It is unlikely to be too controversial to assume that everyone reading this article will have become adept at crisis management, over the past 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought upheaval, challenge and difficulties unlike anything the travel industry has seen in living memory and the industry has been forced to react quickly to that.
However, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it is important to remember that, once COVID-19 is behind us, there will be other crises that the industry will be forced to face in the future and that being prepared to respond to those challenges can make a notable difference to the impact that they have on your business.
When a crisis unfolds, one of the most effective things a business can do to deal with it is to have a process in place that allows for clear decision making and provides a structured plan to follow. After all, the worst time to figure out how you should best respond to a particular type of crisis, is in the middle of the crisis itself
Therefore, while any future crises will, hopefully, not be as devastating as the past 18 months have been, it is nevertheless important to consider in advance how your business would respond to and address certain crises – and put a policy / plan in place to reflect this.
Preparing for a Crisis
While it is impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to crisis management that will be suitable for all business types and sizes, there are certain steps that a business can take in order to plan and prepare for a crisis; an overview of which we will set out here.
The most productive starting point is to carry out a risk assessment. This will allow a business to:
- identify the different types of crisis it is most likely to face;
- identify the risks and potential impact of those crises;
- consider how well prepared the business is to handle and respond to those risks and impacts; and
- consider what steps can be taken to help the business respond to the crisis effectively, should it arise.
Creating a Crisis Management Team
Once the business has identified the types of crisis it is likely to face, it would be sensible to form a crisis management team, to lead the response should a crisis arise.
In forming a crisis management team, it is important to consider:
- which individuals will form part of the team and will be called on to play a vital role in responding to the crisis, such as the senior leadership team, general counsel, HR director, IT director, destination managers, etc.;
- how many people will be needed on the team, keeping in mind it will be necessary to ensure that there is a sufficient range of skills in the team, workloads are split manageable and absences can be catered for;
- whether regional crisis teams are necessary, to respond to problems that may arise in particular destinations;
- whether the team has decision making authority, if the CEO or senior leadership team form part of the team this is unlikely to be an issue but, if not, consider what decision making authority can be granted to the team to enable them to respond quickly.
Preparing a Crisis Response
The next step is to prepare an effective response to any crisis that may arise.
There are many different actions that will need to be considered here but some of the more notable are:
- Identify a crisis management team command centre. Identify either a physical or virtual location to be used by the crisis management team during a crisis. This location should have strong telephone and internet connections and should have easy access to all necessary resources (including all plans and policies).
- Prepare a communications strategy. It is important to have control over what information is given and to who, in the event of a crisis. To this end, it may be beneficial to prepare a statement to be circulated within the business, in the event of a crisis, reminding employees that communications are to be handled by the crisis management team only and that statements should not be given to the media or customers without appropriate approval. You may even consider consulting with a PR firm, to help you devise an appropriate communications strategy.
- Prepare a key contacts list. It is essential to maintain an up-to-date contact list of all the individuals the business may need to quickly contact, in the event of a crisis. At the outset, this will be the crisis management team but, as the situation unfolds, may expand to cover key customers, key suppliers, professional service providers and insurers.
- Review Insurance Cover. Insurance policies may provide a key source of assistance, in the event of a crisis. It is therefore important to review the insurance policies you have in place to determine the scope of cover and assistance that is available; to understand any steps that need to be taken to rely on that cover (e.g. early notification etc.); and to consider whether any additional insurance is required to protect the business against the crises that are most likely to occur.
Documenting, Training and Testing
Ultimately, much of the benefit of carrying out this preparatory work will be lost, if the crisis plan you prepare is not properly documented.
It is therefore important to ensure that the plan is properly recorded in writing, is clear and is easily accessible to the crisis management team, to rely on when a crisis unfolds.
However, recording the plan in writing is not the end of the matter. To ensure that both the crisis management team and the wider business are familiar with the plan and can enact it effectively, in the event of a crisis, it would be sensible to:
- conduct regular training in respect of the plan, allowing the crisis management team and wider employees to become familiar with the plan and the type of steps they may be required to take, in the event of a crisis; and
- test the plan, by carrying out simulation exercises designed to rehearse a response to a particular type of crisis and then assessing how effective the plan was in dealing with the crisis.
As we mentioned above, it is impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to crisis management that will be suitable for all businesses across the travel industry.
However, for any business that is looking to develop a new plan or indeed is looking to refresh any current plan that they may have in place, we hope this article has provided a useful overview of some of the key issues to consider when preparing an effective crisis response.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues in greater detail, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.