Crisis, what crisis? (Part 2)


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

From the ridiculous to the sublime – anyone reading the previous instalment in this series of rough-hewn rambling thoughts will have noted the distasteful inefficiency of travel giant Thomas Cook in dealing with a tragedy.

Now we have seen another tragedy play out in the public domain – not as serious as the deaths of two children, but quite significant enough for the poor souls concerned – with a wholly different outcome.

The shocking Alton Towers Smiler rollercoaster crash left four people seriously injured, including seventeen-year-old Leah Washington who had part of her left leg amputated, and closed the money-spinning Staffordshire theme park for days.

The refreshing thing here, and quite the opposite to the Thomas Cook affair, is that Poole-based Merlin Entertainments, the park’s corporate owner, fronted up immediately, accepted full responsibility and pledged to pay compensation to the 16 people directly affected.

That will not come cheap, nor will it necessarily preclude potential future litigation, and we should remember that Merlin (105 attractions, 11 hotels, three holiday villages in 23 countries) is a wealthy company, but what the company has done is ensure that is doesn’t get on the wrong side of public opinion.

Thomas Cook failed to do this after, I suspect, becoming mired in legal issues and caught in such a morass of advice from lawyers and insurers that inertia inevitably ensued to such an extent that a Trappist monk would be more voluble and a sloth more active. Little was done or said and people, via the media, took against the firm.

Merlin would appear to have had much better advice, rightly admitted liability for what was in plain sight (thanks to smartphone videos), immediately contacted the injured and quickly pledged to provide appropriate support for them and their families.

Merlin chief executive Nick Varney said: “This has been a terrible experience for everyone involved and one we sincerely regret. Our thoughts remain with those who were seriously injured and we are doing everything we can to support them through this difficult time. It is an accident that should not have happened, and we are determined that it will never happen again.”

Thus, while the cost of this awful incident is likely to run into millions for Merlin, there were people queuing outside when Alton Towers reopened (with some thrill rides not in operation) following a closure of nearly a week.

The theme park has not become public enemy number one. I am not aware of any protests or calls for boycotts and it seems to be very much business as usual at Alton Towers.

Cliff 2The lesson to be learned here is that events happen, some more tragic than others, but it is the response to these incidents that governs how they will ultimately be viewed as the world moves on to the next crisis.