Some of what was discussed in this podcast was extremely sensitive, given we didn’t just talk about protecting corporate reputation, but in certain instances, we referenced events that had involved the loss of human life. I therefore hope anyone who listens feels that it was handled appropriately. As you can expect, everyone who I interviewed along with myself said the same in that our hearts go out to all the families and friends of all those victims of all the incidents discussed.
Interview starts at 31:59
We opened the chat by discussing how the company coped with the event of 26th June 2015 after thirty-eight people lost their lives when a gunman opened fire on tourists staying in the popular resort of Port El Kantaoui, just north of Sousse in Tunisia, thirty of whom were British citizens travelling with Thomson.
Fiona said that the situation was obviously overwhelming, which is why it is important to have a crisis plan in place, which has been practised and scenario planned against. As a large travel company that takes 5.5m people away [each year], Thomson has a lot of detailed plans and scenario crisis exercise four times a year and so are fairly well prepared. However, she added that any crisis is unpredictable and so a plan needs to be flexible and agile.
Fiona explained that in the first few hours after an event, it is about understanding and verifying the facts that you can. You need to ensure what you are communicating is accurate and that it is carried out as speedily as possible, which she said can be challenging.
Fiona said that the rules in these situations are to:
- Communicate with empathy – a crisis is never about the business, it is about the people it affects
- Be transparent, authentic, believable and honest
- Communicate as and when you can
- Put the customer at the heart of everything
In a crisis over seas of the size of the one in Tunisia, Fiona said that it’s necessary to communicate with a number of different organisations, including The Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Red Cross, Met Police, Counter Terrorism Police and the Emergency Services on the ground.
Another challenge TUI had to face in this instance was not just the returning home of customers who were holidaying in Tunisia, but they also had to manage the 70,000 thousand people that were booked to go out to the same country that summer. Fiona explained that the business needed a huge amount of time to reallocate flights and find hotel rooms for these customers. Very few people cancelled their holiday and instead rebooked somewhere else, so it was an enormous job to help everyone.
Due to a civil case against TUI, the specifics of this event could not be discussed in detail, but there were learnings that Fiona shared:
- Put the customer at the heart of everything is key
- Over-communicate, especially in the first 48 hours – tell everyone, externally and internally as much as you can
- Ensure your senior leaders stand front and centre in a crisis and allow them to tell the story of the business, what is being done to help customers overseas and in the UK
- Work with external partners in a coordinated way
- Work with the media and gain their help – Fiona told of an example where they used the media to get the appropriate numbers out to help prioritise the huge volume of calls (over 30,000) that they received from holidaymakers.
Following the many recent terrorist attacks including, Paris, Nice, London, Manchester, Fiona thinks all businesses, not just the travel industry, will need to plan and train their staff to deal with this kind of crisis. She felt that, sadly, businesses will need to be aware how this type of attack could affect them and so unfortunately they will need to be prepared and train staff.
Fiona’s final message was to communicate with honesty and transparency and as one voice, but also to look after yourselves and your teams because you really need to work together in very stressful times.
This episode of the csuitepodcast was sponsored by Global Communications Training firm WPNT.
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