5 Takeaways from the Tourism Crisis Workshop

Ian Henderson Presents during the Tourism Crisis Management Leadership Workshop in Gainesville, Oct. 19 & 20, 2010opens IMAGE file
Ian Henderson Presents during the Tourism Crisis Management Leadership Workshop in Gainesville, Oct. 19 & 20, 2010

Last week I attended the opens in a new windowTourism Crisis Management Leadership Workshop in Gainesville, Fla., coordinated by the University of Florida’s Tourism Crisis Management Institute. To sum up the workshop, “wow”. Amazing information was packed into a day-and-a-half of presentations by national and international tourism leaders. All of the presenters provided lessons learned from first-hand accounts and sharing what worked and what didn’t.

Although I could write on and on, I don’t want to spoil it for those attending next year’s workshop in Jordan. Yup. The country of Jordan. Why couldn’t I be attending that one? Anyway, here are my five takeaways from the Tourism Crisis Workshop.

A Crisis Knows No Address. The primary key in planning for a crisis is to remember a crisis can come in many forms. Living in Florida, we primarily just think of preparing for a hurricane but from my experience in the Florida tourism industry, in addition to dealing with hurricanes I have also dealt with the recent Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, chlorine gas leak and death of staff and guests. A crisis can be natural or man-made and no place is immune. Think of possible scenarios when planning.

Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara, Mexicoopens IMAGE file
Mural by Jose Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara, Mexico

Have a Plan then Share. This may seem logical but sometimes only the top managers have access to the plan and they aren’t always available. There were multiple occasions when living and working in the Everglades when a crisis occurred and Peter (my former husband and general manager of the resort) was out of town. We managed to get by but his knowledge on site would have been useful. With his passing, I know he took a lot of knowledge with him, too. Always keep a hard copy of the crisis plan, too, because accessibility to a computer during a crisis may be limited or nonexistent.

Develop Staff, Just Don’t Train Them. Training is important so people know how to do their jobs but development grows people. Humans are a valuable and important resource, especially in the tourism industry. Let staff become involved and show appreciation. In return, they will take pride and ownership in their duties which guests and customers will see. Happy employees mean happy guests. And happy guests mean loyal guests.

2005's Hurricane Katrina's Impact on Flamingo Lodge & Marina, Everglades National Parkopens IMAGE file
Employee Housing. 2005's Hurricane Katrina's Impact on Flamingo Lodge & Marina, Everglades National Park

Human Emotions Should Come First. It’s important to remember that staff have lives outside of work, even the single, un-married ones (hint, hint). During a crisis, remember to take care of staff first and watch for their well being during and after the event. Be mindful of the people impacted by the crisis. An example was given of a family member killed while on vacation in Hawaii. The tourism office did all they could to accommodate the grieving family. When it came time for the press conference, the tourism office gave them the okay to bash the state and blame them for the death of their family member but instead, the family thanked the tourism office for all they had done.

Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park, Condemmed Following Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. Photo Taken in 2008.opens IMAGE file
Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park, Condemned Following Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. Photo Taken in 2008.

Tourism is an Economic Engine. Travel is still viewed as a frivolous expense and it does not help the industry when politicians reduce their travel or worse, they discourage others from traveling, such as when opens in a new windowP opens in a new windowresident Obama criticized corporations meeting in Las Vegas. Or, many opens in a new windowmeetings are boycotting Arizona because of the immigration law.

You know what happens when boycotting a destination? Yes, reduction in taxes generated but people are put out of work. A front desk worker will be laid off because fewer people are checking into a hotel which also means a housekeeper is laid off. Don’t forget about the taxi driver who no longer has a job because no one’s flying in but the food service company and local baker are out of jobs, too, because fewer people are dining in restaurants.

When boycotting a destination it not only makes a statement to the government but also hurts those directly and indirectly employed by the tourism industry. In the state of Florida, opens in a new windowmore than one million people are employed in the tourism industry. That’s a huge industry!

While tourism has the direct benefits, the indirect and often overlooked benefits are the taxes it generates. This is especially important in Florida, we don’t have state income tax. In fact, in Charlotte County, where I live, tourism saves taxpayers $295 annually. Especially in these times, that’s a significant savings.

Creating a Crisis Management Plan
UF’s Tourism Crisis Management Institute offers intensive online courses to create crisis management plans for members of the tourism sector. One for DMOs begins in Feb. 2011. opens in a new windowLearn more about the Institute here.

2005's Hurricane Katrina's Impact on Flamingo Lodge & Marina, Everglades National Parkopens IMAGE file
2005's Hurricane Katrina's Impact on Flamingo Lodge & Marina, Everglades National Park

Resources for Members of the Travel Industry
Here are some free crisis management resources available to members of the travel industry.

Power of Travel Coalition
Members of the tourism industry can join this grassroots organization to become a voice to laud the value of travel. opens in a new windowwww.travelcoalition.org

Department of Homeland Security Provides Training for the Hospitality Industry
The Office of Infrastructure Protection offers free training materials for members of the tourism industry. These include training videos and crisis management plans for some sectors of the industry including retail, sporting venues and hotel and lodging. Find the free information here: opens in a new windowwww.dhs.gov/cfsector

United Nations World Tourism Organization
UNWTO offers this site as a resource for businesses in the tourism industry. Tools provide assistance in creating crisis plans. Visit: opens in a new windowWhatabout.travel

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Jenn

Jennifer A. Huber is an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. The unexpected death of her former husband in 2008 reminded her how short life is. His passing was a catalyst for sharing her experiences with the goal of inspiring and empowering others to travel solo. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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