Get Started

Other | Articles

When Disaster Strikes: Emergency Planning for Travel Agents

There’s no fool-proof way to ensure a risk-free tour, but proactively preparing to have the necessary local cash can mean the difference between a small headache and a major obstacle.

Disasters make it difficult to purchase necessary supplies like water bottles and medical provisions
Disasters make it difficult to purchase necessary supplies like water bottles and medical provisions

A good tour guide likely knows their route like the back of their hand. They’ll know a good restaurant if their first choice is booked, a shopping site for every taste and a gallery for each era of artistry. However, the one hard to plan for is the unexpected: a natural disaster, civil unrest or a service strike. Some of these instances are more predictable than others. Popular Caribbean destinations for instance, have yearly hurricane seasons where harsh storms are likely to bring strong winds and excess rain to the region. Snowy ski hills typically come with weather-related flight delays and cancellations. Political protests, transportation strikes and unpredictable natural disasters are more random and even the most seasoned tour operator can be left scrambling if their agenda is disrupted by a large disturbance.

Last summer a major earthquake struck the popular island destination of Lombok, Indonesia, stranding hundreds – most of the them tourists. Because these incidents often affect infrastructure, electricity and communication avenues, vacationers are often left in a state of desperate confusion and rely on their tour operator or guide for immediate assistance.

Despite local knowledge, it’s a huge challenge for any travel organisation to handle such a situation. This is made more difficult by the disruption in regular payment capabilities. After Hurricane Katrina, debit and credit cards could not be used due to their underlying electronic components. This is unfortunately typical of such disasters, which makes it difficult for all inhabitants to purchase necessary supplies like water bottles and medical provisions. As such, excess cash was needed in the region but ATMs and bank vaults were severely damaged by rising water levels. An official government analysis of the event found cash to be a “a critical commodity in an affected area.”

This is an enormously difficult predicament for tour guides who can be responsible for large amounts of frightened visitors. That’s why it’s vital for organizations to have a plan in place to receive additional funds when an unexpected disaster strikes. Traditionally, NGOs and charities that operate in remote or conflict regions have relied on Western Union Business Solutions to send cash to all corners of the globe. In fact, we have nearly 10x more locations than Starbucks™ and McDonald’s™ combined, not to mention the ability to quickly distribute cash over 190 countries.

There’s no fool-proof way to ensure a risk-free tour, but proactively preparing to have the necessary local cash can mean the difference between a small headache and a major obstacle.