April 16, 2019

How to Use Social Media Content to Keep Operations Running Smoothly in the Travel and Tourism Industry

Charlotte Lynch by Charlotte Lynch

“Crises are no longer rare, random or peripheral, but have become an inevitable and natural feature of our everyday lives” writes Helene Stavem Kyhn, analysing Scandinavian Airlines’ grounding of Dash 8-Q400 airplanes. Every day, crisis events pop up and, in the age of instant reporting and complaints, they quickly become headline news. It is crucial for operations, crisis response and PR teams in the travel and tourism industry to identify complex crisis situations early on in order to plan and deliver effective responses. So what happens when a drone flies over the airport runway, or engines shut down on a cruise ship in the middle of a storm? How do you identify these events early on?

Here we take a look at some real world examples of where social media can give teams a headstart when responding to unpredictable events in order to keep operations running smoothly and safely.


Transport hub concerns

Delays, cancellations and confusion are all things that no customer wants to experience when preparing to travel and, when they do, social media is often their first port of call for complaints. In February 2019 a reported battery pack explosion at the Eurostar Terminal in London St Pancras International caused mass panic amongst passengers waiting to board their train. As a result of the commotion, approximately 200 passengers missed the scheduled 20:10 train, which left on time despite the flurry. Customers immediately jumped on social media with their complaints, suggesting that Eurostar “seemed to be more concerned with the train leaving on time than looking after those caught up in the panic.”

Had the right teams been able to see this information, they may have been able to construct a response that left passengers satisfied. Instead, many customers complained that they felt left in the dark and in some cases stranded by the teams responding to the situation. Communication is key during a crisis event and having more information, earlier on, means greater transparency for operations and greater understanding from customers.


Crucial communication

Social media played a key part in informing members of the public and those flying into Bastia Airport, Corsica, of a shooting that had taken place in a nearby town. During these types of incidents, customers and staff need to be as well informed as possible so they can know what is happening, where and perhaps most importantly – how they can avoid it. Ensuring response teams have access to information that can provide early situational awareness is vital, even if these events don’t directly impact your assets or people. Teams who are on top of a developing situation can provide peace of mind to staff and customers by keeping them updated in real-time.


Unrest at tourist hotspots

Holiday-goers consider a variety of factors when deciding on a destination, but one that has been steadily increasing in prominence is the threat level for the area. This could be based on terrorist attacks, poor safety standards or outbreak of disease, but all of this is incredibly important to customers when deciding where to go on holiday, as it’s been shown that these situations do affect tourism. In instances like these, such as the tourist bus explosion in Cairo, the Christmas Market attack in Strasbourg or the military coup in Turkey, being able to respond quickly and effectively plays a huge part in the customer decision making process. Those who feel that you can not effectively handle a crisis situation will not entrust you with their business, whether the situation is directly relating to your brand or not. All these events were first reported on social media before any news coverage or security advisories were posted – social is critical in understanding developing situations, using eye-witness accounts and on-the-ground sources.


Extreme weather

Extreme weather is something that can have a significant effect on travel industry operations – natural disasters like an earthquake can bring operations to a halt, likewise floods, hail, tornadoes and others. While most rely heavily on satellites and weather services, social media again plays a critical role in informing you of what is happening on the ground in comparison to what was predicted. One of Ecuador’s main international airports was recently evacuated when an earthquake hit the area, leaving power outages and frightened passengers gathered in car parks and on runways, whilst a storm in Australia halted public trains in Sydney due to lightning. Social media offers a glimpse of what is happening in the moment through the lens of your customers. 

The unknown unknowns

Some situations are so unpredictable that there is nothing you can do but react. In these instances, you need all the real-time information you can get. This is where social media excels. It can take you from being in the dark one moment to being informed on the developing situation thanks to eye-witness accounts, images and footage from the scene.

The Gatwick drones caused over 1000 flight cancellations and a similar number of delays over the few days that the drones were active. While this was completely out of Gatwick Airport’s control a delayed response left passengers complaining to airlines, travel agencies and members of the airport staff. Social media was ablaze with confusion, anger and fear, which could have (if utilised to its full potential) informed operations and led to a more communicative, concerted response.


Accessing the information you need on social media

So, how can you access the content you need to effectively formulate a response using social media? Manually searching through Twitter using TweetDeck (Twitter’s dashboard app) is a good start, but often brings a lot of noise, missed signals, as well as omitting any other social media platforms that may provide crucial information. It’s also hard to account for slang, languages and the diverse way users post to social media – in an active situation it can be near impossible to find the exact post that matters.

Most social media approaches and/or tools today rely on keywords and human analysis to spot problems – often resulting in a delay when you need information the most. SAM uses AI to find the needle in the haystack, pinpointing crisis events in the earliest instances using Twitter, Snapchat and VKontakte. All the examples in this post are real-world events SAM alerted clients to within the first few minutes of occurrence – providing an average 30min head start before news coverage.


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