ISO 22301 Case study in the travel industry: Business continuity as a necessity in customer care

Business continuity protects an organization from the impacts of business disruptions. The goal is to provide a certain level of products and services to customers during disruptions. But, what do industries need in order to take care of their customers themselves?

As usual, a normal project start…

As a case study, let’s have a look at an actual implementation of a business continuity approach in a large international travel group. At the beginning, the project looked like any other BCM implementation I have done with a number of organizations. You identify key project team members, obtain management commitment, and initialize the project. Just as ISO 22301 proposes it to do, we started with creating a business continuity policy.

Existing documentation in different international locations revealed that some of these local organizations had business continuity plans, preparing them for business disruptions. Scenarios included loss of IT resources, fire or flood on the premises, and similar “classic” causes.

Some of the units within the group had plans that had nothing to do with disruption to an organization’s business, but focused on what the organization is supposed to do if travelers (customers of this international travel group) were affected in their travel plans while being on vacation:  the traveler flies from his/her place of residence to a destination and is supposed to return after the vacation. If travel to/from the vacation destination is affected by whatever reasons (airline problems, air traffic control problems, labor actions, bad weather, political unrest…) both the travel agency and the traveler have a problem.

Suddenly, problems thousands of miles away

These problems may materialize before/during heading for the vacation destination or on the way back. Likewise, a lot of problems may arise during the stay at the vacation destination (bad weather, labor actions, terrorism, outbreak of diseases, natural disasters…).

Typical questions in this situation include: What do we do when travelers are booked for a certain destination next week, and there is an airline strike? How do we handle a natural disaster near a resort? Due to political unrest at a vacation destination, all flights to and from this country are canceled – what now?

Considering that all of a sudden hundreds or thousands of people might be in need, the challenges to the organization might be daunting if they are not prepared…

Running two intertwined projects

This fact necessitated the restructuring of the project in a certain way in order to provide a coherent, group-wide approach to emergencies happening to the customers of this international travel group.

A key tool in this process consisted of the development of a classification scheme for incidents: smaller incidents were to be handled locally, while multi-national emergencies would involve the invocation of a corporate crisis management team. This is still an aspect of business continuity, as the organization will certainly be impacted if many of their customers are in trouble. There are contractual, moral, and financial implications. Think of the negative headlines if this travel group was not prepared for these types of emergencies. As per the words and spirit of ISO 22301, customers are very important external parties.

While the project followed the well-established business continuity lifecycle (business impact analysis, business continuity strategy, business continuity plans) as suggested in ISO 22301, it was split into sub-projects dealing with internal and external emergencies, respectively.

Dual incident response structures

The project team effectively structured most of the supporting documents in the project in such a way that those two overriding scenarios were addressed throughout the documentation. For example, the business continuity response structures (e.g., team members and response documents) were split into different entities. The teams handling internal scenarios consisted of business unit managers, IT specialists, logistics specialists, and others. The teams handling external scenarios involved transportation and accommodation specialists, but also special groups dealing with psychological aspects such as caring for next of kin and dealing with trauma.

In particular, the external scenario called for enhanced support in the field of human factors, as this scenario predominantly deals with effects on people: insecurity, unease, lack of information, food, shelter, diseases, uncertainty about the fate of next of kin, injuries, loss of life. In the end, the organization had structures in place not only to deal with internal business disruptions, but also to properly and efficiently handle personal matters of their travelling customers.

Customer care as an opportunity

In each and every one of your projects, ask yourself: Do we need these people aspects to be treated in our continuity project? Can we afford to leave out these aspects? Are we hurting anyone if we ignore them? Aren’t there any business opportunities in caring for these people?

Omitting these aspects might mean missing an important mandatory requirement, or just missing an opportunity to set you apart from the competition.

 Check out this free webinar  ISO 22301: An overview of the BCM implementation process to learn about business continuity implementation.