By Dr. Peter Tarlow

During the last decade, tourism officials have noted the evolution of various types of angers among those in the general public and especially among those in the traveling public.  These angers first became apparent in the form of road rage then became air-rage, morphed into full-blown travel rage, with verbal anger at times turning into physical violence.  Now in a time of pandemic, with the public never sure about what is and will be open or closed, we face the newest form of rage: “Travel Pandemic Rage”.

Due to an ever-increasing tourism bureaucracy and often poor levels of customer service some visitors become so angry and fr   To add to this problem, Covid-19 has created a world of shelter-in-place where people barely get out, of pent-up energy and frustration, fear, and what appears to be a consistent flow of new government travel regulations.  To add to these problems many people who work in the travel industry fear for their jobs and careers might vanish overnight.

This increase in travel-rage has also caused a reciprocal effect on the part of tourism employees; many of which must deal daily with angry visitors and guests.   Employee anger is usually expressed in a passive-aggressive form, but under certain circumstances can become purely aggressive.  On a scale of violence, Tourism Employee Rage (TER) is midway between issues of violence in the workplace and employee rudeness.  TER is more than an issue of poor customer service, it is a combination of fear, frustration, and a public that is angry not at anyone in particular but rather at the world.  All forms of travel rage can produce underlying emotional volcanic anger eruptions.  These are unpredictable that manifest themselves among people who must constantly serve the public and often feel under-appreciated and by the traveling public that often shares these frustrations.   These anger eruptions are most likely to occur under the following conditions and with the following types of tourism/visitor jobs:

1) When having to deal with a tourism problem with people who are connected to the travel and tourism industry, but do not see themselves as part of the industry. Examples of such people are police officers working in high tourism areas, people working in bus or train stations, and sanitation specialists who work in areas of high tourism density. Rage often occurs when these employees do not see a direct relationship between their job and customer service

2) Rage might occur when employees are angry at their employers and suffer from a state of ennui or boredom, or when the traveler feels that s/he is drowning in a sea of travel industry and government bureaucracy.

3) Rage often occurs during high periods of travel (holidays) and during severe weather conditions

4) Rage can occur when employees are fearful of losing their position to automation or human replacing robots, feel under appreciated by management or have come to see the public (and vice versa) as enemies rather than as fellow human beings.

In order to deal with rage issues consider the following:

– If you are in a managerial position then know the job, its frustrations, and its difficulties. Tourism managers should know every aspect of their business.  Everyone who works in tourism ought to spend at least one day at each menial task, such as being a waiter or waitress, working as a bellboy, being at a cashier’s booth, etc. Only after doing the job can managers begin to offer real solutions to issues of rage during this time of pandemics.

– Provide Customer Service Training on a regular basis.  To avoid rage issues make sure that all staff members are well-trained in the relationship between good customer service and their job.  People such as cleaning personnel, transportation station attendants, bus drivers, and police departments, often have not been given the opportunity to see a relationship between what they do and the public’s reaction. Help these people to deal with rage issues by going over such points as:

  • How smiling can defuse a situation
  • Why how we use our voice can defuse (or exasperate) a situation.
  • The importance of making a positive first impression
  • The relationship between good customer service and tips.
  • How not to take a verbal assault personally

It is important to remember that people who work in high stress-low contact conditions often lose sight of the fact that the traveling public is composed of individuals. Help to relieve stress by providing breaks in the work schedule. Many tourism venues such as airport terminals seem designed to increase stress and frustration rather than lower it.  Now with issues of social distancing and fear of crowd contamination the potential for rage outbursts is still greater.

-Run gab sessions.  Often both travelers and employees who suffer have no one to talk to during their working hours or travel time.  Provide sessions where people can vent their frustrations, share their fears and exchange ideas on how they can better serve themselves by serving the public or deal with situations in a dignified manner.

-Provide well lighted and temperature controlled work areas. It is hard enough to deal with tired and frustrated tourists under the best conditions, but if, for example, the cashier’s booth is hot and cramped, then rage has a higher potential to occur.

-Be empathetic toward employees, but firm that rage is unacceptable.  Do not allow your employees or yourself to fall into the syndrome of thinking that all visitors are stupid or are “the enemy.”  Often too many people in the tourism and travel businesses forget that the customer is the reason we have a job.  They can also forget that in a time of pandemics everyone is on edge and fearful of getting sick.  Human beings need to vent and find ways to channel their frustrations into positive avenues. Tourism professionals must always insist that when a problem is stated a solution also needs to be offered.

-Be on the lookout for rage progressing into issues of violence. Employers and managers should conduct background checks of employees’ criminal and emotional histories, and ask specific questions of reliable references.  Some, but far from all, of the telltale warning signs of violence might be:

  • Use of racial, ethnic, or religious slurs
  • Poor personal anger management skills
  • Manifestations of paranoid or anti-social behavior
  • Overt and excessive moral righteousness expressed as contempt against others
  • People who fall into the “I am good and you are not” category.

Working together and treating each other with dignity the pandemics of 2020 can become the seeds for the tourism industry’s rebirth.  Together let us make this a time not to mourn, but a time to plant the seeds for tomorrow’s successes.