Special Report: Crises ‘show need for the trade to reassure clients’

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A Travelzoo survey suggests events this summer have transformed Brits’ booking habits. But what does this mean for travel agents? Juliet Dennis reports

Holidaymakers need the trade more than ever following a “summer of discontent”, according to Travelzoo.

A survey commissioned by the holiday deals publisher has indicated just how much this summer’s terror attacks in Tunisia and Thailand, combined with the migrant crisis and economic woes in Greece, have affected customers.

More than half (54%) of 2,000 UK adults surveyed by Censuswide in September felt confused about where is safe to travel, and three in four said they now research the safety of a country before they go.

At first glance some of the findings could be cause for alarm: 73% of respondents were put off travelling via the Channel Tunnel due to the migrant crisis, while 54% said the Tunisia attack had put them off booking or planning a holiday anywhere abroad.

But Travelzoo managing director Richard Singer stressed that rather than creating a climate of fear in the trade, the findings highlighted the need to reassure clients in an uncertain climate.

The poll suggested consumers are not as well-informed as they could be: only a third knew which countries had been put on high alert by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for British tourists. But to put this into context: the report also found that 69% check the FCO’s website if they are unsure about safety.

Singer said this highlighted an opportunity for the trade to provide clients with informed choices on where to visit.

“It’s been quite an exceptional year,” he said. “As an industry I don’t think we should be concerned; it’s more that people need reassurance and we need to work hard so they don’t feel they are making choices on their own.”

Singer was keen to point out the survey does not suggest the desire to travel has dropped off – simply that consumers’ booking considerations have changed in light of recent events, catapulting safety to the top of the check list.

This would appear to be borne out by the fact 75% of respondents are “actively avoiding” Islamic countries as holiday destinations.

Only 1% of those surveyed said they would consider Tunisia even if the travel ‘ban’, following the terror attack in June, were lifted.

By contrast, the Canary Islands was rated as the most popular winter-sun destination, and Italy as the number-one destination for the next 12 months, suggesting Brits are looking to trusted destinations. In other words, while North Africa has fallen out of favour, Britons still want a holiday.

So what does this mean for the trade? Singer said it meant the trade needed to work harder to reassure clients and offer more guidance and destination information, particularly to those clients “sitting on the fence” about whether to book a holiday.

Operators’ sales figures echo survey’s findings

Operators have backed up Travelzoo’s findings that holidaymakers are crying out for more hand-holding.

Discover Egypt director Philip Breckner said: “People want to book with us because they feel more confident going to a package operator.”

He disputed another finding of the survey, saying bookings to Egypt were flat but not down.

Classic Collection Holidays said its sales figures echoed the poll, with sales up 12% to the Canaries and 40% to Madeira year on year, but down to Morocco and Egypt, according to head of marketing Vanda Bauer.

Prestige Holidays general manager David Skillicorn said: “The trade needs to be able to properly interpret FCO advice.”

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