ASTA: Travel Warnings ‘Vague,’ Often Unhelpful
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ASTA is calling general worldwide travel alerts vague, confusing and unhelpful for travelers and warns that these types of alerts risk discouraging travel across the board.
In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month followed by the seizure of a hotel in Mali’s capital a week later, the U.S. Department of State issued a Worldwide Travel Alert on Nov. 23 warning Americans that current information suggests ISIS and other groups are planning additional attacks in regions throughout the world.
The alert recommends, among other things, that travelers be aware of their surroundings, stay vigilant in public places and when using public transportation, and avoid crowds. The alert expires Feb. 24, 2016.
"While the issuance of the alert was no doubt well-intentioned, the lack of any detail particularizing the conditions in specific countries or regions of the world is concerning," said ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby.
"Vague, overly broad warnings offer travelers little in the way of helpful guidance,” Kerby added. “In fact, they have the unintended consequence of discouraging travel everywhere, negatively affecting the travel industry and the economy as a whole.”
ASTA said that while it takes country-specific travel alerts and warnings seriously, it’s “ultimately” up to individuals to decide if, when and where they will travel.
The association stressed the importance of travel agents, pointing out that consumers who book their own travel typically have little—beyond a travel alert—to rely on.
Agents, on the other hand, are “experienced and knowledgeable . . . and uniquely positioned to guide their clients in making informed travel decisions,” the association said.
Since the latest outbreaks of global terrorism starting with the Paris attacks, agents have been monitoring the worldwide situation as well as their clients’ plans and feelings about traveling.
Most agents are reporting a “mixed bag” when it comes to clients’ reactions to the recent incidents and the threat of others. Some clients are fearful of traveling while others are forging ahead.
“I am seeing a definite effect on travel to Europe in the near future,” said Carol Brazeau, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based IC with Travel Experts. “People are taking a wait-and-see approach hoping that the threat will decline as time wears on.
“I have clients who were scheduled for a Danube River cruise to see the Christmas markets next week. They have decided that they are too afraid to go and have a good time,” Brazeau added.
“Luckily, the river cruise line is allowing them to change the date without a penalty. They are now going to sail in April in Provence. Clients are more cautious and are looking for travel to non-crowded areas.”
Bill Gearhart, owner of Classic Travel & Tours in Metuchen, N.J., however, has clients who have not changed their plans.
“I can tell you that I booked a nice executive family for seven days to Paris over New Years and I have two other bookings in January that have not canceled,” said Gearhart. “I have told them that Paris is now the safest place to travel to with all this security.”
Recognizing that travel agents can never offer or guarantee safety or security, their proven knowledge of destinations around the world enables them to customize travel itineraries tailored to their clients' comfort level, ASTA said.
Ticking off the advantages of booking with agents, ASTA noted that, while never able to guarantee any client’s safety or security, agents can customize itineraries tailored to clients’ comfort levels.
They stand behind clients who need to change their plans at any time, not just in an emergency. And they can advise and assist consumers in obtaining travel insurance if clients want to protect their investment in a trip or have the flexibility to modify or cancel that trip, said ASTA.
More by Robin Amster
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