Don’t remind me of your crisis

Every other day since November, I have been receiving ‘Bangkok Demonstrations’ update from Bangkok-based DMC Destination Asia and regular ‘Situation Update: Thailand Political Developments’ from Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Newsroom in my mailbox.

The gist of the updates is, the anti-government protests are largely peaceful and contained in certain areas, aren’t harmful for tourists/clients and aren’t affecting day-to-day operations and transfer services.

On January 17, Destination Asia wrote: “Without sounding too repetitive with our daily updates, it seems we may have to grin and bear these demonstrations as they look set to be part of daily life here in Bangkok as Thailand works out its path to democracy. The protest sites remain peaceful and calm and continue to have a carnival atmosphere, it’s fiesta time with smiles and whistles and red, white and blue on the streets. And this being Thailand you are never too far away from street vendors selling T-shirts, food, ice cold drinks, and foot massages! Oh and don’t forget the live bands! On a serious note though late last evening and in the early hours of this morning there were reports once again of a few minor sporadic incidents near to the protest areas so we again emphasise that all visitors should stay clear of blocked intersections and areas of demonstrations, especially during the night hours.”

While I do understand the need to give clients accurate information in a crisis, and applaud such an effort, I don’t understand why there needs to be an update every other day if a crisis has no real impact on tourism operations. Isn’t it time to go into a tactical mode to bring back the tourists? The peak Chinese New Year season is lost, so are MICE bookings; what a big loss – isn’t it time to stimulate a rebound?

Situational updates have become the standard practice since they were advocated by crisis management experts when Asia proved not immune to terror, health, political, nature, and man-made upheavals. The problem with standard practices, however, is you stop thinking about them. On an auto mode, they become inane statements that, worse, only serve to remind people that a destination has a problem. Every other day, I have to grin and bear these emails, though I noted a few DMCs, like Diethelm Travel, stopped theirs around mid-January.

Branding and advertising gurus shudder at what they believe are political statements at best that clients can see through quickly (see Analysis, How to rebuild a destination, page 5). They just want to jump out of the window at what they believe are opportunities lost – the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive; the opportunity to evolve a destination’s brand that is weak to begin with or whose catchphrase is rendered ridiculous or, worse, takes on a completely new meaning in the face of a crisis – Amazing! Incredible! Fun?; the opportunity to re-ignite pent-up demand for a popular destination through tacticals and other positive campaigns rather than reinforce a crisis through sending out all’s-really-fine updates. If all’s really fine, what are you waiting for?

These experts have a point of course. Incredible India, for example, is conspicuously present by its absence after a series of rape cases that have many clients – lots of them females – recoiling at the thought of visiting India. Beyond reaching out to protestors to prop up low occupancies, there is nothing that suggests Thailand is concerted in launching a campaign to woo back tourists – in fact, whispers are, how much more can Thailand push its luck?

I’d say, it’s time to think of crisis management as more than just effective communications, which is but a branch of an entire discipline.

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