When trouble erupts…

20 October 2010
28 October 2010 | Amon Cohen

Amon Cohen hears 13 ways to keep travellers moving in the next crisis, volcanic or otherwise

Every cloud has a silver lining, and that even proved to be true for the one spewed out by the Icelandic volcano in April and May this year. “The ash crisis could be seen as a test run to help us deal with crisis management because no one was in danger,” said Paul Tilstone, managing director of the travel management association NBTA Europe last month. Tilstone, also chief executive of the UK’s Institute of Travel & Meetings, made his comments as he opened up a session on lessons of the ash crisis at NBTA Europe’s annual conference in Lisbon. What follows are 13 ideas generated during the session.

1. Collect travellers’ mobile phone numbers
When the crisis struck, Steven van der Poel, NetApp’s Netherlands-based EMEA travel manager, found that 56 per cent of his company’s travellers had no mobile contact number in their profiles registered with its travel management company. This was a not uncommon experience. Perhaps the biggest lesson articulated by both travel managers and TMCs since the crisis is that the latter must collect all travellers’ mobile numbers, possibly even to the extent of refusing to process a booking until the contact details are provided.

2. Try mass mobile messaging

A survey of 195 ITM buyer members found only 20 per cent used mass mobile communications during the crisis, but it is emerging as the simplest and most effective form of traveller communication. Tuija Snellman, travel manager for the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), told the audience her TMC was testing a mobile SMS travel tool called ConTgo when the crisis broke. She used it to contact 150 travellers, check on their whereabouts and requirements, and keep them informed about alternative travel arrangements. The FBC has since become a permanent customer of ConTgo. 

3. Prioritise
The BBC instructed its TMC not to take any incoming calls from employees within the UK when the crisis broke so it could concentrate on helping travellers stranded outside the country.

4. Rework your TMC contracts

Many companies have clauses in their TMC contracts regarding provision of (and payment for) emergency assistance, but such agreements usually concern help for individual travellers rather than crisis management. “In some cases, TMCs had most of their staff working overnight,” said Tilstone.

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