Disaster affects all of us. Violent protests in the streets of Hong Kong and Chile, the wildfires in Australia, and the outbreak of COVID-19 (formerly coronavirus) in China have caused widespread death and destruction but they all have one thing in common. These events are detrimental to not only the people who live in these areas but they all share one thing – an economical knock-on effect.
These events have a proven impact on the people who live and operate there, as nearly 80% of Australians were affected in one way or another during the bushfires. Whether that would be physically or financially, through friends or family, or the effects of smoke. People have lost their lives, had homes and businesses physically or financially destroyed, and the overall country’s economy suffered.
According to Australian government estimates, the country’s $152 billion tourism industry will take a $4.5 billion hit because of the bushfires. Bali has taken a blow since the COVID-19 outbreak in China, with more than 40,000 room bookings cancelled and 20,000 people cancelling their visits to the island. The violent anti-government protests that began in Hong Kong in 2019 have seen tourism numbers fall by 40%, and these numbers are continuing to decline.
So how do these situations affect the tourism industry?
If you’re not in the affected country, you are only seeing what news outlets and social media allow you to see. Images of the fires raging through Australia were beamed across the world, with videos of people running into the ocean to escape the oncoming flames, and koalas with scorched fur being given water were shared millions of times.
These images and videos are hard to escape from and, in turn, put that entire area on a sinking economic ship. Put yourself in an Australian tour operator’s shoes for a moment. You may have been lucky enough to be in an area untouched by the wildfires in Australia and were 100% safe. Tourists don’t know that though. The issue with the images, articles and videos flying around and being viewed by millions is that it will no doubt cause anxiety and uncertainty. This will likely cause potential tourists to change or cancel bookings, or not even come at all.
Some countries are relying on the government to try and attract tourists again. Australia announced a $76-million international and domestic media blitz to counter the negative press saying that the country is unsafe to visit. “These bushfires have dealt the biggest reputational blow to our tourism industry that it has ever faced internationally,” said Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison when announcing his government’s plan. “My message to anyone thinking about a holiday — from here or overseas — is that Australia’s towns and our incredible parks and beaches are open for business and they need your help.”
Aside from the countries’ tourist boards helping troubled areas, some tour operators have taken a more controversial route to maintain their income. An Airbnb tour going by the name ‘Live the Revolution’ appeared during some of the protests in Chile. The tour visited one of the main squares in Santiago where the protests had been taking place and provided guests with protective eye goggles and a bottle of water — for the price of 19,000 CLP (roughly $23 USD). It was being promoted on the Airbnb Experiences section but was swiftly taken down due to a wave of criticism on social media.
So what could you do?
If you’re in an area that is experiencing a hard time, there are a few things you can try to bring customers back. Think very carefully about your advertising and marketing activities and adjust them accordingly. People may be seeing and reading content that reflects the area in a negative light, but you want to make it known that your area is safe and operating as normal.
Word your posts to calm those with anxiety and on the edge of cancelling a trip. Monitor your competitors regularly and see what they are posting to combat the problem. They may be a rival but if the country is being affected, it will impact everyone living there — perhaps consider teaming up.
You can also go to local online boards and Facebook pages and explain that you are running as normal, and try to encourage people to visit the region. People who have booked a trip months in advance will be looking for people who live in the troubled area for their views and opinions, and if they see you are operating as normal etc. it should help to extinguish some fear and anxiety.
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