In light of the shooting of more than 500 attendees at a country music festival in Sin City on Sunday night, Travel Market Report reached out to some travel agents to ask how they handle contingencies. And once again, events in the news showed just how valuable a good travel agent is.
Checking on clients and employees
Reached by Travel Market Report at 10 a.m. the day after the shooting, Phil Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, already had contacted all of his staffers in Las Vegas and ascertained that everyone, in the company and among its customers, was safe.
Lena Brown, a country western concert goer who lives in Vegas, “woke up about 3:30 a.m. from all my East Coast colleague friends checking on me. I felt a huge amount of love. Very grateful for my travel family.”
For customers, though, travel advisor Michelle Malliet pointed to the personal contact travel professionals offer as “another difference between us and online travel agencies. I spoke to each of my clients that are in the area early in the morning and they appreciated me checking on them,” she said. “It helps them to also have my personal cell number so they know they have someone to reach out to.”
Indeed, many agents say their contingency plan is to call any client involved in any kind of incident. And many agents serve as a conduit for information with the families of clients as well.
Jeni Chaffer of Journeys Travel Inc. said she “had clients in Vegas for that festival and woke up to messages from clients, who thank goodness, were all ok.” She always ask clients to give her contact information to their friends and families in case they need to find them in an emergency situation.
“This has been particularly useful with the recent hurricane issues,” she said. “I became the primary point of contact for many families who otherwise would have had no communication with their loved ones, as cell service was down and many had no way to charge phones.”
Sharing contact information with suppliers
While some agents said they share clients’ contact information with their tour operators and cruise companies as well, many do not. And many do only sometimes, and with some suppliers.
Chaffer said “it depends on the supplier and trip. I do not share contact information with most suppliers, but I do provide clients’ emergency contact information. If clients are traveling out of the country, I also advise them to sign up for the STEP program.”
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It helps to facilitate contact and dissemination of information during emergency situations.
When her clients are traveling with tours companies or private guides and drivers, Lena Brown “always shares my clients contact info to reach them direct for emergencies only. With cruise lines I share their email for emergency itinerary changes.”
But Trenia M Logan, owner of Querencia Travel Consulting, said she would rather keep the information private and make contact herself. “I've been trained in emergency response and emergency command procedures, and I understand the need for ensuring everyone is accounted for. However, from an emergency management perspective, the fewer pots on the fire the better,” she said. “Once my counts are in, I make contact with the supplier to advise them of names I've personally confirmed as safe.”
Gordon Stacy Harmon, owner of Ease-Up! Travel Services, also tends to keep his client data close to the vest. “I don't share email contacts as a general rule, as I simply don't trust many suppliers to use those contacts only for communications about their specific trip. If suppliers could be trusted to copy me on any and all communications sent to clients or to contact (or attempt to contact) me first, I would reconsider.”
Jona Greenstreet Willis, a travel agent at AAA, also does not share email addresses with tour suppliers, though she does share cell phone numbers so they can be reached in an emergency. “I do prefer, if possible, to be the point of contact,” she said.
“I have experienced firsthand tour operators soliciting clients directly, offering incentives to past guests. But there are a few who do so honorably, not eliminating the travel agent. I know Travel Corp. and Insight Vacations are wonderful partners to the travel agent community and I personally appreciate all the support they give us. If a tour company contacted me under such circumstances as the ones in Las Vegas, I would give them anything they wanted!”
Julie Harrington shares emergency contact information with some vendors but not others — and still, “we certainly do our own due diligence to ensure that we can pinpoint whom we booked, where they are and how to contact them. That is our responsibility as the agent — and I am glad the vendors feel the same. We prove our worth to our corporate accounts when we can act quickly and responsibly in the event of such a tragedy.”