Comment: When headlines don’t help

The travel agent who addresses clients’ anxieties by becoming a kind of counsellor is a theme I’ve touched on in this column before.

It is how Joan Jones of Spear Travels described the role of the modern agent this week when talking of consultants increasingly having to reassure customers worried about travelling abroad.

Anxiety among a proportion of holidaymakers is probably greater than usual this year, given the terrible events in Tunisia last month and the recent uncertainty about Greece.

But Joan highlighted something we’ve pointed out previously – that agents face the unenviable task of dealing with and trying to moderate the fallout from overwrought consumer media headlines.

Just this week, The Times – by no means the worst offender when it comes to exploiting public fears – ran a piece on how to survive a seagull attack. Apparently, seagulls have become the “scourge of summer”.

One thing Joan said truly resonated with me – how fear about travelling to a destination may be stoked by the failure to talk to a travel agent.

Consumers who book solely online, reliant on user reviews, are more likely to turn to social media to ‘share’ their fears following a damaging headline, rather than speak to an agent with access to advice from Abta and tour operator staff on the ground, as well as insight from satisfied customers who can attest to conditions in a destination.

The human touch remains vital in communicating with customers, as Tui director of digital marketing Dan Robb noted this week at the Digital Lunchbox event hosted by Travel Weekly sister publication Travolution, saying: “We still need people to do sensitive things.”

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