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How to react to a crisis that isn’t yours

02Oct Posted by Rosanna Baird

On 23rd September Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel firm officially ceased trading following its failure to secure £200 million from its backers. The impact of the collapse of Thomas Cook was massive. Over 500,000 holiday makers, 150,000 of which were British, were stranded abroad, 9,000 Thomas Cook employees lost their jobs, and over a million forward bookings were lost.

Over the past week, media coverage of Thomas Cook has been enormously sensationalist. Stories of destination weddings being cancelled, essential hospital appointments being missed, and guests being held hostage in their unpaid hotel rooms have been widely circulated. With 60% of the British public holidaying abroad each year, this crisis is relatable to the majority of the UK. Thus, national interest has been firmly focused on the efforts by both the government and alternative travel companies.

Opportunist or cold blooded?

Unsurprisingly, since the news of Thomas Cook’s collapse broke, there has been a massive increase in demand to rebook flights and holidays. However, customers have been faced with a significant increase in prices on travel booking sites.

While it is understandable that supply and demand principles in part dictate price algorithms, some flight and holiday prices have increased by 400%. This steep increase has led to airlines being accused of price gouging. This can be defined as when a seller raises the prices of goods or services to an unreasonable or unfair level, often as a result of a sudden increase in demand. The worst offenders being named as Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2 and Virgin Holidays, have all received criticism on social media and by the travel agency industry.

While increasing prices of flights and holidays may lead to short-term benefits as customers have little choice but to pay extortionate prices for their holidays, this may cost firms long-term reputational damage. Even if customers have an exceptional experience on their rebooked holidays or flights, this will do little to offset the feeling of being exploited by big firms who are perceived to be maximising profits at customers’ expense.

Winning hearts and holidays

While some companies may be tarnished by their response to the collapse of Thomas Cook, there are several organisations that have gone the extra mile to help customers get home, or rebook their holidays.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has provided an excellent example on how to act during a crisis. The UK’s largest ever peacetime repatriation operation is currently being carried out by the CAA and the UK government, with the CAA’s chair, Dame Deidre Hutton pledging that, “every single person will be brought home free of charge.”

A number of companies are also being praised for offering a lifeline to the 9,000 former Thomas Cook employees. Barrhead Travel Company has opened up 100 positions across their 34 branches in Scotland while Marks and Spencer highlighted recruitment opportunities throughout their business. Barrhead said former Thomas Cook employees "will bring a wealth of experience to the Barrhead Travel family and are being actively encouraged to contact the Barrhead Travel recruitment line".

Whilst companies such as Marks Spencer, and Barrhead Travel Company had the opportunity to benefit from Thomas Cook’s demise, each company weighed that the reputation benefits outweighed short-term profits – deciding to put people before profit.

Reputation is a huge factor when it comes to choosing a holiday provider, and companies that choose to act with compassion in the face of a crisis, be it theirs or a competitors will be the real winners.

Rosanna Baird
Rosanna Baird

Rosanna joined Sermelo in April 2018, having previously worked in communications at SSE. Whilst working at SSE, Rosanna gained a valuable insight into the importance of creating and maintaining effective internal and external communication channels.

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