By Dr. Peter Tarlow
Last year, 2020, was not only the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also saw a rise in major storms and other natural disasters such as forest fires around the world. The year 2021 has taught us again that things can always get worse. In the United States, New Orleans and many tourism cities along the Gulf Coast were devastated by one of the world’s worse hurricanes. In the west forest fires closed down parts of world-famous Lake Tahoe. Other parts of the world also suffered In Europe Greece saw its worst forest fire season, and many European nations suffered from severe flooding.
These climatic events ought to be a wake-up call to everyone in the tourism industry. Mother nature has made it abundantly clear that travel & tourism is a very fragile industry. It is an industry that is often weather-dependent.
Often, tourism economies and profits are at the mercy of natural events. For example, Central America and the Caribbean are often at the mercy of the hurricane season. In the Pacific region these vast ocean-induced storms, often called typhoons, are equally as deadly. In other parts of the world, there are droughts and floods, earthquakes and tsunamis and these so-called natural disasters can do untold damage to the tourism industry. After a natural disaster for many in the tourism industry, recovery is painfully slow and with businesses facing bankruptcies and people losing jobs. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses are less able than before to recover easily from a natural disaster. Unfortunately, we cannot control the weather or climatic conditions, but it is a good idea to prepare for earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes/typhoons or forest fires before they happen.
To help you prepare Tourism Tidbits offers the following suggestions.
Develop plans before the disasters occur.
Waiting until a hurricane strikes is too late to begin to act. Develop a pre-emergency plan. This plan should be multi-faceted and should include caring for those who may be hurt or sick during the calamity, finding shelters for visitors, determining who is and is not staying at hotels, creating communication centers.
Think about a recovery business plan and marketing plan before disaster strikes.
Once you are in the midst of a natural disaster you will be too busy to develop a well throughout recovery plan. Take the time to plan when things are less chaotic and you have the patience and time to interact with others such as fire departments, police departments, health officials, and experts in emergency management. Get to know these people by name and make sure that they know who you are.
Create good working relationships between private businesses and government agencies.
Before a disaster strikes, make sure to know the names of government officials to whom you may need to turn. Go over your plans with these people and get their input prior to the crisis.
Do not forget that disasters are often opportunities for crime.
Make sure that the police department is part of the disaster plan, not only from the perspective of law enforcement but also from the perspective of public relations and economic recovery. What your police department says and how it acts toward visitors may impact your recovery and local tourism industry for years to come.
Develop good communication between first responder agencies.
Many tourism professionals simply assume that there are good working relationships between various federal, state, provincial or local disaster management agencies. Often this is not the case. Interagency noncooperation reflects poorly on your tourism business or community. For example, Furthermore, most police agencies are not trained in tourism-oriented policing and have no idea as to how to handle the special needs of the tourism industry during times of crisis.
Develop a protocol for addressing classified information.
For example, in case of emergency, will hotels cooperate on allowing the names of guests to be released? If so, under what circumstances? When should health records be released and what is the responsibility of the local tourism industry regarding privacy versus public health issues?
Develop security clearance protocols.
During times of disasters, all sorts of legal clearances may be needed. Once the disaster has occurred, it is too late to begin to sort out legal issues. Develop a list now and obtain the necessary clearances during periods of calm. In a like manner, go over with your public health people what policies will be in place if a policy of triage should have to be implemented.
In this ongoing pandemic world, it is essential that local tourism agencies develop visitor public health policies and publicize them.
In case of flooding, earthquakes or other natural disasters all sorts of new problems may arise. Visitors may have lost medication and not be able to obtain replacements, some people may not want particular medical problems to become part of the public record. Visitors will have higher levels of anxiety than if they had been at home and we may expect to see greater levels of stress-induced medical problems.
Know or have a plan if your tourism industry covers a regional or multi-jurisdictional area.
Whenever possible, develop a code of conduct and a working relationship between agencies, hotels, restaurants, emergency shelters, and other relief agencies that cross city, county, provincial or state boundaries.
Make sure that you have good toll-free telephone or Internet service and publicize where visitors can go to use these services in case of blackouts.
Visitors will want to call out and their loved ones will want to call them. As soon as possible, establish some form of free communication. Visitors will never forget this act of hospitality.
Begin long-term tourism recovery programs immediately.
These long-term programs should go far beyond simply marketing the area or providing lower prices. The program should also include such things as working with mental health professionals and establishing support facilities for visitors who happen to be survivors. When the visitor leaves the impacted area, he/she will continue to suffer from the natural disaster. Get names, email addresses and telephone numbers and make sure that your visitors receive follow-up calls. These calls should never sell anything but simply let visitors know that your agency cares about them.