Destination Managers: Improve Internal Relationships Before Your Next Crisis

Hands-in-a-tug-of-war-to-show-internal-conflictAt a recent conference on crisis communications, a participant stopped me and asked this question:  What do you do when your leadership is not communicating?  WHAT? Her real question was this: during a recent crisis in her town, the city leaders were not communicating to the tourism pros in town, yet the reputation of that destination was at stake due to national media coverage and social media chatter.

Most of the conference participants were horrified to hear her story, but it is not uncommon. There are many organizations that, when faced with a crisis, go somewhere inside their heads and forget key stakeholders. They are so focused on what’s happening externally, that they don’t stop to consider key internal stakeholders.

She wanted a quick answer, but I honestly don’t think there is one. The answer is to improve those internal relationships before you need them the next time. Here are three things you can do to improve those relationships.

First, reach out to those who you will need in your next crisis. What does this mean?  This could be the fire chief, the police chief, the city manager, the head of a particular city department or it could be the hotel across the street or your competitor down the road.  Each one of those organizations or departments may be able to help you –either in front of the camera — or behind the scenes — in your next crisis.  Buy them a coffee and find out how you can better work together.

Second, find out what kinds of internal communications systems might increase the speed and clarity of your internal communication.  Can you launch a private channel like Yammer or a group text program to keep internal stakeholders posted during that time? Think about ways of working and test them out when things are quiet.

Finally, is it time for a drill? Once you’ve opened the lines of communication, maybe the only way to find out how you might work better together is to test it with a tabletop drill. Think of a likely scenario that would affect your destination’s reputation, but one that might not be managed by you. A weather crises is a likely scenario. You will no doubt learn about each other’s “ways of working” and know what you will need to do next time.

Internal miscommunication is a common problem for destination managers, especially because they may only be involved on the periphery of an actual crisis. Yet, the best way to communicate that a destination is open for business and ready to greet visitors is for all agencies to work together to improve their crisis response. It can be done. All good relationships take time, and better internal relationships are certainly worth it.

Travel Takeaways — Mike Walsh at TTIA Summit

Suitcase, ready for travel

Travel Takeaway

It’s easy to get lost in conflicting advice when you attend conferences.

I’ve been to one too many conferences in which I came away with a mere checklist of tactics which I was told to get….right now.  Lately, the list includes social media, mobile web sites and integration. All those things are important to those of us who are embedded in the travel industry.

In order to become influential in the next ten years in the way Walt Disney was influential in the 1960s, then a different line of thinking is in order.

At the recent Texas Travel Industry Summit, one speaker stood out because he helped us to elevate our thinking beyond room nights and attraction attendance.  Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, might actually be from the future. He takes an anthropological approach to identifying trends and consumer behavior. His street cred is sky high and his view is global in a way that few in our industry can claim.  Read more about him here.

Walsh’s presentation was like a bolt of lightning, delivering nuggets about the future of travel too numerous to mention in one blog post.  Three of his points really resonated with me.

Stop looking at individual trips and start looking at the travel experience life cycle.

We used to call it repeat business, then we called it loyalty programs, but Walsh’s advice is to look beyond individual experiences. Can you weave your organization, destination or attraction into the consumer’s life cycle by offering experiences that transcend individual purchases?

Start looking ten years ahead by listening to teenagers now.

Most focus groups used by travel organizations look at their current consumers, usually women in the 25-45 age range.  These are the current travel decision-makers. But in order to offer products and services for the next generation of decision makers, we need to start listening to their needs, habits and interests today.

Disruptive technology has changed the way we process information.

Like it or not, the long-term effects of multi-tasking and “hummingbird” searching is changing the way we think and the way we make decisions.  As travel organizations, we need to be poised to capitalize on spontaneous travel decisions and more circuitous decision-making.  This should, in essence, change the way we approach marketing and communications plans.

Walsh’s presentation liberally hinted that the travel industry is about to reach a tipping point. Will your travel organization be ready?