CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 affects Iowa university alumni travel

Trip to Egypt marketed by UI fundraising center to return in days

The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in
The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

IOWA CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic that is snarling travel around the globe is complicating trips marketed to alumni of Iowa’s public universities by the institutions or affiliated organizations.

Two trips marketed to University of Iowa alumni and friends by the UI Center for Advancement, the independent nonprofit fundraising arm, left earlier this month to Egypt and Israel.

The trip to Egypt left March 3 — two days before the Board of Regents issued a moratorium on university-sponsored international travel amid fears of a spreading novel coronavirus, but after the public universities had started canceling study abroad programming and curtailing travel to some areas.

A UI Center for Advancement-marketed trip to Israel left March 8 — three days after the regents’ international travel ban. A spokeswoman for the center said it only advertises the trips; an independent operator administers them.

“Universities across the country partner with travel operators to offer opportunities for alumni to travel together,” according to Dana Larson, a spokeswoman for the UI Center for Advancement. “These trips are not sponsored by the University of Iowa or the Center for Advancement, include travelers that are not alumni, and are scheduled a year or more in advance.”

She said no UI alumni signed up for the Isreal expedition.

“We are not actively promoting or marketing these trips and are encouraging tour operators to cancel and offer travelers flexible options,” she said. “But we need to keep information available on our website for alumni to contact tour operators as needed.”

The Egypt trip is scheduled to get back Saturday — even as the United States ramps up international travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 continued spread.

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In Iowa, 15 of the state’s 16 positive cases reported as of Thursday are tied to a different Egyptian cruise, one sponsored by a Hills Bank and Trust travel club.

A report Thursday from the World Health Organization showed 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Egypt and one death. In Israel, 75 cases have been confirmed.

On March 5, the regents banned all university-sponsored international travel and later extended that prohibition indefinitely. The campuses announced Wednesday they’re moving to online classes for at least two weeks after spring break, and are recalling thousands of students studying abroad in affected countries.

Although the UI Center for Advancement is affiliated with the university and serves as its fundraising arm, it is registered as an independent nonprofit and is not governed by the regents.

In a message posted to its website Wednesday, the center announced it is canceling or postponing a series of sponsored events — from an outing in Milwaukee next week to a brewery tour in Phoenix next month.

The center’s travel program — which sends UI alumni and friends on expeditions around the world through partner travel companies — posted a message this week warning, “The spread of COVID-19 is raising concerns about travel.”

“Trips are administered by our tour operators who make all decisions related to Iowa Voyagers travel,” according to the message, which also stressed, “Iowa Voyagers is not responsible for trips canceled by our tour operators, or any illnesses or quarantines you might experience.”

UI Center for Advancement-marketed trips that remain on its Voyager website include one to the explore the waterways of Netherlands and Belgium from March 31 to April 8.

Another to visit the Galapagos Islands from April 1 to April 8 has been pulled from the site.

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Online descriptions and details of the departed trips show costs starting at nearly $5,000 for the trip along the Nile River in Egypt.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa alumni associations also have travel upcoming and ongoing, including an ISU-affiliated cruise in the South Pacific, which leaves Sunday and returns March 25.

Eight passengers are booked on that Traveling Cyclones cruise, according to Heather Botine, director of travel for the ISU Alumni Association, adding Oceania Cruises has an assurance program for anyone booked on a cruise through Sept. 30 or anyone who books through April 30.

“They may cancel for any reason up to 48 hours prior to departure and will receive a future cruise credit for 100 percent of the fare paid,” Botine said in an email.

She said any tours in the most-affected countries have been canceled.

A Traveling Cyclones trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon left with six passengers March 8 and will return Friday. Arizona was reporting nine COVID-19 cases as of Thursday.

Since the ISU Alumni Association is connected with the institution, the regents’ travel ban applies to staff “but not to the alumni and friends of the Traveling Cyclones.”

Eight travelers are registered for an April 24-May 5 trip of UNI alumni to the Mediterranean, though the travel company is offering full refunds for cancellations and Italy is now off the itinerary, according to Sarah Parsons, UNI advancement communications director.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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