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Khao Lak – Thailand
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami dramatically left Khao Lak helpless, weak and exposed the region’s vulnerability. The community was left affected both socially and economically. Khao Lak is a fairly new coastal region that had grown as a result of an increase in tourists visiting Thailand. It had only 100 rooms in 1996, but December of 2004 saw it has slightly more than 5,300 rooms. The region’s socio-environmental system was also greatly affected leaving it more vulnerable to shocks (Calgaro and Lloyd, 2008, 289).
Calgaro and Lloyd (2008, 288) argue that disasters also bring change or are rather catalysts for change “Reflecting the complex nature of vulnerability, the presentation of the causal factors is neither simple nor linear; the factors feed into and off each other.” Decisions made by police agencies, emergency services, as well as the departments of interior, health, consumer affairs, judiciary, foreign affairs, and civil defense have a great influence on how a crisis involving tourists is managed. Start a “Safety and Security working group to bring these partners together on a regular basis to discuss tourism” (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 15). For instance, in South Africa, “the Tourism Safety Task Group is made up of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the national police, the tourism board (SATOUR), the Tourism Business Council, the Department of Foreign Affairs and nine provincial tourism departments” (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 631).
In all these cases the most outstanding finding that was discovered especially among tourists in these areas (Khao Lak – Thailand, Arugam Bay – Sri Lanka) was a surprise and lack of previous information that a tsunami could occur along with its suddenness and destructive power (Calgaro and Lloyd, 2008). The vulnerability exposed by these areas was the surprise with which the tsunami struck compounded with a lack of knowledge made the aftermath even more tragic (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 640). This was not helped in any way by the numerous false information being passed around which as a result made any effort at rescue be more difficult than it should have been.
The potential destructive power of the sea was so profound and for that reason, Calgaro and Lloyd have used a conceptual structure based on Turner et al.’s (2003) framework to explore the causal factors that have contributed respectively to the exposure, sensitivity, and resilience of the Khao Lak community to the tsunami (Calgaro and Lloyd 2008, 302). Woven throughout the analysis are elucidations into how these factors are socially constructed and reinforced by economic development processes, uneven access to resources, weak governance, and the competing agendas of key stakeholders (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 63). The connections between sustainable tourism and disaster vulnerability, the role of tourists in disasters, and disaster risk reduction education. Because they are drawn from mainly the experiences of one tsunami disaster, they might not be universally applicable to all coastal zones or for all possible disasters (Swarbrooke 1999, 59; Calgaro and Lloyd 2008, 301; Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 639).
Most of the issues being raised brought out about the vulnerability exposed and the weakness of these beachfront to the effects and aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, were from interviews carried out among the tourists. It is impossible to quantify accurately the impact of the tsunami on the local tourism sector. Because of tax implications, most of the establishments kept no occupancy data or reported revenues (Beirman 2006, 7). Similarly, there are no data on arrivals or on revenues (Calgaro and Lloyd 2008, 305). A survey of owners and entrepreneurs (unpublished data), though, shows that the 325 rooms in nearly 50 bungalows, hotels, small guesthouses, and villas in pre-tsunami Arugam Bay were full to capacity during the surf season. While some hoteliers have other sources of income, the majority, according to the survey, depend on tourism for their income.
Role of media in creating perceptions of destinations
A crisis in most cases is usually an unexpected happening and the capability and ability of relevant bodies and organizations to recover from it are paramount for sustenance. The role the media plays in recovering from a crisis is very important and profound in creating perceptions of destinations among tourists during and immediately after a crisis (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 641). The tourism sector/industry all around the world has been cast in a shadow of dark clouds from horrific terrorist acts, natural disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and so forth; both manmade and natural) (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 642).
A crisis entails unfavorable situations that affect the resources making them inadequate to cope with the situation (Beirman 2006, 10). The occurrence of crisis can lead to either a positive outcome or negative ones depending on the magnitude of the crisis, the organization’s crisis management system, as well as the nature of organizational behavior at the period of the crisis (Beirman 2006, 15).
This has greatly called to attention a need that is so imperative to put in place proper and effective crisis management structures and policies. And as a result of this, the media plays a vital and core role in creating positive perceptions among tourists during and immediately after a crisis has occurred and the following recovery period. The tourist sector is mostly regarded as a happy and carefree industry (Talwar 2006, 643).
To put it simply, a crisis is an event that puts traveler confidence in doubt, it interferes with the running and ability of the tourism sector to run/operate smoothly. Natural calamities, for example, “floods, hurricanes, fires or volcanic eruptions sometimes do more harm to the attractiveness of a destination than to the infrastructure itself. Civil unrests, accidents, criminal activities and diseases damage the image of the strongest destinations” (Beirman 2006, 14). At the same time, economic reasons, like immediate change in exchange rates can also lead to tourism crises. The perception or profile of tourists is usually determined by first and foremost the media, emergency services, and tourist bookers (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 633).
Proper crisis management approaches are required to be able to retain the travelers’ and the travel industry’s confidence and to reduce the negative impacts of crises on the destination. Strategies/techniques employed in managing negative perceptions arising from a crisis or disaster are more or less similar (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 102). Communication is the core element of this and this highlights the need for the media to be active (Beirman 2006, 15). Communication should be based on honesty and transparency which hold the key in restoring confidence in a traveler and sufficient crisis management. The media should ensure that good communication is backed up by promotional techniques, safety, and security assurances, and market research (Calgaro and Lloyd 2008, 306).
The globalization of the media can be used as an advantage but on the other hand, negative dissemination of information and passing of negative perceptions can rapidly eat away at the marketability of the tourist destination. This can turn out more badly than the crisis that hit it. Media staff should be able to understand that the event that follows a crisis is in itself a tourism crisis and its escalation or control wholly depends on information obtained from the media. Negative information will result in a ruined image. In spite of the economic importance of tourism, “post-disaster recovery efforts in this sector are often overlooked by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which focus on more traditional livelihoods such as agriculture or fishing” (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 86).
The media should formulate a strategy that will tackle the crisis effectively and with a purpose. It should have in place a strategy to utilize before a crisis, during the actual crisis, and immediately after the situation. These three stages have very diverse dynamics in play that affect the mind of the traveler lowering confidence (Beirman, 2006). Before the crisis, the media should prepare a crisis management plan, designate spokespersons, establish press and communications departments, develop a database of partners in the travel trade, improve communication of security issues with tourists, and establish strong contacts with key partners in the private sector. All this places them and emergency services in readiness to deal with any arising situation (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 67).
During the crisis, the dynamics change and the setup and preparation that were done before the crisis now comes into play. Its effectiveness depends on the focus and importance accorded to the preparations before the crisis (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 77; (Beirman 2006, 16). Honesty and transparency are paramount in restoring trust, imposing a news blackout is a sure way of creating panic, media staff and all relevant bodies during a crisis should act fast as news spreads very fast, while reporting on the events keep in mind to remember the victims as reporting on the economic crisis comes off as insensitive (Bhatia 2006, 304). The media should avoid giving speculations and categorical reassurances. Another technique is to put the crisis into context and use the media to highlight the positives. It is also important to liaise with other media sources and outlets to get factual and true information out (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 63).
The period immediately after a crisis is the most crucial moment. The tourist destination’s image can be utterly destroyed by negative information or it can be repaired and confidence restored depending on how it is handled. It is important for the positives to be constantly highlighted through media pro-activeness, and create a global campaign as seen when hurricane Katrina struck or the Asian tsunami of 26 December 2004 (Robinson and Jarvie 2008, 636). The most effective technique of this stage would be to promote the destination more vigorously than before by creating new niche market products. The packages should be tailor-made targeting the most conservative market segments, like golf, skiing, gaming activities, cultural center, honeymoon, and so forth. Special offers/packages can also be promoted to sell the destination once again (Calgaro and Lloyd 2008, 295).
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Based on the example of North East Victoria, there is a need to diversify products so as to appeal to larger and newer markets (Cioccioa and Michael 2005, 63). This is a very imperative and significant stage as the damage brought about by a crisis whether natural or manmade lingers long in the minds of probable tourists even when the media moves on quickly and embarks on new stories and issues. The recovery demands an amplification of efforts than what was being previously done especially on issues dealing with communication and market promotion (Bhatia 2006, 11).
The tourism industry puts forward an impasse. It is a happy and carefree industry but yet very vulnerable to external non-controllable events especially nature related. These include tsunamis (for example the Asian tsunami of 2004), earthquakes, bush fires (northeastern Victoria) volcanic eruptions, and so forth. For the local tourism sector, it is very devastating as it is what sustains and develops a particular region or country as is the case for Khao Lak which saw rapid growth between 1996 and 2004. Small communities that wholly depend on business brought about by tourists end up devastated in cases of crisis that affect tourist perceptions. Therefore there is a strong need for all players to create, develop, and put in place efficient and effective strategies that are able to manage a crisis in case one arises. The loss of infrastructure brought about by a crisis such as the Asian tsunami and negative information on the media results in long-term irrevocable damage to a region’s image among tourists. It is the work of the media and relevant authorities to work to restore a positive image and confidence among tourists.
Beirman, D., 2006. Best Education Network Think Tank V Keynote Address: “Marketing Tourism Destinations From Crisis To Recovery”. Tourism Review International, 10 (2008), p. 7–16.
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