USTOA Shows How To Keep Fear From Affecting Travel
PHOTO: USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale (photo courtesy of USTOA)
A study conducted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association sheds some light on the effect of fear on the travel marketplace, and provides some insight into how the dynamics of fear in the marketplace can be changed by the right kind of communication.
The study was designed “to help our members determine optimal communications strategies to inform their guests, reassure them, and, perhaps, provide some peace of mind for them to continue with their travel plans should they decide to do so,” said USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale.
The study pointed to the conclusion that communication can change the game, and save thousands of dollars that would be wasted through cancellations by travelers who might not have canceled if they had had good information from trusted sources at the critical moment.
The kind of information necessary to counter fear must come from a network of trusted sources, the study found, including tour operators, travel agents and authoritative sources such as government agencies.
To Terry Dale, the conclusions of the study were good news for the travel industry.
“I was surprised that 69 percent of consumers basically said, ‘We’re committed. Whether it is Mother Nature flexing her muscle, or a geopolitical event or terrorism, we are going to continue to travel,’” said Dale. “I think that is a healthy number. I wasn’t expecting it to be that high.”
But perhaps as significantly, of those who initially said they would not travel, a percentage of them might change their minds.
“Of those who said they would cancel, there is a percentage that, if given the right information and good communication channels... would keep an open mind about maintaining their travel plans,” said Dale.
Besides affirming that a majority of travelers will not be deterred by news of a disturbing event, the study also underlined to Dale the importance of the relationship between travel agents and tour operators.
“A couple of things jump out to me,” said Dale. “It is a re-affirmation of how critically important the travel agent is to my tour operator members. Consumers responded that if it is a terrorist attack or natural disaster, they rely on the travel agents as that communication channel they trust most. I think that the travel agents get a lot of their intelligence from our tour operators because we as an industry have eyes and ears on the ground, whether it’s in Paris or Italy experiencing a hurricane.
“So this partnership between the travel agent as our voice and the tour operator as a very strong, reliable information source to the travel agent came out loud and clear to me.”
How the Study was Done
The USTOA worked with MBA candidates from Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management to conduct research on consumers about how fear affects behavior in regard to travel.
The researchers defined “disruptive event” as “infectious disease,” “terrorist attack” or “natural disaster.” They determined at the outset of the study that such events can cause cancellation rates of roughly 20-40 percent.
Consumers in the study were asked a series of questions.
To the question “If a negative event occurs in a nearby country, would you travel?” 69 percent answered “yes” and 31 percent answered “no.”
Those who answered “no” were asked a further question: “If you received information that it was safe to travel, would you travel?”
About a third of those who had said “no” to the first question said “yes” to the second. The other two thirds of the “no”s reaffirmed their resolve not to travel.
“While roughly two-thirds are ‘Committed Travelers’ who intend to travel despite a disruptive event, it’s encouraging that one-third of those who are risk averse might also decide to continue to travel if given information from what they consider a reliable source,” said Dale.
“It’s interesting, although not surprising, that travel agents, with whom our members work so closely, ranked high among travelers, and it reconfirms the value travel agent partners bring to our members.”
The study shows that it is possible to reduce the number of cancellations by getting reliable information from trusted sources to their customers. The best way to communicate that information was through emails from the tour operators, communications from travel agents or directly from tour operators through social media, blogs or public relations specialists.
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