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How coronavirus is impacting Montrealers’ travel plans

Click to play video 'What is COVID-19 doing to Montrealers’ travel plans?' What is COVID-19 doing to Montrealers’ travel plans?
The spread of the COVID-19 virus has cancelled many Montrealers’ plans to travel to hard-hit countries like Italy and China, and it’s made many others nervous to travel elsewhere, too. Travel agent Antonio Panetta tells Global’s Dan Spector about how travelers’ plans are changing.

Though there remain relatively few cases of the novel coronavirus in Quebec, the global spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is being felt acutely by Montreal’s travel agents.

Antonio Panetta of Rivière-des-Prairies-based Voyages David told Global News Morning that the impact is especially severe for agencies like his that work closely with the Italian-Canadian community.

READ MORE: Quebec designates specialized clinics to handle coronavirus as fourth case confirmed

“Eighty per cent of our clientele are Italian. They’re going to Italy or taking Mediterranean cruises out of Italy,” he told Global News’ Dan Spector.

Italy has been among the countries hit hardest by COVID-19 outside of China, where the virus outbreak originated. Over 9,000 people have been infected in Italy, with 463 dead from the virus as of Tuesday morning.

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This week, the Italian government instituted nationwide lockdown measures to keep the virus from spreading, with travel into, out of and within the country of 60 million severely restricted.

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Those measures have effectively suspended all tourism in the country, and a lot of Panetta’s clients have been cancelling their trips.

“This time of year, people are usually calling to book their summer travel plans [to Italy],” he said. Instead, this year, they’re calling to cancel the trips they’ve already booked.

He added that his clients are finding that getting a refund is not always so cut and dried.

“There’s some instances where they’ll issue you credits for a future travel,” he said, “But everything is a day-to-day, case-by-case scenario.”

READ MORE: Quebec couple stuck on cruise praises Canadian government’s handling of situation

Another issue causing major headaches for travel agents and tourists alike are cruise ships. This week, Canada’s top doctor urged Canadians to stop boarding cruise ships while COVID-19 remains a threat. Since the emergence of COVID-19, multiple cruise ships from Japan to California have been placed under weeks-long quarantines after outbreaks of the virus on board.

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Just like trips to Italy, Panetta says your ability to get a refund for your cruise may vary.

“I have two different cruises in two weeks with two different clients. They’re being offered credits for up to two years.” But, he says, other clients on other cruises aren’t being offered any credits at all.

Despite the challenges facing the industry, Panetta remains hopeful that the virus’ impact on travel will subside soon.

“You have to remain an optimist,” he said.