Hurricane Dorian is firmly set in the rearview mirror, but the Atlantic hurricane season extends through the end of November, leaving plenty of time for another storm system to disrupt travel and affect vacation plans.
With that in mind, I polled a number of Caribbean experts last week for their top tips to help clients through a storm cycle. Good communication reigned as the most important thing an advisor can do.
"Communication is probably the most important thing, and communicating in a proactive way and not waiting for something to happen but trying to get ahead of it," said Daniel Olsen, COO of Beyond and Back Travel in Melbourne Beach, Fla.
For Olsen and his agency, planning often includes contingencies for the office, like making sure computers have backup batteries in case the office location is affected by a storm. But he also keeps open the lines of communication with clients.
Once it becomes clear a disruption is happening, Olsen said, Beyond and Back starts reaching out to any affected clients with contingency plans. The agency also sends clients information on various ways to get in touch in case one communication method is down.
Julie Irovando, who owns a Cruise Planners franchise in Valrico, Fla., recommending personally getting in touch with clients.
"Even though the cruise lines do have your clients' contact information, their email, and they're updating your clients, I really recommend the personal touch," Irovando said. "I called every one of my clients that were impacted, and I went over their options with them on the phone."
She also gives clients her personal cellphone number as an added line of communication during storms. Just knowing they could reach her, she said, made them feel better about changing travel plans.
Lindsey Epperly, founder of Atlanta-based Epperly Travel, said it's important to understand that clients are usually worried about travel plans, but to present only facts.
"I try to avoid playing into any sensationalism you're seeing in the media," she said.
Instead, travel advisors should act as authorities, presenting factual information.
"That's our job," Epperly said. "We need to serve from a place of human understanding, but also serve from a place of education."
Especially when booking a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season, Louisa Gehring, owner of Gehring Travel in Cincinnati, said travel insurance is key.
Travelers have been filing insurance claims. According to Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications for Allianz, as of Sept. 9, the insurer had received more than 4,000 claims related to Hurricane Dorian. Of those, 57% were for cancellations for trips to impacted areas, while the remaining were for situations like interruptions and delays.
Claims from Dorian were on track to overtake those generated by Hurricane Florence in 2018, which caused flooding in the Carolinas and 5,017 filed claims. Overall, the 2018 hurricane season saw 6,700 claims. The 2017 season, which saw devastation from hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, saw 26,000 claims.
If an issue does occur, Gehring tries to be as proactive with getting information to clients as she can, but she won't try to convince them to take one course of action over another.
"If I can sense that they're really uncomfortable, then that's not my job to convince them otherwise," she said. "Even if the hurricane passes and the resort says, 'We got minimal damage,' [if] the client is uncomfortable, that's not my job to convince them otherwise."