Opinion: Agents must do more to advise clients about risk

Opinion: Agents must do more to advise clients about risk

The industry should look beyond simplistic advice on safety, says Frank Brehany, consumer director at HolidayTravelWatch

The latest attack in Sousse, Tunisia, in which a police officer was shot dead, underlines the growing concern that regional conflict represents a serious threat to the soft target of tourism.

This tragedy came days after the attacks in Bangkok and Istanbul. No doubt we will hear that we must not be defeated, show solidarity and that terror can occur in any part of the world; this latter point suggests there is no distinction of location and that we are all prone to the same risk. I disagree.

For some time, through HolidayTravelWatch, I have been making the case for a different consideration on ‘risk destinations’; my latest commentary concerns Thailand.

Consumers, before parting with their precious income, should research their destinations from a practical, social and political perspective. I am not an ordinary consumer, but I pass on my methodology in the hope that consumers will make their own informed decisions about travel.

Flawed advice

However, the majority of consumers rely on two key sources for information: Foreign Office travel advice; and tour operators and/or agents. It is these two sources that are failing consumers.

There has to be wider recognition that different regions bring completely different levels of risk. You cannot say that travel to Spain, Italy or the Caribbean attracts the same type of risk as travelling to Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey or Kenya, and it is misleading 
to suggest otherwise.

FCO advice fails in the sense that it is often limited. How many times have you read ‘there is a high threat from terrorism’? What does that mean? The overview on crime (Magaluf is an example) or general issues appear to be incomplete or different from the advice for business. Why such distinctions?

Then there is the travel industry’s reliance on FCO advice. This gives the impression that travel has no ownership of that information, when in fact it has a unique insight into a country and contributes to those same advisories.

The problem is that we now live in a complex world. While I have great sympathy and understanding for those that rely on tourism, it cannot be the case that consumers are simply economic or political foot-soldiers in the pursuit of policy; they deserve more respect.

Industry insight

I believe the solution is to be found within the travel industry. Our recent Holiday Standards Report found that 80% of UK respondents, from a sample of more than 2,500 adults, had not booked a holiday through a travel agent in the past 12 months.

We book with agents or travel firms because they are trusted individuals or brands. Travel must readjust itself to this new world of ‘threat’ and begin to do what it does best and help ordinary consumers to decide where to go and to avoid obvious ‘risk’ destinations.

There are many other destinations out there and this represents a business opportunity to be seized. If the industry were to take that challenge we may see a reversal in our survey and a recognition of the valuable skill-set that agents and travel companies have.

As for ‘risk destinations’, surely it is time for International politics to do what is necessary to help those who could benefit from tourism, rather than simply rely on the goodwill that you or consumers provide.

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