Tourism was the country's biggest earner in 2010, just nudging ahead of dairy and putting $9.5 billion into the nation's coffers. And while New Zealand has rarely had to deal with image crises in the past, the recent quake in Christchurch and the ensuing media coverage will have a detrimental effect on visitor numbers. But, for all those patriotic souls out there, there are ways you can help to get the visitors coming back.
The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan made a very good point when he appeared on TVNZ's Breakfast recently: we need to tell tourists to keep coming to New Zealand despite the earthquake. Far too many potential international visitors will have gained the impression (from newspaper and television sound bites) that the whole of New Zealand is buried under half a tonne of rubble.
We need to correct those mistaken beliefs, fast. And you can play a vital role in spreading the word. Big or small, we can all do our bit.
1. Set aside an hour or two over the next week.
2. Invite a few of your colleagues/competitors in the local travel industry or representatives of your regional tourism marketing organisation where available, to come and chat about encouraging overseas visitors to keep coming to your part of New Zealand.
3. Your objective for this meeting is simple: you want to identify (a) the intermediaries who make bookings and recommendations for your region's attractions; and (b) the journalists, bloggers and other influencers who write about your offerings. We need to send them the clear and unmistakeable message that you (and most of New Zealand) are still very definitely open for business and that means identifying to whom should you be talking, and establishing who in your group knows them best.
Start with the list of intermediaries. That should be relatively easy to compile based on your existing relationships. Then it's time to identify the other influencers through whom you can spread the word. List relevant industry magazines, websites, blogs, social media outlets that reach your target constituency. Identify key commentators within each medium and determine who in your group has a useful relationship with each. For any commentator who no-one knows personally, choose a volunteer to make contact and build a relationship
Examine each commentator's group of followers, and assess its potential (measured in terms of size, relevance and importance to your own constituency). Analyse their influence relative to each other (numbers of followers or fans? Circulation/readership of their main communications vehicles?). Prioritise communications based on those numbers. Go after the most influential first.
4. Discuss the sorts of messages you might use to offset the effects of the earthquake coverage in your target markets. Here are a number of possible strategies that might be employed (drawn from the paper "PR and Advertising Strategies for Managing Tourist Destination Image Crises")
The “Crisis? What Crisis?” Approach
Some destinations choose to ignore the damage to their images and act as though there never was a crisis, in the hope that new events and the passing of time will cause tourists to forget. Thus Spain, for example, and in particular Barcelona and Madrid, chose to employ a “business as usual” approach following periodic terrorist attacks in 2002. In Turkey, a similar policy was introduced after the terror attacks of 2003–2004.
Employing a “Counter-Messages Offensive”
A destination can produce messages contrary to those that led to the crisis and the negative image associated with it, or in other words, launch a counter-messages offensive. There are two main methods to accomplish this strategy. The first includes specific references in public relations and advertising campaigns to the source of the negative components of the image, while the second attempts to reposition the destination. When the first possibility is employed, counter-messages are sent that are geared toward changing the negative components of the image so that the destination is no longer perceived as, for example, unsafe, dirty, or boring. If a destination is perceived as unsafe, advertisements can be used in which visitors say how much they enjoyed their visit and how safe they felt.
Acknowledging the Negative Image
Understandable as the urge to deny might be, sometimes acknowledging the negative image directly is the most effective course of action. This might be done during the crisis, or immediately after it has passed. A prime example is the approach taken by the London Tourist Board during England’s much-publicised outbreak of foot and mouth disease, which emphasised that the problem was only in rural areas.
Changing the Campaign’s Target Audience
An additional strategy that can be used by destination decision makers to deal with an image crisis is to change the target audience of their advertising and public relations campaigns. Concentrate instead on a different market segment that is less affected by the issues raised in the negative coverage.
6. Time to turn your chosen strategy into action. Design an effective influencer request (not just a press release). Some tips on effective pitching:
- Be relevant. Don't waste your time and theirs if what you're trying to tell them isn't something they already write about. Do your homework (reviewing their current work) before you pick up the phone or hit the keyboard.
- Be passionate. Make them understand that this really matters, to you, to us, to New Zealand.
- Make it fresh. If they're going to share news with their followers, they want it to be hot.
- Make it exclusive where you can. They won't write about it if it's already out everywhere (you may have to save the most exclusive angles for the influencers with the largest groups of followers).
7. End the meeting with agreement on who does what, when. Follow up to make sure it happens. Go for the Nike approach: Just Do It.