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No travel agent attending this year’s ExecConnect Elite Agent Symposium was a stranger to the concept of traveling internationally — indeed, the event was held in Los Cabos, Mexico. Most in attendance at the Selling International Travel Panel also disclosed that most of their bookings are for destinations abroad. Beginners tips and how-to instructions were skipped in favor of concrete advice on how to overcome the greatest barriers to selling more travel abroad. Suppliers shared their advice on how to combat concerns about safety and cost.
How do you get through to customers who have strong beliefs about the dangers of traveling abroad, especially to destinations with unfavorable media coverage?
The biggest problem with safety when you’re sending someone to Israel is that you’re taking your client away from their home to the Los Angeles Airport. The fact is, the moment people land in Israel, they feel completely safe. I never say, ‘go to Israel; it’s very safe,’ because nobody is going to believe me because I am paid by the government. The best thing is to take someone — a neighbor, someone who has been to Israel — and ask her if she felt any fear when she was in Israel. Have past visitors give testimonials about how they were feeling when they were walking the streets of Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv or anywhere in Israel.
Israel is a very small country of 7.5 million people, and we receive 3.5 million tourists every year — half of Israel's population. From the U.S., we received 650,000 tourists last year. All of them arrived safely, and all of them returned to the U.S. If something happened to one of them, everyone would know about it. -- Eliezer Hod, director of western region, U.S., Israel Ministry of Tourism
Most of these concerns come from clients who don’t travel internationally that much. If you have clients who actually travel every year, they are used to different cultures, different countries and they know that, actually, what’s happening in those countries is not broadcast in the media the way that it actually is. You don’t feel the same way if you’re actually out there and you see what’s going on.
If I was a travel agent, I would take my clients to a country that speaks English, such as the U.K., Ireland or Australia. Send them out to a country where its easier in terms of communicating and where the culture is more similar so they don’t feel threatened if something comes up. As soon as the client starts to get a feel for international travel, then you can start suggesting countries with different cultures and languages.-- Luis Avides, key account manager, PortugalRes
When you have a client who has an interest in a destination that has not been getting good press regarding safety, the biggest tool that travel agents have right now is technology and social media. Our CIE Tours Facebook page gives consumers the ability to get unbiased opinions and real-time opinions from travelers. See if you can visit the social media sites of suppliers that you are planning to suggest and have your clients interact with past travelers of the destination. Testimonials are the best way to convince the client. -- Willie Montano, director of advertising and marketing, CIE Tours
What are specific ways that tour operators help with safety and security issues?
It’s important that the tour operator you are working with is very clued in. Our destination specialists work so closely with all the tourist offices that we know what’s going on. In dealing with the unrest in Egypt, we had our offices in Egypt and our team work diligently, minute-by-minute, to know what the lastest developments were. We made sure that our clients were back on the U.S. shores in less than 24 hours. None of us have control in terms of the political situation in any country regarding acts of terrorism, but working with a tour operator who is clued-in regarding what’s happening in the specific destinations, that helps.-- Priya Chhabra, marketing manager, Isramworld
It comes down to looking at the right company. The first time I did one of Collette Vacations’ guided, escorted tours, I felt like I was in a bubble while I traveled. It was neat — my bags were on the coach while I was traveling from hotel to hotel with an American tour guide, or a national guide, and 15 to 30 other people traveling through the destination. It makes it very easy for your travelers if you’re not just throwing them out there on their own.
Sometimes, it comes down to insurance or liability. We offer a great emergency evacuation insurance. We’ve taken people, pulled them from a connection to Cairo and booked them at a hotel and, then, flew them right back home, and reimbursed them completely for the destination.
Remind your traveler of some of the things you can offer them as travel agents. Remind them that if something comes up, the tour company will take them right out.-- Dan Smart, national account manager, U.S. and Canada, Collette Vacations
How can travel agents best manage the price of their clients’ international vacations?
By putting clients in a group setting and purchasing great group contracts, we help bring that price down. Traveling in the group setting gives you the advantage of pricing individual travel.-- Chris Watson, U.S. sales, Educational Travel Services
Why is international travel so expensive? It’s because of air. You look at a ticket from San Francisco to France in June, and it's probably almost $2,000 to get there. It’s ridiculous. Talk to your clients about what they want. Everyone wants to travel during the summer because school is out and you can bring the family, but see if they’ll go during the off season. If they go during March, you can get a ticket to Europe for $500 less than it would be in May. Shoulder seasons are one of the biggest things about saving money while traveling. Our busiest months at Collette are March and October and September. It’s not as hot and there are not as many people at the destination.
As far as cost, it comes down to the currency. You want to explain to the traveler that when they’re going to Europe and South America, the currencies can sometimes save them money. I went to Costa Rica last year and had a lobster dinner with my wife for $16. Explain to your traveler that it’s almost cheaper to be traveling internationally than it is to be staying at home. Plus, companies like ours hedge our pricing with currencies. At Collette, we buy euros, yen, sheckles — all the different currencies from around the world — so that your traveler is paying U.S. dollars for a European tour. Clients are paying for all their hotels, sightseeing and dinners in dollars, not euros — that’s where they save.-- Dan Smart, national account manager, U.S. and Canada, Collette Vacations