Last updated: 08:01 AM ET, Mon December 07 2015

What Can The Travel Industry Do To Fight 'Travel Anxiety'?

Impacting Travel | Josh Lew | December 07, 2015

What Can The Travel Industry Do To Fight 'Travel Anxiety'?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Following a major terrorist attack like the one in Paris last month, anxiety is obviously high amongst tourists and those who are now planning trips. What is less obvious is what kind of long-term effect the recent events around the globe (Paris, Brussels, the massacre at Garissa University in Kenya, the bombing of the Metrojet on the Sinai Peninsula) will have on the travel industry. 

No one really knows what to expect next

Everyone has been looking for signs that will give insight into the future. Unfortunately, the travel industry’s “voices” have been all over the place. Some members of the media reported mass hotel cancellations in Paris and Brussels, but other outlets published stories about how tourists were already back on the streets of France queuing up for museums and landmarks. 

Agents in the U.S. have experienced varied responses from clients. Montrose Travel’s Leisure Manager, Daren Autry, said that “new bookings for Paris are down… existing passengers booked to travel to Paris in the near future are requesting to rebook their travel to different destinations as opposed to canceling altogether.” The owner of California’s Dimensions in Travel, Jill Romano, had a different experience in the aftermath of the Paris attacks: “We are working on several tailor-made itineraries for clients that have no hesitation at all to travel to France in general and Paris in particular.”

While there is a noticeably higher level of anxiety, especially when it comes to travel in France (and Europe in general), there is also little evidence of a doomsday scenario for the travel industry. People still want to go places. 

Putting numbers to the worry 

A new report, just published today, addresses the issue of travel anxiety. "How Global Voices Shape Travel Choices," created by the CMO Council and GeoBranding Center in partnership with AIG, includes the results of a survey of more than 2,000 travelers. Though terror-related worries were included in the questioning, so were other issues that could potentially cause concern for anyone going abroad.

Terrorism was high on the list. The report states that “one in four travelers has changed vacation plans in the past year due to global or local safety, security or health concerns. Of this group, 83 percent point to terrorist activity as their primary reason to avoid travel to certain destinations.” 

77 percent of all people surveyed said that they at least weighed terrorist activity when choosing a destination or planning a trip. 

It should be noted that the report’s authors obtained these stats right before the Paris attacks; terror-related fears were already quite high. Other 2015 news makers were also responsible for causing worry amongst travelers. 67 percent of survey respondents admitted to concerns about the Ebola virus.  

Anxiety and non-stop media coverage

One of the report’s authors, CMO Council’s Senior Vice President Liz Miller, points out that media coverage plays a huge role in creating and compounding worry, especially in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, the internet and social media. “The duration of anxiety is longer now… [it] is related to the size of the media coverage, but also the frequency of the headlines.” 

The survey-takers’ Ebola fears illustrate this perfectly. While 67 percent of people were concerned about Ebola, which killed 11,000 people during the most recent outbreak, only 26 percent mentioned anxiety about malaria, which kills one million people per year. Even when other insect-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever, were included, Ebola still remained the top health concern for the surveyed travelers (67 percent for Ebola versus 63 percent for insect-borne diseases). 

The report also showed that people are concerned about issues that spend a little less time in the headlines. 59 percent admitted that they avoided certain destinations because of anxiety about military conflict. “Political upheaval” and a high incidence of crime where on the minds of one in four respondents. 

Some of the anxieties were more generalized. When asked what they considered were some of the biggest reasons to worry or change plans, a majority of people (56 percent) said “anything that could impact my personal safety.” 

While a general sense of anxiety is normal for any type of travel, many people focus their worries on specific regions. When asked which parts of the world gave them the most concern (they could choose more than one region), 91 percent of travelers mentioned the Middle East. North Africa and West/Central Africa came in at 56 percent and 58 percent, respectively. For comparison, the region that includes Central America and the Caribbean caused worry for 23 percent of travelers. 

Are there any remedies for travel anxiety?

The thing that makes How Global Voices Shape Travel Choices attention-worthy is that it offers insight into how people are dealing with travel anxiety.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, thing is travel insurance. This is usually billed as a practical (and often optional) part of trip planning, but it can actually help remedy anxiety. The survey showed that people had a strong desire to continue traveling, but that more are adopting the mindset of, as Miller puts it, “I’m going to travel, but I’m smart enough to have a safety net.” 

The report’s numbers support this idea. Though only 43 percent of respondents said they had bought insurance in the past, 80 percent admitted that they would consider buying emergency medical coverage for future trips. 74 percent said that they would also add trip cancelation insurance to their list of travel considerations. 

“I’m smart enough...”

Perhaps even more positive than the increased awareness of insurance as a “safety net” is the idea that travelers realize that they have to find better, more reliable information about destinations. With never-ending news coverage, social media “noise” and a worldwide web filled with news outlets that have low journalistic standards, it has become increasingly hard to get to the facts that travelers really need to know if they want to get beyond general fears and get down to the practical work of planning a trip and making it as safe as possible. 

Worldwide, 55 percent of the people surveyed said that they relied mainly on the government and law enforcement as their “trusted source” for information about travel safety. In contrast, tourism bureaus only had the trust of 21 of respondents. Crowd-sourced travel sites came in at 25 percent, travel agents at 26 percent, travel journalists at 33 percent and word-of-mouth information (from family and/or friends) at 34 percent. 

These stats show that people are trying to look past all the chatter to find sources that are going to tell them the truth about the situation on the ground. According to Miller, the survey results show that travelers are “asking different questions, smarter questions, and looking to more trusted resources to combat anxiety.”

Not only is this good advice for travelers who want to use knowledge and solid information to ease their minds, but it is also useful for people in the travel industry, who need to understand how to hone their message so that they can connect with travelers who are adopting this new, more-educated mindset.  

Tailoring travel promotion for a new era

The reason that tourism bureaus only scored 21 percent is because they have a public image of only promoting the good aspects of their country, while completely ignoring those things that cause worry and that people actually want to know if they are ever going to consider traveling to certain places. The best solution for these travel promotion organizations is, as Miller puts it, to “not be afraid to be a little bit transparent.” 

Travel agents, tourism promoters and others in the industry would be best served by using information from these official sources to make people aware of the situation on the ground in a destination and, thereby, alleviate some of the anxiety that could otherwise cause them to look elsewhere (or just stay home). 

A recent example of this approach is Kenya, which timed a new tourism promotion push to coincide with the removal of U.S. and U.K. travel warnings from several important regions around the country. The tourism bureau also opened up a special information line for tourists and travel firms so that everyone can get official information about the latest conditions and most recent incidents in the country.

The fact is that travel anxiety has always existed, and now, with non-stop media coverage of every tragedy and disaster, it is quite high. If you look at the results of the CMO Council’s survey, the travel industry's best response seems to be to focus on giving people the tools that they need (namely, clear-eyed and truthful information) so that they can combat anxiety with facts and be able to plan their travels without being influenced by the internet's non-stop chatter.   

TravelPulse senior writer Robin Amster contributed to this report.


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