What a week! The economy keeps on plugging away—up or down is anyone’s guess. Swine flu (oops I meant, the H1N1 Virus) makes its debut. Mexico suffers an earthquake. And oh yeah, our Vice President says he’d never allow his family to get on a plane or a subway! One almost hates to ask, “What’s next?”
I had to ask! I just got word that some local schools are closing for at least a week. But I digress, and now back to our travel topic. Well, “What’s next?” is a question that needs to be on the mind of every travel professional right now. Depending on the direction of this virus (and the ensuing media inspired frenzy) the ramifications for our business is very serious. Mexico is a perennial top destination for U.S. travelers and the nation’s tourism has taken a beating over the past three months and it does not show signs of letting up.
People will still want to travel. Are you prepared with alternate destination to recommend? Are you re-emphasizing the need for travel insurance? Are you presenting them some solid facts (and not hype) about the virus and its spread? Are you up to speed on the policies of the airlines regarding reschedules? Have you informed your cruisers of the alternate ports the ships may be utilizing? What are the policies of your preferred tour operators? Do you know the hotel’s policy? Is there one? There are so many questions and “what ifs” swimming around that I hesitate to add one more. But…
Will this H1N1/Swine frenzy have the potential to put a large tour operator in a major pinch? Perhaps large enough to cause a failure? I have not heard any rumors; but I want to point out the possibility. When SARS was running rampant in Asia, it was not unheard of to have a 3% occupancy in Hong Kong hotels. No, I did not leave off a zero. Some of the best tour operators are very heavily vested in Mexico as a destination. Some own their own hotels and resorts, and other have forwarded millions and millions of dollars to the resorts for future trips. With a rush of cancellations, will these tour operators be able to support any in house “insurance” programs? Will they be able to get the fronted money back from Mexican resorts? What if they own the hotel and there is a 10% or less occupancy?
Again, I am not suggesting that any supplier is in that position, but it is one additional question you, as a travel professional, need to beep in mind. This makes a good argument for third party insurance—it will not protect the client from a bad experience and a lot of hassle, but it will protect their investment.
Travel professionals need to think so far ahead and consider every possibility to do an effective job for their clients and sometimes, it involves considering some less than good alternatives. The next few months will certainly continue to be bumpy and this frenzy (warranted or not) will continue to affect the peak summer bookings. One of the best ways to keep up to speed is to network with your peers. You may be office bound or home bound, but seek out the advice and assistance of your peers. Travel Research Online’s Community is the perfect place for you to get the information you need to serve your clients. And remember, stay on top of things. Stay alert. And work for your client!