It’s a tragedy dreaded by all tour operators and resorts – the death of an individual or individuals while on holiday. Such an incident – natural or otherwise – is heartbreaking for all involved, and so was the case with last week’s awful incident at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic resort in Hurghada.
Given its timing, at the tail end of silly season, the reaction of the national press was predictable; a maelstrom of headlines and quotes from “experts” and lawyers offering their speculative opinions.
The problem is that, as Thomas Cook has continued to explain, nobody yet knows what led to the awful deaths of Susan and John Cooper. And until we do, it is difficult to know how to react.
It’s a point travel agents have been quick to seize on, with many rallying behind Cook and praising the operator for its speedy response and sympathetic reaction (p4-5 of this week’s TTG).
Such a response is a step change in Cook’s reaction to previous crises (namely the Corfu carbon monoxide tragedy), when it came under considerable fi re for a perceived lack of empathy.
This time, hours after news broke of the Hurghada tragedy, Cook’s head of customer welfare flew out to the resort. The operator wasted no time evacuating all its 301 guests, despite the hotel insisting there was no rise in food poisoning cases and Cook well aware of the speculation this would trigger.
Within 24 hours, its specialists had arrived to take “probes” of the food, water and air conditioning, and chief executive Peter Fankhauser was on Sky News expressing his “deepest sympathy” and answering difficult questions.
The Red Sea governor has criticised Cook for this “exaggerated action”. And yet, it is perhaps because of this response that Cook doesn’t seem to be losing customers. One agent told TTG she had taken three separate bookings for the operator on Tuesday morning alone.
If test results suggest Cook is at fault, TTG will demand answers. Until then the operator should be commended for a prompt, sensitive response.