Opinion: Destinations in crisis need to make sure they don't fall off the radar

By Atta member Brighter's PR executive chairman Steve Dunne in Travel Weekly

What do you do when source markets decide that your destination is no longer safe for its citizens to travel to or holiday in?

And what if your own destination is perfectly safe but troubles in other countries in the region start to impact your visitor numbers in a negative way?

For many destinations, such as Tunisia, the “no go” order has already been issued by Western Governments keen to protect their citizens.

And I suspect that increasingly, the threshold of when Governments issue warnings on travel to countries will be lowered as a “better to err towards safety than allow even the tiniest risk” strategy starts to dominate thinking.

Looking at North Africa and across vast swathes of the Middle East and even to the eastern Mediterranean, we may soon see the same thing - overseas tourist numbers dropping over time due to real or perceived trouble.

It’s a tough spot to be in for anyone marketing a destination to a British audience that, arguably, isn’t as robust as it once was when it comes to terrorism and conflict. 

So if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office says no to travel is it game over for a destination? 

And if neighbours in the region are suffering from conflict should that mean an end to tourism to a specific country or countries?

From a marketing perspective the answer has to be no. 

The biggest danger facing a destination suffering this scenario is it slipping off the consumer’s radar, as it remains silent; that the damaged image of the destination is cemented by inaction and that the vacuum created by a lack of activity is filled by similar destinations in more peaceful regions of the World.

An old marketing adage says “don’t throw away the ladder when you’re in a hole” and that is exactly what destinations, and those responsible for marketing them, must not do.

Clearly, if there is a travel ban or a no travel advice warning issued then there is little that can be done short term. But the work has to start now for when circumstances change.

Security issues and geo-political challenges need to be tackled on a national and international Government level – but the travel and tourism sector has its role to play keeping the destination on the radar.

The strategy may have to be subtle in this case. Maintaining links with tour operators, airlines, hoteliers and travel agents is a must.

Travel agent training, social media activity, media and broadcaster briefings and even tactical sponsorship will keep the destination from not disappearing off the radar of the trade and consumer. 

When the ban is lifted the destination needs to be in position to grow visitor numbers from a zero base quickly.

And here it is niche markets that will help. Wellness, religious, adventure, sport, historical and bird watching to name a few could be the vanguard for reigniting the tourism trail to a destination again.

So it makes sense to build those contacts now, in preparation for better times ahead. 

And if the destination is located in a troubled region, but free of conflict itself, then it is even more imperative to remind the British consumer about why a visit should be on their list.

And here there are two strategies to deploy.

Firstly, develop those niche markets. They are more motivated than mainstream markets to travel to destinations that may have a question mark, hanging over them. Mainstream markets move more slowly and are more price sensitive, niche markets are far more robust. 

Secondly, the destination should reach out to those that know it and are passionate about it – from travel agents to product managers, from consumers to celebrities. 

Each should be encouraged to revisit the destination and bring a friend who has never been.

Trust is the big thing in the 21st century and someone you know and trust introducing you to a destination is very effective in generating visits and the all important word of mouth recommendation.

Obviously this means investment from the destination – but if tourism is six per-cent or more of your GDP then surely it makes sense to invest in keeping it alive?

So while these are truly exceptional and troublesome times for many destinations it does not necessarily mean the end of tourism for them.

Just a look around the globe will see big travel destinations today that were unthinkable for a holiday a generation ago.

The key is to continue marketing and promoting your destination to the consumer now, perhaps more subtly than before, perhaps in different ways to previously, but promoting it nonetheless.

For when the good times return it will always be tourism that will lead the way.