A practical guide for tourism businesses
If you are affected by flooding in Northern England, please use the following helplines:
- Environment Agency: 03708 506 506
- Floodline: 03459 881 188
- National Flood Forum: 01299 403 055
- Cumbria Tourism helpline: 01539 822 222
You can also find the latest information and advice from Government on the Gov.uk website
Extreme weather and flooding in some parts of the country has the ability to disrupt normal tourism activities. Serious events of this kind can unfortunately not only impact directly on businesses, possibly causing them to cease trading while they cope with the damage or disruption, but can also affect the attractiveness of a destination by damaging public realm infrastructure. All of this can impact negatively on visitors’ perceptions of personal safety, access, availability of accommodation and the likelihood of disruption to their travel plans.
While not downplaying the seriousness of the situation in certain parts of the country, the nature of media coverage means that perceptions of the scale of the problem can be exaggerated and can impact on businesses and areas that have not been directly affected by the weather (a lesson learnt from the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001).
Sensational images of flooding and storms stick in people’s minds far more easily than details of the specific locations that are actually experiencing these problems, resulting in confused consumers, false perceptions and potentially impact on future bookings.
There is public uncertainty about the extent of the flooding and damage, and its impact on accessibility to certain parts of the country. It is important that you are able to establish an accurate assessment of the situation and pass this information on to customers and potential customers on a regular basis.
Having a simple communications plan for your business is one of the steps you can take to help manage the impact. Developing a thought-out response can ensure that you put the issue into perspective, reassure visitors and observers about the measures being taken to address the situation (if there is a problem) and fully explain the true extent of the issue.
Experience has shown that the lack of a planned, coordinated communications effort can significantly delay the time it takes for a business or destination to attract visitors back after events such as this have ended.
The aim of this plan is to provide practical guidance to help businesses affected by the extreme weather and flooding, create both an immediate and longer-term approach to communicating with their customers and signpost operators to further sources of support and advice, to help reduce the impact on their business.
Assessing the situation
Are you affected?
a) Directly – my business is not operational due to flood/weather damage
Your first priority is to contact any customers that have booked, advise them of your situation and offer them alternatives or refunds (see Communicating with your customers).
Your second priority is to assess your business (both in terms of damage and cash flow/future financial planning). Immediate issues around repairs and maintenance are critical, as is ensuring that your business can communicate with the outside world.
Some of the following factors may indirectly impact on your business:
- Can customers get to you (are they stranded in flooded areas, or do they have to travel through flooded areas to reach you)?
- Are public transport facilities fully operational?
- (Don’t assume that visitors know the geography of your destination – and media reporting has been very broad – ‘floods in the South West’ implies most of the region is affected rather than specific locations).
- Are attractions and other local facilities that your customers are likely to use still open?
- Are your suppliers still able to provide you with the products and services you need?
- Are your staff affected and are they able to get to work?
- If destinations near to you are affected by the extreme weather, how is this being reported - are people being advised to stay away?
Knowing how you could be affected will help you to identify how you need to respond to the situation.
Note that sometimes the situation may not seem serious – in some instances a regular assessment of a developing situation is required. It is important that you keep up-to-date with the news, both locally and nationally and through any social media routes which you can access.
Sources of information
To answer some of these questions you will need to establish the situation and know what you (and your immediate location) are facing. This will help you when you are communicating the urgency of the situation both to customers and to those who you are contacting in respect of repairs and maintenance.
Monitor the Environment Agency updates, local weather reports and keep an eye on travel information through the following sites:
If you have a local business organisation, destination management organisation (DMO), business improvement district or chamber of commerce, they may also have made an assessment of the local situation from a business/tourism perspective and may have plans in place. A list of local tourism organisations is attached.
Working with others
Once you have assessed your own situation it is useful to know what others are doing locally.
The chances are you will not be the only business affected by the severe weather and flooding (or the perception of it). You should do as much as you can to develop or support a coordinated response to the situation – this is a more effective way of getting your message across than working on your own.
Your first port of call should be your local tourism/trade organisation, as they are best placed to co-ordinate a response to the situation and will be in contact with local authorities and agencies. They will be able to produce a thought-out response (supported by facts and figures collated from across the destination) and develop simple messages that are practical and realistic, which you may also want to use with your own customers. Providing a consistent response across a wide number of businesses is going to be far more reassuring to visitors than mixed and conflicting messages.
Working with, and supporting, a lead organisation means that you will find it easier to find out how the situation is progressing and any measures that are being taken to sort out the problem – if they are producing regular briefings, make sure you keep up to date with these. They are also a central source of information and should be able to tell you which facilities are affected, which are still operating and help identify alternative activities for visitors coming to the area.
You should find out:
- What information do they have about the impact of severe weather on facilities in your area?
- What are their plans?
- What messages have they developed?
- Can they help with your communications?
- Can they give you contacts for support (grants, suppliers etc)?
- Where are they posting information and what are they saying to the outside world? Follow their lead and, in turn, provide them with good, consistent and factual information to make their job easier.
Communicating with your customers
Once you have assessed your situation and contacted your local tourism organisation to find out what information they have and what communications they are developing, you can set about developing your own communications programme.programme.
If you are unable to access your website, or have no internet connection, speak to your IT suppliers and where possible to your local Destination Management Organisation, who will help you to find a way to communicate.
In putting together a communications programme you will need to consider and address the following issues.programme you will need to consider and address the following issues.
1. What are your customers thinking?
News travels fast – and it isn’t always accurate. Again, the widespread media coverage of the weather can have a significant effect on how customers and potential visitors perceive a destination or feel about making a visit. Even if you, or your area, have not been affected, always assume that major storm or flood events will trigger significant concerns with customers that you need to address.
Their concerns can be both immediate and longer term:
- Is your business still open?
- Can they access your business?
- Is it safe to visit?
- Are there still things to do when they visit?
- Will the quality and enjoyment of their visit be negatively affected?
Having identified what issues are likely to concern your visitors, the rest of this section will cover how you can communicate with them to help address these concerns.
The appendix contains sample press releases and tweets which you may want to adapt to your own situation.
2. What should you say?
Base your messages and responses around those of the local DMO or trade association, but tailor them to your business and customers.
If your business is closed, develop a factual statement about the situation. In addition to a brief explanation of what has happened and what it means for visitors, this could include:
- How long you might be closed (if you know)
- Alternative options (can you recommend an alternative business or activity to your customers?)
- Your cancellation policy
- Opportunities to postpone visits and rearrange at a future time.
If your business is open but the wider area is affected by weather, develop a factual statement reassuring visitors/potential visitors that you are open for business and include details such as:
- Any travel/transport issues
- Attractions, facilities and activities that are available – focus on the positive elements, but be realistic about any restrictions if they are significant.
If you are providing transport advice or updates on your website, keep them in the same place and make them easy to find. Make sure the links are simple (and that they work) and keep the information up to date.
It is probably better to provide your customers with too much, rather than too little, information - but make sure that you are getting your own information from a reliable source.
Using a ‘Question and Answer’ format is an easy way to order the information that you are providing to customers. Just make sure you keep it positive and STAY ON MESSAGE.
3. How should you say it?
Be honest and transparent: Customers expect an honest appraisal of the situation. Know the facts – be aware of the latest information and never attempt to bluff – you will be found out.
If you don’t know what the current situation is, let your customers know this and get back to them with the facts from a reliable source.
Be clear: Use everyday language and be clear and concise. Don’t assume that other people have the same level of knowledge about your business or destination that you have. They probably don’t know alternative routes to reach you - something that you may take for granted.
Be positive: You may feel angry about the situation, let down and unhappy about how it is being handled, but your priority now is to communicate a clear and positive message externally. Sharing your frustrations with your customers is not going to reassure them that they will have a positive experience when they visit you.
In all your communications it is important to stay on message, stay focused and stay authentic.
4. Contact your customers
The majority of customers/potential customers will be both sympathetic and understanding of your situation, as long as you maintain a dialogue. Inform them immediately of any issues, closures or restrictions and also as soon as roads re-open or other services resume. Handled sensitively, this is an opportunity to develop goodwill for your business and enhance your relationship with customers. This is where a personal approach can make all the difference.
Contact any customers (whether individuals or group operators) who have made a booking with you to let them know the facts; follow this up with a phone call if possible.
If you are closed, try to provide alternative arrangements or new dates. A hotel may be able to offer rooms in a different hotel; an attraction could offer a different venue for a function.
It is important to ensure that you offer a good alternative to the customer so that they feel that they are getting good service and not being ‘shunted around’.
If you are open, assure them that there is still plenty to see and do and provide details of alternative activities, but be honest about any restrictions or facilities and activities that may be closed. If travel is a potential issue, make sure you have the latest information to hand.
It is important that the person making the call is well informed about what is open/closed and is comfortable in handling potentially tricky conversations. If your customers wish to re-book for later in the season, be as accommodating as possible and make sure you can make that decision and booking there and then.
Keep customers updated on a regular basis, helping to reassure them that they will still be able to have an enjoyable experience.
Focus on your immediate bookings in the first instance but don’t forget to keep other customers informed about the situation – they may not be immediately affected, but they could still be concerned about a future visit.
5. Contact your potential customers
Contact with pre-booked customers is relatively easy to undertake, but you also need to think about future customers – people who may have been considering a visit but are being swayed by media coverage and are looking for reassurance.
Your website, social media channels and media activity should all feature in your communications plan. (See our Online Marketing Toolkit for help with using social media). This is your opportunity to showcase your business, so no matter how you respond or how you interact, imagine how this will look to your customers. Remember, word of mouth is now ‘social word of mouth’ – ask your customers to post on Facebook or tweet about their excellent stay with you or the fact that they are coming to visit.
Update your website/social media regularly. The situation can change quickly, so you must make sure that all information you provide is regularly updated to ensure it is accurate and timely. This will build confidence in your potential customers that you are in control of the situation.
Be proactive on social media – the recent #OpenforBusiness activity undertaken by the South West on twitter generated a fantastic amount of positive conversations and media activity for the area. It’s an opportunity to share updates widely and posting images can help to counteract some of the extreme images that have been shown by the media – helping to reassure potential visitors that while the situation is serious, it is not as widespread as people imagine.
You can also use social media to push out the messages relevant to your situation (for example, by highlighting activities and events still taking place or promoting any offers) and you may want to add links to local weather or travel sites. It is also a good way to develop conversations with supporters and potential customers and respond to any immediate concerns. Visitors can tweet that they have booked, that they will be booking, that they are in a specific area and that they are having a great time, despite the weather!
If you have a local DMO or trade association find out what #hashtag they are using for a specific event or incident and tag your tweets, so that you are very much a part of the conversation. Keep your updates light and informative; do not get into long conversations with people about the rights or wrongs of a situation. Think about what you want to say and even have some messages prepared for both Facebook and twitter – use it to talk not only about your business, but also businesses in your area, to show potential visitors that there is an active community and a community worth visiting.hashtag they are using for a specific event or incident and tag your tweets, so that you are very much a part of the conversation. Keep your updates light and informative; do not get into long conversations with people about the rights or wrongs of a situation. Think about what you want to say and even have some messages prepared for both Facebook and twitter – use it to talk not only about your business, but also businesses in your area, to show potential visitors that there is an active community and a community worth visiting.
Sample tweets can be found in the appendix in the blue side-bar on this page.
6. Working with the press
The media is a good way for sharing messages and information with visitors, potential visitors and the wider community. It isn’t a substitute for communicating directly with customers, but it can certainly add value.
A press release provides the opportunity to present your messages about the situation and key information in a clear and considered way. When speaking to the press directly, make sure you have your key messages prepared so that you are comfortable with what is reported.
The content of media releases will vary depending on your situation, but they should:
- Be factual – don’t speculate
- Provide a contact name and number for further enquiries
- Be calm, reassuring and positive (avoid terms such as “crisis” and “emergency”)
- Acknowledge responsibility to visitors and the community
- Indicate that further information will be released as soon as it becomes available.
You may also consider:
- Providing practical advice on travel/accommodation
- Emphasising areas that are unaffected
- Including expected recovery time
- Promoting activities not impacted.
The media will inevitably be more interested in the bigger, more dramatic stories, but will cover other more positive stories if they are newsworthy – angles could include:
- Bucking the trend
- Human interest stories, such as the community working together
- Adapting your offer to the situation (one hotel offers ‘storm watching’ breaks to drive business in the winter)
- What your current position is in terms of bookings and what you expect in the future. If you have plenty of forward bookings that have been unaffected by this crisis, make sure you tell the media and your local DMO- it all helps in maintaining a positive outlook.
You may find that your local media would be only too happy to get behind some positive messages or campaigns, as it is in their interest to be supporting the local community.
Avoid writing any releases which look like you are taking advantage of problems in other parts of the country. Sample press releases are in the appendix in the blue side bar on this page.