Putting Headlines into Context: How to Ease Travel Fears

by Daniel McCarthy
Putting Headlines into Context: How to Ease Travel Fears

The chances of being involved in a terrorist attack abroad or a plane crash are much smaller than getting struck by lightning. Photo: Shutterstock.com.


Between major hurricanes, tainted alcohol, travel warnings, and more, there has been a lot of disruption in the travel industry over the last 12 months. All of those incidents made major headlines in consumer and trade press around the world. But, despite those headlines and what people may say, travelers should not be shy about getting out into the world. 
 
In a breakout session at American Marketing Group’s Travel Market 2018 conference in Boca Raton last week, called “Selling Against Fear,” Eben Peck, executive vice president of advocacy for the American Society of Travel Agents, told those in attendance that while “there’s been a lot of disruption in the world … a lot of it is blown out of proportion.” 

Here are some tips about talking to clients about travel to areas that may have been in those headlines, and some advice about how to avoid liability.

Putting things in context
According to research done by IJet, a risk-management solution company, one in four Americans have decided against traveling to a destination because of terrorism fears. Events like the shooting at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015 and the 2016 terrorist attack in Nice have grabbed headlines and caused some travelers to decide against taking a trip abroad.

To calm those fears, those events need to be put into some larger context, Peck said. Travelers who are worried about traveling abroad because of terrorism headlines should realize that the “the chances of dying in a terror attack are quite small,” Peck said, explaining that, according to IJet, it’s around one in 20 million, much less than dying in an automobile accident (one in 17,000).

Those upset about recent headline-grabbing incidents from Southwest Airlines or Allegiant Air, should know that the chances of dying in an airline crash are one in 11 million, smaller than getting struck by lightning (one in 4.5 million).

Those worried about murder rates in Mexico should realize that “Mexico is actually quite safe relative to pretty much any American city,” Peck said.

What travel agents should tell clients
Aside from putting things in context, the ultimate end goal for agents should be to protect themselves from liability by disclosing information that is “material” to their clients’ travel plans, Peck said.

That information includes details “that if known to the client would be reasonably likely to influence the decision of whether/where/when/how to travel.”

“If someone is going to a resort in Mexico where there is an issue with tainted alcohol, that is something that is material … If someone is going somewhere in Africa and there’s civil unrest 500 miles away, I don’t think that’s material,” Peck said.

But agents should still know that they should always avoid giving a “yes” or “no” recommendation on travel — and that decision should always be left up to the client.

“You want to give them facts. You want to be as objective as you can. Opinion is not nearly as valuable as facts … you should really not get pinned down. The decision has to be the client's,” Peck said.

Resources to help clients decide
Agents should be aware of reliable third-party resources that they can pass along to their clients that will better inform them to make the best decisions about where and when to travel.

At the top of that list is the new State Department website, which features a color-coded, interactive global map highlighting the most dangerous countries in red; and a four-tier risk assessment system with detailed country-by-country information. 

The State Department also offers a Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) that connects travelers to any embassy and consulate in the world. Enrollees get important information about safety conditions in their country. The program also helps the embassy contact a traveler should an emergency occur and allows the traveler’s family to get updates.

Agents should also always offer travel insurance, including cancel-for-any-reason insurance.
 
Booking through an agent
Ultimately, agents can best assuage fears from their clients by reassuring them that they have made “the wise decision to book through a travel agent,” Peck said. “Agents will be taking care of you from beginning to end and even after the trip.” 

ASTA also provides a sample waiver form on its website (ASTA.org) that makes clear that the agent is not the supplier of travel, which is an important point to make in protecting the agent from liability.
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