Why tour operators need a Safety Management System

by | Nov 11, 2020

A ‘Travel Safety Management System’ (or policy/strategy/statement) is a must for tour operators who want to ensure they are addressing travel safety sufficiently. The Safety Management System should be central to the activity undertaken by product and operations teams and be a working document with buy-in from senior management and owners. Travel safety has never been more under scrutiny and tour operators should take the opportunity to review their policies and procedures post-COVID.

Why bother?

Well, first of all it’s a legal requirement. If you’re acting as the principal – which tour operators are – you are responsible for the proper performance of all elements of the package and must demonstrate ‘all reasonable skill and care’ that you have performed a process of due diligence on your suppliers’ safety standards. Failure to have an audit trail in place could be extremely damaging for a tour operator, so setting out your promises in a Safety Management System is the best starting point. There is also a moral obligation on tour operators to ascertain if the accommodation, transport and activities/excursions they are selling to their customers are safe.

The Travel Safety Management System document itself doesn’t have to be too onerous, it should be relative to the size of the tour operator and the reflect the risks involved for the holidays being sold. It does, however, need to capture the promises a tour operator makes to its customers regarding travel safety and should set out how the tour operator goes about auditing its suppliers. A good Safety Management System document should read like a business plan, with a mission (or policy) statement, strategies, objectives and deliverables which demonstrate how the travel safety policies and procedures will be carried out in practice. It should always have a section confirming that the system is reviewed both routinely and following any incidents or significant accidents/illness.

Pulling it all together

Travel Safety Management Systems must live and breathe throughout the tour operator’s teams. Staff need to be made aware of the policies and trained in how to undertake the tasks required to meet the objectives. All tour operator staff members should know how to react in an emergency situation, particularly those in resort or on call outside normal office hours. The Safety Management System also needs to be tested – simulation exercises are so valuable to ensure that the tour operator’s incident response teams can adequately deal with escalating situations and identify any shortcomings in a safe environment. Learning from experience is also vital and tour operators must react to client feedback to identify near misses and areas where improvements may be required.

Travel safety should always be collaborative and working closely with suppliers is key to a Safety Management System functioning properly and efficiently. Tour operators must impress upon their accommodation, transport and activities/excursions suppliers the importance of completing audits and rectifying issues which may arise. Whilst travelers and tour operators have a role to play in reducing accidents and illness, the suppliers of the travel services are ultimately responsible to maintain standards and to ensure robust control measures are in place.

Future planning

Unfortunately, disruption to travel plans is often a surprise, with natural disasters, political unrest, acts of terrorism, accidents and illness having varying affects on tour operators’ activities. The one constant is further disruption of some kind in the future is inevitable. COVID has highlighted the need for agility and flexibility with working arrangements and being able to operate a business under entirely different conditions and now is the perfect time for tour operators to create or review their Travel Safety Management Systems.

For further information on how Sanderson Phillips can help with creating a Travel Safety Management System, and undertake supplier auditing on your behalf, follow this link.