Dnata Travel will change its future crisis planning procedures post-coronavirus, with Europe boss John Bevan revealing the outbreak of Covid-19 had curtailed its customer data-sharing plans.
Bevan began work on the scheme after the collapse of Thomas Cook whereby agents booking the operator’s B2B brands Gold Medal and Travel 2 would need to provide passenger contact information to be used – strictly – in emergency situations.
Speaking during TTG’s third Keep Your Business Alive seminar on Thursday (7 May), he said dnata Travel had “almost got that work done before Covid hit”, saying the policy – if finalised – would have helped due to the large-scale furloughing of travel agency staff.
“If we had more contact details we could’ve mass-communicated out to [agents’ customers] saying ‘relax, we’ve got your back, we’re sorting things’.”
Bevan also revealed that although dnata Travel had not had a widespread remote-working policy in place within its business continuity plans, a coronavirus case in the London office of Travel Republic in early March “kick-started our ability to move people to homeworking”.
“Ironically enough, we had a management meeting on the Friday saying ’this is serious, we need to be prepared for it and we may need to shut an office to clean it if a case comes in’. There were a couple of chuckles on the phone saying – ‘come on John, don’t be overdramatic’ - and on the Monday night [when the coronavirus case was detected] we shut the office."
Following dnata’s handling of the situation, Bevan said he had “several” industry colleagues asking for advice.
“They were saying – ’how did you go about it? Who did you use for cleaning? What was the process like?’ That kick-started our ability to move people to homeworking and that was about 300 people. I didn’t realise that a few weeks later we’d be doing that with 1,300 people. There has been a lot of learnings and it’s been a hell of journey” he said.
Bevan predicted dnata Travel staff might have office systems left in their homes to help continuity when the UK eases lockdown and new equipment purchased for its offices.
“We don’t know how the social distancing is going to work and we could have fewer people in the office, [so] we’ll change the way we work completely,” he said.
"[Pandemics] will be part of our emergency plan going forward. We now know we can do it. It was a hell of a shock and I think we’ve done as well as we could. We’ve had some nice feedback from agents on how we’ve got to grips with it,” he added.
“I think the people who criticise and say - ‘I managed to refund my customers in no time at all’ - well that’s great [for them] but a lot of the bigger businesses had to go through huge change at such as rapid rate.”