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Las Vegas travel agents press on amid ‘mass hysteria’ over coronavirus

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John Locher / AP

Tue, Mar 10, 2020 (2 a.m.)

A woman recently walked into the Prestige Travel & Cruises office at Horizon Ridge and Eastern Avenue and booked a vacation. Some are avoiding traveling because of coronavirus fears. Others not so much.

Branch manager Dana Geller said her industry is largely in a holding pattern as coronavirus concern continues to blanket much of the globe. More than 3,800 people have died worldwide from coronavirus and over 110,000 infections have been recorded, according to the World Health Organization.

“People just don’t know what’s going to happen at this point, so there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Geller said. “I recently had a woman who works in the health care industry book a trip. She said she’s not concerned about getting coronavirus. There’s concern out there, but it’s also a great time to book vacations because of wonderful deals being offered.”

Much of what Geller and her colleagues have been busy with lately is helping people with existing vacation packages to reschedule. A locally owned company, Prestige has four locations around the valley.

“There’s a lot of people with travel plans in the next 30 days or so who are wanting to change their plans,” Geller said. “They don’t want to go now. What we’re seeing is that the cruise industry is being very flexible and letting people move travel dates, up to two years out in some cases. It’s really unprecedented.”

Like the health care professional who booked with Geller, not everyone is staying home and stocking up on cases of bottled water and toilet paper. A different Prestige agent said she recently booked a European vacation for a customer for less than $2,000. The package, she said, would usually go for up to several thousands of dollars.

The fear for some is they might get quarantined for an indefinite period while aboard a cruise. That’s what happened to passengers on the Grand Princess, a ship with a cluster of coronavirus cases that idled off the California coast for days before pulling into the Port of Oakland on Monday. More than 3,500 were on the ship, which was housing nearly two-dozen confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s largest trade association, put out a list of enhanced screening measures for members on Sunday. Those measures include the denial of boarding to any person who has “traveled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China and Italy” in the previous two weeks.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has urged the White House to discourage Americans from boarding cruise ships.

“There’s lots of rumors going around,” said Abby Lagman, owner of Blissful Travel Co. in Henderson. “There’s kind of a mass hysteria about coronavirus right now. It’s the first situation of its kind during the social media age, so I think that adds to everything. I think the toughest part for people is just the unknown.”

Lagman said she understands why people would be concerned about their well-being, but coronavirus hysteria isn’t stopping her from traveling. She returned last week from a trip to South America and she’s planning to take a trip to Cancun later this month.

“It’s a good time to look for trips,” Lagman said. “This is affecting the entire world and affecting a lot of different industries. Look what happened on the stock market (Monday). It’s not just the travel industry. We just have to stay positive.”

Travel stocks, though not alone, have been hit particularly hard by global worries about the coronavirus. For instance, shares of Royal Caribbean Cruises fell more than 25% Monday alone. At the close of New York Stock Exchange trading on Jan. 17, the stock was priced at $135.05. On Monday, it closed at $48.27.

Lagman said consumers could save hundreds — even thousands in some cases — of dollars on trips if they’re smart.

“There are sales and there’s reduced airfare,” Lagman said. “It’s hard to tell what kind of deals might be out there moving forward. We’ve been through this before with bird flu and swine flu. I was a flight attendant during 9/11 and I was laid off. We’re going to bounce back — we have to.”

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