Opinion: Ash crisis exposed travel’s mobile blind spot

With UK airspace closed down and travellers desperate for information, SMS communication should have come into its own, says Travel Buddy managing director Adam Winterflood

Travel Buddy managing director Adam WinterfloodSince Thursday, Travel Buddy has sent thousands of text messages to travel company customers keeping them informed of the latest announcements regarding travel delays caused by the ash cloud.

That sounds like a lot, but think about the extent of the disruption. Shouldn’t there be more?

Many travellers feel that they have been starved of information. So given the evident need for a better communication system in travel, why is the industry slow to embrace SMS compared to other industries?

There appear to be two main fears. The first is that SMS is intrusive. But if you were stuck abroad with your friends or family, with no information as to what was going on, would you really resent receiving an SMS giving you an update on the situation?

The second fear is cost. Although some mobile systems such as Travel Buddy’s are very low cost to set up (free to ABTA Members), some ask who will pay for the texts, the travel company or the customer?

It depends on the company type and who the customer is. If you are selling higher end holidays or flights, then include it in your package as a point of differentiation. If you are in the low cost sector, offer it to the customer as an ancillary service.

As it is, travellers get no choice at all, and so we end up without any direct mobile communication with travellers in a crisis situation.

No-one is blaming their travel company or airport for the ash crisis. But travellers still want and need information, and if that information is not forthcoming, then their attitude can turn very quickly.

The problem we have as an industry is that travellers have come to expect a smooth holiday, and judge a travel company on what happens if something goes wrong. Poor communication can swiftly turn into a major cost to reputation and future revenues.

The positive feedback we have received shows that the traveller has already embraced SMS as a medium. This crisis may leave some companies wondering why they haven’t.


Ash crisis coverage from Travel Weekly

April 19

 >Leger helps out with Tui and Virgin rescue
 >Resorthoppa lays on rescue coaches from Spain 
 >Manny: £7m-a-day ash crisis shows merits of packages
 >Royal Navy lined up to rescue stranded Brits
 >Tui rescues 5,000 clients from Spain by coach and ship
 >IATA slams European governments over ash cloud handling
 >Ash flights ban costs Tui £20m and rising

April 18

 >Graphic: Ash cloud and live flight data, 7.00pm

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