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As some destinations begin to reopen to tourists, many cities and countries have unveiled detailed, multiphase plans for reopening, including comprehensive health and safety protocols.
We asked several advisors what they feel their role is when advising clients on traveling in the new normal, aka before the creation and distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19.
Many responses centered around the same belief that the ultimate decision to travel is up to clients; however, it is the role of an advisor to inform and help guide them in their decision.
“Travel advisors have an obligation to tell their clients about information they have and information that is in the public domain that may be an important factor in a client’s decision,” said Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network.
Amy Eben, manager of The Travel Advantage in Sioux Center, Iowa, shares a similar sentiment, saying that it is her duty as an advisor to keep clients informed as travel restrictions are evolving.
To share all available options, her company has contacted every client that has a future airline, cruise or tour booking. She said they’ve also used Facebook as a means to educate travelers about safety concerns.
“It’s all about informing travelers so they can make an educated decision on what is best for them and their situation,” Eben said.
Alternatively, some agents believe it is not their job to make recommendations about safety or express opinions about assessing risk. These advisors say that they should provide just the information needed so the client can decide the best course of personal action.
It is as irresponsible to convince clients to travel as it is to shame clients against traveling.
Block recommends that advisors offer official sources of information or pass on policies and procedures from travel suppliers.
Kari Mullikin, president of Bon Voyage World Travel Experts, believes that it is more of a joint effort between the advisor and client when assuming responsibility while traveling amid COVID-19.
“We advise that just because the plane will fly them to the destination, the experience once they arrive may be very different than first planned,” Mullikin said. “Required mask wearing and the possibility of a mandatory 14-day quarantine are both items that travelers need to be aware of."
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Jason Block, CEO of WorldVia Travel Group, believes that it is up to advisors to be up to date on supplier health and safety practices, and to help clients understand these new procedures. Ultimate accountability for following set standards lies with the supplier implementing them, he says.
“It would be impractical, if not impossible, for any advisor to be in position to certify whether a supplier’s health standards are being adhered to,” Block said. “It would not be appropriate to look to travel advisors to provide recommendations based on health and safety practices.”
Dan Ilves, senior vice president of leisure sales and marketing for TravelStore, also believes it’s the advisor’s obligation to be transparent with clients and share any information he or she is currently aware of. At the same time, it’s difficult to know the exact risk level or what the experience will be on any specific trip since many advisors also have not resumed traveling.
“Ultimately, the client needs to assume the responsibility of traveling on any particular trip, to any particular destination, at any particular time,” Ilves said.
He said it’s hard to advise on future trips, such as the cruise vacations they’re booking now, since it’s still unknown what the specific safety protocols will be on ships, as those protocols are currently not in place.
In a recent quick poll, Travel Leaders Network asked advisors who is responsible for client safety when clients decide to travel. Most advisors said it was solely the client’s responsibility, followed closely by those who said it was solely their responsibility as the advisor. None of them said it was solely the supplier’s responsibility.
Some advisors added additional remarks, such as that it is their duty to “help clients with their decision, but the final decision rests with the client” and that “the client and advisor need to work together to make sure the client is aware of all the risks.”
Supplier responsibility also came up: “It is the responsibility of the supplier to make sure its terms and conditions are easily understood by the client and that the supplier then lives up to those terms and conditions” and “it is the supplier’s responsibility to notify the travel agency of changes that apply to confirmed bookings.”
One respondent summed up his obligations this way: “It is my responsibility to provide resources to help clients decide if they would like to travel, share what I know and stay informed on information relevant to the supplier I recommend.”
Lindsey Epperly Sulek of Epperly Travel has gone a step further to inform her clients. She started a video series dedicated to educating clients with the facts and resources they need to make an informed decision. She did so because she believes it’s her role to provide clients with factual, unbiased information surrounding their travel choices during this time.
“It is as irresponsible to convince clients to travel as it is to shame clients against traveling,” Epperly said.
She says her job is to inform clients of any requirements when traveling regarding personal protective equipment such as masks, and to relay any measures that hotels, airlines, cruise lines and tour partners are taking to ensure traveler safety.
“When we as advisors approach the client communication in this way, we gain their trust,” she said. “The worst thing we could be doing right now is let our personal biases reflect how we respond to clients.”