If it’s not Ebola, it’s measles, terrorism, Norovirus, or being mugged. Clients seem to be adept at finding something to fear about cruising. And of course stories like the Costa Concordia, or an engine room fire or two, don’t help. This especially seems prevalent among the first time cruisers, or those that have pretty much talked themselves out of cruising, ever.
As travel professionals, what can we do? We walk a fine line between consultation and liability. For example, a client is worried about getting mugged in Mexico while off the ship, and you advise them there is nothing to be worried about. If they do indeed get mugged, any lawyer with the ability to breathe will be able to come after you for negligence. But at the same time, we want to help clients travel the world and enjoy everything out there that the world has to offer.
Face it; some clients should simply stay home if their anxiety level is that high. Other than that small minority of clients, how should you approach a client’s worries when (if) they voice them to you?
First, have a conversation with your client. LISTEN to what they are saying. Try to UNDERSTAND where their fear is coming from. ASK them questions. We especially hear concerns about Mexico because the US media picks up on every little incident and blows them out of proportion. You may need to educate your client on geography (how far away is the chaos they’re concerned about, compared to their port of call). And put things into perspectives they may better understand. Point out that a gang war in New York is not going to affect someone traveling to Atlanta. Something happening in Mexico City won’t likely affect the tourist areas of the Yucatan.
Of particular concern when cruising is Norovirus. Cruise ships have to report outbreaks to the CDC, which the media picks up on and then sensationalizes. How many national news stories have you seen about Norovirus outbreaks at Disney World? Six Flags? Any city of your choice? Probably none, but we all know they happen. Local media coverage is a bit different. We have had a couple of separate episodes of Norovirus recently in Nashville, tied to the Opryland Hotel. Once in a blue moon, we’ll hear a story about a local school being closed because too many students have been out sick (never identifying if the illness is Norovirus or something else). But these stories aren’t “sexy” and don’t get picked up by the national media.
New cruisers may be turned off to cruising if they think “everyone” gets sick on the cruise ships. We can combat this a bit better. Provide a list of precautions they can take (like using antibacterial hand sanitizers, washing their hands frequently, etc.), and advise them to not board a ship if THEY are feeling sick themselves. Also advise them to discuss questions or concerns they may have with their personal doctor. And give them FACTUAL information about how Norovirus is transmitted, the incubation period, and what the symptoms include. More often than not, people pick up Norovirus elsewhere (airplanes, airports, pre-cruise hotels, etc.), and bring it onboard ships before they become symptomatic. But because they begin to experience symptoms on the ship, they immediately blame the cruise line.
Other issues that new cruisers latch onto include people “falling overboard,” rough waves (worried about sea sickness), and general safety onboard or in port (again, no thanks to the media, some parents worry about taking their kids on cruise ships). Provide facts where you can, avoiding liability for you or your agency.
You will not convert everyone to cruising. But where a client gives you an opening to have a discussion, take the opportunity to provide them your knowledge, expertise, and personal experience to answer their concerns and questions.
What is the most unique concern about cruising that you have encountered with your clients?
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.