How To Deal With A Crisis

Monday 22nd June 2009 | TTR Weekly | Link

Travel companies recognise they face risks every day that could damage their business.

Travel companies face an array of potentially damaging risks that cannot be prevented.

But companies should prepare a generic risk management plan that could be adapted to meet different circumstances, advises Coverage Ltd director and consultant, Andrew Durieux.“We cannot create 100 plans for specific risks,” Mr Durieux warned. “It has to be a single generic plan, easy to adapt to a specific crisis.

As a professional risk management specialist, he was commenting on steps companies could take to protect themselves against disasters and risks that challenge the travel industry almost daily.

Hosted by the Pata Thailand Chapter, last week, the risk management seminar attracted 50 travel executives, who listened to a panel of experts and motivational presentations by Winning Edge managing director, Bert van Walbeck.
It is part of a wider programme to deliver value events to Pata membership in Thailand.

Undoubtedly, delegates returned to their companies recognising the only certainty in the travel business is the uncertainty of business and they had better be prepared for worst case scenarios.

Conclusions from the panel presentations focused heavily on writing manuals that outlined the chain of command in a travel company and what each layer of management was expected to do if the layer above was neutralised or absent.
The importance of procedure manuals was stressed by Thai Airways International, Suraphon Israngura na Ayuthaya, who has headed the airline’s crisis management since 1992, when a fatal aircraft accident in Nepal changed the airline’s mindset.

“At the time we did not have any preparation or procedures,” he said, “We thought it would not happen to us.”
Out of that accident THAI established its crisis management centre that invested heavily on producing manuals for a variety of potential disasters.

“We changed our concept from waiting to respond to identifying future threats. We now have three groups that study threats relating to security, business, and travel. They calculate impacts, likelihood and build a plan that could be implemented to handle a situation.”

Some of a long list of manuals, produced since 1992, include an emergency and accident manual, security procedures manual, a manual on dealing with AIDS issues, mad cow disease and most recently a biological outbreak operations manual that gained WHO endorsement for its recommendations and procedures.

This latest manual will be featured in a series of advertisements due to run at any time now, that focuses on preventative measures THAI takes in its aircraft cabin to reduce the risks of contamination from a flu virus such as A H1N1.

Delegating authority down the ranks of management was also identified by the panel as an important issue.
Last year’s closure of Thailand’s gateway airports was cited as an example of why a risk management manual was important. Having clear procedures on the line of command and how delegation of authority works when the top management is unavailable, enables fast responses to solve problems relating to customers.

Destination Asia’s CEO and managing director, James Reed, pointed out that the company’s risk management manual spelled out a chain of command that enabled his Thailand office to evacuate VIP tour groups during last year’s airport closure.

“Top management was out of the country,” he explained. “But staff could still make decisions and get clients out on costly charter flights. They knew that they were next in line to take command.”

Travel companies like Destination Asia had to deal with evacuations during a bloody crackdown on Buddhist monks in Myanmar in 2007 and again in 2008 when a cyclone hit Yangon and the southern coast of Myanmar.

“Our office had to deal with clients stranded during earthquakes in China and then the closure of airports in Thailand followed.

“You cannot plan for every kind of crisis but you must have a basic system in place to manage the risk.”
Mr Reed claimed his company was the “first DMC in Thailand to have this kind of manual.”

“We tested the manual with a case study. It outlined a theoretical crisis — all directors are in Tokyo and there is an earthquake in Bangkok resulting in cracks to the runway at Suvarnabhumi Airport forcing a shut-down of all airline services.”

That hypothetical case study turned to be closer to the truth than anyone anticipated, but it did help Mr Reed’s company to make the right responses when a political protest closed Thailand’s main airports.

Top management was overseas as Bangkok’s airports closed, but responsibility slid smoothly down the command chain to the second level and manual instructions spelled out authorisation to allow executives to make decisions such as approving a US$50,000 payment to charter aircraft to evacuate an incentive group from Bangkok.

“That kind of delegation is important and the staff needed to be reassured and that they had support and authority to make those kind of decisions,” Mr Reed concluded.

In a fast throttle-to-the-floor presentation, Winning Edge’s Bert van Walbeck, drew on examples of how destinations successfully dealt with a crisis. He praised Bali and even London for a clever blackout of news and media clips in the first hour of the tragic bus bombing in order to sanitise the area of blood and guts.

He appeared to be advocating that destinations cover up blood shed and send in clean-up squads before allowing international media to turn on their cameras. Apparently, the Iran government used the same blackout tactic to blunt the impact of TV coverage of last week’s bloody political unrest.

Other recommendations to manage a crisis were:

Make friends with the media.

“Do we know people from BBC and CNN?” he asked. “Tell them to take off their bullet proof vests. It is not news, it’s a show. That is how they make money.”

Tell it all, tell it fast, and tell the truth.

ppoint members of the press as part of your crisis management team.

Don’t hide information on safety inside your website; put it on the front page.

Use social networks to present ideas or comments.