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When I take on new staff, one of the first things I impress on them is the importance of telling customers about Foreign Office advice. It would make my life easier if you could set out for me just why it is so important.
Advice from the Foreign Office – now called the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) – is one of the most important sources of information and guidance in the travel industry. FCDO travel advice is put together with input from numerous different agencies and is the best source for information such as entry requirements, which countries can and often do change, sometimes at fairly short notice. If a customer is not aware of visa requirements, or in the current environment, testing or vaccination requirements, they would almost certainly be prevented from boarding their flight and be hit with the subsequent cancellation charges. If you had not informed them of these requirements, or more pertinently where to find them, they could look to you for a reimbursement.
Rather than you having to be an expert on every country’s regulations, it is much more sensible to simply direct customers to the relevant FCDO travel advice pages. It is also a Code of Conduct requirement that you do so. The FCDO advice will also always direct customers to the official source for obtaining visas. This is important, as if you simply do an online search, a range of companies with very official looking websites will pop up offering visas for a fee, when they are in fact generally available for a much lower charge or even for free.
Other important issues such as local laws and customs will be covered in the advice, these can vary significantly from the UK and, although local police may give extra leeway to foreign visitors, ignorance is not a very convincing defence for breaking laws or upsetting local sensibilities and could result in very serious consequences. The FCDO advice will also give information on health requirements and refer to the best sources for more detailed health advice.
The FCDO can, on occasion, advise against travel to a country or in some instances parts of a country. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this is currently true for the majority of countries worldwide. In a more normal year this decision would be driven by concern for the safety of British nationals due to factors such as war, terrorist threats and political unrest and, of course, these concerns are also still ongoing even during a pandemic. It is extremely important that customers follow this advice, it is given for very good reasons and, if ignored, customers will be travelling uninsured as insurers will take the view that they invalidated their cover. ABTA and our members also take the view that we will not send customers to a country contrary to FCDO advice and will offer customers three options: to defer their date of travel, change their destination or get a full refund.
So, in short, FCDO advice is an essential and useful tool to enable your customers to make a properly informed choice when travelling and takes an awful lot of pressure off you knowing that your customers have all the right information they need as they head off overseas.
Daryl Nurthen, member support manager
Each issue we speak to a different ABTA employee about their work. This time: Rob Haworth, customer information manager
I first realised that my future belonged in the travel industry during my gap year between school and university, when I went off on a working holiday to Australia and then on to New Zealand and South East Asia. My career in travel started after completing my Tourism Management degree at Sheffield Hallam University, when I joined Cosmos and Monarch Holidays as a holiday rep.
I was posted to the beautiful islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, home to the unique and stylish architecture of César Manrique, where I was responsible for the resorts of Corralejo and Playa Blanca. After 10 months of Canarian hospitality, my next adventure took me to Sharm el-Sheik, where I worked with our local handling agents’ team, Flash Tours. They were such an amazingly hospitable bunch, I was very sad to leave them behind after a year as I returned to the UK, determined to embark on a more settled life and career.
April 2010 had a seismic impact on the travel industry. Just after I started work as a travel consultant with Flight Centre, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, bringing a halt to air travel to and from the UK for over a week. At the time it seemed like a significant crisis, little did we know what was to come a decade later! I spent the best part of eight years with Flight Centre, working across its direct customer brands of FCBT, Retail and eventually First & Business. The role of a Flight Centre agent was to ensure that your customers would be so ‘wowed’ by your service that they would come back and book future holidays through you, but also to trust you enough to book their business travel through you as well. So, a very high standard of customer service and travel knowledge was essential.
I eventually decided to move on from the life of an agent and sales and make use of my now 10 years of frontline customer service skills elsewhere, which is when I joined ABTA as a customer support manager. Recently we changed our name to the Customer Information Team, to more accurately reflect the role we play in supporting the ABTA brand.
We are a small team of eight and our main role is to help and give advice to our members’ customers on any travel related questions they may have, or with disputes that may have arisen between the two parties. We do this in a couple of different ways, online and also on the phone, as many customers prefer the ‘face to face’ approach. If they have a dispute already registered with us via the ABTA complaints portal, we will then be able to guide them through our Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.
No day is ever the same in the Customer Information Team, which is what makes it so exciting and enjoyable to work in. As many of the general public view ABTA with a great deal of trust and as the prominent advisory body for the travel industry, we also receive calls from customers with non-ABTA related problems. Although we can’t offer them the use of our ADR scheme, we will still offer the best advice we can for them – which includes the recommendation to book with an ABTA member and many tell us that, in future, they will always do so.