After Hurricane Irma: Regaining visitor confidence

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After Hurricane Irma: Regaining visitor confidence

As Irma ripped through the Leeward Islands of Barbuda and Anguilla in my hometown of the Caribbean, I was reminded of two things. The first was my teenage self eagerly greeting new arrivals to Barbados airport and that evangelical passion I felt (and still feel) towards what I think of as my island. And the second is my time at Bournemouth undertaking a masters in destination marketing. As I laboured over my dissertation on the role of destination marketing in restoring positive image after a crises, did I imagine that I would one day have to apply my learning to my home country? No, but it seems that after Haiti once more we must look at building a positive image of the Caribbean.

A key part of the decision making process for travellers is the overall image associated with a destination. Because of the intangible nature of the travel experience, the destination’s image is a crucial factor in travel choice. Following Irma, it’s not just Barbuda, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti’s infrastructure that has been damaged but its image as a safe place to visit. This can have a devastating effect on tourism demand and consumer confidence.

The Caribbean as a tourism area has traditionally been known as a winter escape, and one of the issues the Caribbean region will face for this upcoming winter season is maintaining a positive image of their region and regaining the visitor’s confidence. So what can we do about it? The tourism industry is, of course, extremely susceptible to natural disaster thriving as it does on its natural environment. This means that destinations must have a strategy in place to protect their image following disasters like Irma.

Hugh Riley, the secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, said clean-up after the storm will need to happen quickly and effectively. And he stressed that prospective visitors need to understand that damage to one part of the region does not render every island uninhabitable. “No one ever wants to minimise the importance of what happens in one particular part of the Caribbean versus another,” Riley said. “But it really doesn’t mean that we’re closed for business.”

PR will be one of the most powerful tools that destinations can use to regain consumer confidence through interviews, press releases, media briefing, human interest stories, media monitoring and rebuttal, video news releases as well as journalist visits. Antigua for example has utilised live video to show that the island is open and ready for business and it is this kind of efficient and effective response that travellers need to see to be reassured about their travel plans. In times of crises, marketing and PR remains not just high priority but critical priority in managing and preserving positive image of destinations.

Jamie-Lee Abtar is the founder of Be Distinctly Different a marketing and PR agency that helps travel businesses to grow, develop and make more money. Be Distinctly Different email and on Instagram and Facebook @bedistinctlydifferent

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