On January 14-15 this year, the International Seminar on Tourism and Media in Central America took place in Guatemala City. It was organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA), and supported by United Nations World Tourism Organization, INGUAT and Fondo España.
During the first day, tourism was stated to imply large territorial advantages -beyond leisure time- such as poverty eradication, improving the quality of life among local communities, and contribution to environmental preservation. Travelers should be aware of the big impact caused by our movements to different destinations.
Tourism, as a business generator, grows faster than global economy – said Marcelo Risi, Principal Media Officer of UNWTO. The tourism sector creates 1 out of every 12 jobs worldwide. In Central America, tourism directly generates 364,000 jobs, and indirectly, an additional 20% more -said Mercedes Meléndez, Secretary of the Central American Integration System. Tourism is also relevant for many socio-economic aspects, such as the promotion and consumption of local products, the creation and improvement of local infrastructure, promoting local associations, attracting foreign investment, security protocols, and obtaining documents and visas.
International media turns tourism into current news as it directly affects the global economy and people’s lives. We are particularly touched by individual human stories, with close and personal cases being the ones most likely to shake us, surprise us, excite us… give us goose bumps. This idea sparked a debate about how media balances the importance of increasing their audience with generating transparent information free of sales objectives.
During the second part of the seminar we focused on crisis management communication. This is a crucial issue in Central America since sensationalist news tends to overshadow the positive stories emerging that highlight the region as an attractive tourism destination. Media cannot skip sad or unfavorable news, but there is a need of establishing communication protocols in case a crisis situation occurs to deal with its consequences. These procedures must be part of each destination’s communication strategy. Crisis evolution depends on how changes are perceived, and how we react to adversity. Germán Porras, ex general secretary of Tourism Spain, led an analysis of the best practices for crisis situations. We went through several cases in which inappropriate information management caused a loss of trust among travelers, negatively affecting tourism in well known destinations -such as Egypt– .
Crisis communication management starts before a crisis occurs. It begins by setting preventive measures aimed at its relief when a crisis arises. When that happens, a flexible response protocol must be established -mainly at an institutional level. After the crisis takes place, we need a set of type responses, always bearing in mind that messages should be carefully handled showing empathy for the audience, especially for people affected. Likewise, reputation and leadership will be maintained assuming responsibilities and following the processes established, communicating the available information with transparency and using a single voice.
Travelers have no reason to be loyal to tourist destinations. On the other hand, travelers are very sensitive to subjective risk perception. That is the reason why destinations should keep travelers well informed to minimize their feeling of vulnerability due to factors like language difficulties, lack of environmental awareness, emergency procedures, and so on.
Tourism is a future bet, and is a product of trust. Therefore, the best way to communicate the information about destinations must be shaped to attract visitors without scaring them. Ideally, tourism boards should maintain a close and fluent relationship with media, and journalists should be committed to reporting with transparency.