The trade is calling for a unified response to the coronavirus outbreak to reassure clients it remains safe to travel to most destinations.
Operators and agents said it was important to give a positive message to consumers and play on the industry’s expertise.
Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer for specialist business at The Midcounties Co-operative and Abta chairman, said: “We will look to Abta to communicate a positive message about it being ‘safe to travel if precautions are taken’.”
Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association president Joanne Dooey stressed agents played a vital role.
She said: “We need to be careful the negative message doesn’t scare people from travelling. The message should be ‘if you are travelling with a tour operator, they will only send you on your holiday if they know it’s safe’.”
Typically Holidays owner Daniele Broccoli urged Abta to put together a campaign, with messages in agency windows to say it is safe to travel. He said: “This is a time to work together. We have to put the time in to persuade clients to travel.”
Kirker Holidays director Ted Wake said there was an opportunity for agents to show their worth and urged them to ask operators to join conversations with concerned clients in stores. He said: “The sales process is about collaboration between operators and agents. We must take steps to reassure clients.”
Hays Travel managing director John Hays said agents would have to work harder. He said: “When customers are scarce and even more precious than they are normally, you’ve got to work every last enquiry to get a sale.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises chairman and chief executive Richard Fain appealed directly to the trade not to panic. In a video message, he said: “We will get through this difficult time together”.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan, who appeared on BBC News Special on coronavirus on Monday, said the government’s decision to publish worst-case scenario plans for the UK’s response was “scaremongering”.
He added. “There is no reason to stop booking. People should be reassured that if their holiday is impacted, their money is protected.”
Graeme Brett, of Westoe Travel, called on Abta to take the lead and co-ordinate a publicity campaign to reassure travellers that it is safe to travel.
He said: “Abta has to get out and be constructive instead of reacting to bad press.
“The travel industry has to be more proactive and constructive and get the message out there.
“Abta should be working with operators to share video and footage showing how safe and normal life is in tourist destinations across the world.”
Abta said it has been liaising with its members and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and regularly updating its advice for both agents and consumers.
Action taken since the outbreak has included running Facebook adverts to reassure consumers about their concerns about the virus and travel. The association has a customer advice page at abta.com/coronavirus.
Abta is also holding a conference call with agents next week and has a members’ page with regularly updated advice on the coronavirus. This page is in the ‘member zone’ under the ‘Running your business’ section and includes advice on agents’ legal obligations and how to manage client concerns.
Abta’s Victoria Bacon is appearing on BBC TV’s The One Show on March 5, and also appeared earlier this week, to offer consumer advice. Abta spokespeople have already conducted more than 100 interviews with national and regional broadcast media on the issue.
Abta’s director of legal affairs Simon Bunce is also taking part in Travel Weekly’s Facebook Live Q&A at 1.30 on Wednesday, March 4.
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