With a trillion gallons of rain water and possibly a tornado or two closing in, travel agencies with offices in the Carolinas are rolling out business continuity plans to keep their offices running — and colleagues around the country are reaching out with offers of help and advice.
Jillian Urban, for example, has opened the doors of her home-based agency, Looking Glass Travel in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to any of her specialists who have to evacuate their own homes and offices.
“While we don't have a large home, they are welcome here to wait out the storm,” Urban said. “Our Southern states specialists all have a plan in place, and I've offered my own support to their clients, if they are unreachable. We are a family, and we take care of each other.”
Across the country in Denver, Colorado, Mitch Krayton of Krayton Travel offered up the contingency plan on which he relies: “Back up all your data on two hard drives; one you keep, the other you send to a family member or trusted friend out of state,” he said. “Also use the cloud as much as possible and update key information there, too. You may have to work in a place unfamiliar, but with internet access and with your backed-up hard drive, you can still be in business. Then, review your business insurance to understand what you will need to submit a valid claim for loss, damages or downtime.”
In Cary, North Carolina, meanwhile, Marissa Fontanini of Distinguished Travelers is trying to get ahead of as much work as she possibly can before trouble hits. “Send out an email to clients in travel. Make any payments to suppliers that are pending in the next few days. And email clients awaiting proposals to let them know they may experience a delay in receiving them,” she suggested.
Adele McIntosh’s agency, Legendary World, in Tucson, Arizona, stays on top of things in an emergency through its private Facebook group, she said. Shared by all the agency’s travel advisors and independent contractors, “It is helpful in non-emergency times to keep everyone on the same page with training, preferred supplier promotions, etc. But, it can also be used in time of crisis for communications, requests for help or client follow-up.”
Travel Agent Specialist Carissa Algeri-Gulyas said her agency, Your Wish Travel Co./Largay Travel, relies on “a good support team at the office. We have people available and on call for those that are on vacation or in these cases of a natural disaster to help with our clients. It’s very helpful and beneficial.”
At Signature Travel Network, Jean Newman Glock recalled that: “During last year's hurricanes, Signature members pitched in and rebooked customers for members whose offices were not able to operate. It was a great example of everyone coming together to help each other. The Signature marketing team also quickly adjusted marketing plans and helped recovering agencies with their own plans as much as needed until they were up and running. On the ground, members of our executive team went to Houston to help with clean up, and our President and CEO Alex Sharpe went to the West Coast of Florida to visit members who were impacted.”
Stefanie Katz, owner/travel specialist at The Travel Superhero, in Charleston, West Virginia, recalled the time she geared up for a hurricane in Central Florida. “I took all the important paperwork, including the insurance policies, home with me and — very important — made sure I had a good old-fashioned, plug-in phone to use to check voicemail from my home. We also put a lot of things at the office up on palettes and on the desks (including all the electronics and their plugs) assuming the place might flood,” she said.
And as Hurricane Florence closed in, meanwhile, another travel industry player is simply closing its doors and evacuating its people — and its planes. Yesterday, Boeing moved eight 787s that were being built in its South Carolina factory to Everett, Washington. Flightradar24.com reports that the evacuation included a 787-10 being built for United Airlines; the first of its kind in the U.S. market, which is valued at more than $325 million.
Emergency response step-by-step
If a natural or other disaster strikes your travel agency, there are important steps that you should take after you have assessed the safety of those involved. To help minimize future losses that you may suffer, ASTA has developed the list below to facilitate this critical process. You should keep a copy of this information, and your crisis management plan, in an off-premise location so it will accessible in the event that your office is not.
1. Notify your insurance company
Report the disaster to your insurance company and schedule an appointment with an appraiser to assess the property damage and learn what will be covered by your policy. Obtain a copy of an official damage report from the fire marshal, building inspector, or other relevant authority. The insurance agent should give you an idea of how long it will take to process your claim as well as provide you with assistance in locating temporary offices and rental furniture.
2. Contact your employees
Call or email your employees and tell them about the problem. Try to be as reassuring as possible. Tell them as soon as you have finalized all details you will let them know where your temporary offices will be located (if applicable) and when to report to work. Morale may fluctuate during the recovery time. Employees will be concerned about their job security and will need reassurance that the company will continue to operate, so keep them informed of developments.
3. Inform your clients
Contact key clients directly and have your employees assist to advise customers of a temporary address or phone numbers. Reassure them, to the greatest extent possible, that you will continue to serve their business needs. Set up a hotline or web page for clients that will carry updated information.
4. Call the utility companies
Contact your telephone company to arrange for temporary lines to be installed. You may also want to arrange for call forwarding to either your 24-hour emergency service, your home, cell phone or to your temporary office. In addition, consider requesting a temporary suspension of your utilities, including gas, electric and water.
5. Give notice to your automation vendor
Call your automation vendor to advise them of the incident. Your insurance should cover any damages to the system. Find out how long it will take to get replacement equipment, what the installation fees will be, and any other procedures you need to follow. Obtain a listing of all computer records and client lists from your GDS vendor. This may take a while, depending on the agency's volume. You should be able to get copies of current records and any records that were completed within the past 24 to 48 hours. If you will be setting up a temporary office and will be located there for a long time, you may want to see if it is possible to have CRTs installed. Keep in mind the length of time it takes to get phone lines installed. As an alternative, you may be able to arrange for ticketing through another agency or with the airlines.
6. Follow all ARC procedures regarding an interruption in business
If the extent of damage to your travel agency is such that you will have to close it temporarily, please refer to section 60.0 of the ARC Industry Agents' Handbook for instructions on filing a change of status. If you close your agency temporarily, you are still required to file a weekly sales report indicating "no sales," as explained in section 11.0 of the handbook. If you need to request a sales report extension, or to report lost or damaged ticket stock, contact ARC at (703) 816-8003.
7. Search for temporary office space and equipment
Depending on the extent of damage to your agency, determine if you should establish a temporary office. If necessary, you may have to relocate for several months. Location alternatives include: setting up a temporary office in your home; leasing furnished office space; leasing unfurnished office space and renting office furniture; or utilizing space in a branch office or in an office of a fellow travel agent. You should consider which option will be the most cost-efficient and still be an effective work environment for your employees. Contact your various office vendors (i.e., office supplies, equipment, furniture, stationery) to place emergency orders. Also, call local travel agencies to see if they can help in any way (i.e., travel agency-specific supplies, temporary use of office space, GDS, ticketing assistance). Lastly, notify travel suppliers to obtain replacement marketing materials.