Four travel stories that were too good to be true


We yearn for positive travel news these days. And in a day and age when headlines dominate, who has time to read the fine print?

Here are four popular travel stories from the past two months where details were later clarified that made the original headlines substantially less impressive than they originally seemed.

1. Japan may cover half your expenses if you visit

If reports that Japan would pay a good portion of your travel expenses sounded too good to be true, it’s because they were. After international headlines pounced on reports that Japan was launching a new campaign to pay up to half of travelers’ costs, Japanese authorities quickly reined in expectations.

In a series of tweets on May 27, Japan Tourism Agency clarified that its new “Go to Travel” campaign is aimed at stimulating domestic travelers, not international ones. The campaign, which the agency noted is still “under consideration,” would begin after the Covid-19 pandemic ends.

The following day, the agency also placed a notice on the homepage of its website about the “misinformation … being reported by some media outlets.”

Even if the plan is approved, the implication that Japan is covering “half” of travelers’ expenses is a stretch too, especially for a country as expensive as Japan. Budget documents excerpted from the campaign show travelers would be eligible for lodging and dining vouchers for up to 20,000 yen (US$186) per person per day.

Currently, most foreigners, including those from China, Australia, the United States and most of Europe, are not allowed to enter Japan. Those who are allowed due to “exceptional circumstances” are requested to quarantine for 14 days.

2. Passengers get Covid-19 blood tests before flying

What better way to quell fears of contracting the coronavirus while flying than to test passengers before they board the plane? That’s what many thought when they read headlines that Emirates was the first airline to conduct rapid Covid-19 tests for departing passengers.

Unfortunately, what wasn’t made clear at the time was that the tests were serology tests for antibodies (which shows evidence of past infections), not active Covid-19 infections. While antibody tests are helpful to track the pandemic (and to detect some level of immunity), they won’t prevent flyers from infecting one another during air travel.

Finger-prick rapid serological tests check for the presence of antibodies, while Covid-19 infection tests are typically administered through nasal swabs and saliva samples (at least for now).


Reporting questioned whether travelers would be denied boarding based on results, which is hard to square given that they tested for the presence of antibodies only.

The finger-prick blood tests were administered as part of “additional precautions” being introduced by Emirates, and were initially given to passengers flying from Dubai to Tunisia. After the Dubai Health Authority, who administered the tests, discovered efficacy rates were only around 30%, it banned the testing.

3. You can get tested at Vienna Airport, avoid quarantine

At a time when Europe’s most popular travel destinations were closed to foreigners, international travelers saw a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel when headlines about Vienna’s coronavirus testing at the airport dominated the news pages.

Some international travelers thought they could access Vienna if they could pass a Covid-19 test.

Salva Mira Photography

It’s true that those who pay 190 euros (US$210) for a coronavirus test upon landing at Vienna International Airport can skip the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine if the test is negative.

It’s also true that this is available to “all passengers arriving* or departing from Vienna Airport.”

But that asterisk is important: It indicates that testing on arrival is available only for those who have both a residence in Austria and a valid residence permit. This information is now conspicuously boxed at the top of Vienna International Airport’s coronavirus testing webpage with a large exclamation point and the word “ATTENTION” in all capital letters.

Furthermore, the airport’s on-site coronavirus testing must be construed in conjunction with Austria’s travel regulations, which states that through May 31:

“Entry by air is prohibited to third country nationals from states outside the Schengen area. Third country nationals travelling from inside the Schengen area by air, have to carry a medical certificate proving a negative Covid-19 test result or are obligated to commit to a 14-day quarantine.”

The Schengen Area is a group of 26 European countries that have done away border controls between one another.

4. Countries will pay you to visit 

While tourism boards around the world are planning strategies to entice travelers once it is safe to do so, a number of media outlets are reporting on countries that will “pay you” to visit.

Sicily’s 75 million euros (US$83 million) tourism initiative which may pay for one night of a three-night trip along with vouchers for museum fees is one thing (assuming you’re eligible, of course); coverage regarding free sun loungers and tables on the beaches of Bulgaria is hazier. It’s also been reported that Cancun, Mexico, is preparing a campaign that includes two-for-one hotel stays and companion air ticket refunds, and that Cyprus will cover lodging, food and medication for Covid-19 patients and their families should they become ill while they are there.

Slanchev Bryag, or Sunny Beach, is a major seaside resort on the coast of Bulgaria.

Adél Békefi

Hotels, cruises, tour companies and those involved with the travel industry are expected to offer generous incentives to lure travelers from their homes when the time is right. Airplane ticket refunds and free hotel rooms aren’t inconsequential. But whether travel deals and free medicine amount to “paying you” is subject to your own interpretation.

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