Perception is not reality; and it is our responsibility to make sure that clients understand that what may be happening in one part of the world, although serious, most likely will not have an impact on where the client is considering traveling.
I recently returned from Morocco and found it to be an amazing place–friendly, safe and not near the issues of the region. And yet, when I told people I was going there, some asked if I was concerned about Ebola and the issues of the Middle East and I said with certainty, no. I never felt unsafe there; and although chaotic and still connecting the Middle Ages to the 21st century, I had no issues. It is an amazing diverse society of Muslims, Jews, Berbers and foreigners from all over the world and a moderately tolerant society– all very welcoming. It is not perfect, but neither is this country in which we live, far from it. No matter where you go, you have to be careful and street savvy and in some places, having a trusted local guide, will help navigate the real and perceived issues, but there were no safety issues, with the exception of playing chicken in the traffic. But then again, I do that in my hometown here in the USA.
Now, I am not one to hide under a rock anyway; and after 9-11 I was traveling as soon as I was able, including a trip to Ireland in November of 2001. The issue to me is blatantly obvious and I am not one to claim there are not real issues, there are. The American public is so consumed by fear-mongering media trying to sell advertising that they will choose to not travel because they heard of an issue that happened on the US – Mexico border and will not travel to a place like the Mayan Riviera or other resort destinations. They will not go to Morocco because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa or the issues of the Middle East. This equates to an incident happening in New York, so don’t travel to San Francisco. Americans seem to be consumed by worldwide issues that cause them to make unreasonable decisions based on unreasonable fears. As a whole we are geographically challenged and most Americans have difficulty placing locations around the globe. There is a shining light. I asked one of my 3rd graders with whom I work, when I am not arranging travel, what the capital of Morocco was. Without hesitation, he stated Rabat, so there is hope.
It is our responsibility to educate the clients about the geography and issues in a region and certainly understand their fears. Just because an incident happened, we need to assure the client that they should not be overwhelmed with fear to the point of not considering travel. Issues can happen in their own neighborhoods and they will still go out and shop and go about their ordinary life routines. I met many Americans studying abroad, working abroad and living abroad while in Morocco and other places I have traveled recently and always have. I am also not naïve, and understand that there are issues in the world and I am not about to go to a war zone to experience it. When I go somewhere and there is some sort of demonstration, I go a different direction. I don’t look for trouble, but I am not going to stop traveling and neither should our clients.
I bring this up, since we have all had clients decide to cancel because of a perceived threat, in my case, the European continent. I had clients that wanted to do an ancestry trip to Germany and Romania and because of issues elsewhere in Europe, opted to not go. This particular trip had been planned for years and canceled twice for other reasons. Thinking that the third time is the charm, it was not to be. Because of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, they decided to remain in the “safety” of their homes in Montana and North Dakota. No matter how I tried to convince them that they should go, since this had been so important to them, they said they were scared to go and therefore, their ancestral trip was cancelled a third time and probably will not happen.
We are more than planners and arrangers and order takers of travel. We are there to educate, to consult, and to make sure that the clients understand the realities of a destination in which they are interested. I am not suggesting to travel under all circumstances, and in many instances a postponement or cancellation is warranted; but I am advocating making a sound decision between the travelers, the agent, and perhaps the insurance company. Although the traveling public is savvy with the technology and believe they know more than we do; an incident somewhere in the world can derail that amazing experience.
Jamison Bachrach has traveled to over 50 countries, including most of Europe. Wandering Puffin LLC. Is located in Minneapolis, MN. Jamison can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 763-244-0669. www.wanderingpuffin.com.