Opinion: Responsibility is on the travel industry to build trust after Sousse

Richard Singer, President of Travelzoo in Europe

It is with great interest and concern that the travel industry has watched the proceedings in court regarding the Sousse attack.

This is new territory for consumers and the industry alike.

There have of course been terror incidents involving Western Europeans both before and since the tragic events at the resort of Port El Kantaoui in Tunisia.

However, this attack signalled a tipping point in consumer sentiment around safety and security on holiday.

The attack also felt different – it was a targeted attack on tourists at their most vulnerable, lying on the beach enjoying the sunshine, with the killer – hiding his gun inside a parasol, initially appearing to be another holidaymaker.

After the cornoner’s verdict reached this week, the question of responsibility lies heavily on all of us working in the industry.

Tui was not found to be neglectful but this still gives us all cause for reflection and signals a need for action.

It is so very important that we now properly address how we can share this responsibility, both within the industry and with the governments of the destinations our customers wish to travel to.

Neither governments nor travel companies can ever guarantee consumers 100% safety when on holiday, but what is clear is we can certainly improve how we communicate safety risks to consumers and advice about protection.

Next week Travelzoo will present findings from a global study on the topic of safety and security in travel at ITB Berlin, and we will release a white paper on the findings written in collaboration with academics from Bournemouth University.

The fact that safety and security is the dominant theme at this year’s ITB is telling.

Full data will be shared next week but the study found that, of the 6,000 consumers we surveyed across China, Japan, India, the USA, Russia, Germany, the UK and South Africa, safety and security on holiday is topmost in the minds of 97% of those polled.

The other finding of critical importance right now is that for the majority of respondents, from all nations polled, it is the travel company that sells the holiday that is most responsible should things go wrong, including any issues regarding their welfare and security.

So, regardless of court rulings, if our customers see us as the guardians of their safety, we need to think long and hard about the information we present to them when they are choosing their destination.

As the industry has learnt from crisis situations over the years, when it comes to trust and consumer confidence, it is not simply a matter of legal obligation. Customers and consumers do not accept that.

In speaking to organisations such as the BSI, World Travel and Tourism Council and the tourism professors from Bournemouth University, Travelzoo believes that two main areas need to be addressed.

Firstly better, easier-to-understand information is required on websites such as those of the Foreign Office and its counterparts in other nations.

The recent FCO Travel Aware campaign is a step in the right direction, but it could be made clearer still.

It also appears that most holidays are sold without any communication about the safety level of a destination until after the point of sale.

More proactive communication about FCO advice ahead of purchase would build trust.

For those opting to self-package, the responsibility of communicating official information on destinations’ security could fall to the likes of the large OTAs or airlines.

By way of example, I can very easily book a hotel in Tunisia today on a major global online travel agent website and have absolutely no communication about the fact I wouldn’t be insured if I visited as a UK tourist.

There would be certainly no mention of the FCO’s travel advice, something that Tui has now certainly addressed within its own booking process.

The second area we have looked into is the possibility of providing some form of certification or Kitemarking – similar to the Blue Flag system for beaches – for safety and security in tourism products.

Ideally this would extend to hotels, resorts, airports, theatres, museums, sporting venues and festivals.

While complex, there is no doubt that with more consistency in security globally, consumers would feel better informed about exactly what they are booking.

It is right that a hotel that invests in additional security standards should be rewarded.

The very nature of terrorism is that it is unpredictable, but it’s time to give consumers better tools to help them inform themselves and feel more empowered in their choices.

Pioneering companies in the travel and tourism industry should view this as an opportunity to build trust at a time when it is more critical than ever.

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