The Zika virus outbreak in Miami Beach and the recent (yet unusual) travel warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging pregnant women and their partners to avoid the Miami-Dade County has caused anxiety in a city that generates millions of dollars on an annual basis due to its tourism.
The perplexity of the issue is clear – the official warning is unprecedented – but it should stop appearing that way over time.
Today, the tourism industry around the world faces new threats that are out of their control and that require action not only in a rational and serious manner, but also, and most importantly, with absolute transparency.
Until a couple of years ago, a tourist destination affected by a virus or a terrorist attack would have done anything possible to minimize the severity of the issues in order to mitigate the potential damages. That strategy doesn’t work any longer, as it can harm the destination forever.
As new technologies emerge, transparency is inevitable. That is the reason why the only way to gain credibility is by being transparent. To communicate the problem with clarity, how it is being tackled and what is being done to prevent it from happening in the future.
Here’s an example. In 2009, the influenza virus AH1N1 affected a number of nations, particularly Mexico. The government didn’t hesitate to take action in the matter. They declared a state of emergency and installed drastic security measures, like cancelling classes throughout the nation and prohibiting activities in public spaces. These actions communicated the seriousness of the issue.
Even though the Mexican tourism sector didn’t see eye to eye with these measures due to the possibility of scaring off tourists, the truth is that once the state of emergency ended, the tourism reactivation – a strategy in which my team at Newlink participated in – was very quick because there was credibility.
Numbers don’t lie and results show that transparency and strategically-managed communications was the best bet; the strategy consisted of maximizing all channels and points of contact with potential clients and the visitor in Mexican territory. The worst time for influenza AH1N1 was in April 2009 and by May of that same year, tourism in Mexico had dropped 60%. However, their tourism sector closed the year with a drop of only 7%.
Having a coherent, coordinated and aligned message among all governmental agencies and stakeholders in the tourism sector is key to achieving credibility. Blaming and contradicting each other, disguising the information or falsely accusing the entity that promotes tourism, who has no responsibility in putting an end to the virus or a terrorist attack, simply worsens this chaotic situation.
What is the risk behind not communicating the truth proactively? Being stuck with a perpetual negative label without any substance. Reverting the idea that a destination is “unsanitary,” “dangerous” or “unsafe”, is not only a complicated task but also an expensive challenge if there is no credible evidence to back-up your strategy. You are either credible or you’re not – it’s that simple.
While there are definitely new threats, the good news is that there are also new trends that the tourism sector can benefit from.
Several recent scientific studies prove that today people have a higher need to travel and share their vacation experiences because they consider that this is what defines their own existence. Nowadays, society puts more emphasis in personal experiences than material belongings.
Capitalizing on social media’s full potential to make travelers’ positive experiences more exposed, heard and multiplied is an essential step that all the stakeholders in the tourism sector should bet on.