Thomas Cook survived the negative publicity generated by the deaths of two children in Corfu because of its strong reputation, according to Travlaw senior partner Stephen Mason.

Speaking at last week’s Travlaw Big Tent Event, What’s your reputation worth?, Mason said the mass-market operator did not suffer too badly from adverse publicity following the deaths of the children in 2006. He said this was largely because it had generated a large amount of goodwill as it had an overall reputation with the public of providing good-quality holidays.

Mason added: “It may be that Thomas Cook is so big and millions of people have experienced the product and like it.”

However, he said smaller companies may not be able to ride out problems in the same way. “When you’re not so big, the dangers of damage to your reputation are much greater. When something happens there’s not the same knowledge about you or the good will.”

Vantage Insurance tour operator underwriter Gary Armstrong agreed. “The big two can flood the market (with positive advertising) and a small tour operator cannot.”

However, Siren PR group client director James Watts warned that large companies should not rely purely on their size to escape bad publicity. “Big companies have failed – through no fault of their own – when something happens that isn’t their responsibility; consider Pan Am and the Lockerbie crash.”

Watts also urged delegates to take their reputations seriously. “The price of your reputation is whatever the value of your company is and what it means to you; to me, reputation is everything,” he said. “Building a reputation takes time and it takes time to get it back.”

Mason said travel companies can risk their reputations during a recession by using cheaper suppliers that may let their customers down.

C&M recruitment managing director Angus Chisholm said company’s reputations may suffer if they have to make redundancies or freeze wages and do not handle it well.

Armstrong said companies can pre-empt bad publicity with generous and speedy compensation payments.