Everyone knows someone who’s been stuck somewhere because of the volcanic ash clouds, and lets be honest, if you’re in the middle of a corporate event or incentive trip, this really could be your worst nightmare. There’s been a lot of chat in our office this week on what are the important things to do when in the midst of a ‘incentive’ crisis, especially as we’re all dealing with the effects that no air travel has had on business and on our personal lives.

We thought we’d share a few of the things we’ve found important in dealing with a travel crisis during, or in the planning stages of a corporate incentive or event. Some of these might seem a bit obvious, but when your in the middle of a stressful situation with clients and suppliers demanding answers on what’s being done, it can be good to take a moment, draw breath, and start from the beginning…

1. Stay Calm

Especially if you’re around your clients. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your clients further by a) making them think things are getting worse (even if they are); and/or b) making them think that you can’t cope with the situation.

How you handle an emergency is a test of your ability as an event or project manager and is something that will probably be carefully scrutinized by your clients.

2. Communicate

People hate to be in the dark, so make sure you communicate with your clients regularly so they know exactly what’s going on and more importantly what you’re doing to improve their situation.

Remember, when the crisis is over, you’ll still want to maintain a good relationship with them for future business. In situations where the problem is out of your control, your client won’t blame you directly, however if you keep them in the dark and don’t seem to be trying to help, even when it’s over, clients could be left with a bad taste about your company. Instead, if you communicate efficiently and do everything you can, your client will remember your effort and is more likely to maintain a positive future relationship.

3. Know your own/your suppliers cancellation policies

Realistically, most companies won’t have a section in their terms and conditions that anticipate ‘ volcanic ash’ or other natural disasters. Make sure you collect clear information (preferably in writing) from your suppliers on their cancellation / re-scheduling policy for this particular disaster and make sure you communicate yours to your client so they are fully aware of the situation.

The two key things to avoid here are:

a)    Loosing revenue because you’re not clear on supplier chargers and what you might need to charge your client

b)   Damaging your client relationship by not communicating charges or by hiding additional costs

4. On-Site? Utilize your office team!

If you’re on-site with clients and need to spend time with them as well as trying to improve their situation, you’ll need to rely heavily on your team or colleagues who are in the office. They should be regularly updating you on the external situation and gathering as much info as possible to pass on to you and your client.  Constant communication from your team will give your clients confidence that you and the company are doing everything you can, and that you’ll act as soon as the situation changes.

5. Learn from it

Ok so if you’re stuck trying to find accommodation and entertain a group who where meant to leave days ago, ‘learning from the experience’ is the last thing your thinking or even care about! But the point is you will learn from it, so take everything in your stride…next time you’ll be a lot calmer!

Here’s some useful links…

Met Office: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/

BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/ith/en/

NATS: http://www.nats.co.uk/

BAA: http://www.baa.com/

Foreign & Commonwealth Office: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

UK Civil Aviation Authority: http://www.caa.co.uk/

International Civil Aviation Organization: http://www.icao.int/

The Economist, Risk Management Lessons: http://www.economist.com/business-finance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15943255