Comment: No business is immune from experiencing a crisis

David Atkin, managing director of risk management firms Sanderson Phillips and tranquilico, urges travel firms to be prepared for worst-case scenarios

At our recent seminar – Risk, Safety and Crisis Management for a Sustainable Travel Industry – we heard from travel professionals who consider their businesses too small to even consider risk and safety auditing, or planning for any sort of crisis involving their customers.

It’s something we hear often and I understand the misconception.

Not every travel agency or tour operator has the budget and support teams of the enormous travel brands and it’s easy to bury your head in the sand with an ‘it will never happen to us’ approach.

For example, how many businesses promised during the pandemic to get their organisational ‘houses’ in order, so that next time they’d be better prepared and have plans in place to ensure that business will be less impacted in the event of a future crisis? We’d say a lot. How many have stuck to that promise? We’d say a lot less!

But that doesn’t mean that travel agents and smaller travel businesses can’t be prepared. Our response and the response of all of the guest speakers when faced with this opinion at the seminar was that it’s about having a suitable and proportionate response that’s appropriate and affordable for your business.

Risk and crisis management often end up as a ‘we’ll do it next year’ commitment because, like insurance, it can feel like you’re investing time and money in something that might never be needed. Sanderson Phillips’ Risk Consultant John Telfer highlighted that by making decisions upfront, a business will experience much less negative impact should the worst happen in the future.

We often think of holiday risks and crises in travel as the big events that hit the news headlines. But what about smaller, day-to-day accidents that can affect a sole operator just as much as a travel brand with 1,000+ employees? Kathy Atkinson from the Safer Tourism Foundation talked to our attendees about ‘The Holiday Head’, where travellers take risks on holiday that they wouldn’t dream of taking at home. In a recent poll they found that 1 in 4 travellers say they take more risks or want to forget being responsible on holiday. That’s a quarter of holidaymakers potentially making poor decisions that could impact you and your business.

So where do your responsibilities start and end? Ask yourself, what steps can you take now to protect your business and your customers? Are you checking that your suppliers are fulfilling their responsibilities? What are your worst-case scenarios and are you prepared for them?

Tranquilico crisis management expert Colin McGregor put our delegates through a mini-crisis simulation asking questions including: Would you know how to react and what to do if your customers were caught up in a crisis? Do you have the relevant customer information in place to track and contact your travellers or their Next of Kin? Would you know how to respond when social media posts start appearing from relatives mentioning you and your business? If things got really bad, what would you say to a coroner? A judge? A journalist?

Commenting after the event, our seminar moderator Danny Callaghan, chief executive of Latin American Travel Association (Lata), said: “These are unpleasant things to think about. But only by doing your due diligence and being prepared, with a tested plan in place, can you be equipped to ensure a better outcome for your customers, your team, and your reputation.”

Our advice? No business is too small or immune from experiencing a potential crisis. Speak to specialists who can help you find out what your legal and regulatory responsibilities are and start helping you to make plans that reduce the risk of your business becoming a crisis.

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