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How to deal with Difficult Customers?

Dr. Peter Tarlow

Much of the world experiences all sorts of thunderstorms or weather-related travel delays. These result in angry visitors and the need to rework all sorts of travel schedules.

What makes customers upset?
  1. In the northern hemisphere, the month of August is often called the “dog days” of summer.  The name derives from the fact that it is often too hot for even a dog to want to wander along the streets.
  2. The end of the summer traditionally has also been high tourist season in much of the world. The tourism industry is hoping that after the major economic declines of the past year that 2021 will be a time of recovery.
  3. If the vaccines work then 2021 might be a time when planes and hotels are full, and visitors’ nerves are often frayed.  This is the month when things, often beyond the tourist professional’s control, often seem to go wrong. 
August is a good month to review what makes our customers upset, how to keep tempers from flaring, and how to maintain control over often uncontrollable situations, such as weather-related delays.

With the tourism season in high gear, take the opportunity to test your skills at turning difficult situations in to successes and learning how to lessen anger and increase product and customer satisfaction. To help you survive this difficult period in tourism, consider the following:

Remember that, in the world of tourism, there is always the potential for conflict and customer dissatisfaction.

No matter what you do, there will always be those who want more or are not pleased with what you do. Visitors are paying a great deal for their vacation and want to feel in control, even in situations where no one has any control. Develop scenarios in which the customer has some sense of control no matter how slight. For example, instead of merely saying that something cannot be done/accomplished, try to phrase the response as a potential alternative.

When offering these alternatives, make sure that front-line personnel always remain alert and demonstrate patience. Often, a tourism crisis can be eliminated not by solving the entire crisis, but by allowing the customer to feel that he or she has won at least a small victory.

-Know your legal, emotional and professional limitations.

There are many reasons that people travel, some for pleasure, some for business, and some for social status. For those in the latter group, it is important that tourism professionals understand the power of „social standing‰.  These are people who tend not to want to hear excuses.

They are fast to anger and slow to forgive. In dealing with them, know what angers you and when you have reached your limits. Be wise enough to recognize when trouble is brewing and that help will be needed.

-Be in control of yourself.

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 Tourism is an industry that challenges our own sense of self-worth. The public can be both demanding and at times unfair. Often, events occur that are simply out of our control. It is during these times that it is essential to control one’s internal fears and emotions.

If your words express one idea and your body language states another, you will soon lose credibility.

-Tourism requires multi-dimensional thinkers.  

Tourism demands that we learn how to juggle a number of unrelated demands and needs at the same time. It is essential that tourism professionals train themselves in the art of information manipulation, event management, and personality coping. 

During the difficult periods, front-line people need to be able to juggle all three skills at the same time.

-Successful tourism centers deliver what they promise.

Tourism often suffers from over-marketing and promises of more than it can deliver. Never sell a product that your community/attraction does not offer.

A sustainable tourism product starts with honest marketing. 

-Successful tourism leaders know when to question their instincts. Instincts can often be a major help, especially in times of crisis.

Depending only on instincts, however, can lead to a crisis. Combine instinctive knowledge with hard data. Then before making a decision, organize both sets of data in a logical fashion.

Our instincts can provide those rare moments of brilliance, but in most cases use to base your decisions on hard data and good research. 

-Successful tourism businesses work at taming a difficult situation rather than dominating it. 

Tourism specialists have long realized confrontations are usually lose-lose situations. Real success comes in knowing how to avoid a confrontation. During moments of anger, be prepared to think on your feet.

One way to learn the art of thinking on one’s feet is by developing conflict scenarios and training for them. The better trained our tourism and front line personnel are, the better they become at crisis management and making good decisions. 

-Be cognizant of an ever-changing environment and know how to seek opportunities from difficult or unstable moments. 

If you find yourself in a confrontation, make sure that you handle it without bruising your customer’s ego. Challenge your attacker in a way that permits the upset customer to see his/her mistake without losing face.

Remember that a crisis is composed of both a danger and an opportunity. Seek out the opportunity in every tourism business crisis.

-Try to make an angry customer part of your team.

When trying to win over an angry customer, be sure to maintain good visual contact and be positive in both the words that you use and the tone of speech employed.

Let the customer vent first and only speak after the venting stage has been completed, allowing the customer to vent, no matter how unfair his or her words may be, is a good way to demonstrate that you respect him/her even if you disagree.

How dangerous is travel? Ask Dr. Peter Tarlow! of SaferTourism:

Dr. Peter Tarlow is the Co-Founder of the World Tourism Network, a global membership organization with tourism professionals in the public and private sector in 127 countries as members.

For more information and membership go to

Dr. Tarlow also leads Safer Tourism, an associate of the TravelNews Group and consulting firm. More on

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About the author

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and tourism and economic development. Since 1990, Tarlow has been aiding the tourism community with issues such as travel safety and security, economic development, creative marketing, and creative thought.

As a well-known author in the field of tourism security, Tarlow is a contributing author to multiple books on tourism security, and publishes numerous academic and applied research articles regarding issues of security including articles published in The Futurist, the Journal of Travel Research and Security Management. Tarlow’s wide range of professional and scholarly articles includes articles on subjects such as: “dark tourism”, theories of terrorism, and economic development through tourism, religion and terrorism and cruise tourism. Tarlow also writes and publishes the popular on-line tourism newsletter Tourism Tidbits read by thousands of tourism and travel professionals around the world in its English, Spanish, and Portuguese language editions.

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