We are riders. Fear doesn’t serve us. Rational precautions do. Here’s what you should know.
Wait… a tour operator is going to lecture me on COVID-19?
Yeah I am and here’s why. The threat of an epidemic turns peoples normal comfortable world upside down. As an international tour operator my team and I are used to dealing with peoples reactions when they are taken outside their normal routine. More importantly I’m used to the particular reactions of clients raised in the culture of the United States. You want to know who someone really is? Then travel with them. The core that their neighbors and coworkers never see, well on tour we get to experience it. For some that’s specifically why they travel. They leave their stressful modern prisons for a turn in the yard. For others the shocking realization of who they really are may not hit them until a week after they have returned home. Regardless, when you remove someones comfortable trappings of status and the unconsciously soothing normalities of the familiar, people’s emotions kick in. As expected, I’ll tell you to calm down and think but I also caution people to plan for and expect others panic.
“You are going to die! We won’t tell you how until after sports and the weather.”
Consider the emotion fear. Truth may be the first casualty of war but rational thought is the first casualty of fear. More than any culture on the planet, Americans are fed a media diet of fear. Over the decades, US minds have become numb to it. Advertising and news formatting have to continually spice up the spook factor just keep peoples attention and sell advertising. Foreign visitors find it morbidly comical but if you’ve lived with it all your life you don’t notice it. You think it’s normal to be told that you should be scared, on a daily basis. Geography of the USA effects the culture as well. Compared to most other nations USA citizens are geographically isolated and therefore are not used to travel abroad. As such, the fear of the unknown is more common in US citizens and is something we deal with a lot. Example? Imagine a 20 min conversation with a client convincing them that their chances of being blown up in a terror attack in Munich are Infinitesimally lower than them being car jacked in their own town.
Okay so calm me down about the Corona virus
When you work in the travel industry, there’s always some big thing that happens every 5 years or so. A big storm, a war, and yes this isn’t the first time some contagion threatened to end the world or at least the fiscal year. Our vendors are all over the world. Our partners tell us first hand what’s happening on the ground in places like Italy, Sydney, Hamburg and Shanghai. Our operations department head worked for 27 years in medical administration and is quite familiar with CDC protocols. First I want you to take a moment and look at some important numbers on a very helpful website set up by Johns Hopkins. https://systems.jhu.edu/research/public-health/ncov/ Look at the two big numbers in the top right hand corner. Total Deaths and total recovered. That’s right “recovered”. You don’t hear anything about people who’ve recovered from the virus because that’s not scary enough to hold peoples attention. Contracting this virus is not a death sentence. It’s a harrowing battle with a really bad case of the flu that could put you in the hospital. So how do you get the virus? This is where expertise matters so you refer to the experts that know. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html
It’s important to note that people who already have compromised immune systems are at much greater risk. It’s also important to point out that if you contract the corona virus and don’t have a clean healthy place to fight off the infection… you’ll likely die not from the corona virus itself but from a secondary infection. Translation, those with access to proper medical care in clean environments are at much lower risk. That’s why China built two new hospitals in Wuhan in less than two weeks. So look closely at the map and be mindful of where cases are and take simple precautions but be rigidly strict about them. So what should you do to prevent getting sick? Here’s what the pros say. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html
Wait, you are going where?!
We watch daily updates and hear reports from our contacts as you might expect. What you probably haven’t predicted is the occasional conversation we have to have with clients. We run motorcycle tours all over the world. Our job is to put our clients on the best curvy, scenic backroads…where nobody is. Never mind a little face mask, our clients spend most of their vacation in a full face helmet, 20 feet away from anyone. We’ve also learned geography isn’t an American strong suit. We have to explain to people how their fears are unfounded due to simple geography. “Yes Corsica and Sardinia are islands in the middle of the ocean far from major population centers and certainly no where near anyone who is sick.” The odd part is we are explaining this to brazen dare devils who routinely risk life and limb for a thrill.
The positive side of panic
I’m sure you’ve already started imagining all the negative things people will do when they start to panic. That’s a good practical exercise but there is an upside to this. Those convinced the world is about to end will stay home. I’m frankly really looking forward to going to Italy this year. We don’t hit many touristy spots but the few we do stop at are probably going to be blissfully vacant. My guess is all the old folks on the bus tours will stay home. Fine by me, I’ll finally get some decent video of San Gimignano.
A few more hurdles at the airport and enforced hand washing at lunch stops
We know some countries have been or will be shut out. For Example Italy will not allow anyone from Hong Kong into the country. Conversely no Israeli is allowed to fly to Italy. As you might expect, some of these moves make sense while other are purely for the benefit of perception. Those of us who travel a lot know the uselessness of most “security theater”. It is a show designed to make the ignorant people feel safe. The rules at every airport are different and seem to change with each shift of personnel. Health screening is usually just poorly administered questionnaires we’ve seen at the airport before. I would hope to see something more effective this year. If you have a cold… probably not a good time to travel. You will undoubtedly cause a reaction… and it won’t always be a rational one. I’ll probably keep an N99 Mask on me for some of the more close quarters areas I have to go through during air travel. If there’s one person on the tour who can’t get sick, it’s the tour leader. I imagine, to help put peoples minds at ease, we’ll include a pack of tissues and hand sanitizer on the Italy tours this year. Also my tour guides won’t let anyone sit down to eat until they’ve washed their hands… just like mom used to do. It’ll be fun.