Building Crisis Management Capabilities for TUI

Having external experts verifying that we are good at handling sudden unforeseen incidents and at the same time helping us to see what we need to work on – that’s what makes all the difference

Mikael Edwards, Head of Crisis Management at TUI Nordic

TUI, the largest travel company in the Nordic market, has systematically strengthened its risk and crisis capabilities over many years. 4C Strategies have been a strategic partner of TUI since 2006. We met with Klas Lindström, Deputy CEO at 4C Strategies, to talk about the special relationship between TUI and 4C Strategies.

Klas, give us a background to our long collaboration with TUI

– We have been working with TUI for 15 years. When our collaboration started, the company was called Fritidsresor, but in November 2016 it was renamed TUI. Already in the 80’s and 90’s, long before we started working with them, they had formalised their risk, crisis and security processes and built up their basic skills within the field.

When the tsunami happened on Boxing Day 2004, Fritidsresor’s then Communications Director Lottie Knutson was praised for her crisis management skills and response efforts. However, it was no coincidence that TUI did so well in the crisis, as they were industry leaders in their crisis management capability. 

“April 24, 2006 we ran our first exercise with TUI”

But it wasn’t until after the tsunami that we started working with TUI?

– Yes, that’s right, after they had been praised for their crisis management, they realised that the fall can be quite hard from the top if it doesn’t go as well next time. There is no guarantee that crisis management will always go well. They simply did not want to sit back satisfied but needed to level up their work with exercises and training. Thus, we delivered our first exercise with TUI on April 24, 2006 and since then we have run major exercises on average every 18 months.

The travel industry is going through tough times now during the COVID-19 pandemic, how does that affect our relationship with TUI?

– It is clear that what we are going through now is an extremely tough period for the whole industry, but just like society at large, one must be prepared to deal with multiple, simultaneous crises and maintain the preparedness training for them. Crisis management will also look different depending on whether it is a sudden crisis that requires emergency response for a short time or if it is a more prolonged crisis like COVID-19.

Mikael Edwards, Head of Crisis Management at TUI Nordic had this to say on the collaboration with 4C Strategies

“We are always very self-critical when assessing our performance. Having external experts verifying that we are good at handling sudden unforeseen incidents and at the same time helping us to see what we need to work on – that’s what makes all the difference – and that’s why it’s so valuable working with the professionals like 4C Strategies.”

How is an exercise initiated?

– Prior to an exercise, TUI’s Crisis Manager sends out information to the entire organisation in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark stating that they will be running an exercise within the upcoming 2–4 weeks. The staff are told to act as if it was a real event and instructed to read up on their crisis and continuity plans.

The idea is to be as close to reality as possible in the exercises

This results in a number of things, one is that the employees become very interested in taking part in the plans, because even if you have read them you forget, and you want to be prepared. Nobody “gets away” either, by which I mean, when it happens, it happens, no matter where people are or what they are doing right then.

During our most recent exercise, the communication group were at a conference in the Canary Islands, so they had to manage the communication issues from there, which very well could have been the case in a real event. The idea is to be as close to reality as possible in these exercises.

Which branches of TUI are participating in the exercise?

– We exercise the entire TUI Nordic branch. With TUI’s crisis management model and the experience they have accumulated over the years, TUI has a well-developed ability to be prepared for the unexpected. Emergency managers are available around the clock, all year round, ready to make decisions within their daily operations. But the exercises we do are focused on training for larger crisis events.

How does TUI decide what to exercise?

– We create relevant scenarios together with TUI, last time we simulated a fire on Cape Verde, and included simultaneous disruptions in the IT system in the exercise.

TUI also sees great value in training together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because of their extensive cooperation. Sometimes the police authorities are also involved in the exercise delivery, as exercise ‘players’ who simulate the real-world conditions.

Getting a coordinated message to different markets through different channels in a position of uncertainty is quite difficult

What happens more specifically in an exercise?

– A number of different events are set in motion to simulate a high pressure situation. Some examples of these injects from the Cape Verde fire scenario are below:

  • The crisis management receives calls from worried staff.
  • Management watch news media clips and must respond to a social media crisis.
  • Families of travellers begin demanding answers and speaking with journalists.
  • The Foreign Ministry calls and wants to know how many Swedes are on location and want name lists
  • The airline has to consider whether to continue flying to Cape Verde or redirect to other destinations,

Our exercise deliveries also benefit greatly from the use of 4C’s exercise management software Exonaut. As part of this tool, an exercise web portal simulates TUI’s Intranet and plays news media clips to give an augmented sense of reality.

TUI has offices in four Nordic countries and we train them to deliver a coordinated message to different markets through several channels in an uncertain situation – a task which is quite difficult.

4C Strategies Exercise portal for TUI Nordic

How many people from 4C Strategies are involved in such an exercise?

– We were 5-6 consultants working during the last exercise.

And how many from TUI?

– Practically everyone at TUI Nordic that would be involved in a real event are included in the exercise, but we were about 30-40 people in total in the evaluation part of the exercise, and on top of that many more were involved to a lesser extent.

Although we have been collaborating for 15 years now, the partnership with TUI never ceases to develop, an organisation like TUI will always have high demands on everything from design and delivery to evaluation of the exercises.

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