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How could COVID-19 Affect my student tour?

Brightspark Travel, as part of the WorldStrides family, is continuously monitoring the new coronavirus (COVID-19) with the support of our medical and risk management partners. We understand you may have questions in regards to an upcoming student tour, and we have compiled answers to frequently asked questions from Group Leaders and parents.

 

Updated May 19, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my tour or program be cancelled?

We have worked with Group Leaders to postpone travel through July 15, 2020, and are discussing the best contingency for each group (including the option to reschedule for future travel), handling each on a case-by-case basis. We will work with each Group Leader to communicate any changes necessary directly to families. We are committed to student safety and will not take anyone to a location that is not deemed safe for travel. As new information becomes available, we will not hesitate to make changes if needed.

We will continue to work on programs with most imminent departure dates first.

I am worried about traveling later this year. What should I do?

Our recommendation is to see how the situation develops before making any decisions.

To help our travelers, we are changing the deadlines associated with our cancellation policies. If you are worried about the date that a new cancellation penalty will apply, please know we have extended these deadlines. This allows you to wait until closer to the time of your travel to make a decision. The cancellation window will remain frozen until at least July 15, 2020.

Can I get a cash refund if I need to cancel?

If your Group Leader cancels your trip or you aren’t able to join a rescheduled trip or program with an original departure date before July 15, 2020, we have identified generous cash refund solutions and will be in touch with each family directly. The dollar amount of any refund varies based on factors including travel protection purchased and the amount  paid toward your program. We’ve continued to advocate for our families by working with our vendors and other partners, and we are proud to be offering this in a difficult time for families.

Note that if you cancelled at a time when Brightspark was not yet communicating the option for a cash refund, you do not need to contact Customer Support to alter your account. We will automatically process the cash refund applicable to your situation if we have already received your request to cancel in writing. 

If your trip departs July 16, 2020, or later, we ask that you give us a bit more time to relay news and updates through your Group Leader. We are being mindful of communicating clearly and accurately what we can actually deliver for our communities, which can prove difficult during such a fluid situation. 

Why will my refund take time to process?

Due to stay-at-home orders across the country, all Brightspark offices are closed until May 30, 2020. In addition, an unprecedented volume of cancellation requests is delaying our refund process. We expect refunds to start being processed no earlier than May 31, 2020.

Additionally, participants who had not purchased Refund Guarantee Protection will see their refunds come through in four equal monthly installments. This timeline allows Brightspark to refund as much money as possible to as many families as possible while allowing us to remain stable now and in the future.

I am having a difficult time reaching customer service. What do I do?

We apologize we aren’t able to offer prompt customer service. As you might expect, our phone lines and inboxes are experiencing an unprecedented level of inquiries regarding the coronavirus situation. We are currently working to expand our customer service team while also working to support the other parts of our business that are essential during this challenging time. Please know that we are doing everything we can to provide the best service possible. Here are some suggestions that will help us help you:

  • Reach out regarding urgent needs. If your situation is not urgent, we recommend contacting our customer support team at a later time when we can better assist you. As of February 28, we paused the deadlines associated with cancellation penalties to be sure that you don’t need to worry about an increased fee associated with a deadline passing at this time.

  • Group or individual question? Because our work is highly customized to each group, we work through the teacher or school associated with each trip on high-level decisions like a new date for travel. If your questions are related to a group decision, we recommend waiting to hear from your Group Leader, who will work with our team to confirm and share with you.

  • Communicate via one channel. If possible, we recommend using one channel of communication to reach us, so that we can make sure to address your needs most effectively. If we cannot respond with full answers promptly, we will communicate a timeframe within which we plan to respond.
If the tour or event I'm signed up for changes, what would that look like?

Our team is actively working to identify safety plans for travel programs and events in a new world with COVID-19 considerations. Our “Back-to-Travel” task force is meeting regularly to evaluate changes that might be necessary and prudent for this era, including adjustments to our traditional way of doing things that allow for a focus on hygiene and social distancing.

Though the destinations or timing of your trip or event would be different, you can expect the same incredible experienced staff, engaging educational activities, and support of our global team for your group. We will determine tour dates and location, in collaboration with your Group Leader, and each decision will be unique to your group.

Some other actions we are taking include:

  • Contacting our motor coach, hotel, and restaurant partners to understand what additional measures they are considering to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Procuring supplies like hand sanitizer and masks to use in the future.
  • Developing additional training for our staff, addressing a range of topics related to hygiene, prevention, and response in this era.

In consultation with our Medical Director, Dr. Neal Sikka, who leads our Doctors on Call program from the George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine, we’ve revised our health and safety protocols, outlining how to immediately engage our resources if COVID-19 is suspected. This includes developing specific plans for how we work with Doctors on Call in this scenario and outlining how to engage local health professionals to determine if other steps are necessary.

How are you making decisions about where to support travel or events in the near future?

We are actively monitoring the impact that COVID-19 is having on the areas in which we operate tours as well as the CDC’s guidance for travel, events, and schools. This includes continuous communication with our many partners around the world about closures that impact our ability to deliver culturally-rich programs. Where appropriate, we’re also speaking with local health officials who can help offer additional perspectives and guidelines that we can follow to help make our future trips as safe as possible. In nearly all of our destinations, we have local staff who provide additional information for consideration by our Health & Safety team. We are working with them to adjust their work schedules and habits for their safety, and we value their input on the situation where they live.


What if a student gets sick while traveling?

Students (and adults, too) do sometimes fall ill while traveling, which is why we have invested in our Doctors on Call partnership with the George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine. In the event that a student becomes sick, we will follow our best practices to allow the student to rest, avoid spreading germs, and, where appropriate, seek additional guidance or care from our Doctors on Call.

In response COVID-19, we have developed additional guidance and protocols in consultation with Dr. Neal Sikka, who leads our Doctors on Call program. He and his team will work with our team to evaluate each sickness and determine if the individual has been exposed to COVID-19. Where appropriate, we will immediately engage local health authorities.

In the unlikely event that a traveling group is quarantined, WorldStrides is committed to supporting all travelers until their safe return home, securing lodging, transportation, and meals; helping to facilitate flight changes; and covering any financial costs associated with these items.  

Dr. Sikka advises that if a person is feeling ill, it is essential not to wait until an individual is very sick to seek advice and help. COVID-19 is an influenza-like illness. Like the flu, most people who get COVID-19 will only need rest and over-the-counter medications to recover fully. However, immediate care helps to avoid the unlikely situation that a person might become very sick and need to go to a clinic or hospital to get better.  

What can I do to stay healthy?

To keep yourself and others safe and healthy: ​

  • Comply with special instructions issued by local officials.
  • Adhere to known, effective best practices to minimize your chance of catching respiratory infections:
    • Do not touch any part of your face without first washing your hands.
    • Avoid contact with persons who are already ill.
    • Avoid unnecessary touching of other persons (e.g. shaking hands in greeting) and limit touching publicly-shared surfaces where possible. 
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Carry hand sanitizer (60-95% alcohol) and use it for situations where hand washing might not be possible.
    • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or in your elbow.

Should you have further questions, please contact us