This is the third of TMR's new Ask an Advisor series, a regular column where a team of travel advisors tackles questions from others in the industry. All questions from this series have been submitted by TMR readers and vetted by the TMR editorial team. The third question comes from an advisor who is struggling to give client advice on safety in-destination. The question, and the answers from the panel, are below:
Dear Travel Advisor,
I am having an issue with a client who is now questioning whether or not going to a Jamaica all-inclusive is safe because of the recent advisory upgrade from the U.S. State Department. This is something that seems to happen every once and a while, whether it’s a State Department warning or a story like the recent medical tourism killings in Mexico or even some of the COVID-19 stories that happened during the industry’s post-pandemic opening. They see a story, get spooked or worried, and then come to me for advice.
What’s the best course of action here? I try my best not to recommend my client does this or that and I never want to take their feelings for granted, but I always have some second thoughts on what I say. Is there a standard answer I should use?
Appreciate the advice,
Richard “Rick" Carlson, Cruise Planners
Dear Travel Advisor, I fully understand your situation and have come across this same dilemma myself. Certainly, situations do come up and it is up to the client themselves to make the final decision. I never make light of a warning or situation.
There are some standard practices I have and advise my clients all the time with travel. When traveling in the USA and outside the USA, I recommend that clients are aware of their surroundings, use caution when they are in crowds, and stay with a group of travelers if they can. I also recommend that clients enroll in the Safe Traveler program with the United States State Department. This is an excellent tool and there is also great information on this site for traveling aboard.
I always ask myself; would I travel to that destination? And I am honest with my clients, if I would not personally travel there, I tell them. It is better to be upfront with clients. It is also important to be proactive. Recently there was an advisory upgrade for parts of the middle east. I notified my clients of the recent change and provided them with the information. Everyone made their own decision and I only had one person say that they did not desire to travel there. They appreciated my notifying them of the alert. In fact, they said,” This is why we book with you Rick, you keep us informed.
The bottom line is do not second guess yourself. Do what you feel is right. Continue to give your clients the information at hand and ultimately it is the client's final decision.
A proud agent of Cruise Planners now for 23 years. Member of the Millionaires Club and recipient of numerous awards for sales achievement, Richard "Rick" Carlson always has believed in helping others and offering insight and suggestions for improvement so others can build their business.
Kyle Stewart, Director, Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized
Dear Anonymous, this is a great question and the perfect reason for a client to use a travel advisor. My approach varies based on what I know about the severity of the incident.
When I am in this situation, I first acknowledge what they are seeing. Then I talk about safety measures (if I am familiar with them) and why I am not concerned (if that’s the case.) Lastly, I make sure they know what their options are to cancel, move the date, or go forward with the trip. It might be something like this:
“I’ve seen the same stories on the news and it’s worrying. That said, Mexico sees 45 million tourists every year and this is about as isolated as it gets – it just makes headlines because so many Americans travel there. Personally, I’m not concerned about it, I would take my family and I would avoid troubled areas, just as I would in any big US city. However, if you’re uncomfortable, you can always cancel, or I can contact the property about moving the dates to another time. I need to investigate the costs and get back to you, but this is supposed to be a vacation, fun and relaxing and if you’re worried about your safety, you won’t be fun or relaxed. Do you want me to look into some options for you?”
They will almost always say yes, because who doesn’t want to know all of the facts before making a decision?
It’s our duty to serve our clients. Sometimes that means we calm their nerves about sensationalized stories that would irrationally restrict them from a well-deserved vacation. But we need to always take their concerns seriously and give them options in a non-judgmental way that allows them to decide for themselves and serve their needs.
Kyle Stewart holds several roles within the travel, miles, and points world. He is a Partnership Manager for BoardingArea.com (and the Freddie Awards), a writer at LiveAndLetsFly.com, and a freelance writer for several publications. He is also the Director of Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized.
Annie Jones, Owner & Luxury Travel Advisor, Telos TravelI don’t think there is ever going to be a standard answer since each situation is going to be a little bit different and no two destinations have the same kind of challenges. It’s healthy for clients to have a fair amount of caution, but it shouldn’t prevent them from traveling all together, simply because they see a scary headline. It’s important to acknowledge your client’s fear, but we never want to paint a destination in a negative light since there are a lot of factors that contribute to the State Department warnings. It's important to remember that tourism is a big contributor to most economies. Locals tend to know this, so they don’t want to do something that will risk travelers not coming to their destinations and supporting their local businesses.
Your client is already starting off on the right foot by partnering with an advisor – I always assure my clients that I am there as their first line of defense if they run into any unexpected challenges. By partnering with an advisor, they get us as their safety net, along with our partners on the ground whom we have built relationships with, especially in the case where you might be using a DMC or On-site. It’s our job to follow travel trends and headlines so that we can understand the risks associated with a destination and make informed decisions for our clients. Maybe the right decision for your client is choosing a different destination or maybe it’s just avoiding a certain neighborhood in a city. You won’t know until you have that conversation with them and really dig into what their fears are and if that fear is going to affect how they enjoy their trip. Maybe it means reducing the amount of excursions they have to make them feel comfortable or maybe they just need some extra reassurance!
In the case of media headlines, I think it’s helpful to dissect the story with your client and have it inform where they go within the destination and how they might need to act. A good example to use is comparing distances – if there was a crime in Denver, Colorado, would you let that stop you from going to Miami, Florida? Sometimes the stories we hear about are nowhere near the destinations that our travelers are frequenting and this is an easy way to give a visual to your clients.
We are there to help prepare them as much as possible prior to departure so they know what to expect. That’s why they are working with you to begin with! Don’t underestimate your power as the advisor in those situations.
Annie Jones created Telos Travel in 2021 to share her deep passion for sustainable luxury adventure travel with clients. Telos is an affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, is based in the Greater Philadelphia Area and works with clients and partners all over the world.