Suzy Richards has been working in the travel industry for more than 30 years. In June 2015, she lost her son, her dad and her brother in the Sousse attack. Now she’s spoken to TTG about the importance of making customers aware of - and heeding - travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
My name is Suzy Richards I have been working in the travel industry for more than 30 years. I currently teach Travel and Tourism at Walsall College in the West Midlands.
After my own horrific personal loss of losing my son, dad and brother in the Sousse attack, raising awareness of customer safety has been very important to me and something I want to help improve.
One of the things we have been talking about with travel students at college is how to discuss the Foreign Office travel advice when selling travel arrangements or a holiday.
It’s naturally going to be quite a challenge for my students as they have little - if any - experience of these conversations. I know from my own experience working as a travel manager that staff without training may find it difficult to find the right moment and the right words.
Until now, when selling a holiday, conversations around travel advice cover fairly straightforward matters such as visas and vaccinations. But there must be a time when the conversation turns to talk about safety.
I know it will be difficult to have these conversations without them sounding scary. But done properly, you will find customers will feel more reassured, confident, respected and informed.
As an industry ,we want people to go on holiday and explore new places. Front-line staff can empower customers to make informed decisions about where they are going by clearly directing them to read and understand the government’s official travel advice, which has all of the necessary facts and information.
This is a subject I’ve been discussing with Abta. I pleased they have now introduced an FCO training module for its members and I fully support all sales staff completing this 20-minute training.
The training helpfully goes through some challenging questions, based on real-life examples from front-line sales staff, with useful responses like explaining nowhere is 100% safe, and everyone’s assessment of risk is different.
Travel companies need to look at how they are making customers aware of the availability of Foreign Office travel advice, such as listing the website in brochures and other materials.
They must also remember not every customer is computer savvy. Bringing up the FCO website and relevant advice page when a customer is sat in front of you, before they book, will help inform them.
We know as an industry these conversations won’t be easy. But having well-trained staff who know how to deal with these questions in a clear and confident way will reassure holidaymakers and be part of offering excellent customer service.
We live in a world now where no-one can say for certain what will happen. But what the industry can say is the Foreign Office has travel advice about every destination in the world - and that you should check the advice before booking your trip and to continue checking it leading up to your trip.
Abta’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice online training is available free for members, and can be found in its online Knowledge Zone.