Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Travel Counsellors and Travel Health Advice

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Travel Counsellors and Travel Health Advice

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Travel Counsellors may be a source of health advice to travellers and might influence travellers' decisions to seek consultation from health professionals. We examined the travel health advice that Alberta travel counsellors currently provide their clients and assessed their health knowledge and practices.

Methods: Cross-sectional postal survey of travel counsellors who book international trips identified from a random sample of Alberta travel agencies in 2000.

Results: The response rate was 54.4%. Over 80% of respondents routinely provide clients with general health advice, and approximately 70% advise on malaria risk and vaccines required for travel. The risk of malaria was correctly identified by 72% of the respondents who frequently book clients to malarious destinations. Most respondents (79%) thought they should be involved in promoting the health of international travellers. Their preference was to provide health advice to their clients (90%) rather than refer them to a health professional (67%).

Conclusions: A large proportion of Alberta travel counsellors provided travel-related health advice to clients. Their preferred role of counselling rather than referring conflicts with the recommendations of the International Society of Travel Medicine.

Millions of Canadians travel to overseas destinations annually.1 It is estimated that 30-60% of travellers will become ill while travelling.2-5 Travel-related illness can be substantially reduced by preventive measures,6-10 however, many travellers do not seek pre-travel medical advice.11,12 A Canadian study found that the most important predictor of consultation at a travel clinic was the recommendation of a travel counsellor (TC)." TCs have also been found to be the most frequent source of travel-related health advice.3

In the U.K., most TCs did not provide advice to travellers with itineraries to malarious regions.14 However, in western Australia, 57% of travel agents "usually" give some travel-related health guidelines and recommend that their clients consult a health care professional.15 More than 50% of the Australian group thought that they should provide travel health information to clients. A study of Quebec TCs found that over 80% believed they had a role in preventing health problems among travellers, primarily through referring clients to travel clinics.16 A retrospective study of Ontario and Quebec travellers to hepatitis A endemic areas indicated that of the 69% who consulted a TC, only 31% were advised to consult with a health professional.12

In Canada, the terms Travel Agent and Travel Counsellor are synonymous and refer to individuals who assist travellers to plan and book local and international trips. Although many TCs undergo college training, there is no requirement for this. There are two main Canadian organizations for travel professionals: the Association of Canadian Travel Agents and the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors (CITC). Membership in each is elective, and neither has a clear position statement on the role of TCs in providing travel health advice. The most explicit guidance issued by either is found in the CITC code of ethics which states that members should "advise clients of all relevant documentation and information such as ...out-of-country medical coverage... health certificate requirements... where applicable."17

We describe the prevalence and correlates of travel health advice provided by TCs in Alberta, Canada, and explore their knowledge as well as the role they wish to play in promoting travellers' health.

METHODS

A cross-sectional mail survey of Alberta travel counsellors was conducted in the spring of 2000. The 1999 Personnel Guide to Canada's Travel Industry18 was used as the sampling frame to select a geographically stratified random sample (N = 300) of travel agencies. The sample size was chosen to determine if the proportion of Alberta TCs who provided advice was 50% +/- 10%, with 99% certainty,19 assuming a 65% response rate. …

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