How to Prepare Your Tour Company for a Natural Disaster

Michael Folling|January 5, 2016

Everyone knows how unpredictable the weather can be. Despite reports and warnings on the news, no one can predict the events that will unfold when mother nature is at her worst.

As a tour operator you are responsible for ensuring the safety of all your customers. Therefore, it’s important to have a disaster management plan in the event of a worst case scenario.

Would you consider your business to be prepared for the effects that can come along with extreme weather? If not, here are a few things you should do to ensure the safety of your customers and reduce any impact on your business that might be caused by these types of events.

Assess the situation


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The first step towards preparing for a natural disaster is to assess how bad it’s expected to be and what the chances are of it directly impacting your business.

Different natural disasters can impact your business in different ways. For example, if earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, fires, or tornados are all potential scenarios based on your location you should have a plan for each possible event.

Next, assess whether you are directly or indirectly affected. The steps you should take in case of an emergency caused by extreme weather conditions depends on how direct the affects are.

Being directly affected means that your business will not be operational during a natural disaster.

If that’s the case, there are two important things you must do, according to VisitEngland’s guide called, “Responding to Extreme Weather.” They advise:

“Your first priority is to contact any customers that have booked, advise them of your situation and offer them alternatives or refunds.

Your second priority is to assess your business (both in terms of damage and cash flow/future financial planning). Immediate issues around repairs and maintenance are critical, as is ensuring that your business can communicate with the outside world.”

Being indirectly affected means there is less impact done to your business due to extreme weather conditions. It won’t necessarily hinder you from conducting business operations, however, it may prevent you from offering or being able to deliver some of your services.

Examples of being indirectly affected include:

  • Unavailability of modes of transportation for customers to reach you
  • Affected tourist attractions in your area
  • Inability for vendors to deliver products and supplies to your business
  • Being short-staffed as some of your employees may not be able to get to work in such an event

Being aware of the situation helps you plan which actions to take in order to deal with the situation.

To do this, keep track of the latest updates on local and national news reports. Stay up to date via the traditional news sources like radio and television in addition to any news you can get from social media channels as well. To prepare, create a list of credible sites you can check immediately once you’ve received the news.

Working with People

In the event of a natural disaster, it is important that you know how to work with other people. They will be key to helping you get through the situation, as everything simply cannot be handled by a single person.

Travel Weekly mentioned something similar in a blog post about crisis management for tour operators. In it they said “Some of the keys to managing a crisis… are communication (between everyone involved: the company, the ground operator, the tour guides, the travel agent, the client, etc.); the ability to act quickly and efficiently in a fluid situation; and having some pre-established decision guidelines.”

The first call you should make when a disaster strikes is to your local tourism organization. Ask them for help, and ask about what information they have regarding the events taking place around your area.

During these kinds of events they are the best at crafting a response to any given situation since they are in usually in direct contact with local authorities and agencies responsible for emergency situations.

In addition to getting help with what message to communicate you can also learn a thing or two from them about communicating with your clients.

How are they dealing with the situation? How are they disseminating information? How do they communicate? Take notes.

Communicating with your customers


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Before you communicate, you need to figure out how you can reach everyone you need to connect with. An efficient way of communicating with your customers can save you thousands of dollars in additional labor costs because you won’t need to pay your staff to work overtime to answer phone calls from your customers.

A blog post by Leisure Group Travel recommends that you “collect everyone’s information… and keep it well organized and accessible… this should also include the traveler’s personal physician and any necessary information on medical insurance, allergies and other important medical facts about the person. Make up a quick questionnaire for your members to fill out… and you will have all the info in one spot.”

Now that you have everyone’s contact info you have to decide what is the best way of communicating with them.

What messages do you need to deliver? Here are some things to keep in mind when you are about to reach out to your customers:

  • Figure out what your customers might be thinking
  • Customers might be wondering, given the weather conditions, if your business is open. Is it accessible? Is it safe to visit? Will the quality of their visit be compromised because of the weather?

  • Craft your message
  • Now that you’ve thought about the possible questions running through your customer’s minds, you can then create the message you want to send to them. In these types of situations clarity is very important so make sure to tailor the message according to your business and speak directly to your customers.

    Some examples of what you might want to include in your message are, how long your business might be closed, your cancellation policy, travel or transport issues, tours and activities still available, and any other restrictions that may have arisen.

  • How are you going to say it?
  • Whenever communicating directly with your customers it’s best to always be honest and transparent. Try to positively position the message, though be sure not to sugar coat it, just deliver it in a way that is not entirely negative. You might feel disappointed and frustrated about the circumstance, but that doesn’t have to reflect in the messages you send to your customers.

  • Contact them
  • Inform your customers (both current and potential) immediately. Offer a genuine apology and use it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.

  • Take advantage of the power of multimedia platforms
  • Given the wide reach that media can cover, using it as a tool to communicate gives you the ability to deliver your message to a much larger audience. Typically these kinds of messages are general in nature so it should not be used as an alternative for directly speaking to your customers.

Cancellations and Refunds

Cancellations and refunds are often unavoidable when extreme weather conditions occur.

If you have to cancel your bookings due to extreme weather, you’re bound to have times when your customers will demand that you transfer their booking to another date or request some kind of compensation. Having a process or a script for handling these situations can help you and your staff avoid customer service issues.

In general, customers are understanding and sympathetic as long as you inform them in a timely manner and offer them alternative options.

In the event that your customer is the one who cancels the booking, you should ask discovery questions to learn more about their reason for canceling.

If your customer wants to cancel within the time period during which you wouldn’t normally give refunds you can consider waiving any cancellation fees if you determine that their reason for canceling is due to the weather. By doing so you can use it as an opportunity to “wow” your customer and give them a positive experience so that they become a lifelong customer.

What happens after the extreme weather

If damage was done to your business, figuring out the next steps might not be easy. In this case it’s good to have a strategy for how to proceed.

If repairs are needed, now’s the time to review your budget and see if you need to reallocate money in order to fund repairs.

In addition to reviewing your budget take a look at the tours and activities you offer to see how you can add more value in order to attract more customers and earn more revenue.

It’s important that you keep an eye on your cash flow and manage your finances closely during this time.

Conclusion

As a tour company it’s vital that you are well prepared for a natural disaster in order to mitigate any financial losses that your business may sustain and to make sure that your customers have a positive impression of your brand.

Does your company have a strategy for dealing with these types of events? If not, download the PDF version of this blog post and share it with your team so you can brainstorm what to do if a natural disaster should impact your business.


Michael is part of the marketing team at ActivityRez. He enjoys coming up with creative ways to help travel companies grow their business.

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