Fear, ignorance and inertia – these three keep a lot of people from traveling. Let’s face it – North Americans in general, and US citizens in particular, are very timid travelers. We are all easy victims for a news media that plays to worst case scenarios. It is little wonder that people are often afraid to travel when the news is filled with stories of airline safety, drug violence, riots, and terrorism. Thankfully, you could be reasonably certain most travelers would never encounter anything more troublesome than an airport delay or a stolen purse abroad. After all, the day-to-day crime in most foreign destinations to which the majority of North Americans travel is less prolific and violent than that found within a ten mile radius of those same travelers’ front door. Now, however, the ground has shifted and fear has a sharper edge to it. After 9/11 the fear of terrorism dissipated quickly as cheap fares and hotel rooms reminded the public of how unlikely become a terrorist victim actually was.
But it is also the more mundane issues that keep people from traveling. For example, only 46% of US citizens have a passport. By and large, we are a geographically challenged people, with a poor understanding of other cultures and people. When people know very little about travel’s logistics, fearing what they do not know, they fail to act. Inertia takes over and a potential traveler stays at home rather than risking a vacation abroad.
Who better to help change this situation than a travel professional? As a travel counselor, you encounter the drag on clients’ motivations continually. Yet, if the mission of a travel planner is to assist people with achieving their travel ambitions, you have to develop the capacity for recognizing and removing the barriers to travel.
The travel industry is failing to properly educate the public on the “how” of travel. For good historical reasons, the travel profession styled its business model in the fashion of a retail store. While that made good sense 40 years ago, that model is antiquated beyond viability today. People can buy travel anywhere: there is no need to go to a travel agent for the purchase of travel. There is good reason to do so and the tide is turning in favor of the use of a travel professional. But where do people go to learn about travel? Certainly I can research, Google, and Twitter all day long, but at the end of the day with the vast amounts of information out there, isn’t there a better way to learn about travel? What if there were professionals in my neighborhood who taught courses on how to travel well? What if there were counselors who, trained in the logistics of travel, made it their business to provide information to their clients?
I understand not everyone will agree with me. I have only recently spoken with travel professionals who questioned the wisdom of allowing the public to know more than they already know about the industry and how to research travel. However, today’s consumer wants to feel educated and empowered. You can do that for your clients and they will thank you.
Here’s my premise: Demystify travel and more people will travel. If fear and ignorance are preventing people from traveling, help to change the status quo in your community. Hold seminars on how to get a passport. Provide courses on “How to Travel Well” or “How to Travel for a Lifetime”. If travel agents would shift their business model away from one of retail to one of community service and education, the public relations benefit would be tremendous. This community mission could even be undertaken in cooperation by multiple travel agencies and agents in a community and everyone would benefit.
By and large, the public does not understand what travel agents do. The confusion originates with travel agents. As an industry, travel professionals are responsible for making themselves understood and valuable. Act like a retail store and you will be shopped. Act like a resource and you will be utilized. Develop a public relations campaign in your local community to demystify travel for the general public and watch the results.