Our partner Kim Taylor’s recent blog post about Japan’s big effort to bring back travelers got me thinking about how tourism agencies and councils deal when labeled as a seriously dangerous or suffering destination. Some of the purported dangers are real and valid, while others are perceived. There are people who consider Mexico to be dangerous for travelers, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s tourism agency from beckoning travelers to lay out along the sands of the Riviera Maya. Tourism numbers have gone down, but Mexico’s tourism officials acknowledge the challenge by trying to spread the message that the drug war’s violence isn’t directed at foreigners in tourist districts.
News headlines this week spoke of potential sanctions against Iran, a country that the U.S. Department of State warns against visiting. Iran also made news recently for its long detention of several American hikers. Most Americans may not consider Iran a vacation destination, but the country boasts beautiful mountains, deserts and ancient, historical sites. Iran plans to have 20 million tourists annually by 2015 (the country attracted only 2.3 million tourists in 2009) and has a tourism agency, but its website doesn’t address the internationally reported issues. I can’t help but wonder how it will meet its 2015 tourism goals.
Mexico and Kenya are also on the U.S. warning list – and they differ from Iran in that both attract their fair share of travelers. Will these warnings stop you from exploring Aztec Temples and partying in Cancun, or taking a safari through an African reserve to spy upon rich wildlife?
What should a country do to make you feel safe? Such situations can’t be solved by a tourism board alone, but these travel-focused agencies should play a big role in spreading “the message” – whether it is to correct inaccuracies or share how problems are being addressed. At the end of the day, these destinations need to fall back on the PR function of crisis communications, including these three basic steps:
- Listen – This is such a simple but important tactic. You can’t address a problem without fully understanding what is being said. When a crisis strikes, immediately start monitoring related news stories and online conversations.
- Engage – If you don’t speak up, then you don’t have a voice and your point-of-view is lost. The media and consumers will speculate and their words will spread even more rapidly through social media.
- Position – There is no one more qualified than a tourism agency to speak about its own destination , as they are natural news sources that carry credibility. In addition to sharing your message with media, further position yourselves as the experts and make your voice stand out from the online chatter. Blogs and social media channels are easy, inexpensive and quick ways to share information and support candid communication … and if you have an official website, be sure to keep it updated. You can’t hide from a crisis by pretending it doesn’t exist.