In my previous columns, I identified three areas where tourism operators are exposed to risk. I first addressed building ownership to manage risk, highlighting five preventative measures you can take as a business owner and then looked at how to understand the fine print of your chosen insurance policy.

In this piece I will look at the final area where tourism business owners are exposed to risk – this is managing the incident itself. Here, I will address how you can determine the best outcomes in the event of an incident.

The capacity of tourism businesses to deal with critical incidents and the accompanying exposures has proven to be a gap of its own. Most rely on staff and assistance companies to manage their incidents and evacuations and whilst these are often carried out with acceptable outcomes, the minefield of potential exposures that have been escaped en route is terrifying. There’s a lot more to it and right now, whether you have realised it or not you are exposed!

It is important to understand that we cannot predict when and where an incident will happen, who will be there to deal with it and what the outcome will be. Every incident is different in its nature, location, type of injury, number of people, available resources etc., so it is important to manage according to principles and not predetermined protocols.  Don’t use checklists, use resources. Don’t decide on your emergency response plan ahead of time; decide what you need to do when you understand what is happening. Treat each risk as unique. It’s okay to be abstract and vague before an incident and specific during one.

How we think is the crux of everything. We are all guilty of hindsight bias as it reassures us of our actions. Even if something does go wrong we tend to believe it could’ve been worse if we hadn’t done X, Y and Z.  As a result, we seldom go back and analyse incidents, we just forge ahead and lose out on a precious learning opportunity.

It is a fact that staff are prone to positive bias because of their role within the staff-guide-guest relationship and, as a result, tend to choose the more positive option when given two.

Anchoring just makes this worse. For example, once a decision has been made it is very difficult to change course, regardless of the information received. If further symptoms made themselves apparent they may be ignored because the decision to see the night through had already been made.

Another two characteristics common to individuals in tourism are premature closure – jumping to conclusions and action orientation – the tendency to take practical action instead of waiting for someone else to do or provide instruction. This latter characteristic can be dangerous as the skills and expertise in incident management may not be present.

Hospitality staff have a very powerful action orientation and are some of the worst at premature closure. Both can have detrimental effects in the course of incident management.

These are the honest truths and the fact is that:

  • It is a rare person who is genuinely calm whilst responding to a threatening incident
  • It is a rare person who consistently makes good decisions under those circumstance
  • Nobody is naturally equipped to function in a multitasking, multivariable rapidly changing stressful environment and those that choose to, are even rarer.
  • Everybody has limits. Exceed those and performance drops. Physiological and mathematical fact.


Don’t expect your people to manage incidents ever. They need help from experts.

This is what is required to manage an incident and ensure the best outcome.

  • Gather information about the incident – getting accurate data and asking the right questions
  • Ensure on-site first aid
  • Manage the scene, including staff and guests
  • Manage the media, preventing reputational damage and ensuring accurate reporting
  • Consult with doctors
  • Communicate with all stakeholders
  • Activate and co-ordinate the appropriate assistance
  • Arrange guarantees of payment and insurance
  • Where applicable, prepare staff and guests for hospitalisation
  • Ensure post-operative care
  • Manage potential litigation or claims


Find me someone who can do all this and manage your business and I will arrange the necessary spandex with cape because they will be worthy of superhero status.

With all due respect to your operations and teams on the ground and considering the way we think and act under stressful circumstances, I don’t believe anyone has the capacity to deal with the scenario (or would want to) when in actual fact you should be focusing on the remaining guests and leaving this up to a network of trained professionals.

Some of the core services to subscribe to include telemedical consultations, incident management plan creation, remote management of rescue and medical staff, medical evacuations, post traumatic risk assessments, media management and legal liability management.

Seven reasons you need incident management services:

1. Because people’s lives and wellbeing depend on the right decisions being made

2. Because it is better to professionalise your management of critical incidents.

3. Because dealing with emergency situations is beyond your scope of work

4. Because your business and its reputation are at stake

5. Because you are seriously exposed to liability when critical incidents occur

6. Because the cost of liability can now easily exceed R100 million

7. Because it’s not worth taking the chance


It is not one specific action that will mitigate risk but rather a combination that will reduce your exposure at the end of the day.

This article is the third in a series; to read the first and second articles, click here  and here.