Travel agents said they were not particularly alarmed by the latest State Department travel advisory for Europe. Nor do they expect most Europe-bound clients to alter their travel plans.
Agents said clients already were aware of recent events in Europe, so while there is a sense of caution, most are going anyway. The general nature of the State Dept. alert also made many agents disinclined to rush to notify clients.
Instead, agents will continue to do what they always do––recommending travel insurance, advising clients to be aware of their surroundings when traveling, calming fears should they arise and being on call when clients’ travels are disrupted by weather, terrorism or other unexpected events.
Jim Ehehalt, owner of Brookside Travel in Northville, MI, said he alerts clients when there are specific warnings or incidents, but not necessarily in the case of a general alert like this week’s. “We will address it if they ask about it,” he said, adding, “As agents, we need to advise them if we’re aware of major warnings. If something would be of danger to them, that’s our duty.”
Sandie Preuss of eTravel Unlimited in Centennial, CO, has been urging clients traveling out of country to sign up for the State Dept.’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for the last 20 years. “There’s just too many things that go on. It could be a volcano that erupts or weather. It doesn’t have to be guns.”
In addition, she said, “when we give clients their booking documents, we always tell them to be on the alert, to be aware of their surroundings. That’s what I would want someone to do for me.”
Preuss’ response to a State Dept. advisory depends on its nature. “If they’re saying don’t travel, that’s one thing. If it’s a major alert, like the Paris shootings, we go through our database of clients who are traveling at that particular time. We can always get a hold of them.”
Less than 24 hours after the travel alert was issued, Anthea Gilchrist, owner of Seamless Travel in Plano, TX, received a call from a customer wanting to go to France in July. Overall, Europe bookings for her high-end FIT clientele are up this year, she said.
“I don’t hear much concern from my customers,” said Gilchrist. “I talk to my clients every day, the relationship is there, so they have the opportunity to ask that question.”
Gilchrist said she will tell clients already booked for Europe about the alert. “If they come back with a concern, we will discuss it,” and she will rebook any client who feels uncomfortable going.
Lynne Barker of Travel Dreams in Marlton, NJ, said that while her clients may express some caution about Europe in the current climate, most are not changing their travel plans. “They may hesitate, they may think about it a little more, but the desire to travel outweighs the fear. They’re still booking their trips. Clients are still traveling by train. They still fly into major airports.”
In fact, she said, this year’s lower airfares to Europe are spurring bookings. “They’ve seen some good fares for this summer and they’ve jumped on it.”
Barker, who plans to continue to recommend Europe, did have one couple who had decided to skip Paris well before this week’s State Dept. alert. “Instead of spending several nights in Paris, they said let’s fly into Paris and then go somewhere else like Normandy––just to be more cautious.”
Jenny Sillery, a personal travel planner with Pavlus Travel in Albuquerque, NM, said occasionally a client will voice some uncertainty. “I tell them that if you want to go, go–– stuff can happen anywhere. If you’re too nervous don’t go. For the most part people just need that reassurance,” said Sillery, who has quite a few bookings for Europe this summer.
Both Barker and Sillery routinely recommend travel insurance. “That’s their peace of mind,” Barker said.
Louise Evans, of My Escape Vacation Travel in Phoenix, AZ, was less sanguine about travel to Europe. She concentrates most of her sales in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Bahamas and the U.S., and said that her attempts to venture into the Europe market have nearly always run into problems due to a climate of uncertainty or fears about terrorism.
For example, she said, “this year I was promoting a Barcelona cruise in October. A lady asked me to put it together for her.” Then in February the client backed out saying she didn’t think it was the best time to go.
Evans herself is hesitant about visiting Europe. “I would like to go, but I don’t want to go anywhere where they are targeting Americans.”
One agent, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that in issuing the travel alert the government was simply doing its due diligence. It would be counterproductive to agents’ business to advise clients of a generalized advisory like the Europe alert. Some people do ask about them, he said. “We try to stay in the middle.”