When it comes to factors that can negatively impact agency sales, geopolitical tensions and security and terrorism-related issues appear to have gained some traction. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to this year's survey cited security and terrorism as events that impacted their business in 2014, ranking third behind rising airfares and fees and Internet competition. Last year, security and terrorism ranked sixth, with 30% of respondents citing it as having a negative impact. A new response category, geopolitical tensions, was added this year, and was cited by 22% of agents as having a negative impact on revenue.Rodney George, managing partner at St. Louis-based Luxe Travel Consultants, told Senior Editor Michelle Baran that the best tool agents have to combat those fears are to be honest about the dangers that exist and help clients choose destinations and travel insurance options that will enable them to travel with greater peace of mind
.Q: Are you finding that issues such as geopolitical tensions, security and terrorism threats are weighing on your clients' minds?A:
While they are weighing on clients' decision-making processes, they are not quite yet controlling decisions. At Luxe Travel, we do not intentionally book anyone into areas where the State Department has issued travel advisories. We listen closely to the global experts at several of our major partners. They often have even better information than the State Department is willing to release.Q: What destinations are clients staying away from due to geopolitical tensions and/or security and terrorism concerns?
A: We have stayed away from Middle Eastern destinations for several years. [We] took a group on a cruise three years ago with two ports of call in Egypt, and that is the last time anyone in our agency has booked anything with Egypt as a part of the itinerary. Clients have been requesting ... Israel, and we have booked it, as [it]is not on any do-not-travel lists currently.
Q: How does Luxe Travel Consultants combat fear-based notions?
A: We keep up to date on world situations and always endeavor to keep our clients away from problem areas. We listen closely to the global situation experts at our major suppliers for enhanced intelligence on domestic and foreign situations.
Q: How much does price help to combat fear?
A: Price doesn't seem to outweigh personal security. No matter how inexpensive a destination is, if it is unsafe our clients seem to prefer alternative destinations.
Q: Do you encourage travelers to get travel insurance as a way to soothe any concerns?
A: We always recommend travel protection coverage, and as a result, approximately 95% of our clients purchase travel protection insurance. We have had quite a few large dollar claims over the years, [mainly due to] health issues and care while traveling, that could have been financially devastating without protection.
Q: What's on your radar in terms of concerns for 2016 and beyond? What would positively or negatively impact business the most in the coming months and years?
A: As far as 2016 and beyond, world events will probably play the biggest role in travel decisions ... especially if terrorist groups continue their push into normally safe areas.
The economy always has the potential to negatively impact business. In 2008, when the economy drastically nose-dived, we saw our booking window shorten by six or seven months. So, I would expect another substantial downturn would cause the booking window to shorten again.
Q: What destinations or types of vacations have been doing well this year?
A: The South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand seem to be on almost everyone's bucket list. Our fastest-growing category, by far, is river cruises, especially in Europe.
Q: What is your insider tip on how best to combat the news of the day?
A: We always say, "Wherever you are, be there." Enjoy where you are and what you are doing, but always be mindful of your surroundings and pay attention to the news.