Crisis PR: why the turtle approach won’t work

The social paroxysms roiling Britain seem to have upended the country's tourism czars historically cool-under-fire response mechanism. Visit Britain, the country's official tourism promotion agency, has unfortunately suspended digital activity on the BBC's international news site. The program is a part of its £100m 'You're Invited' campaign and the mandarins at Visit Britian have decided that the ads are "no longer appropriate". With enormous sums at stake (London is expecting 400,000 visitors for the 2012 Olympics in August while Britain's annual overseas visitation is at about 30 million and the tourism industry contributes nearly 9 per cent of its GDP).

Not disseminating information is akin to pulling back into a shell and is arguably one of the worst responses to a major crisis. Efective and continual communications across multiple channels ought to be de-rigueur. The playbook to use should have been from the responses to past crises such as the (somewhat overstated) fear of foot-and-mouth disease in early 2001 and mad cow disease a couple of decades ago. In the case of the former, the country pulled out all stops and citizens (royal and plebeian) in an effort to project an image of business as usual including visits by members of the royal family around the country.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks showcased the US and New York's handling of the crisis when tourism numbers rebounded within a matter of weeks. More recently, the environmental disaster brought about by the BP oil spill was countered effectively by regional and federal responses including a public swim by the US president last year in the Gulf of Mexico with the implicit message that the waters were safe again for holiday frolicking. Whether that effort inspired regular tourists to return or not may be a matter of political debate but, a year later, the numbers unambiguously point to public confidence in the viability of tourism infrastructure off the gulf coast.

The 21st century is proving to be no less, if not worse, than the last one in terms of unrelenting crises. The responses of jurisdictions like corporations can make or break the finances of businesses, small and large with effects that reverberate across borders. A decline in tourism to Britain will, without doubt, redound negatively to the US and many other countries as the UK consumer pulls back in response to a straitened wallet brought on by a decline in spending by tourists. It can't hurt for others to pitch in and visit the UK now when it matters most. Visit Britain too ought to spread the message that the disruption brought about by vandals does not diminsh the many attractions that remain safely open for tourists.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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