Comment: Travel’s existing crisis rapid response model works. Why change it?

Comment: Travel’s existing crisis rapid response model works. Why change it?

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Abta’s Victoria Bacon rejects calls for a new COBRA-style committee to react to terror incidents saying protocols in place already ensure the industry is helping to set the media agenda

The global terror threat is never far from the headlines, and stats published last week by Travel Weekly suggest that while the UK public continue to book their overseas holidays, the terror threat is increasingly on their minds with certain destinations suffering as a result. 

When headlines in the national media report on every terrorist incident, terrorist threat, or even speculation about a threat, it is understandable that there is a desire to do something more or different to fix the problem. 

Last week, Travel Weekly reported that PR consultant Steve Dunne is calling for a new taskforce – a “COBRA” style committee – to come together to try to stop the headlines. 

But I’d question the value of such a proposal for a number of reasons.

First, there is already an industry-wide model for crisis management handling, in the shape of Abta’s crisis response system. 

Abta sits at the heart of a pan-industry system for crisis media management, as well as operational crisis management, providing coordination and support for our 1,200 Members.

Abta’s press team works on a round-the-clock basis, directly engaging with journalists, Members’ PR teams, and those of government, airlines and other stakeholders. 

Through our Members’ PR Group, we share media statements to ensure consistency and accuracy of information, and discuss strategies for media management both proactive and reactive.  

The level of communications and operational coordination in the face of challenges brought by the terror threat, among businesses who are direct competitors, is quite extraordinary and we should be proud that as an industry we have the maturity and professionalism to do this. 

Through this well-established system, we are also able to provide important industry information that feeds directly into Government.

Second, one of the most important principles of effective media management in a crisis is speed of response. 

The news media machine is huge, hungry and highly competitive where 24/7 breaking news runs across a range of digital, broadcast and print channels. 

That machine devours news and if you don’t provide the facts, statements and spokespeople within hours, if not minutes, of a story breaking then your voice will be lost and other ‘experts’ (who may, or may not, have command of the facts) will fill the vacuum. 

That is when the story runs in a direction that can be very damaging. 

While we can’t stop the terror threat, or control the news agenda, we can respond swiftly and decisively and it is this responsiveness which is one of our strengths as an industry. 

Other industries in which I have worked as a communications consultant are slower in their ability to respond and deal with crises and they suffer as a result. 

So while we should always be thinking of new ways to turn the story around, the processes that we have in place are essentially the right ones. 

While the media speculation around the terrorist threat is difficult to stomach, consider for a moment some of the headlines that might have resulted following events like Tunisia, Egypt, Paris and Brussels had the travel industry been seen to be insensitive or incompetent in responding to these awful incidents. 

That we have not seen mass headlines of this nature is no accident, it is partly thanks to the operational response of businesses, but also the expertise and effective coordination of communications professionals in the industry. 


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