I run a small independent travel agency and the vast majority of the trips we sell are to Europe or the USA. However, sometimes we get requests for travel to more exotic locations; for example, last week, a holiday to The Gambia was requested. What advice, if any, should we be giving about vaccinations or other health requirements? Anon
Within the ABTA code of Conduct there is in fact a specific requirement that states: “Before a contract is made, members shall inform their clients of health requirements that are compulsory for the journeys to be undertaken.” In certain countries, some inoculations are compulsory and if customers can’t prove this by way of a certificate they may be refused entry. The best way to check this if you’re unsure is to look on the relevant country’s FCO travel advice page – there is a section relating to health requirements, which has links through to the National Travel Health Network and Centre website where you can review the specific health and vaccination advice for the country. Generally speaking, if your customer is travelling to Europe or North America then there won’t be compulsory requirements. For anywhere else, if you’re not sure it’s best to check.
The reason why this requirement is in the ABTA Code is for your benefit as much as the customer’s. If you didn’t inform them of any compulsory health requirements and they lost their holiday as a result, you could be liable to refund them in full and pay compensation.
The Code goes on to say: “Members must also advise clients travelling abroad to check recommended practice with their GP, practice nurse or travel health clinic.” This is simply very good advice and shows that you are a responsible travel company. The guidance on the Code states that this ideally should be done eight weeks prior to travel.
There are some very serious diseases and infections that are endemic in many destinations around the world, and it is important that customers take the right action to minimise the risk. Some diseases and infections can be prevented through vaccination, inoculation or other medication; others can be avoided though sensible practices such as using high-strength insect repellent, mosquito nets and wearing appropriate clothing.
Nobody is expecting you to become a health expert. As well as steering customers towards health professionals there are two very useful websites they can use, fitfortravel.nhs.uk and travelhealthpro.org.uk, which are worth a look to see the kind of risks that are out there.
Some customers may be tempted to skip preventative treatment due to the expense. This is one area where cutting corners to save money is totally inadvisable as their holiday could be affected by illness.
Regarding your customer’s trip to The Gambia, there are a number of health requirement recommendations, so I hope you pointed them in the right direction!
And, as we always say, wherever your customer is travelling to, you should encourage them to check the FCO travel advice before they book their trip and again before they travel. This will ensure they have the most up-to-date information about their destination. Angie Hills senior destinations manager – Health, Safety, Crisis & Operations, ABTA