Many travelers are unknowingly putting themselves at risk of
contracting serious illnesses when traveling to developing
countries, according to a new international survey.
In a survey of 8,000 travelers, the European Travel Health
Advisory Board found that 64 percent of those from the United
States did not seek travel health advice before going to an area
with a risk of infectious disease.
“There is a 60 to 70 percent chance that a traveler will develop
a health complaint on a trip to a developing country,” said
Francesco Castelli, M.D., a co-author of the survey that was
presented earlier this month at the 8th Conference of the
International Society of Travel Medicine in New York.
“Our findings reveal that there is a clear need for improved
awareness and education among travelers about health risks related
to trips abroad,” said Castelli.
The survey findings come amid heightened awareness of potential
health risks for travelers, in the wake of the outbreak of Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and highlight an increasingly
valuable role for travel agents.
Pat Funk, vice president of operations for the Association of
Retail Travel Agents, said travel agents can help increase
travelers’ awareness of potential health risks.
Funk said that when she was a frontline agent, sending people to
places such as India or South America, the first thing she normally
did was check to see what precautions were recommended.
Funk said agents can find information on health issues on Web
sites such as the World Health Organization (www .who.int/en) and
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).
Information can also be found on GDSs. Details on specific
risks, as well as appropriate precautions and inoculations, have
resided in GDS systems “forever,” said Nolan Burris, president of
Visionistics, a Vancouver, B.C.-based travel-agency consulting
American Society of Travel Agents’ president, Richard Copland,
says that agents can also tap into www.astanet.com for related
Still, while information on health risks may be accessible, the
survey by the European Travel Health Advisory Board suggests that
many travelers are not using it.
For example, the survey found that 83 percent of Americans
traveling abroad underestimate the risks of contracting the most
common vaccine-preventable disease among travelers: hepatitis
Funk said agents can also help clients prepare for sojourns by
offering the kind of travel insurance that includes coverage for
health emergencies, including aeromedical evacuation to
well-equipped hospitals with Western standards.
“That is a role the agent should play,” she said.
Burris agrees that advice is important but also believes it can
go too far. For example, on the World Health Organization’s Web
site, it notes that Florida has a risk of malaria.
“So, do we now tell all our clients they shouldn’t go to
Florida?” he asks. Funk also notes that agents can’t do it all.
“Travel agents aren’t doctors,” she said. “You have to lay some
responsibility on the client.”
The choice on what consumers do when they travel and how they
prepare, ultimately, is theirs.
“It’s not up to the agent to say, ‘Don’t go there,’ agrees
Copland. “It’s up to the agent to deliver all the pertinent
information, and let the individual make their own judgment.”