Hawaii Tourism: Lessons learned from a false alarm

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Once again, the tourism industry has had to face multiple crises not of its own making. Tourism officials this winter have had to deal with everything from an intense flu season to all sorts of political shenanigans.  No matter what the crisis is, once it occurs those of us in the tourism industry have to find ways confronting the crisis and have to help our customers and guests to deal with the problems

A perfect example is what happened in the State of Hawaii this past week.  The Hawaiian tourism industry did not expect that it would have to deal with a false alarm regarding a potential ballistic missile attack. Unfortunately, on January 13th that is exactly what happened and the Hawaiian tourism industry and the people of Hawaii had to deal with the fact that at least for a short time fear spread over their islands.  It should be noted that this false alarm was a mistake, Hawaii is a safe place to visit, and within a short time, things were completely back to normal.

The Hawaiian experience is a good example of the need for crisis preparation and management and provides the entire tourism industry with lessons to be learned.  Here are some of the lessons that all of us can take away from this false alarm, that although it occurred in Hawaii could have just as easily have occurred in any other part of the world.

Fortunately the announcement that a ballistic missile was head to Hawaii was a false alarm.  Although there will be people blamed and a good deal of soul searching, we can take this false alarm as a wake-up call not only for Hawaii but for the Western world at large.

Here are some of the lessons that are important not only for the tourism industry but for the world at large.

-The false alarm should remind everyone in tourism just how vulnerable is the tourism industry. Tourism requires peace and it takes very little to create a crisis. Tourism officials need to take precautions before a crisis rather than seeking to repair the damage after the crisis.

– What happened in Hawaii could have happened anywhere. In today’s world of intercontinental ballistic missiles there is virtually no place that is off-limits. Europeans are vulnerable to missiles from the Middle East and North America and Asia to missiles from the Asian pacific.  In those areas where missile attacks are still not a problem, there are other challenges such as weather related and crime related issues.  To believe that one security is another person’s problem is to live in a false paradise.  Tourism’s job is to create real paradises and not false paradises.

Do not blame; fix it with a smile! We often spend so much time blaming each other that we forget our customers are less interested in who is to blame than who is going to fix the problem.  Try to figure out what you can do to turn a negative situation into a positive one.  Make people appreciate the fact that tourism is all about caring and taking care of each other.  A small bit of compassion and what the Hawaiians call “aloha” goes a long way to dissipate frustration, fear, and anger.

-Make sure that your tourism officials have open lines of communication to critical security people. It is incumbent on the tourism industry not only to have accurate and current information but also to develop methods to communicate this information to visitors and tourism employees.  In case of emergency tourism professionals should know where to send guests, what is critical information to give to guests and how to take charge of a situation in a professional manner.

Help others to get over anger.  When a crisis hits, and in tourism even a minor crisis is often viewed as a crisis, first listen to the “victim”.  Then understand that anger is a normal first reaction but we in the tourism industry show we care, most people’s anger will fade away and they will remember how hard you tried to fix the problem.  No matter what the problem may be, do not panic.  The tourism staff is the professionals and the way the staff functions in any crisis sets the tone for the entire industry.

– Tourism dependent economies must do more than simply market. Tourists and visitors need extra help and protection. Visitors are paying us to take care of them. They may have arrived by air and have no local transportation, do not have the same social network that they would have were they at home, have a tendency to panic more quickly and may not speak the local language.  It is for this reason that having a TOPPs (tourism oriented police and protection service) unit is so important.  Both law enforcement and private security need special training when it come to caring for and protecting the visitor industry.

– The false alarm ought to remind all of us that security has multiple components.  There is both a human side of security and a physical side. On the physical side we need to ask questions such as:  how will hotels shelter our visitors?  Do our places of lodging have adequate water and food supplies?  What medications do we have in each hotel? What translation services do we offer?  On the human side we need to be thinking about such challenges as: how we will contact local medical facilities, and how will visitors communicate with loved ones outside of the danger area?  Good risk management requires that we list all potential problems and then think through solutions.

– We have to take care of our employees too.  We cannot forget that those people employed in tourism are also real people who must care for their loved ones and friends.  In case of emergency will these people be able to show up for work?  Have we made provisions to take care of their families so that they are free to care for our visitors?  Have we in the tourism industry created a plan to care for our employees in case they become sick en masse?

-Make sure that your tourism officials have open lines of communication to critical security people. It is incumbent on the tourism industry not only to have accurate and current information but also to develop methods to communicate this information to visitors and tourism employees.  In case of emergency tourism professionals should know where to send guests, what is critical information to give to guests and how to take charge of a situation in a professional manner.

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Dr. Peter Tarlow is president of Tourism & More Inc.  He can be contacted via email at [email protected] and through his website at oourismandmore.com

 

 

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Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.