Workers at Eurostar are undertaking industrial action and will strike for seven days – including two weekends – this month. The strikes will run from just after midnight on Friday 12 August to just before midnight on Monday 15 August, and for three days over the bank holiday weekend. With the potential for huge disruptions to customers, and a damaging effect on brand perception, what could be the longer term impact on Eurostar?
The Eurostar strike comes at the peak of the holiday season and could affect thousands of holiday makers. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union stated the dispute related to the Eurostar's failure to honour its 2008 agreement which aimed to ensure a good work-life balance for train managers.
August can traditionally be a slow month for business but this year it has been particularly difficult for Eurostar, which recently reported a 'challenging' second quarter of 2016. Passenger numbers were down 3% year-on-year and revenues were 10% lower. Eurostar CEO Nicolas Petrovic explained that the company's performance was affected by the UK's vote to leave the EU.
Eurostar will undoubtedly have been keen to minimise any damaging effects of the August strikes and the crisis communications team will have been under increased pressure to manage the situation effectively.
The Eurostar communications team has been careful to ensure information for its ticket-holding customers is easily visible – both on its website and through proactive engagement with the media – and has offered flexibility to minimise any disruptions to travel plans.
Ahead of the planned strike, the Eurostar travel information service stated: "If booked to travel on one of these trains you will have been contacted offering the option to exchange for another train on your scheduled day or to an alternative date."
The communication also offered ticket holders the flexibility to change bookings "free of charge for an alternative time or date." Eurostar has said it will still be able to run most of its planned timetable despite the strikes and will only need to cancel one train per day.
There has been a sharp increase in media coverage for Eurostar since the lead up to the industrial action, with article volumes hitting more than 600 per day from their normal volume of less than 50. With the inevitable disruptions a large-scale walkout can cause it would be easy to assume that much of this media coverage would be negative.
Analysis of online and social media using LexisNexis Newsdesk shows that during the last 24-hours positive sentiment around the company 30% and negative sentiment under 9%.
However, when this sentiment analysis is compared with sentiment during the last 30 days the shift in Eurostar's media profile is not as dramatic as you might expect. During the last 30 days, nearly 20% of articles and online mentions of Eurostar were positive, with only 9% negative. This represents a surprising 3 point rise in positive sentiment and almost no change in negative sentiment despite the increase in coverage due to the strikes.
Eurostar has been careful to warn customers of impending industrial action, minimising the disruption the strike will cause and ensuring all its customers' travel plans will be rescheduled as efficiently as possible.
The proactive communications strategy adopted by Eurostar's communications team that has served well to minimise damage to brand loyalty, as well as managing the negative sentiment in the media and subsequently Eurostar's wider brand perception.
The increased media coverage may actually work to Eurostar's advantage, building visibility in the media and demonstrating the company to be transparent and customer-focussed. In the end, it appears the news surround the Eurostar strikes was just that – outlets reporting the event – rather than online and social media taking a negative stance on the company.