Hurricane Matthew is reminding me of why we need to advise, or train, our clients better. I am a masochist, and I belong to Cruise Critic and several consumer-focused Facebook cruise groups. The posts and comments that I’m seeing this week related to Hurricane Matthew are driving me up the wall. Yes, I could ignore them, or I can be better at advising and training my clients and other consumers.
What are the issues? Hurricane Matthew is wrecking havoc on flights, delayed embarkation or debarkation, changes in itineraries, less than stellar weather during their cruise, etc. It astounds me at the number of people that come across so entitled about what they are demanding from airlines and cruise lines. I would like to think these are people that booked direct or online and not with a travel professional.
But just in case, let’s review how we can stand out and do better than direct or online booking options.
You can’t call the internet
Actually you can, but it’s not really easy. Consumers are putting up a real stink about the 5 hour wait times for Expedia, or sitting on hold with cruise lines for over 2 hours, etc. If they worked with a local travel professional, they wouldn’t have to suffer through painful hold music.
This is a teaching opportunity for us to tell people how we’ve been handling our clients vacations, how our clients have been able to reach us without elongated hold times, etc.
Educating clients when they book
This is one of the more valuable services that we can provide to our clients. We shouldn’t simply educate them on how to pick the right stateroom, make the booking, and then wash our hands of them. We need to constantly educate and remind them of what can happen and how to handle it. I tell all cruise clients that they can be affected by a hurricane any time of year, and point out that this year our first hurricane formed in January. At booking, and when I’m reviewing travel documents with them, I go over the possible hurricane issues.
We know that no one reads those cruise contracts, so we need to summarize and verbally tell the clients about the important highlights:
- Itineraries can change at any time, even after the ship has left the port. The cruise has no obligation whatsoever to compensate passengers for these changes. Usually the changes are safety related. Either winds/waves are too rough to pull into a specific port, or a hurricane is in a particular area, or there is political strife in that country.
- Delays happen. Ports have been closed in Florida due to Hurricane Matthew. The cruise lines have no choice. The ships cannot return to port as planned if the port is closed. That means debarkation is delayed for passengers on the ship, and embarkation is delayed for passengers going on the next sailing. The cruise lines may offer compensation to passengers (especially those that will have their cruise shortened due to delay embarkation), but they are not obligated to do anything.
- Cancellations happen. Cruise lines, resorts, theme parks, etc. loathe cancelling anything. It means lost revenue. But there are times, like this week, when it simply has to happen. In this rare occurrence you will usually see the suppliers offer full refunds to clients, or future travel credits to return in the future (minimizing their lost revenue).
Like I said, I hope most of these complainers did not work with a travel professional. But we can take this opportunity to educate existing clients, future clients, and cruisers we encounter in general. Reach out and help them understand the advantage of working with a travel professional instead of just booking online. Explain what cruise lines can or can’t do, and why compensation isn’t always warranted. And definitely take the opportunity to make people understand that this is why travel insurance is so important!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, 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.