How Your Destination Can Weather a Crisis

By Trish McGee
VP, Public Relations

Corporate crises seem to dominate the headlines lately. Businesses from various sectors have found themselves firmly in the unwelcome spotlight for an inappropriate action or statement. More than ever, crisis communication experts are at work, trying to right a wrong and steer the ship back on course.

What if a crisis strikes a business as large as a tourist destination? Whether a destination endures a widespread weather event, an isolated visitor injury or fatality beyond its control, or a food-borne outbreak, visitation can take a direct hit if a crisis communication plan isn’t immediately deployed to inform and educate both visitors, potential visitors, business owners, employees, social media followers, and other audiences.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic and international traveler expenditures in the U.S. in 2015 were $947 billion. in other words, tourism is big business. While travelers seek out beaches, mountains and every place in between to escape from the day-to-day and relax, destinations—and those who manage them—can’t afford to take a vacation from crisis communication planning.

Here’s why:

1.  When crisis strikes a destination, visitation can suffer an immediate impact, specifically an economic impact as tourists stay home or opt for another vacation locale. A decline in visitation hurts businesses and, in turn, not only means a loss of revenue for the myriad of restaurants, shops, lodging properties and attractions, but it can also affect residents who live in the destination and whose livelihoods are earned in the tourism industry. Destination managers have an obligation to establish a sense of normalcy as soon as possible following a crisis to sustain its businesses who collectively create the destination.  

2.  Media coverage is 24/7, and it takes a village to keep pace on a good day under the best circumstance. On a bad day and under the worst circumstances, amid the chaos of a crisis, managing media coverage is a daunting task at best. Like any business, a destination must be prepared to tell its story. If not, someone else is waiting, smart phone in hand, to tell your story for you. Managing the messaging, distributing it in a timely fashion with precision accuracy is a non-negotiable.

3.  Successful destinations spend time and money building popular and respected brands that connect with consumers. Loyalty doesn’t come cheap for any brand, and a crisis can undo in a matter of minutes what took countless years and dollars to create. Recovery is possible but mitigating negative circumstances can be a long and costly road. A crisis communication plan is roadmap to ensure that a destination is prepared and capable to respond appropriately and successfully. 

4.  There’s no crying in baseball, and there are no second chances in crisis communication. It’s not very difficult to list a circumstance where a particular brand wishes it had acted faster, differently or smarter. Simply said—there are no do-overs. Whether it’s explaining the difficult facts or reassuring folks that safety has been restored, a brand must manage the crisis effectively and accurately from the get-go (and that first step is often taken under the most stressful of circumstances). A brand can’t afford a misstep, so have capable people and plans in place and ready to act. 

No destination expects to find itself amid a crisis. However, those that plan for the worst and execute their crisis communication plans with precision are better positioned to weather—and survive—the storm. Plan for that rainy day now. 

Li Brown