Crisis Planning for the Business of Summer Excursions and Group Travel
Ah, summer … time for vacation, camps, road trips and adventure in the great outdoors. For those organizations managing summer fun – summer camps, wilderness and other outdoor schools, sponsored retreats and bus tours – the guest experience is paramount. With adventure and nature, however, accidents and unintended consequences can happen.
Undoubtedly, these organizations have operational plans in place for emergencies, i.e., who and when to notify, jurisdictional authorities to keep on speed dial, staff members to deploy, area hospitals and medical specialists to identify, insurance companies to engage, and communications vehicles to consider such as news media and websites.
Yet, in the heat of a crisis, with emotions overwhelming on every side and when safety and emergency responses takes priority, it is easy to overlook critical communications elements. For that reason, my agency developed a categorized checklist of action items and reminders for these kinds of situations. It is by no means 100 percent comprehensive, but I would like it to be, so if you have any other suggestions that I should include, please feel free to let me know (mfineman[at]finemanpr.com).
- First and foremost, demonstrate care and concern for all those involved in the crisis, be they clients, family members of participants, guests or staff.
- Prioritize medical attention, rescue efforts and immediate care of those affected; this is your organization’s primary responsibility.
- Stay focused on the facts that are known. Do not assign blame; do not speculate.
- Communications must be a mix – a delicate balance – of facts to be conveyed, expressions of concern and a tone of humility.
- In a tragedy, particularly in the first day or two of communications, it is critically important that your top executive speak for your company, both for the sake of your organization’s credibility and to demonstrate the seriousness of which you are taking the situation.
- Pay mind to the elements of people’s privacy.
- Continue to assure all audiences that you will provide timely updates and be a credible, caring source of information.
- Remember that certain information must be communicated first to families before they become public.
The Approach/Do This
- Focus on message development for all audiences. In addition to the facts, determine what you want your audiences to know about how you are managing the situation; they will need the assurance and confidence that you are taking all the appropriate measures – and then some.
- Prioritize a list of all key audiences (authorities and medical personnel, involved participants, participant families, media and area community, other related clients, your investors, other stakeholders, etc.).
- Continue to gather and confirm the facts.
- Cooperate fully and work closely with first responders and jurisdictional authorities. Let official reports come directly from these experts. The investigation is critical and cannot be compromised or co-opted. Be sure you have an understanding of what facts can be released and what facts cannot (or should not) be released by you.
- Always be prepared with easy access to a current copy of your safety record.
- Similarly, have on hand a copy of the practices and procedures involved in preparing for the affected venture, including documentation of training for supervisors and those charged with the direct care of participants.
- Continue to communicate the welfare of those who were involved and how they are being cared for.
- Refer legal questions to authorities and/or legal counsel; refer detailed medical questions to health care providers.
- Requests from the media may include interviews with some of those involved. If these inquiries are outside the pale, politely decline given the circumstances.
- It is often helpful to seek the counsel of a professional who can understand the lay of the land objectively and who has helped others in the same kind of situation.
- Determine where donations should be sent and communicate that to the public. Information about memorials must be communicated in a timely fashion.
- Document everything.
- People are increasingly turning to Twitter and Facebook for breaking news. In a crisis situation, groups need to establish their digital and social media channels as the primary source for updated information before audiences turn to third-party sources that might fuel speculation or spread misinformation.
- Swiftly correct misinformation and direct your audience to approved communications sites/pages.
- Social media can also be used to address frequently asked questions and alleviate the burden of responding to a potentially large volume of inquiries. Social media should also be monitored to gauge audience sentiment and determine the effectiveness of the response strategy.
- For travel companies with international destinations, especially those with trips in remote backcountry locations with limited means of communication, social media can serve as a crucial platform for relaying real-time news and updates.
Moving Your Business Forward
- Save discussions of how the situation is affecting the business for later, not in the immediate days after the incident.
- Keep a segment of your business focused on the continuity of the business and on the good work in which you are involved or providing.
- Learn from every experience. Use the opportunity to update training and preparation materials for staff and participants, update equipment/gear as needed, and improve your operations and communications to ensure your organization is continuously improving based on its longstanding commitment to safety.