Today’s column was scheduled to be about designing print ads. That will have to wait. On Sunday evening, as I watched CNN relentlessly report the swine flu situation, I felt there was another marketing message that had more urgency. No doubt many of you will have clients calling wanting to cancel their trips to Mexico as a result of the negative publicity. It will be important for you to handle the situation well to avoid making a bad situation worse, so here are a few tips that will help you deal with the situation in its earliest stages.
Firstly educate yourself on the current news. You are the travel expert and your clients will expect you to have information. As of right now, there do not appear to be any official calls for not traveling. Watch the websites of the tour operators you use to Mexico for news. It is highly likely that their telephone lines will be very busy with calls early this week, so your best chance of learning something may be online. Monitor the online communities in which you participate and if you learn of any news, post your own experience for others.
There is an art to handling bad news. Listen to your clients. Many will not be concerned but some will be. Take a pro-active stance and reach out to your clients. Review your client itineraries and identify which current bookings might be affected. By now they have heard that US Airways is allowing for cancellations of travel to Mexico City and they will be wondering if they can, or should, cancel their own trips. Don’t put yourself between them and their fears, argue with clients or belittle their concerns. During times of bad news, logic and reason are your allies. Be the calm voice of reassurance for your clients. Let them know that you understand their concerns and that you are monitoring the situation on their behalf. Make sure you are recommending travel insurance and let them know you are on top of the situation and will notify them of any developments.
In times of bad news, begin marketing harder. Address the situation in your agency newsletters and even write press releases indicating how you are monitoring the situation – be the local expert for your community. But no method of marketing during bad news works like face-to-face meetings. Over the next few weeks, try to work some seminars and speaking engagements into your marketing plan. Network and be as visible to your clients as possible. If you have concerned clients, stay in touch with them, call them back, ask for permission to email them updates. Also remember there is a segment of the population that will view this as an opportunity to travel cheaply and, yes, safely. Let the public hear your voice. Be there for them now, they will be there for you later.