Making sure you have a public relations plan in place when disaster strikes was one of the key messages during a session at the Abta travel convention on protecting your company’s reputation.
During the panel discussion moderated by Travel Weekly’s editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley, delegates heard speakers from the media discuss the best ways of managing a crisis from a PR point of view, including the need to react fast in a world of social media and instant news.
Companies no longer have the so-called ‘golden hour’ to brief someone from their business before going out to speak to the media, as news can break within minutes, and firms need to be able to react quickly, delegates were told.
Victoria Bacon, head of communications at Abta, said it was a “massive job” for one person to monitor Twitter constantly to see what people are saying about your company.
Instead, Bacon said companies should make sure that everyone who is consumer-facing or in a communications role within the business should be familiar with social media so they can all play a part in keeping their eye on social media.
Companies should be seen to issue a statement soon after the disaster, as any delay will reflect poorly on the business, agreed many of the speakers.
Delegates heard that Micky Arison, chief executive of Carnival Corporation, said he was advised not to visit the site of the Costa Concordia disaster because this would detract from the rescue operation, but this did the company no favours in the eyes of the public.
Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief of Brand Republic Group, said that “increasingly the public wants to see businesses being accountable”, and like to see the head of the company on the scene.
“Richard Branson is always really good,” said Rogers, citing the Virgin Trains crash in 2007 that killed one person. “He was on site within hours.”
During that incident, Virgin was “seen as sympathetic and doing something”, said Rogers, and Branson was hailed as a text-book example of how a company figurehead should react in a crisis.
Although companies need to get statements out to the media fast, they should also make sure that tour operators and travel agents are kept in the loop and informed too, said Angie Sloan, regional director of PR consultancy Hills Balfour, which represents the Kenya Tourist Board.
“We can’t forget, when an incident happens, to work with the trade stockholders because we have to protect existing bookings,” she said. “We have to get the information to the frontline sales agents.
“When we want to get a destination back on track, we work closely with the tour operators.”
Sloan added: “Work closely with your partners - you can’t work in isolation.”