The 4 Cornerstones Tour Operators Need to Prepare for a Return to Travel

July 21, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health

The pandemic is forcing everyone to learn how to mitigate travel risk. Whether you’re a tour operator, a traveler or a government, restarting travel is on everyone’s mind. The challenges are facing each of us in different ways and in varying degrees.

What should I do? What shouldn’t I do? How do I get any of it done?

No matter where you are in the travel industry, these are questions we ask ourselves as often as the health experts and government officials announce new information about COVID-19 mutations, infections, treatments and vaccines.

To help answer some of these questions Global Rescue hosted the highly anticipated webinar “Restarting Your Operation: Legal Liability and Duty of Care For Tour Operators During the Pandemic.”

The event was moderated by Jim Sano, the former president of Geographic Expeditions and a Yosemite Park Ranger.

The webinar panel featured travel experts from the legal, insurance, medical and security sectors. Each speaker shared constructive insights invaluable for anyone puzzling over the “do’s, don’ts and how to’s” of the new travel risk management landscape.

Sano said a successful return to domestic and international travel will require four essentials from travel tour operators.

“First, tour operators should consider having COVID-19 waivers. Next, they should scrupulously maintain established practices to avoid disease spread. Third, they need to enhance emergency response abilities. Finally, it’s ideal to team up with an emergency travel risk medical provider to handle the responsibilities of medical emergencies,” Sano said.


A nagging question among tour operators is how to address client and customer risk and adhere to relevant guidelines. Ken Whitman is a liability specialist for tour operators and a senior program manager at AON, the world’s largest insurance broker. He said tour operators need to be careful during the pandemic not to take on or assume additional responsibilities or obligations that result in assuming legal liability for things for which they are normally not responsible.

“It’s better practice to put these obligations on the vendors providing the services and confirm they are fulfilling those obligations through proper vetting,” Whitman said.

Legal Liability

When it comes to legal liability, tour operators are looking for ways to balance common-sense precautions while protecting themselves and their business from safety guarantees. Jeff Ment, an attorney with expertise in travel related issues including legal liability and duty of care, said COVID-19 is a known danger and tour operators are moving quickly to prepare for unparalleled liability exposure.

“Waivers are a must, if you don’t have one already. If you do already have one, then having a COVID-19 specific waiver may not be necessary,” he said. Ment added that the pandemic is adding more awareness steps to the travel process.

“Tour operators need to know what their customers may be asked as the trip is happening. You need to know in advance if they’re going to be asked to sign something. You can’t hand something to travelers at the last second and expect them to legally be obligated to sign it,” he said.

Medical and Operations

Global Rescue’s Vice President of Operations, Scott Hume, said as travel opens up internationally people must assess the medical capabilities and transportation infrastructure to get you to healthcare facilities at your destination in case you fall ill. Not all tour operators understand what critical resources are available and needed for emergency medical response and mitigation.

“Just as important is who bears the cost should you get sick and stuck on the other side of a border with an illness and without the medical facilities or infrastructure to treat you,” Hume said.

Do’s & Don’ts

Tour operators need to follow established guidelines and steer clear of taking on responsibilities suited for medical experts. Global Rescue’s Medical Director Dr. Claudia Zegans said tour operators must rigorously adhere to basic guidelines like washing down high-touch surfaces and creating situations enabling physical distancing but they should not stray into the medical lane of conducting tests.

“When someone gets sick or injured, things can go wrong quickly — unless tour operators partner with a travel risk and crisis management company so medical emergencies are handled by trained healthcare professionals,” Zegans said.

If you’re interested in checking out the full webinar, click here for access to a recording of the event.

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