NEWS week to discuss how to handle the biggest crisis the sector has seen. Ian Taylor reports

Derek Moore

What’s your business doing?

As well as dealing with cancellations and a bookings meltdown, firms are making plans to vacate offices and survive without income

The Midcounties Co-operative Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer for specialist business: “We have a mitigation plan for offices – we expect at some point to be operating from home or from a remote site. “We’re working through responsible communications and

Campaign ‘risked losing public trust’

There has been sharp debate over the messages the industry sends consumers amid criticism of The Advantage Travel Partnership’s ‘Keep Calm, Travel On’ campaign launched last week. Aito chairman Derek Moore said:

“The pick-up on social media when that ‘Carry on’ message came out was, ‘The travel industry is more bothered about generating customers than about people’s health’.” He warned: “If we’re not careful we’ll lose the trust of the public. When it’s OK to travel, we need people to trust the industry because we didn’t shy away from admitting the problems.” Barrhead Travel president

Jacqueline Dobson said: “We can’t tell customers to travel – we definitely can’t do that. We’re not able to say whether it’s safe to travel or not.” Josh Stevens, strategic

development director at Barrhead parent Travel Leaders Group, agreed: “Trust is really important. When consumers are worried about travelling, we’re not saying ‘travel’ or ‘don’t travel’. We’re saying ‘check what the authorities are saying’.

We don’t want to pressure anyone.” The Travel Network Group chief

executive Gary Lewis said the ‘travel on’ message was “absolutely wrong” but added: “I understand why they got it wrong. Our conversation with some members was ‘let’s be positive’. Some members absolutely wanted that, but it has to be a message that is not going to have a negative reaction – when nobody really understands the implications of the virus.” Advantage leisure director Kelly

Cookes pointed out the campaign launched when “most of the world was still open for business”. It had since evolved, she said: “The messaging now is two-pronged: ‘use your local travel agent, they are your expert’ and ‘refer to the correct organisations for guidance’.” It also aimed at “not taking travel

off the agenda”, she said, arguing: “At some point, travel will come back.” Alistair Rowland of Midcounties

Co-operative said: “Advantage needs applauding for wanting to front a [campaign] talking up travel. But for me, ‘travel on’ was too positive and was overtaken [by events].”

business protection, and a plan for what we do with people. We can offer a choice of voluntary holidays or transferring people, putting them in food stores, for example.”

The Advantage Travel Partnership Kelly Cookes, leisure director: “We anticipate [working remotely] happening sooner rather than later. We’ve trialled all the business-critical departments working from home. We’re confident we can do it. We’re not in a place where we need to look at personnel yet, but people’s roles will potentially change. “We’re talking to members about contingency planning,

cash-flow, also practical information – how to negotiate a break in a lease, templates to write to local suppliers.”

The Travel Network Group Gary Lewis, chief executive: “Dealing with customers is a huge part of the support we’ve given members – the impact of FCO advice changes, impact of quarantines, insurer product issues around disruption and supplier failure cover.”

Travel Leaders Group Josh Stevens, strategic development director at the parent company of Barrhead Travel: “Travel Leaders’ push has been to protect our staff and our customers. We’re planning for this week, for two weeks, for two months’ time, operating as leanly as we can, making sure we have a plan if there is a lockdown.”

The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) Martyn Summers, executive director: “We got experts in to talk about cancellation polices, employment law – that is critical. We need to look at counselling if people are in a really desperate state.”

Clia Andy Harmer, UK and Ireland director: “We can’t forget it is individuals who are dealing with these issues and, with so much happening so quickly, individuals can get overwhelmed. We see Clia’s role as ensuring everyone has the right information and knows what is going on, communicating to individuals on the front line on as many different platforms as possible.”

19 MARCH 2020


PICTURES: Steve Dunlop

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