This week Boeing's flagship Dreamliner fleet has been beset by technical difficulties leading to it being grounded yesterday. As the BBC reports: "The last time the FAA ordered a general grounding of an aircraft model was in 1979, when McDonnell Douglas DC-10s were grounded following a fatal crash."
Yesterday PR Week reported that Thomson was holding firm on its current comms strategy despite the safety fears (although I suspect this article was written before the grounding), indicating that they felt the safety issues made no difference to the plans for launch.
I wouldn't want to be in Thomson's (and Hill + Knowlton Strategies who are working with them) shoes for all the tea in China.
Thomson has a great reputation and a loyal customer base. It provides quality, mid-upper market holidays that their customers can trust. That reputation won't go away overnight, particularly over an issue that is essentially not their fault (Boeing has got that to answer for). But it's reputation could be significantly damaged if it doesn't act quickly.
This morning it's Dreamliner website holidaysjustgotbetter.thomson.co.uk is still up with no reference to the safety concerns or the grounding of the fleet and Thomson's main website still has a picture of the Dreamliner with the tagline 'be the first to fly Dream haul'.
It is a very difficult position for Thomson to be in with so many audiences to take into account (customers, shareholders, contractors, hotels, staff) and the nature of the holiday industry being that people often purchase their product months or even years in advance. The holiday industry, much like banking, is built on trust and tour operators have to safeguard that trust above anything else.
If I was working for Thomson, this is what I'd recommend:
- Pull all advertising on the Dreamliner until further notice
- Take down the Holidays Just Got Better website
- Have a statement on the main Thomson website saying until they can be completely sure of the fleet's safety they won't be selling any more holidays that use it and that customers who are booked on those holidays will have other arrangements made
- Get that message out through your social media channels and get ready to spend the next week or so answering questions through social media on the issue
- Email all customers who have already booked saying that their holidays will still be guaranteed although they can have a refund if they wish and Thomson will use a different fleet
- If finances permit, you could also offer them a voucher for money off a future Thomson holiday as a way of saying sorry
With reputation damage control, it always comes down to picking the right moment to switch tacks; miss that moment and your customers could lose faith in you and you could feel the ramifications for years to come. For Thomson, that moment has come.