Travelport calls for transatlantic crisis plan

By Arnie Weissmann

Citing the lack of intergovernmental communications coordination last spring when the H1N1 virus emerged as a worldwide health threat, Travelport CEO Jeff Clarke has called for new set of transatlantic crisis protocols to be created.

And he wants the travel industry to have a guaranteed seat at the table.

The proposal to the Transatlantic Business Dialogue Executive Board asks the United States and European Union to develop a task force on global emergency communications.

The proposal will be included in a set of recommendations being developed in advance of next week’s U.S.-E.U. Summit by the board, which comprises CEOs of large corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Calling the initiative "imperative," Clarke said collaborative efforts on communicating messages related to health and security crises will "mitigate unnecessary disruptions of global travel and trade."

The proposal blames inconsistent messaging and miscommunications concerning H1N1 for leading companies and individuals to simply cancel travel plans last spring, exacerbating the already challenged global economy.

The proposed task force would serve as a clearinghouse of factual information for elected officials responding to global crises.

Clarke envisions that it would ideally be chaired by governmental representatives from the U.S. and E.U. as well as business representatives from the travel and supply chain industries.

Other members of the task force would represent different sectors of the economy and include health and security representatives.

The effort was applauded by the U.S. Travel Association, which is circulating recommendations in Washington for how the travel community and the U.S. government might collaborate to improve communication during public health emergencies and to ensure the interests of the travel industry are protected.

"This reflects the general sentiment that we all need to be cooperating on communications in emergency situations," said Geoff Freeman, U.S. Travel's senior vice president of public affairs. "While our focus is on the U.S. government, we applaud Travelport. ... Their initiative is a good example of how our industry should be thinking and participating."

Among U.S. Travel's recommendations is to establish communication channels between senior-level officials and industry leaders via U.S. Travel's Pandemic Alert Network and to use the network to conduct preparatory calls prior to public announcements on changes to travel advisories.

Jeri Clausing contributed to this report.

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