said travel insurance is an important consideration, adding that if the federal government said Canadians should avoid non-essential travel to certain countries, travel insurance would kick in to offer a full refund for those looking to cancel or bring travellers who are already overseas back to Canada.

“Travel insurance can be purchased at any time. The problem is it has to be unforeseen. If you were to purchase travel insurance after Canada had declared non-essential travel to that country, you won’t be covered because it was foreseen. The earlier you purchase travel insurance, the better,” Elmais said.

He said that the most important period of time to purchase extra coverage, such as cancel for any reason coverage, is within the first 72 hours of booking a trip.

Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours and Expeditions, said there has been a roughly 10 to 20 per cent drop in business to certain countries. He said that business to Asia has come to a standstill because of the virus.

“Fear is real. People look at this and say, ‘What do I do?’ There’s a lot of questions,” he said.

However, Sanghrajka said the industry has experience in dealing with major disruptions, citing the SARS epidemic as well as concerns over Ebola.

He said travellers have asked to postpone their trips by a year or have asked to re-book in different parts of the world, such as Africa and Latin America.

He said that it is important for travellers to understand their travel insurance and its limitations.

“This is what will happen. Your deposit does become non-refundable because of this, this and this. Understanding all of that. Much like when you’re buying a car, much like when you’re investing in a portfolio,” he said.

Leah Wood of Peace River has been planning a family trip to England and Scotland since last year but the coronavirus prompted her family to re-think their plans.

“The rate of spread. The videos I was seeing out of China. It just was really concerning and now it seems to be spreading – not just in China, everywhere else. I just didn’t want to put my family at risk,” Wood said.

Wood said her family intended to book this month but has decided to postpone travel overseas until the risk of the virus lessens. They could explore Canada instead, she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of people stuck on cruise ships, people stuck at hotels. I did not want to be quarantined to an airplane or another country where I’m not from there and I don’t have family,” Wood said.

“It broke my heart. [But] the safety of my four kids and my family is more important than just a vacation.”

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