Definitely not 'playing doctor'

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Should you mention medical concerns to your pregnant client planning an "off-the-beaten-path" trip to Sicily? How would you handle the couple who have assured you that they've researched their trip to India and Nepal on the Internet, and they know that no special immunizations are required?

Agents don't have to wield a stethoscope to help clients with travel health issues. These scenarios are the kind of health issues that can come up in a typical agency, according to Judith Zacek, owner of the Newtonville, Mass.-based industry consulting firm Zacek & Associates.

Zacek alluded to these situations during the panel on Traveling Healthy at the recent ASTA World Travel Congress in Strasbourg, France.

Whereas "most agents tend to think travel health means talking about exotic diseases, there are health issues involved in almost any trip you put together," she said in a later phone conversation.

And although agents clearly don't want to play doctor and "say too much," they also don't want to "say too little," which can lead to liability problems.

She would advise the pregnant but adventurous client to check with her physician before the trip and possibly have her doctor recommend a doctor in Italy; or she might suggest the client consider medical evacuation insurance.

As for the couple insisting they've done all their research on health concerns on travel to India and Nepal, "I might have them sign a waiver that they've checked the issue out themselves."

But "one thing a good agent can do is explain the difference between required and recommended immunizations," she added. What the couple might not realize is that immunizations required for entry into a specific country "are for the protection of the host country, not for the protection of the traveler. You still need to protect yourself against diseases that may be rampant," Zacek said.

Other scenarios she raised were: A client who always has you order diabetic meals is now planning her honeymoon in the South Pacific. "The first question you have to ask, is 'Are you really diabetic or have you discovered that [the meals are] a low-fat option?' "

If the client is diabetic, "you might remind her to make sure she has enough medication and to take along prescriptions" in case she loses her medication in transit.

Raising clients' awareness

When agents raise health issues with their clients, it's "never a case of giving medical advice but [doing some] consciousness raising," said Judith Zacek, a Newtonville, Mass.-based industry consultant.

For example, consider the case of a client who wants to hike the archaeological sites of Peru the year after having had a terrible case of the flu. An agent might say something like, "you're going to a place with a high altitude, where respiratory ailments are common. Maybe you ought to have your doctor check you out."

What you want is to have your client thinking, "My travel agent really cares about me," said Zacek.

She remembered when she was an agent and had elderly clients whose air-sea arrangements for their Southeast Asia cruise would have meant a very long plane trip, which she knew would be difficult for the man, who could barely tolerate cross-country flights.

"I convinced them to break up the journey," said Zacek. "Instead of going from the East Coast straight to Singapore, I had them stop overnight on the West Coast."That wasn't even so much a health issue as good customer service," she said.

Such service is facilitated by the fact that "many travel agents really know their customers" and understand their special needs.

Zacek also recommended giving clients tips on further resources, such as the International Society of Travel Medicine, which has travel health clinics all over the country. Check out its Web site at www.istm.org for a list of locations. Another resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose Web site -- www.cdc.gov/travel -- includes health recommendations by geographic regions and updates on disease outbreaks around the world.

The health and safety review

Richard Turen weighs in on the topic discussed above:

How do you counsel your clients on health and safety matters? This is one of those areas in which there is simply no industry standard.

Richard Turen.Given the litigious nature of our society, I would recommend that owners discuss this matter with their attorney to formulate an approach that meets the needs of those clients visiting countries in which food contamination, street crime and inferior medical facilities might be problems.

Are you, for instance, going to discuss the prevalence of pickpockets on the streets of Rome? Are you aware of those countries in which your clients are best advised to not even brush their teeth with tap water?

Consider including a health and safety review as a part of every single document review -- don't allow clients to pick up documents without this service.

Also consider forming an affiliation with a travel medicine clinic in your area.

Finally, let the consumer know that at your agency, every booking includes a review of health and safety concerns. In this day and age, the pluses of such a policy will far outweigh any negative implications about the dangers of travel.

Richard Turen is an industry consultant and agency president. E-mail him at [email protected].

Panama cruise report

Sheri Robbins, an outside agent for Costa Travel in San Diego, gave high marks to Princess Cruises' Sun Princess, which she called "perhaps the most beautiful ship on which I have sailed."

Passing through the Panama Canal.Robbins celebrated her 27th wedding anniversary on a Panama Canal cruise aboard the ship.

She wrote: "The food is to die for -- whether you're enjoying a formal dinner or hot dogs up on deck. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and the dining room service is beyond compare.

"We celebrated our anniversary by renewing our vows in a ceremony with the ship's captain. It was a class act, one I would recommend to anyone thinking of renewing their vows."

Gay groups on cruises

Do you have gay clients who love taking cruises? Through the help of a new nonprofit networking organization, the Gay & Lesbian American Cruise Association (Glaca), you can get them on special sailings with their peers on mainstream but gay-friendly ships.

Glaca coordinates a list of sailing dates for groups of gays with participating cruise lines that link the reservations of the selected dates for dining and special activities.

"The benefit for the gay client is they have the company and the comfort of traveling with fellow gay and lesbian travelers aboard fine ships while receiving good value," said Joseph Kantor, who founded the association.

Agents can get more information and a list of sailing dates at the Glaca Web site at www.cruisingwithpride.com/glaca or can e-mail Kantor at [email protected].

Blowing in the wind

Does wind have anything to do with the job you do? You bet. It affects your clients' trips in ways far more dramatic than you might think.

Marc Mancini.Hurricanes are the obvious example. You can reduce the odds that one of these huge storms will disrupt a client's journey by remembering this: 80% of hurricanes occur in August, September and early October, with almost none happening from December through May. The Caribbean isn't the only place they occur, either. Africa's east coast, Australia's north shore, Southeast Asia and Japan all regularly have them.

Trade winds are what keep your clients cool on an otherwise hot island. Since they occur in humid places, they bring moisture. And because they predictably flow from east to west, a tropical island (especially a mountainous one) will get most of its rain on its eastern (or windward) side. It'll be drier on the western (leeward) side, which is sheltered by mountains from the windborne moisture.

The westerlies are higher-level winds that blow through the world's temperate zones (30 to 60 degrees latitude). They flow west to east and can also carry rain. As a result, western coastal regions throughout the world are rainier. Some examples: the Pacific Northwest, the Alaskan Panhandle, Ireland and Norway's fjord coast.

At the core of the westerlies is the jet stream. That's why flights that go easterly in temperate zones take less time than those that go west.

Industry consultant Marc Mancini's geography book, "Selling Destinations," is available by calling (800) 347-7707.

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