The Gatehouse Blog

Pandemic positivity: 10 things that helped TUI keep its smile through COVID-19

As coronavirus bad news stories surrounding the tourism industry continue to break on an almost daily basis, multinational travel company TUI’s determination to create smiles has never been more necessary.

Eternal optimist Dawn Robinson, Head of Internal Comms and Engagement at TUI Destination Experiences, tells the Journal of Internal Communication about the positive experiences that have helped her through what has probably been one of the most difficult times in the organisation’s history.

1 Proud moments

“March was crazy because, as you will know from the media, we had something like 200,000 of our own customers to repatriate, and we helped with other people’s customers too. From a colleague point of view, we had 4,000 people to repatriate to their home countries, which took about two or three weeks. And even though it was a very frantic time, it was one of those times in an organisation where you feel the pride and motivation of people to do the right thing. That came out in spades – it’s giving me goosebumps thinking about the amazing effort that went into that.”

2 Fresh thinking

“We stopped and said, ‘right, okay, our world has just changed in a huge way. What do we need to do differently?’ We almost ripped up our BAU IC strategy and said: ‘Let’s think about what people need now’. It was great because we had quite an international team, which meant we could look at it from different points of view. We realised that our normal, soft engagement stories needed to go because they wouldn’t give us what we needed. What we did need was as many engaging and motivating stories about what people have been doing through this horrendous time to demonstrate our TUI values of ‘trusted, unique, and inspiring’.”

3 Enriched engagement

“The feedback we got from our special town halls was brilliant. From a normal town hall, you might get 800 people dialling in from potentially 10,000; then you might get another 1,000 people watching the recording. With this, straight away we were getting 1,500 to 2,000 people dialling for these calls live – and then another 1,000 or more watching the video. The Q&A sections have become a really wonderful resource of rich information – we’d answer every single question and publish them all on our intranet.”

4 Digital revolution

“A real positive for me has been the way in which we’ve been able to pull forward on our plans for digital transformation. We’ve suddenly seen markets that didn’t really use cards at all going cashless – Germany’s a great example of that. And in destinations where we were told we couldn’t go digital because of an older guest population, it’s now accepted that you don’t hand ‘stuff’ over if you don’t need to. Lots of local COVID-19 legislation says we have to be as contactless as possible. Which means two of the key drivers of our digital transformation – going paperless and cashless; people are doing them anyway. So, for me – and I’m ever the optimist, anyway – I’m kind of thinking, ‘we can take something positive from this’.”

5 Authentic messaging

“I think – and I’m sure a lot of comms colleagues will agree this – that we’re experiencing an evolution from having to always produce perfectly scripted content to now just jumping on a call. For someone to simply give you the update that they have is very authentic – and so what if they stutter a bit, or they get a bit emotional because they’re talking about something from the heart? IC is now very much in the moment. It’s authentic. We’re curating opportunities, but we’re not controlling them. And I honestly think that realisation, that almost ‘chip paper’ response, is the way forward because it reflects our modern ‘on demand’ media.”

6 New experiences

“It’s been an opportunity – out of necessity – to try new things and to do them at a much higher frequency. From a comms point of view, it’s been exhausting but also super-rewarding. We went from a very strategic approach to a totally tactical one, focusing on ‘this is what’s needed – just get on with it’. I’ve had lot of comments from people saying, ‘just keep going, these comms are great, you’re keeping us up to date as possible’. It wasn’t perfect for everyone, don’t get me wrong; but, actually, whenever we faced criticism, we felt empowered enough to say: ‘This is really useful, thank you – keep the feedback coming’.”

7 Adding value

“It felt like, finally, people started to understand the value of internal comms engagement more than at any other time. That, for me, was a personal highlight. And even though we’ve taken people on a difficult journey, we’ve added balance where we can. Whenever we had good news, we’d get it out there. But it had to be balanced and realistic and relevant to people at the time. And you know, we were able to do that – that was a good feeling.”

8 Positive thinking

“People want to know there’s a positive future at the end of this; and they want to know that we’re going to be ready for it, and that we’re using this time wisely. So, for me, if your strategy can’t tell that story, then you probably need to review the strategy. Again, it’s about more curation, less control – we just need to sit back and be much more comfortable about the fact that it’s not going to be perfect.”

9 People power

“A real benefit coming out of COVID-19, which I’m sure a lot of people have found, is the access it’s opened up to leadership teams. To have those relationship-forming opportunities has just been fantastic – and I want to personally take that as the way to work in the future. I think we can all champion that by remembering that we’re all just people striving to do a great job.”

10 Light relief

“As hard as it’s been, it’s actually been a lot of fun as well. I think some of the Teams conversations have occasionally got a bit ridiculous (in the best possible way!), but people have needed that light relief; it’s serious stuff that we’re dealing with – and it’s not over yet, is it? We still don’t really know how this will play out… Everyone thought it’d be over by now, that we’d have a cure and, you know, be sitting on a plane going to Las Vegas to celebrate right now… I’m not sure that’s happening…”

Biography: Dawn Robinson

Dawn Robinson has been working within internal communications at global travel company TUI for over five years, recently completing a secondment as Head of Internal Communications and Engagement for the Destination Experiences part of the business. Lockdown time has fuelled a personal passion for gardening and cooking, with the rise of sourdough (bun pun intended) and fresh-from-the-garden lunches, featuring heavily between Teams calls and emails.