In recent months, it seems as if the news of natural disasters, terrorism and mass violence has dominated the headlines. From wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes to terrorism in top European cities and the senseless tragedy in Las Vegas, some of the world’s top destinations are experiencing a PR crisis like never before.
When crisis takes place, travelers hesitate to see their travel plans through. Following the 9/11 attacks, New York City’s tourism was impacted in unprecedented ways. The city lost over $323 million in visitor spending. Broadway lost $5 million in ticket sales the week after the attacks, forcing five shows to close its doors. The restaurant industry was losing an estimated $10 million a day, and hotels that normally operated at 90 percent occupancy in the fall months were only half-full.
It’s no secret that New York City had to overcome travelers’ fears and misconceptions. Remind you, social media wasn’t around back then, nor did anyone have news at their fingertips like we do today. It took them two years to see a real spike in tourism post 9/11. We’re now 16 years past the event, and we can get news instantly, including live footage from someone’s smart phone. So, how do brands overcome travelers’ fears with this in mind?
Develop a Strategy, Pre- and Post-Crisis
Every brand and destination is vulnerable to crisis. There’s no way New York City’s tourism could have fully prepared a strategy in advance of the attacks. Most crises are isolated incidents and require a unique response; however, a crisis response plan can be developed ahead of time. Preparing in advance without the pressures of an actual crisis will expedite your post-crisis plans.
“Preparedness plans should include tiered approaches and responses related to the potential impact level of the crisis ranging from best-case scenario to worst-case scenario situations,” stated Kelly Marolt, account supervisor for Butin Integrated Communications.
Anticipating crisis will also allow you to assemble your team, craft possible responses and name “…at least one brand or destination spokesperson who has been media trained and will be available during a potential crisis (think cell phone and wifi access) to respond to inquiries,” continued Marolt.
Once the crisis occurs, assess the situation before you react. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you may need to release a holding statement first, followed by a series of key messages.
Pre-Crisis Strategy in Action
Five days before Hurricane Irma’s landfall, my team at the Space Coast Office of Tourism deployed our pre-crisis plan. Technology allowed us to efficiently communicate our holding statement to future visitors, as well as external partners, until the storm passed. At the time, we could not fully prepare our post-crisis plan because we were unsure what the narrative would be for our destination post-Irma.
Although Irma didn’t make direct landfall on the Space Coast, the area was impacted by the storm. From power outages and boil water notices to displaced team members, many hotels and attractions were not able to operate immediately. However, the week that followed Irma was critical for communicating key messages.
Paint the Picture with Your Post-Crisis Strategy
News outlets shared that all of Florida was decimated. Other reports shared it would take months to rebuild. This may have been true for some parts of Florida, but for our destination 45 minutes east of Orlando, this was not the case. A majority of our hotels, attractions and restaurants reopened within a week of the storm. Facebook fans commented on our first Facebook post after the storm asking if their favorite restaurant, beach, or attraction was damaged.
Marolt suggested that “Following a crisis, honesty is always the best policy.” Travelers are perceptive, so make sure “…all creative and messaging being shared, particularly on social media, is an accurate depiction of the real situation.” One way to ensure that is through sharing user-generated content to authentically display the area’s offerings.
Our team quickly developed and implemented a post-crisis strategy that would ease our fans’ fears and encourage them to not cancel their visit, all while being sensitive to other destinations in Florida. In October, we ran a mini campaign titled, “Our Coast is Clear.” This was predominately launched on social media through a variety of tactics that included: blog posts, E-mail blasts, user generated images from Chute, Instagram stories and paid social. Through these tactics we were able to share the story that Our Coast is Clear and we are open for business…and for fun! Plus, our area had two rocket launches take place in October, which definitely helped share the message that things are operating as usual here.
Create Opportunities for Travelers
“Travelers love a good deal, so leveraging any offers within your area and/or creating promotional packages and brand partnerships is a nice way to encourage visits,” Marolt expressed. New York City did this well by working with industry partners across the board to provide savings on hotels, shows and museums. They also created programs like the Tribeca Film Festival and the River to River Festival, which has pumped hundreds of millions into the economy and gave travelers another reason to visit.
In closing, many will allow fear to stop them from completing their travel plans. As marketing professionals, we can create a new narrative to influence them to visit again. Challenging at times? Yes, but with an effective strategy in place, their fear will only be temporary.