As the dust settles….
What an amazing and strange month April has been. Many of us have enjoyed the arrival of spring, the sunshine and the ‘very clear’ blue skies. At Exodus we would normally have been gearing our teams up for a surge of late bookings on our extensive European summer programme.
Instead we had a six-day air space lock down and the ensuing chaos at airline hubs all around the world. Exodus had over 500 passengers effectively stranded by the effects of the volcanic ash closing UK and European airspace. Such an immediate, sudden and lengthy closure to our global operations is completely unprecedented in our 35 years of tour operating. There was a lot for us to do!
Just over a year ago we brought together a number of our back office functions into a single Customer Operations team, and along with our flights experts, this ‘operational challenge’ landed fairly and squarely on their plates.
Our first actions in those early days of Thursday 15th and Friday 16th were to deal with those groups who were due to depart that weekend. The now famous NATS rolled their airspace closure forward, airlines followed with cancellations, and we followed with calls to our groups, who in some cases were waiting by their front door with bags packed. Unfortunately the answer for many was to turn around and unpack. Note to those affected: if you have not done so already, call us! We will try and get you onto another trip.
As the crisis moved into the weekend, we pulled in extra staff and managed to keep the office open on Saturday and Sunday. By Monday our priority had shifted to those stranded overseas, growing in number as new tours came to an end.
Communication, in these instances, is everything. From my desk I sent daily (or more often) updates to 40 or so overseas partners and leaders with guidelines and advice. Whenever there was significant news for our clients, we added a letter directly to ‘the stranded’ from Peter Burrell, Exodus Managing Director, explaining what we were doing to help their plight.
Airspace finally re-opened on Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, all communication channels were hot with activity – emails and phone calls flew backwards between our Customer Operations team, our aviation team, the airlines and our overseas agents.
We found some groups were travelling home almost before we had time to log them, while others were confirmed within hours for flights later in the week. Our aim was to have everyone confirmed to travel on or before Sunday 25th. But we knew we would find some really sticky ones, and in the end, we just missed our deadline. At the time of writing (Monday 26th), we still have 20 or so very patient clients in various parts of Asia on more waitlists than they know what to do with. One enterprising chap decided to he had had enough of waitlists, and used the opportunity to nip out of Kathmandu and squeeze in an extra Himalayan trek.
What surprised me the most about the whole episode was that so many of our clients remained so patient and stoic throughout, trusting (rightly) that we were working our little butts off on their behalf. So thanks to ‘the stranded’, thanks to our tireless overseas teams, and thanks to the team here in the office – a disaster that did not turn into a crisis.
Mike James, Exodus' Operations Director
Quote from 'The Times on Sunday' (16 May 2010)
Jane Foster, of Evesham, Worcestershire, writes: "We were caught up in the flight disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud and stranded in Madrid after a holiday booked with Exodus. Not only did Exodus get us a booking on an early flight once things started moving but immediately offered to refund our accommodation and breakfast costs. We sent our receipts by e-mail, received confirmation of the refund amount on the same day, and a cheque within three days. Exodus is a role model for excellent customer service that deserves recognition."
A number of you have written in to let us know you are home safely. It really does mean a lot to us…
Exodus / KVT looked after us so well - thank you! We met so many people at the airport who were with companies who were doing nothing for them and appreciated just how lucky we were! Bali and his team were fantastic!! We would not be back now without him.
Thalia Milton, Land of the Tiger - India
The local travel partner in Kathmandu did a fantastic job in keeping us informed, providing us with accommodation and generally finding ways to keep us busy while we waited to get home. The trip up to the mountain resort was particularly appreciated. It all turned what could have been a nightmare into an extra adventure.
Mary Civil, Delhi to Kathmandu - India and Nepal
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all in Exodus who helped to get us home safely. We were looked after very well by the staff in the Hotel Hasna and the representatives from the local operator in Marrakech particularly Hasan - our group leader - who stayed with us for most of the time and Ashraf, who kept us up to date with every piece of information he had.
In the challenging circumstances which we all experienced, we were very fortunate to be with Exodus and are very grateful for your commitment and action. We look forward to arranging another adventure with you in the future hopefully next time the ending will not be as dramatic as this one.
Milly (Amanda) and Vincent Reynolds, Atlas Panorama - Morocco