“In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has rocked our worlds to such an extent that it has forced everyone to think, behave and work differently. We certainly have found ourselves in unprecedented and uncertain times. Our industry, that we know and love has changed beyond all recognition and at such a fast rate.
I was invited to a call with Abby (Focus CEO) and Cilla (Focus Marketing & Events Director and MD of ABT-UK). We discussed how our colleagues in Israel went to the Israeli Press with a clear message that they would help to repatriate all displaced Israeli’s back home. Since launching this service, it immediately had high demand and success stories started to flow about repatriations. They even managed to charter aircraft in some situations to bring people back. We discussed whether Focus could launch a similar service.
Very quickly we mobilised a central team to brainstorm how we at Focus could create a service that would allow our partners to effectively switch from being Business Travel Agents to being Repatriation Agents working with the general public. We came up with all the necessary components (Phone system, marketing including social media, fee structure, practical guidance for TMCs as to how to answer phones, manage risks etc).
We then presented the idea to the partners in a series of calls (just one day after the idea was conceived). Fifteen of our partners decided to take the plunge and invest resource behind the initiative. Despite all the stress and pressure that the partners were under they pulled resources, managed risks, mobilised people and phone systems to turn this idea into a reality. I cannot express how impressed I was to see fifteen different companies come together as one to try and focus on this difficult and challenging task.
In addition to our partners coming together we also had some of our suppliers get behind this initiative. Ocean Telecom gave us the phone system at cost as part of their preferred status and Martin Roche Consultancy who managed the associated social media gave their time for free.
We launched the service “Helping you get home” on 20th March with several press releases organised by Frances at Lotus.
“Business travel companies extend repatriation service to stranded holidaymakers”
Business Travel News:
“Focus starts helping stranded British travellers get home”
In a whirlwind we were live and operational and starting to uncover the desperate nature of the situation from people stuck in all corners of the globe. One lady contacted the service and explained that there were around 400 people stuck in Peru in various parts of the country. We had taken calls from people in New Zealand and Australia desperate to get home. In some cases our partners did manage to find and book people on flights but it was becoming increasingly difficult as airlines slashed capacity and governments banned passengers from landing at their airports.
One overriding factor was that people were so grateful to have an expert to talk to. We had heard that around 1m Brits were still abroad. Getting through to airlines and the FCO was almost impossible so having a professional on the end of the phone gave some comfort to a lot of people.
What we collectively created was not so much a call centre but a community, a community of passionate travel experts trying to focus on something positive in a bleak landscape. I am so proud of everyone that joined! The sharing of information via WhatsApp was a real coup with one agency helping another find the last remaining seats on a particular route. Just amazing!
If nothing else what we have shown is that Focus are a force to be reckoned with. We are a single entity of passionate professionals and we are brave enough to try something that is well outside of our comfort zone. As the opening quote by JFK suggests that in times of crisis we forget about our differences and unite as one. How true that is!
Pascal Benn -Focus Business Solutions Manager
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