Watching the news today can give travelers plenty of reasons to be anxious. But armed with the right information, travel agents can help allay their concerns.
"What we really want to get across to them is all it takes is a little bit of awareness, a little bit of preparation, a little bit of research, and they'll feel a lot better about where they're going," said Russell Goutierez, executive director of the nonprofit Family Assistance Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting people after tragedies.
During a workshop at the ASTA Global Convention last month in San Diego, Goutierez, who is also a vice president at disaster management firm Aviem International, gave agents a roadmap of strategies to follow to turn the anxious traveler into a confident one.
First, he said, agents should urge their clients to focus on what they can control. He gave an example (albeit, an extreme one) of a man who had survived a plane crash, but his job still mandated frequent air travel.
In order to control the situation and make himself more comfortable, the man made a list of airlines he considered trustworthy and decided to fly only on those carriers, a plan his employer readily agreed to accommodate.
Next, agents should encourage their clients to prepare for their trips by researching and buying travel insurance. Agents can point them to resources such the U.S. State Department's information on other countries, and should encourage them to sign up for the department's Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP) and register their trip with the nearest embassy or consulate.
It's also important to know phone numbers for local emergency services; embassies and consulates and the Sate Department's Overseas Citizens Services (1-888-407-4747 from the U.S. and Canada, or 1-202-501-4444 from overseas). Goutierez recommended adding the numbers as contacts in one's phone before traveling abroad.
Preparation is key if a traveler does face some kind of crisis. When a crisis happens, he said, emotions tends to outweigh logic. A person's ability to reason is diminished and they can experience a loss of equilibrium.
After focusing on what they can control and properly preparing for a trip, travelers should reach a state of self-efficacy and become more confident about their travels, Goutierez said.
Travelers can also ask suppliers they work with if they deploy care teams in the event of an incident. Care teams are specially trained to give practical, emotional and logistic support to those who have been involved in accidents, emergencies or crises. Most airlines and cruise ships have them at the ready.
As an example of a care team's value, Goutierez played a video of Harold Ruchelman, who had been on a Celebrity Cruises sailing in South America when the shore excursion bus he and his wife were on tumbled off the side of a mountain. Ruchelman survived but his wife did not.
The excursion was operated by a third party so Celebrity had no obligation to get involved in the situation, Goutierez said, but they did, sending care team members to stay with Ruchelman in the hospital day and night.
In the video, a fully recovered Ruchelman expressed his gratitude not only to Celebrity but to parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., bolstering research showing that a quick, caring response from a supplier makes a difference.