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Advice for travel firms to plan for Ebola disruption

26 October 2014

Crisis, what crisis?

Don’t be caught out by not planning for Ebola disruption to travel sales.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa has taken the world by surprise in recent weeks, despite cases being recorded since the beginning of the year.  Over the last month, we have heard of a major escalation of the virus in countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Governments around the world have been slow to react to this life threatening virus, where there is currently no cure and it can easily spread from person to person through contact with bodily fluids.  Alarm bells are now ringing within the travel industry with the news of the first cases although isolated outside of West Africa.  The news of the infection of nurses in Madrid and the US who have became infected by the virus after caring for patients with the disease has caught the attention of the travel industry, as they realise the risk that this virus presents to their business if the spread of the virus outside of the Western Africa is not contained.

Recently Gatwick airport began checks on inbound passengers from affected countries following the lead of Heathrow and checks are also likely to begin for Eurostar passengers in the coming days.

Recent reports of the share prices dropping for major tour operators in the light of the spread of the virus to Europe and as future holidaymakers now turn their attention to a deadly virus which is no longer restricted to West Africa, the busy post Christmas sales period could be vulnerable.

The outbreak of the virus tells us how vulnerable the travel industry is to such events.  We all remember the alarm which was raised over the prospect of an epidemic of bird flu and how this would affect holiday sales.  Of course, the epidemic never happened.   However, until recently, Ebola had never been heard of in the UK.  Now it is fast becoming a highly talked of disease with almost daily newspaper reports on it.

How should the travel industry react to the spread of the disease and the threat which is presents to outward bound UK tourism? 

  • Firstly, for existing sales, until the Foreign & Common Wealth Office say otherwise, travel companies can continue to sell to countries where there are incidents of Ebola. This means that existing bookings will not be able to cancel without penalty.
  • For future bookings, travel companies will need persuade their future customers that there is no risk to them travelling to the countries which they feature. Risk management will be all important in the coming months as we see how effective the world is in combating and containing it.
  • Our advice to travel companies is to make preparations for the worst case scenarios whilst not creating any alarm. Early staff training in how to deal with the Ebola issue is recommended.  Health & Safety departments across the travel companies should now be turning their attention to the threat which this virus presents and how they can reduce any risk that it presents to their holiday travellers and staff.

As travel makes the world smaller and with the unpredictable nature of virus and disease, it is inevitable that these situations will arise in the future. Firms may want to consider their planning for this and other risks to disruption and how they can protect their customers, their staff and their business.

This article is not intended to be a full summary of the law and advice should be sought on all issues.