Would you have sent Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman to Afghanistan? This is not to suggest that any travel councillor did book the Canadian-American couple to the war-torn country where they were abducted and held hostage for five years before being rescued by the Pakistani army last week, but would you have knowingly sent clients into clear and present danger?

It must be noted that Boyle and Coleman were not on business, visiting family, or part of a medical or aid mission. They were on holiday, hiking through a war zone when they were snatched in a town they apparently knew was not safe. They had previously visited Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on the trip. And they somehow managed to have several children while in captivity. Which is to say, if you knew that your clients were perhaps not the sharpest tools in the shed, would you aid their folly?
Certainly, there is no accounting for the extreme ways of humans – one often hears about the lunacy of people tumbling down mountains or dying going up them; being killed by animals they had no business being near; or simply being in the wrong place when any time would be the wrong time – and no one is saying that if an agent, in fact, sent them there that they are responsible; but it does raise interesting questions of moral, if not legal, culpability.
Is an agent to blame if a client falls overboard on a cruise ship? If the client was drunk and acting foolish, no. If the cruise line had a long history of safety issues, perhaps.
You know your client has dubious motives for visiting Bangkok (seeking sex with children), do you send them? Transat has notably campaigned against child sexual exploitation in recent years – going so far as to produce guidelines for travel agents to help identify and prevent the practice. Clearly, you don’t send them (and should probably call the police).

But sometimes the case isn’t entirely clear, especially in a world dominated by social media and a 24-hour news cycle that foments fear. For example, negative publicity over the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005 devastated the island’s tourism industry as frightened visitors stayed away in droves. But, while tragic, the incident, taken in context, hardly warranted the outcome. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people are murdered annually in most big cities; in Chicago in 2016, more than 750 people were killed, yet Chicago tourism is thriving.
Do you recommend Aruba or Chicago? The answer is likely yes and yes, as it is for London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona – places tainted by incidents of terrorism recently. But those are one-offs, maybe two- or three-offs. Besides, that’s random risk, as opposed to hiking in Afghanistan. One could get hit by a bus too in London. Then again, what if the security alert level is red?

Rightly or wrongly, Egypt’s once-thriving tourism industry has suffered seemingly irreparable damage after years of turmoil, even putting some Canadian tour operators that specialized in the destination all but out of business. Visitations tick up after periods of stability, only to fall off the map again after the latest incident. Do you send people to the pyramids? It’s all about timing it seems.

In 2003, Toronto suffered a visitor backlash during the SARS outbreak. I recall attending a Maison de la France tradeshow at the time in which French suppliers wore masks. By the end of the event they had removed them, realizing how ridiculous their initial fears were. Yet the world was panicked.

A travel colleague observed to me recently that by the nature of our vocations, we often get asked for advice about travel by family, friends, even people we’ve just met. Usually the information sought is benign: have you been to Barbados, sailed on Seabourn, stayed at a Shangri-La? Do you know a good travel agent?

But, at other times, the questions can carry greater weight. Recently, for example, my sister and niece were set to travel to Mexico on holiday, but discovered reports that stated that some resorts were allegedly serving drinks made with tainted or counterfeit alcohol that caused illness or blackouts. A Wisconsin woman’s death was even blamed on the situation and resulted in a warning from the U.S. State Department. Under these circumstances, she worried, should they go?

My instinct was to say, yes, of course! But this was family and the consequences of my advice carried more personal consequence than recommending a Mexican holiday to an acquaintance in a bar.

In the end, to my relief, their holiday was deemed to be fantastic, no problems at all. But it brings me back to my original question: What would you do?

Trade Ticker

• Toronto and New York have come together in a unique partnership that will see each city’s tourism divisions promote the other destination to its own constituents, as well as jointly abroad. The city-to-city partnership is a first for Toronto and is being supported by special airfares from Air Canada.
• CityPASS reports that its pass booklet for Tampa is now available in a mobile format, enabling users to both buy and display the book on their mobile devices. Deborah Wakefield of CityPASS tells What Now? that the new version “works exactly like the printed pass” and will roll out for all 12 CityPASS destinations by the end of 2018. CityPASS users receive up to 51 per cent off on a number of attractions, like the CN Tower in Toronto or Empire State Building in New York, as well as providing front-of-line access.
• WestJet will connect Hamilton, Ont., with Las Vegas starting on Dec. 29. Twice weekly service continues through April 27, 2018.

This & That

• Thanks to a ruling in Malta, Celebrity Cruises can now offer legal same-sex marriages in international waters. The cruise line, which has long supported LGBTQ issues, has conducted services previously where legal in the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean.
• Air New Zealand will celebrate 10 years of service between Canada and New Zealand with events this fall in Vancouver and Toronto. The former takes place Nov. 1, while the latter will be held Nov. 9.
• Hawaii Island Air says it will continue to operate normally despite having filed for bankruptcy protection. The legal move was necessary to keep the inter-island carrier airborne while it restructures. Airline execs say the company’s prospects are good, having doubled passenger numbers in Q1 of 2017.


"Celebrity Cruises has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and I cannot think of a more important time in our history than right now to do all we can to support inclusion… This is one for the history books!"
- Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises, on the cruise line’s new capability of performing legal same-sex marriages while sailing in international waters.
marines in rubble

Would you send your clients to a place like this?

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