Opinions Updates

Disaster PR: Destination branding in times of crisis

American Express GBT’s Milton Rivera says proactive communication is the best way to overcome negative perception. 

The world is more accustomed to disruption than it was even a few decades ago. In a one-off crisis, it is crucial to have strategically planned and executed communication to react to uncertainty. The biggest question both event attendees and organisers have in the wake of a crisis is the context around the situation and how it will be resolved. 

In the past, we’ve seen rushed communications plans result in either an overload of information or lack of communication which creates confusion for attendees. 

Having strategically designed communications with a clear goal is key in demonstrating to potential visitors that you’ve understood what’s happened in the past and what’s being implemented to prevent it happening in the future. 

In regard to an ongoing issue where no clear resolution exists, it’s more about risk mitigation, steering clients around potential risks and supporting with multiple contingency plans, along with education around what are often complex and multifaceted issues. 

Through effective education, transparency and comprehensive risk mitigation, we can help make people who are uncomfortable more comfortable. 

Cities that react at speed with practical and authentic solutions, and effectively communicate these solutions following an event, experience quicker recovery times. The pre-existing conditions and how established cities are prior to a crisis determine their viability as a destination following an incident. London, Paris and New York City are top-tier business destinations whereas emerging destinations that are not as established are more impacted by perceptions of risk. 

Restoring confidence involves a thorough and coordinated response from all stakeholders across industry, government and services. Synchronisation of all stakeholders allows markets to develop a cross-agency approach — and brand — through which all bodies can align on a strategy and communications plan to bring people back. 

Instances where a cross-agency approach has worked well has seen the tourist authority work with hotels and national airlines, and with destination management companies to work together to prove the end-to-end service has been restored. This takes carefully planned and coordinated communication. 

As well as this, outreach from these agencies is key in regaining trust. Representatives from affected markets should meet with leading meeting and events (M&E) players from the largest inbound countries so as to demonstrate how they can provide value in hosting their M&E activity. Being proactive in rebuilding relationships with your strong inbound destinations will be hugely beneficial in staying top of mind for M&E. 

Milton Rivera is vice president, global business development & strategy at American Express Global Business Travel.