Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Thu August 25 2016

2 Days 2 Quakes: Tour Operators Business as Usual

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | August 25, 2016

2 Days 2 Quakes: Tour Operators Business as Usual

Photo via Twitter

It was Wednesday morning, Aug. 24, 3:30 a.m. local time when a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck central Italy. Back in the States, Wednesday had not even arrived yet.

In New York, it was still only 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Aug. 23. In California it was barely suppertime Tuesday. But for any tour operator who had travelers in Italy, one of the most popular tourist countries in the world, it was time for action. Less than a day later, at 4:34 p.m. New York time, the same thing would happen all over again, this time on the other side of the world, in Myanmar.

Tour operators are always on the alert. Sometimes it seems as though almost every day is a trouble spot somewhere. If tour operators offer tours to that place on that day, they must immediately take steps to learn whatever they can as quickly as possible. Do they have clients there? Are they safe? What needs to be done and what can be done?

Those tour operators who have no travelers at the site of trouble can count themselves among the lucky ones. With the Italy quake, U.S. tour operators apparently dodged the bullet this time around. No one reported having any guests near the site of the damage in Central Italy.  

But either way, tour operators still have to quickly get information about conditions at the destination to their markets, including those who may have friends traveling with the operator or to clients who have reservations for later travel.

Tour operators must make public statements in a timely manner informing their publics of two things. Were any guests affected? And are future departures affected? They must get the information out rapidly in a business-like manner, while at the same time not appearing to be insensitive to the personal dimensions of the tragedy.  

Globus posted on its website Aug. 24: “Today, our thoughts are with the people of Italy affected by the earthquake. We can confirm that none of our travelers were impacted by this incident and our itineraries are operating as scheduled. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, to ensure the safety of our guests.”

Tauck posted an Italy Update: “Our hearts go out to the people of Italy, and to those impacted by the recent earthquake there. As we keep the Italian people in our thoughts and prayers – and as we look to how we might assist in their recovery – we’d like to also advise any of our guests scheduled to travel to Italy that our tours there continue to operate normally. (Our itineraries do not travel to the areas affected by the earthquake.)”

READ MORE: Dozens Killed or Missing In Italy Following 6.2-Magnitude Earthquake

Phil  Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations, posted a personal message.

“I wanted to personally reach out regarding the tragic earthquake in Italy today. We are, of course, deeply saddened by the news and our heartfelt thoughts are with the people of Central Italy. It has been confirmed that none of Insight Vacation’s guests were impacted by the event, and all of our Italian trips are operating as scheduled. The safety of our guests is always our utmost priority and we remain in constant contact with our colleagues on the ground. We will continue to monitor the situation closely. Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns.”

No place is far in the tour operator milieu.

When a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar at 6:34 a.m. local time on Aug. 24, it was 1:30 p.m. in California and 4:30 p.m. in New York. Through their network of connections at the destinations, tour operators are usually among the first to get reliable information about what is really happening at the scene of trouble.   

“We have been having daily conversations with our country manager who is based in Yangon,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions. “They felt the tremors there and the quake was 98 meters deep. The most affected area in terms of tourism is Bagan.

“About 100 structures out of more than 2000 are affected,” said Sanghrajka, “and mainly it is the top of the structures. They are not feeling aftershocks now, and the damaged structures are blocked off. The restoration plans are already progressing for those structures. However, tours in Bagan are carrying on as planned, with adjustments to the access points as the damaged structures are closed off.”

In the case of Myanmar, the news buried the story of the quake under many other high profile news events of that day, not the least of which was the earthquake in Italy, which was still fresh news by the time the Myanmar quake story broke.

As a result, for some, the first time they heard about the earthquake in Myanmar was through a tour operator.  

“We have had a few questions and are proactively contacting our clients as they are not seeing it in the news cycle due to the sad news from Italy,” said Sanghrajka.

[READ MORE]READ MORE: Myanmar Earthquake Kills At Least One, Damages Historic Temples

The Globus family of brands offers river cruises in Myanmar through its Avalon River Cruise product line. The cruises were not affected by the earthquake because it took place outside of Avalon’s operating seasons. Avalon offers its Myanmar cruises seasonally, January through April and September through December.

Isramworld offers four programs to Myanmar, but was unaffected by the earthquake. It had no guests in the region at the time of the quake, and it has received no cancellations following the quake.

“We have had no calls, no buzz, no cancellations – nothing,” said Richard Krieger, president of Isramworld.

In spite of some damage to the tourism attractions, it appears that it will not change much about the way tour operators conduct their tours in Myanmar.

“The earthquake has had minimal impact on our itinerary,” said Sydney Leto, guest service consultant for Backroads. “Though some of the temples in Bagan have been damaged, we are able to easily reroute our bike ride to bring us to temples that are less impacted. The magic of Bagan doesn't lie in a couple specific temples, but in the quantity of structures that dot the landscape. Our contacts in Bagan have confirmed that no hotels in the region were damaged.”

Two earthquakes within 24 hours of each other. Just another day in the tour industry. For tomorrow, fingers crossed.



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