ISTANBUL -- Agents and suppliers discussed how to support
destinations in crisis and got a firsthand look at how some of Turkey's popular
attractions are faring, during the eighth annual meeting of the Travel Advisor
Leadership Council last week.
According to Jena Gardner, president and CEO of meeting host
JG Worldwide, the decision to hold this year's event in Turkey's largest city
was largely inspired by member Valerie Wilson, founder of Valerie Wilson
Wilson said that it was important for council members to
take a leadership role in returning to Turkey, where a
2015 suicide bombing in Istanbul and subsequent attacks fueled a massive
decline in tourism.
With cruise lines and tour operators opting to pull out of
Turkey in the wake of those attacks, visits from the U.S. plummeted nearly 43%
in 2016, according to Ministry of Tourism data. But visitor arrivals increased
nearly 23% last year, a trend that likely will continue as cruise lines reinstate calls in Kusadasi for next year.
Members of the Travel Advisor Leadership Council in Istanbul. Photo Credit: Eric Moya
"When you sit on an advisory board, you should be
leaders in an industry, which means you think outside of the box," Wilson
said. "Part of it is just being able to reassure [clients] that this is such an
exciting destination and no matter where you are in the world, there's a risk."
The council's two-day meeting, held at the
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus and the Ciragan Palace Kempinski
Istanbul, opened with a session on the media and how agents and suppliers can
contribute to the discussion of a destination in crisis.
Martin Rapp, Altour's senior vice president of leisure
sales, said that the travel media should be as vigilant about reporting good
news as they are about chronicling turmoil.
News about hotel renovations and openings of museums and
other attractions "are the kinds of things that make it easier for us"
to reassure clients to visit a destination, he said.
That approach should extend to travel sellers speaking with
their clients, as well, said Beth Jenkins of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Va. "It's
about spinning the conversation so it's about something exciting, instead of a
defensive thing," she said, adding that such an approach is more
compelling to a client than "if the conversation is always about safety,
or 'You should go now to support them.'"
Jim Bendt of Pique Travel Design returned to that theme
during the council's meeting the next day, while discussing how his company creates
travel portfolios for clients similar to the retirement portfolios created by
"When we get stuck in this reactive mode, it's a
challenge," he said, adding that by creating a travel portfolio, his
company is able to allay clients' fears simply by steering them toward another
destination on their wish list.
"With some of the safety issues, we ran into this last
year. If people weren't comfortable, let's say, going to Paris after the
attacks there, we also know they wanted to go to Old Quebec, so we didn't lose
that booking," he
Between meetings, council members experienced some of
Istanbul's famous sights. Rapp, Wilson and others noted heightened security
efforts at the Topkapi Palace Museum, where armed guards and additional bag
scanners were positioned at several entrance points.
Still, Wilson said, "I was not intimidated by it, I was
not concerned by it."
Optional post-meeting extensions to Bodrum and Cappadocia
continued through this week.
Prior to last week's meeting, Rapp had visited Turkey about
eight times, most recently about three years ago, not long after the 2015
bombing. Compared with then, he said, "Now it's much more vital. There
were a lot more people, hotels were bustling. I think Americans are finally
starting to come back."