|Vice President—Content/ Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero|
The Europe roundtable featured on the cover of this issue of Travel Agent was held on March 22, the day of the Brussels attacks. Although we had come prepared to discuss the topic of terrorism and its impact on travelers, the subject was now an immediate force as we gathered that morning. Because the news was so fresh and the results of the incident still unfolding, we decided to turn off the voice recorders and speak candidly and off the record about the current travel climate. What I can share from this dynamic discussion is that the group felt strongly that education will play a big part in keeping consumers traveling and to foster tourism back to the areas affected by terrorism when the time is right.
We as an industry can, and must, make it a priority to impart expert knowledge about the world’s destinations so the public has a full understanding about what’s happening in places they want to travel to.
This can be achieved by uniting as a group to assist those locales that are in the tourism recovery process. An effective strategy would be to gather tour operators, travel agents and the media together to visit affected regions so they can share the positive experiences that they find there; that’s one that worked well for New York after 9/11. Stand-alone public relations campaigns by destinations may not work on their own, but if such endeavors are combined with a show of support from key decision makers and influencers, the effort to restore travel can likely be successful.
Tourism bureaus that are trying to communicate that their countries are open to visitors can use social media to do so by having everyday American travelers give testimonials on their experiences in the destination. Such programs should be driven on a large scale to get the right messaging and to constantly reinforce the news that “normalcy” has returned.
We also discussed that some travelers are fighting back by visiting destinations hit by terrorism to show that they’re not going to be scared away. The consensus in the room was that travel has become a necessity in many of our lives as well as a birthright — and that’s not likely to change.
Broad-brush public relations efforts that instill the message that it’s all right to travel and that it’s our right to do so should be considered. And that’s certainly something that travel advisors can do now by impressing upon their clients that they “have permission” to travel and that they should indeed do it.
On a separate note, I realize that travel advisors can’t insist that clients go to a place they’re wary of. Not everyone is an intrepid traveler, and if you’re bringing the kids along, you have to consider their safety in particular. What you can do is listen to their concerns and educate yourselves by getting firsthand information from the tourist boards in question, which are at the ready to assist you.
Talk to suppliers; they’ve got personnel on the ground who are constantly monitoring the situation with great precision. The more you’re able to speak knowledgably to your clients, the more comfortable they’ll feel during their decision-making process.