How do we future-proof destinations? We scope scenarios, and we plan for crises. We also look and we learn from other destinations’ successes and failures. What plans were in place, what communication strategies were used, what did the pre, during and post crisis alignment of local, provincial and national governments, industry, organisations and individual operators look like…? What were the messages coming out of the crisis?
We also need to look at the measures put in place by those destinations that have staged recoveries after crisis. There is much to learn from where they have tweaked their models. It is certainly worth comparing these revised plans and networks to those we have in place to deal with crises that arise in the future – from outbreaks of disease to man-made conflict and terrorism, from economic crises to disasters like drought, storms, fire, floods, and freak waves.
Five years after the tsunami struck, Japan was struggling with lingering negative perceptions exacerbated by low awareness of that country’s tourism assets. This despite travellers who did visit reporting high satisfaction. Combating this was the subject of a McKinsey report in October 2016. Within six months, many of the recommendations had been acted upon.
The result? Japan has just had its best April tourist figures ever.
What were McKinsey’s recommendations? A public-private partnership (PPP) to manage the inbound tourism initiative. The elements essential to the plan were: clear leadership; a substantial level of coordination; frameworks to promote the “plan, do, check, adjust” cycle; targeted activities; peripheral industry involvement; and advanced technologies.
Once formed, Japan was advised that the public-private partnership should pursue a road map built around five key levers:
- Strengthen the destination management organization model
- Build a platform to support tourists’ end-to-end customer experience
- Support hotels and sightseeing spots in building inbound tourism capabilities
- Embed foreign visitors’ viewpoints in marketing and promotion
- Enhance online promotion to make tourists ambassadors
The beauty of this model is that it works to get a collaborative message out there; but in addition, if or when disaster or crisis strikes, it provides a solid network ready to coordinate crisis communication too.
Crisis management is the area of my focus that I am most passionate about. Turkey and Japan’s successes and how they’ve done it highlight an issue I am just as emphatic about.
My home country, South Africa, has issues, just as every country in the world has issues, but time and again visitors to our country say they can’t believe how wonderful it is – yet all they hear is the negative news. South Africans in the tourism industry and civil society need to work together, like they’ve done in Turkey and Japan, to get the good words out there.
Yes, of course, immediate response is obviously essential for disaster management. Without it, the perception is that we are not in control. But planning, prior to the disaster, is even more important. And just as imperative, after the event, is the need to spread the good news in such volume that the negativity is drowned out.
African countries do not focus enough on this last point. To quote Taleb Rifai: “It is a tragedy that many of the positive stories of Africa are often hidden from the headlines. Rarely do we ever hear news about Africa’s fastest growing economies, its medical breakthroughs or how new technologies are transforming its industries and societies. This absence leaves a wide hole in the full story of Africa. To not tell this full story is to flatten our perspective of Africa’s reality.
In our planning, let us remember the importance of disseminating the good news too. This is part of ensuring we are resilient when the crises hit.