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Tourism, Crisis and Communication

Photo: Wilma

When a crisis affects a particular place, it is rarely presented in a way that provides updated information for visitors. Many tourism businesses, not to mention regional and national ministries and campaigns, are reluctant to voice concerns. Scaremongering kicks in and things go from bad to worse.

The consequence for not engaging the public and be engaged by the public in dialogue during times of crisis is a diminished level of trust. Said one colleague about a government tourism portal that was not updated, “if they are not telling the truth about this, how can I trust anything they say?”

A vicious cycle ensues. Tourism officials deny that visitors are interested in social, natural and political realities. Visitors as well as migrants use official sources less and less.

Adding to the vulnerability is the ability for bad news to go viral through social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

At the diplomatic level governments are quick to alert citizens to possible problems, but they usually lag in letting visitors know when conditions improve. One question locals ask is why the travel alerts, warnings and advisories remain in effect so long.

I worked in Oaxaca during the 2006 protests and the aftermath. At the beginning the sentiment that the conflict was ‘business as usual’ and would be resolved quickly. Violence escalated and it was truly difficult to figure out what to tell readers. For me the questions were very simple: would I recommend family members to visit this place? Early on, yes. Later on, no and then again yes. But my views rarely jived with local promotion or foreign advisories. In 2007 Oaxaca was truly safe but woefully undervisited.

As a writer and publisher, it was a challenge to figure out how to collaborate with tourism officials, providers and other media. Travelers – our readers – deserve reliable information and this experience taught me that we still have a long way to go when it comes to communication during times of crisis.

This week our attention turns to the Gulf coast of Texas and #HurricaneHarvey

 

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