Travel Agents

How the Hawaii missile error highlighted the need for travel agents

It’s been a busy, somewhat daunting, time to  be a travel agent of late, what with the states of emergency around the world, and most recently, the accidental issuing of a missile warning in Hawaii.

Yeah, the poor bugger who hit ‘send’ on that text has already been fired.

But it brought to light something very close to our hearts, and that’s the ever-evolving and irreplaceable role of the travel agent. And in particular what the likes of our major agencies like Flight Centre have to say on this kind of emergency.

Yep, we even scored a sneaky one-on-one with old mate Skroo Turner on this. But more on that in a minute.

A particularly wonderful story from Travel Weekly US shared the lengths one agent went to in order to do as much as she could for her clients who were in Hawaii at the time.

The initial alert broadcasted to the public via their phones, read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

While some officials tweeted that the alert was false about 15 minutes later, it took 38 massive, stressful minutes for the official cancellation of the warning to be sent to mobile phones.

Per TW US, Marilyn Clark, owner of Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, California, worked her little butt off for those terrifying 38 minutes, and many more after that, to provide the utmost support for three separate client groups in Hawaii at the time.

She found out about the alert when one of her clients texted her.

“They were at the pool at their hotel when they received the alert and they didn’t know what to do,” she told TW US, admitting that the hotel staff couldn’t do much to help.

“I told them to get indoors right away and to ask if there was a basement they could go to,” Clark said.

“If not, to go to their rooms and I would contact them again after I got some more information. I also advised them to get on Twitter, which seems to be the best source for quick information, and to turn on their TV if they ended up in their rooms.”

Per TW US, Clark then got in touch with her other clients, helped them find suitable shelter options, before making contact again once the alerts of a false alarm were announced.

“After the false alarm alert, I texted all of them, asked how they were doing, told them to call me if they wanted to talk,” she said. “And to go to the nearest bar and the drinks were on me.”

She remained in contact in the following days, to ensure they continued to enjoy their holidays despite being quite shaken up.

“All of them know they can text or call me if they want to talk, and I will be following up with them when they get home, which I always do,” Clark told TW US.

And as supportive as Clark’s work was, she is most definitely not the only agent who was doing what they could for scared clients in Hawaii on January 13.

Speaking to Travel Weekly Australia, Flight Centre boss Skroo Turner revealed what his agency’s protocols are in this kind of emergency.

“We have a dedicated crisis communications function within the company. It was basically set up after the tsunamis and it has continued to evolve,” Skroo told TW Aus.

“In essence, when an issue arises that has the potential to affect our people and customers the crisis people communicate key information. This includes supplier policies for booking amendments, tips and FAQs.

“Our people are obviously front and centre and the keys on communicating to affected customers.”

Thankfully, Hawaii doesn’t seem to have been too severely impacted by the false alert.

In a statement, the Hawaii Tourism Authority confirmed to TW US that there had been “little to no impact in travel demand for the Hawaiian Islands in these first few days following the false alert”.

CEO George Szigeti said, “We are monitoring this situation closely and maintaining continuous contact with our tourism marketing partners in 10 global travel markets.

“Thus far, just a small number of concerns have been reported by travelers or travel trade professionals in these markets about coming to Hawaii.”

Per TW US, he added that travel partners are “understandably angry”, however are yet to report any out-of-the-ordinary cancellations since the event.

“Tourism can be a fragile industry and the confidence of travelers in booking trips can be shaken by an incident like this,” he said.

“Fortunately, in these first few days, the impact on travel to Hawaii appears to be minimal, if at all.”

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