First comes an incident. A terrorist attack in Nice or Paris, an earthquake in Nepal or an outbreak of Zika in Mexico.

Then headlines and news reports get transmitted into the homes of would-be travelers whose city escape, hiking adventure or beach holiday is suddenly cloaked in uncertainty.

Next come phone calls and inquiries to travel agents and tour operators about the incident and its impact on travelers.

Finally comes the really tricky question: Should I still travel?

Cancellations in the wake of disruptive international events are a fact of the travel industry, but research by the USTOA suggests that some cancellations can be avoided by providing reliable information.

The research was undertaken by USTOA’s Innovation Lab, a multiyear collaboration with the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University to gain insight into the tour consumer.

The survey queried 300 travelers and found that 69% were “committed travelers,” determined to continue with bookings even in the wake of a disruptive incident.

Another 31% were identified as likely to cancel, and the survey asked these people a follow-up question: “If you received information that it was safe to travel, would you travel?” Roughly a third answered yes.

Alyssa Scheppach, the call-center director for (No. 28 on the Travel Weekly 2016 Power List), said those stats struck her as being spot on.

In the wake of events like a hurricane or disease outbreak, Scheppach said CheapCaribbean receives an influx of calls from people concerned about upcoming reservations.

Most are seeking information about the situation on the ground and want to understand cancellation policies or other options.

“A pretty small number of clients have made their decision before they call us,” Scheppach said. “It’s quite often that clients call us more than once before they decide what they’re going to do.”

At Intrepid, director of U.S. sales Mandy Morrissey said cancellations vary with the type of incident.

“We had a lot of cancellations with the Nepal earthquake, but a lot of rebookings, too, and a handful of cancellations during the attempted coup in Turkey,” Morrissey said. “However, isolated attacks like the ones we’ve seen in Nice, Paris and Thailand have not resulted in many cancellations.”

The USTOA study concluded that the availability of clarifying information from reliable sources was the key to helping decide whether to move forward with travel plans. The people polled cited the U.S. State Department, travel agents, tour operators, broadcast news, Facebook and travel review sites as the main sources for such information.

However, Morrissey said Intrepid was sometimes tasked with addressing reports that clients have seen elsewhere.

“Often people see the news, it looks scary, and people react,” she said. “Intrepid has the advantage of having local operators in-country who can provide a realistic view of what is actually happening on the ground.”

CheapCaribbean follows a basic procedure for all disruptive events. Management gets cancellation policies from airline and resort partners, gathers updates from destination management companies and operators on the ground, then funnels that information to call center and sales agents so clients receive consistent advice. The call center is open 22 hours a day, so when the phone rings, there’s usually someone to answer it.

Scheppach said, “We don’t want to reassure clients when it’s not appropriate. We also don’t want to alarm clients when there’s not any need. I think it’s a balance of giving factual information but not trying to persuade a client one way or the other.”

Both CheapCaribbean and Intrepid also have online pages dedicated to safety, where clients with upcoming bookings can find information on their destination and whether their trip will be affected.

Sometimes reassuring passengers is simply about putting an incident in context. “We received a lot of calls about Ebola from people traveling to South Africa or Kenya,” Morrissey said. “Once we explained that the areas of the Ebola outbreak were closer to London, Paris and Madrid than to Nairobi, it helped put the situation in perspective for our travelers.”

Both Scheppach and Morrissey have found that most of their clients eventually make the decision to continue with their travel plans. Even if they call, even if they have questions or concerns, Scheppach said the bottom line is simple: “They want to go. They want to travel.”


From Our Partners

From Our Partners

2021 Ireland Luxury Marketplace
Ireland Luxury Marketplace: New Webinar Series
Register Now
Los Cabos dining district
Los Cabos' 23400 District
Read More
2021 WOL Webinar
The World of Luxury for 2022
Register Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI