From natural disasters to illness outbreaks, terrorist attacks and airline insolvency, dealing effectively with a crisis situation comes down to preparedness. How you handle a crisis situation can minimise the impact of events, determine the safety of your customers and employees and ensure a speedy recovery for your travel business or destination. All travel and tourism businesses should regularly review their crisis management plans to minimise the impact of a crisis situation on customers, staff and destinations.
Colin McGregor, Managing Director of tranquilico shares eight useful tips for effective crisis management.
1. Have a robust safety management system in place with policies, procedures and processes for assessing any suppliers you use is always a good first step. Minimising the risk to your customers at every opportunity helps to minimise the risk of a serious incident affecting your organisation.
2. Having a documented crisis management plan is also the next best step, this should detail the roles and responsibilities of your crisis management team and act as an aide memoire during any incident. Your plan can include important information that members of the team need to know, such out of hours operations, can you open the office?, how to alter call handling message systems, how to put a press statement onto the website or social media channels and even where to get food brought in during the night or weekend - remember an army marches on its stomach - so does a crisis management team!
3. Your Plan should also be ‘role-based’ rather than individual-based, small companies often make the assumption that the operations person with all the experience will be there to deal with any major incident, but the reality is people in travel are often overseas on business, on leave or indeed even off work sick - so your best laid plans can fall apart. If the plan is role-based, then anyone who is available with the right skill sets can adopt a suitable role within the crisis management team.
4. Always have some form of 24-hour emergency contact system in place for both your suppliers and staff, it is often best to rotate the people doing this so it doesn’t fall onto one person’s shoulders. It’s also useful to point out that people doing this out of hours and at weekends need to be available at all times. If they are due to be at a wedding or on annual leave then they need to change their rota and have someone else fill in for them.
5. Operational management of an incident is about 50% of the effort in dealing with it, the other 50% is often spent dealing with the media, so it is imperative you have a crisis media management plan in place too. If you intend to deal with the media in-house, then whoever is acting as your media spokesperson should have had some form of media training. Journalists who investigate travel-related incidents are not the same nice journalists you send on FAM trips, they are more likely to be investigative journalists in the guise of Anne Robinson or Jeremy Paxman types. If you don’t feel confident dealing with this type of media in an incident then you can always call upon an external PR company with crisis media management experience who would be only too happy to help.
6. Look to use specialists wherever you can, dispatching a trauma consultant to the scene of an incident or indeed making them available by telephone to anyone affected can have a huge positive affect on those involved and how they see you dealing with them post-incident.
7. Always make sure your insurers are kept informed of any incident however big or small and call upon them to assist in a serious one, they may well have access to trauma consultants, accident investigators, PR and legal experts who they can get to assist you. Several insurance companies now offer crisis management insurance and this may be worth looking at as they cover the cost of these experts as well as the costs of sending staff and relatives to the scene of a serious incident with fatalities and/or serious injuries.
8. Finally make sure you are ‘physically prepared’ within your office to be able to deal with a major incident and also maintain normal business at the same time. You don’t want to find out on the day that you cannot give out direct dial telephone numbers to any relatives of those involved, you don’t have a direct line for press to call in on, and you don’t have a room to work from with access to phones, computers, TV’s shielded from normal business, so they can carry on as usual. Having your main reservations line clogged with people calling in about an incident is a sure fire way to lose bookings and customers and the subsequent financial loss, never mind the impact of a badly handled crisis.
Ultimately, the best way to react to an incident is to PLAN in advance, be PREPARED as they can happen at any time of day or night, TRAIN your crisis management team and work through some simulation scenarios and RESPOND with first class customer care and compassion.
Colin will be speaking at ABTA’s Crisis Management in Travel Conference on 24 April 2019 at the UK Chamber of Shipping, 30 Park Street, London. If you would like to hear more, you can register for the event on ABTA will also be holding a half-day workshop, the morning after the conference, looking at how travel businesses can deliver psychological support following a traumatic or critical incident. The workshop will be delivered in partnership with the Centre for Crisis Psychology (CCP).