When things go bad, what first steps can advisers take?
In a panel moderated by Travel Market Report’s Brian Israel at this week’s ASTA Global Convention in Ft. Lauderdale, representatives from all sides of the trade — a travel advisor, a tour operator, an insurance operator, and a member of the Bureau of Consular Affairs — came together to talk about how advisors can deal with difficult situations when negative headlines hit popular destinations.
“The first reaction from clients is often panic or misperceptions,” Kareem George, an advisor and the founder of Culture Traveler, said. “The first reaction is to cancel or rebook, without really having full information.”
“We also struggle with the 24-hour news cycle,” Ali Gerakaris, the public relations director for Apple Leisure Group, said. “There is a lot of time to fill … Things are blown out of proportion.”
Overcoming those obstacles isn’t easy, but advisors can increase the likelihood they will keep the booking one way or another. The first step an advisor can take, according to George, is to get in touch with their supplier partners.
“Talk to the people that are there, the people that have direct contacts on the ground … it can be an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a client and demonstrate that this is what they are using an advisor for,” he said.
“It’s our job to push out info to our advisor network,” Gerakaris said. “I would start with your business development managers. They can help prioritize what really needs to happen.”
Another resource that advisors can use is their travel insurance providers. “For us, we have 38 offices around the world and we have a huge presence on the ground. We look for you and you look for us as a resource,” Richard Aquino, the head of sales at Allianz Global Assistance, said. “I would use us as a resource on the ground. We’re there and a lot of these things aren’t really catastrophic events.”
And, if travel isn’t booked with a tour operator or insurance isn’t booked with a provider, advisors can reach out to state resources abroad.
“We have a big network of embassies and consulates around the world, and they are providing us with real-time information about destinations,” said Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director, the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Overseas Citizens Services.
That info is important, even before questions start rolling in from a client. When a client calls up, advisors need to know the information before giving guidance on how to approach the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ travel question, which makes staying informed yourself, even without prompts from clients, crucial.
“You never want to be in a situation where you get a call, and you don’t know what’s going on. It goes a really long way just to say: ‘I’m aware, I know, I understand. This is what I’ve done already. This is the timeline where I’ll get back to you.’ Be very specific about that. It’s about managing that process throughout the cycle,” George said.
Puerto Rico update
As Puerto Rico sets itself on alert for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Ed Carey, chief sales officer of Discover Puerto Rico, addressed attendees at ASTA, telling advisors that the island is almost back to where it was pre-Hurricane Maria.
“We are in great shape,” Carey said. “The air service is back to where it was pre-Maria. There are more cruise ships than ever before calling San Juan their homeport.”
“Without belittling what happened, the incredible warmth and resilience of the Puerto Rican people has brought it back to where we think 2019 could be a record-breaking year for us,” he said, adding that the island’s tourism health is also largely dependent on the attention it gets from travel advisors.
Discover Puerto Rico Chief Sales Officer Ed Carey (left).
“In times of crisis, the consumer will turn to trusted advisors for advice when they’re nervous. The travel advisor becomes a voice of the island. It’s up to us to make sure you have the best tools.”
This year, Discover Puerto Rico is making an investment that will “significantly enhance” its website for travel advisors, which includes an incentive program for advisors booking trips to the island as well as fam trip opportunities.
Having difficult conversations
Also part of the first general session at ASTA’s Global Convention, Candace Berotti, a lecturer at Georgetown Law and the Harvard Kennedy School, took some time to talk to advisors about how they can deal with conversations marked by high stakes, strong emotions, and opposing opinions.
“How do we stay in dialogue when it’s really tough?” she said.
For instance, how do advisors deal with emotionally volatile issues with clients, like discussing travel risks with someone who heard something in the news and is now afraid to travel, or approaching a supplier who is violating an agreement.
Candace Berotti, a lecturer at Georgetown Law and the Harvard Kennedy School.
According to Berotti, one of the rules advisors can follow is to share facts, as “facts are less emotional and are hard to argue with. What we typically do is start with things that have adjectives and adverbs and judgments, and that takes us away from that.”
Another rule is to ask for the other party’s perspective after you’ve stated your case. Ask how they see it, not a yes or no question, but a query that will allow them time to talk through their processing.
“If people think you are there to punish them or shame them or blame them, their defenses are going to be up,” she said.
Another rule is to avoid waiting. Lag time between an issue popping up and a conversation about the issue is often what causes volatile outbursts. “But first, you got to make sure your emotions are in check and you’re talking about the right stuff.”