Ask An Agent: What Are Travel Alerts?
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This week, Yemen became the 31st travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State. Other areas include all of Europe, the Philippines, and Mexico, including the most recent alert for Acapulco.
Travel agents make sure to share this important information with their clients as soon as possible. Susan Moynihan, founder of The Honeymoonist, says that she keeps an eye on everything from political issues to air-traffic controller strikes to health alerts like the Zika virus.
“I go over the issues with clients who are headed to locales that may have issues and, if they have questions, direct them to official news sources so they can get reported factual details as opposed to rumors or Facebook memes,” said Moynihan. “My clients are well educated, savvy and understand that all travel comes with a certain amount of risk. So the more information they have, the better, so they can make an informed decision they are comfortable with. In the end, it's the client's call to go where they want, when they want. My job is to help them do it, as easily and safely as possible.”
However, some travel alerts are more generic and really of no use to the agent. For example, Europe is on a travel alert, but John F. Krieger, president of CTC Travel, said that an alert like that isn’t going to get his attention. “Travel alerts have to be very specific for us to pay a lot of attention to them,” he said. “We caution our clients to be aware of their surroundings and not to go anywhere they wouldn’t think of going at home.”
Would a travel agent not recommend a particular area because of these alerts? It depends, but when it comes to Acapulco, Krieger said that he would dissuade his clients. “However, another way to look at it is to look at Paris,” he said. “With security so tight, it’s probably one of the safest places to travel right now.”
Michelle Weller of Travel Leaders in Houston, Texas, said that she would steer clients away from Acapulco. “There are more options and better value in Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Ixtap,” she said. “Of those who have asked for Acapulco, when I inform them of other options they have always chosen to go to another location.”
R. D. Gavel, CTC, an affiliate of Travel Experts, Travel Repertoire said that familiarity plays a major role in our perceptions about what is safe and what is dangerous. “We are often less concerned about threats around us than we are about those far away,” said Gavel. “Most people, for example, wouldn’t think twice about visiting Massachusetts, yet would hesitate to travel to a foreign destination that may have experienced an attack years earlier than the one that took place in Boston.”
Gavel also explained how, during the Ebola crisis, few were concerned about traveling to Europe but many avoided all of Africa. “Yet a number of countries in Europe are geographically closer to the affected West African countries than is most of East Africa,” said Gavel. “Hearing about violence in an isolated part of Mexico, many shunned the entire country.”
Gavel doesn’t try to pressure any client to make arrangements with which they’re not comfortable, but believes it’s valuable to try to approach the possibilities in a balanced way. “Government and embassy advisories need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis since some may reflect an overly-cautious agenda,” said Gavel. “We urge clients to consider each situation carefully.”
READ MORE: Top 5 Safest Places to Travel in the World
Most of the clients of Henley Vazquez, CEO/co-founder of Passported are young families and Zika has had a big impact on their travel plans. “Any time there's an alert for a place our clients are headed, we let them know,” said Vazquez. “Although we can't be aware of all alerts at all times (as a consumer, you should definitely be doing additional research), I think it's unprofessional and downright dishonest to hide a safety or health alert from a client. These relationships are built on trust, and the last thing I want is for a pregnant client to find out about a Zika issue the day before they depart.”
Travelers who are already in the alert areas may be willing to change their plans. A few years ago, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, the CEO of TripScope, was working with a client who was traveling during hurricane season.
“As soon as the hurricane travel alert was released, the agent booked flights home before the airport closed,” says O’Shaughnessy. “Through TripScope, the agent notified the traveler that they would fly out the next day. The traveler recieved the notification, spoke with her agent about the update, and was relieved to take the new flight home.”
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