Coronavirus (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

NOTICE: The situation with coronavirus (COVID-19) is continuously evolving. As of May 10, 2020 the information on this page is current and accurate, but is subject to change as more information becomes known. We will continue to update this page regularly.

Our staff in the U.S. and in Europe are working around the clock to gather and communicate the latest information about how these recent events might impact your travel plans. We ask that you bear with us as we work to quickly find solutions for each unique individual situation. Please know that we are doing all we can to answer calls and respond to messages as fast as possible. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated!

RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS

June 15, 2020: Our physical office has reopened to staff and to visitors by appointment only. Please contact us if you’d like to make an appointment. Visitors will be required to wear a mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and comply with a few additional safety measures to protect the health of our team and other clients. Our hours of operation are Monday – Thursday from 10 AM to 4 PM

Vacation Department

Group Tours Department

Moving forward, our hours of operation will be Monday – Thursday from 10 AM to 4 PM. 

As we adjust to these new circumstances, know that we will do our best to respond to you as quickly as possible, and please bear with us while we seek solutions and options. We stand together with our neighbors and partners, locally and globally, as we face unprecedented challenges without easy answers.

CANCELLATION PENALTIES FOR WITTE TOURS

On March 1, 2020, Witte Tours opted to freeze all cancellation penalties for Witte-operated tours departing in 2020. This means that all cancellation penalty fees* will not increase after March 1st, as was previously stated in each tour’s terms and conditions. Therefore, you can comfortably wait to make any decisions about your trip without fear of incurring additional costs.

*The cancellation penalty freeze noted above refers to the fee that Witte Tours would apply if you choose to cancel your booking. Special arrangements such as business class upgrades, flight deviations, or extended stays may incur additional penalties.

CANCELLATION PENALTIES FOR WITTE TRAVEL

If you’ve booked travel arrangements through a Witte Travel Vacation Consultant, any cancellations or changes may be subject to penalties issued by the travel suppliers holding your reservations. Airlines, cruise lines, and leisure tour operators are frequently adjusting their change and cancellation policies, so please contact your Travel Consultant for the latest information regarding any cancellation fees that may apply to your unique trip.

WARNING AGAINST SCAMS

It is an unfortunate truth that some unscrupulous individuals will take advantage of opportunities to scam travelers during times of uncertainty by preying on their fears. There have been reports within the travel industry that an anonymous phone number was calling travelers “on behalf of your local travel agent” to offer extended cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance for an upcoming trip. When the caller was asked to provide the name of the travel agent and the travel destination, the caller simply hung up.

Please be on alert for potential scams. If you receive any communication from Witte Travel & Tours that seems suspicious or unusual, we encourage you to ask questions before providing any information, or simply hang up the phone and contact our office for verification.

WHAT IS THE CORONAVIRUS?

Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is part of a large group of viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) list the following as symptoms of coronavirus, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure:

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Severe cases can cause more serious symptoms such as pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and kidney failure. (Read more about symptoms here.)

WHAT MEASURES IS WITTE TRAVEL & TOURS TAKING TO MONITOR THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS AND ENSURE THE SAFETY OF ALL PASSENGERS?

  • Our team is closely monitoring the situation by reviewing all travel warnings, recommendations, and advisories from the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • We hold daily staff meetings to ensure that all our staff members are properly briefed on the most current information.
  • We are in constant communication with airlines, vendors, and our network of in-country partners for the latest news and updates.
  • If we have any reason to be concerned that your travel plans could put you at risk, we will contact you to discuss your options.

DOES AIRLINE TRAVEL INCREASE MY RISK OF CONTRACTING THE CORONAVIRUS?

Because the cabin air on an airplane is circulated and filtered every 2-3 minutes using HEPA filters, most viruses and germs cannot spread easily, so your risk of infection is not higher on an airplane. However, it is still a good practice to use antiseptic wipes on tray tables and armrests and to use your hand sanitizer before meals.

IF I CHOOSE TO CANCEL MY TRAVEL PLANS, WILL I GET A REFUND?

Refundability depends on different factors specific to your trip or tour. It is best to contact your Travel Consultant for your specific trip’s information. Generally speaking, it is unlikely that you will receive a full refund if you cancel your trip due to the fear of contracting COVID-19, even if you have purchased travel insurance. Cancellation due to government travel advisories or travel bans, or due to concerns relating to a viral outbreak, are not eligible reasons for coverage under most standard travel insurance plans. If you purchased a “Cancel for Any Reason” plan, refer to the terms of your insurance plan or contact the insurance provider to determine whether cancellation benefits apply. 

My travel plans were cancelled– when can I expect a refund?

We are doing the best we can to issue refunds in a timely manner under these unique circumstances. However, due to the high volume of requests that we and our supplier partners are experiencing, it may take at least 8-12 weeks for your refund to be processed.

WILL MY TOUR BE CANCELLED? IF SO, WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

We are monitoring the situation very closely, and are making operational decisions about tours on a case-by-case basis. In cases where we feel that it is in the best interest of our passengers to cancel or postpone a tour, we will notify all registered passengers of those changes in detail. Unless we’ve told you otherwise, you can assume that your tour will continue to operate as scheduled.

Do I need to make my next scheduled payment?

Witte-Operated Tours: If your tour is scheduled to operate as planned, continue to make payments as outlined in your tour brochure. All cancellation penalties for tours departing prior to 6/1/2020 have been frozen, so you can be confident in receiving the rest of your money back if your tour does not travel.

All Other Travel: Some travel providers have modified their payment plans to extend final payment deadlines. If your final payment is due within the next four weeks, contact your travel advisor to see if there have been any revisions to your payment schedule; otherwise, continue to make payments as planned. If your final payment is not made by the due date, you could risk your booking being canceled for non-payment.

CAN I RESCHEDULE MY TRIP / TOUR?

This will vary for each individual trip/tour scenario. It’s best to contact your Travel Consultant directly for more information about the options available in your specific situation.

WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOID GETTING SICK?

Coronavirus disease is primarily spread person-to-person between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may be possible to contract the virus from a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching the face—but that is not believed to be the primary method of contraction. (Read more about how the virus spreads here.)

The CDC recommends that the best way to prevent illness is to minimize your exposure to COVID-19 with a few simple but effective measures, such as:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.

(Read more about prevention and treatment here.)

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO GET SICK?

If you develop a fever or symptoms of a respiratory illness (such as a cough or difficulty breathing), call ahead to a healthcare professional immediately and inform them of your symptoms. They will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19 and will provide further instructions for preventing the spread of the virus to others.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 or experience symptoms that you suspect may be related, it is important that you take every measure to prevent the disease from spreading to other people around you. Read more about what to do if you are sick here.

MY HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN OFFERS MEDICAL BENEFITS WHILE TRAVELING. DO I STILL NEED TO PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE?

If you are planning an international trip, we strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to protect your investment and to provide you with coverage overseas in the event of an accident or illness abroad. Even if you have health insurance back home that offers some benefits while traveling internationally, the coverage may not be enough. There are three types of travel insurance that you should consider if you are planning an international trip:

Trip Cancellation – Trip Cancellation insurance protects your financial investment in your trip, such as the cost of your flights, cruises, or other travel arrangements. Depending on the specifics of the policy, it may provide cancellation benefits if you must cancel due to a covered reason as defined by the policy.  Some policies also provide a “Cancel for Any Reason” upgrade option, which provides more flexibility. Contact your Travel Consultant for policy details and for information about “Cancel for Any Reason” upgrade requirements. 

Travel Health Insurance – When you are planning an international trip, it’s wise to be prepared in case of a medical emergency. Should you need medical care overseas, you may be required to pay out-of-pocket for services, which can be very expensive. If you have health insurance in the United States, find out if your plan will cover medical emergencies or expenses incurred while traveling abroad. Ask if your policy has any exclusions for preexisting conditions, and whether your policy will make payments to hospitals directly. If your health insurance coverage is not adequate, consider buying a supplemental travel insurance policy with medical benefits.

Medical Evacuation – Medical Evacuation insurance is especially important if you are traveling to a remote area or to a place where healthcare may not be up to U.S. standards. If you get sick or injured while traveling, medical evacuation coverage will pay for emergency transportation to a high-quality hospital.

(Read more about the CDC’s recommendations related to travel insurance here.)


SOURCES

CDC – Advice for Travelers: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/traveler-information-center

CDC – (COVID-19) Travel FAQs: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/faqs.html

WHO – (COVID-19) Advice for the Public: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

WHO – (COVID-19) Travel Advice: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/travel-advice

WHO – Updated recommendations for international traffic in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak: https://www.who.int/ith/2019-nCoV_advice_for_international_traffic-rev/en/

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Planning a Safe and Independent Trip Overseas

I found a love of travel when I joined Witte Travel & Tours. Before then, I never thought much of traveling and now 16 years later, I have just completed my first independent adventure overseas. And you know what? I will travel overseas alone again in a heartbeat. Do I like to travel with others? Sure I do; however, I also find solo travel to be very freeing. As a woman, I never felt unsafe during any of my travels and that was due to my well-planned trip and tips I always use.

For me, the key to a well-planned and safe trip is to use all resources available. And in my experience, using a travel professional is truly invaluable. They have the knowledge and experience to ensure that your itinerary as well as accommodations and transportation options will work for you. They will listen to what you want and then research all of the almost limitless choices to find what works best for you.

A few key questions to ask yourself during the planning stages:

  • Airlines: What is the best schedule based on the time of year I’m traveling?
  • Transportation: Do you want to travel by train or drive between destinations?  Do you want to use public transportation almost exclusively in your target cities or will you use hop-on /hop-off tours?
  • Hotels: Do you want to be in city center, close to the train station, or close to a public transportation stop? What is most important – budget or location?
  • Sightseeing: Do you want to visit multiple museums or just exterior visits (so hop-on hop-off tour may be an option)? Are half-day or day trips via a motorcoach company or independent day trips via public transportation wanted?

After I had an idea on what I wanted to see, I got invaluable information from the staff at Witte in deciding all items mentioned above. I had originally gotten a hotel near the train station in Munich, however, changed it after one of my co-workers saw the location and alerted me it wouldn’t be the best area for a solo person. None of that information was mentioned on Trip Advisor, so I appreciated the information in order to change my hotel to a safer area knowing I was traveling alone.

My tips for staying safe while in Europe:

  1. Walk with purpose, even when you are lost. Always be mindful of where you are and who is around you.
  2. Do NOT be distracted with scenes that are being made around you. It could be a setup for pick pockets.
  3. Pick a hotel in a safe neighborhood close to transportation. While city center seems enticing, there are times when staying outside the center makes more sense. Look at the destination you want to stay at and plan from there. Be open to staying farther out.
  4. Keep extra money and credit cards in a money belt. Only have enough money that you need for the day easily available. Men, be sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket.
  5. Take along copies of your passport in case yours gets stolen.
  6. Currency: If you need to get currency from Banks/ATMs while abroad, be sure you are in a well-lit and safe area and that you protect the screen from being viewed by anyone around. Do not keep cash in easy view.

Schonnbrunn Palace and Melk Abbey

On my last full day in Europe, I decided to visit Schonnbrunn Palace and then venture to Melk Abbey. Now why visit Melk Abbey when I could have spent another full day in Vienna? It’s simple…in the work I have done at Witte, I have seen the images of Melk Abbey quite often and always wanted to see it in person. Knowing I was a few train rides away, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit this gem.

Schonnbrunn Palace
Schonnbrunn Palace

I again used public transportation to get around, from my hotel to Schonbrunn, from Schonbrunn to Melk, and from Melk back to my hotel. Along the way I logged a lot of miles walking, but it was so worth it.

Melk Abbey - Inner Courtyard
Melk Abbey – Inner Courtyard

Schonbrunn Palace is truly grand and I enjoyed my exterior and interior visit; however, the true “sleeper hit” for my time in Austria was yet to come…Melk Abbey. Once I left the train station, I walked to the city center and then walked up to the Abbey. In the winter you must pay for a guided tour and they only one tour on Saturdays. In hindsight I am so glad this was a requirement. While the Abbey is awe-inspiring, having the guides really made the history come to life. The cost was so worth the one hour tour. Once I left, I thought it might be fun to check out the shops in the city center. Unfortunately my tour ended at 3 pm and the shops had closed for the day. If I am ever in Vienna again, I will be making a side trip to Melk to visit the city center and the abbey.

Vienna in a Day

Since I only had one full day in Vienna, I decided to start with an independent city tour using my map, landmarks, and public transportation to see as much as I possibly could. And yes, at some point even with the map I got turned around and lost, so once I found a U-Bahn stop, I went underground and got back on track. Seriously, the public transportation system in Austria is equally as user friendly as Germany’s.

Hofburg
Hofburg

Using the bus, I exited at Karlsplatz and immediately viewed the Opera House. Next, I walked by the Cafe Sacher Wien, which has the famous Sachertorte. I went in; however, the wait was long and I had limited time, in Vienna so I left and proceeded to Albertina Museum. Coats must be checked before you can begin your tour. I spent a very thoughtful few hours visiting each floor of art exhibits. I highly recommend this museum. Once back outside, I headed to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I tried my one attempt at a selfie and decided that is definitely not for me. Selfie fail aside, I went inside to visit the cathedral. Next, I headed to St Peter’s Church for another interior visit. It is truly amazing the art that you find in churches and cathedrals. I am often awestruck by the stain-glass windows alone. Once my visit was complete, I ventured to the Hofburg Palace and purchased a Sisi Ticket, which covered the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, the Schonbrunn Palace’s Grand Tour, and the Imperial Furniture College. I ended my independent city tour by visiting the Hofburg Imperial Apartments. It was quite interesting.

Johann Strauss in Stadtpark
Johann Strauss in Stadtpark

I ended my “day in Vienna” with an independent Ringstrasse tour, using the tram system to get around. Thanks to Rick Steve’s, I finally got to see “up close” the statue of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, viewed the City Hall and Burhtheater as the tram rode by, and then alighted again from the tram so I could see the statue of Mozart. Both statues can’t be seen while on the tram. While I had a few other stops I wanted to get off of to visit, including City Hall, the time was getting late and the light was fading fast. All in all, I enjoyed my full day in Vienna and look forward to visiting this city again some day.

Day Tripping outside Munich… Linderhof, Neuschwantstein, and Oberammergau

In planning my adventure in Germany and Vienna, I knew I wanted to schedule a day trip. One where I could sit back, relax on a motorcoach, and let someone else handle navigating from point A to B to C. This allowed me to experience a scheduled day tour.

I arrived at the meeting point with plenty of time to spare. There was a little confusion regarding what motorcoach might be ours as it was not clearly marked. That did surprise my fellow day trippers and myself since Grayline is a large company. Once they had the right motorcoach at the stop, we all boarded and started on our adventure.

The cost of the day trip (pre-paid), did not include the cost of admission to Linderhof or Neuschwanstein.  Once we were on our way, the tour manager came around to see if we wanted to purchase tickets to tour the castles. I was very happy to find out that we had a choice to purchase both, none, or just admission to one castle. I have toured Neuschwanstein before, but hadn’t toured Linderhof Castle yet. Now if I’ve been to Neuschwanstein, why go back? I wanted to see what it looked like in the winter vs. fall.

Linderhof Castle
Linderhof Castle

We first arrived at the parking area at Linderhof. Our tour manager went and purchased our tickets and we walked the short distance to the castle. Since it’s winter, the garden area was closed and the statues were encased in wooden structures to protect them from the elements. Even with not being able to see the statues, it was still worth the visit during this time of year. While small in comparison to Neuschwanstein, Linderhof is grand and the castle itself quite opulent. I am so glad I toured it. After the guided tour, we immediately started back to the motorcoach as we had a short amount of time before the motorcoach left.

Next stop…Oberammergau, an amazing village with beautifully painted buildings. It was amazing to see this village for the first time. Our motorcoach parked in the area by the Passion Play Theatre and we were given just a half-hour to visit shops or walk into the village. Sadly, it only gave me time to visit two shops. This is what you sign up for when joining a scheduled day trip. Plus, there never seems enough time to truly enjoy a destination. So with that, I know I will visit this village again, but on my own so I have time to walk and take in the painted buildings and beautiful wood carvings this village is famous for.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

Final destination before returning to Munich…Neuschwanstein Castle. The Marienbrucke bridge is currently closed, so you can’t walk on it to get panoramic images of the castle. I knew about this ahead of time, but still wanted to enjoy seeing the outside of the castle again. There are three ways to get up to the castle, by bus, by horse-drawn carriage, or by walking up the long and winding road. It had snowed the day before and was deemed too slippery for the buses to run. I live in Michigan, and seeing the snow barely on the roads this information surprised me; however, some don’t get the amount of snow that we do. Needless to say, the line for the horse-drawn carriage was quite long. For me, I decided to hoof it up to the castle. It was a great workout and well worth the walk. I loved seeing this majestic castle in the winter.

The tour manager gave such great information regarding the areas we visited and the history. The driver was aces and kept us on schedule. All in all, I give Grayline tours high marks and I would definitely sign up for another tour with them again.

Dachau and Nymphenburg Palace

I decided on a morning excursion to Dachau. There are many tour companies that offer tours to Dachau if you so choose. I decided to venture out on my own and use public transportation. Getting there was as simple as a tram, train, and bus ride. I am pretty directionally challenged, in other words I do not have a great sense of direction, and I found navigating there to be quite easy. I do have to say Germany has a great public transportation system.  Knowing my lack of directional sense, I had printed off schedules of the trams, trains, and buses, so I could get to Dachau as efficiently as possible.  For me, having this extra information meant peace of mind.

Dachau
Dachau

Once I stepped off the bus I took from the Dachau train station, I immediately saw the Dachau Memorial Site marker. I knew this would be a sobering; however, important site to visit. In my walk and while I took my self-guided tour of the grounds and museum, I saw many German student groups visiting. It was heart breaking to see the images and videos that had been taken. The devastation is unimaginable; however, it is important to always remember and bear witness so these atrocities are never repeated. During the end of my museum visit, I saw a German teacher sit his students down at the last video. I was so very impressed with him and how he prepared his students. And yes, it was a heart breaking video of so many who had lost their lives.

My self-guided tour of the Museum and grounds took around 3 hours. Walking the grounds gave me time to reflect on all I had seen and learned.

After this difficult visit, I decided to head back to Munich and visit Nymphenburg Palace. If you wonder why visit Nymphenburg? I had seen images of Nymphenburg during my work at Witte and have always wanted to see it in person. Getting to Nymphenburg, I once again used public transportation. It was a short 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the palace. Even with the brisk weather, swans were still in the lake in front of the palace.

Nymphenburg Palace
Nymphenburg Palace

The entrance fee was quite reasonable and you are left on your own to wander around the beautiful palace. I thought it was well worth the time and cost to visit this gem. I only spent around an hour touring; however, if it had been summer with the gardens blooming, I would have been there so much longer. Nymphenburg Palace, even in the winter, is truly a site to see.

Munich City Tour

My time in Munich wasn’t long enough, but it did give me a glimpse of this beautiful and fun city. To begin my exploration, I felt an independent city tour would be best. I decided to begin with a Rick Steve’s recorded tour of Munich; however, found out very quickly that this wouldn’t work for me. I have a very poor sense of direction, so decided to abandon this and go with navigating by map. If you aren’t comfortable navigating on your own for a city tour, I highly recommend hop on, hop off tours. I have used tour companies before, but wanted to get around using the map, landmarks, and if I got horribly lost, go below to the U-bahn to get back on track. The public transportation system in Munich was excellent, as well as the German people.

I began the tour by exiting the U-bahn at Karlsplatz, walked through the Karlstor Gate and strolled down Neuhauser Street, which is a pedestrian area full of shopping opportunities. Seeing the gate, shops, and various statues was truly fascinating.

Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz
Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz

The street led me right to the Marienplatz, the central square in the city centre and one of my favorite spots. The Marienplatz has the Glockenspiel, and Old and New Town Hall. You can actually go into the New City Hall and pay a nominal fee to ride the elevator to the top to get a great panoramic view of Munich. I decided to do this and even though I went when it was cold and very windy, it was well worth it to get a birds-eye view of the area. Unfortunately both days I was at the Marienplatz, I missed the Glockenspiel’s show, though viewing the clock even without the moving parts is still quite interesting.

Viktualienmarkt
Shop in the Viktualienmarkt

Next, I walked through the Old Town Hall gate and visited St. Peter’s Church. Afterwards, I continued to the Viktualienmarkt, an open air market and pedestrian only area. I enjoyed looking at the different vendors here and even laughed when it started to snow. It added to the beauty of the area. I ended my tour and meandered back toward the U-bahn by way of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). I didn’t go inside since it was beginning to get dark and I am most comfortable navigating on my own during the day.

Fundraising is Key to a Great Student Tour

Fundraising is Key to a Great Student Tour

As featured in the 2015-2016 issue of the NTA Student Trip Planner

A tour operator has provided a great itinerary, the logistics are falling into place, and students are getting excited and encouraging their friends to sign up for the big trip. Now for the tricky part: fundraising…view the rest of the story

Give the Gift of Multi-Generational Family Vacation

Witte Travel & Tours In the News

As featured in the April 2015 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine

HEADQUARTERED IN GRAND RAPIDS, West Michigan’s premier travel company, Witte Travel & Tours, has been helping people explore the world since 1975. According to Karen Chircop, who co-owns the company with Bruce Klein-Wassink and Nate Barendse, one of the most popular travel trends today is multigenerational family vacations…view the rest of the story