New York Daily News
New York Daily News
What does it take for a country to rebound from a horror like the Mumbai terrorist attacks? How can a destination regain the trust of tourists after such horrifying events?
These are key questions that Indian tourism officials are pondering in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks last week. If tourism takes a blow, so does the Indian economy.
Because it's hard to predict how travelers will react to such incidents - most of the time, of course, it hurts tourism, though there are exceptions to this rule such as after the 2004 Madrid bombings when U.S travel to Spain increased 8 percent in the year afterwards - there is no band-aid, fix-all solution about how to rebound from the attacks.
However, most experts do agree on a few principles of what to do post-incident. Here's what they say the Indian government and tourism officials should do to reassure tourists that it's OK to travel to India:
Focus on safety first
An area's first goal is safety. First, the government must make sure that the area is actually safe, and then make sure people know about what has been done to make the region safe again.
"You should address the safety conditions first and then you should reassure the traveling public about the safety factors in place" said Charlotte Novom, President of Novom Marketing, a leading PR agency with international tourism and hospitality clients.
Constant communication in the weeks following the incident
It is important that the government communicates with the public frequently so people know what's going on, an official who worked with Guiliani said.
In the wake of September 11, 2001, Guiliani's campaign held frequent press conferences and made numerous public service announcements to let the world know what was happening and what the government was doing to ensure safety.
"People need up-to-date information on how to stay safe," said Agnes Huff, President and CEO of Agnes Huff Communications Group, a leading tourism and travel PR agency that manages campaigns for several international airlines and tourism destinations
Get the timing right
It may seem obvious, but you can't push tourism immediately. You need to wait until the immediate situation is under control and the region is safe and stabilized.
"Allow the situation to conclude and to fade from the top media spotlight for an appropriate period of time. In terrorist attacks, there is the usual grieving process when it is appropriate to be quiet and respectful," said Huff.
"Now is not the time to push. You can't be insensitive. Let the sentiment settle," said Seema Kendra, CEO of Lexicon Communication Consultants, an India-based communications firm that handles tourism clients.
Government, tourism agencies and others need to work together to pool resources and create a united front and message. The affected region should reach out to other nations who have been hit by terrorist attacks for advice and information.
Highlight people's motivations for traveling to the region
Mumbai has many compelling reasons for tourism. Once the region is out of crisis mode and safety issues have been addressed, it is important that a strategic, positive messaging campaign be put in place to address travel to the region.
"Redirect your message to why people travel to the destination in the first place, whether it's beauty, arts, culture, business or something else," Novom said.
Huff stated that "messages should include Mumbai’s international reputation, financial center, cultural heritage, vast resources and its global appeal for business and tourism. Do not keep bringing up the terror attacks in PR outreach. Focus on the positive moving forward."
For example, in the wake of September 11, 2001, New York launched the "Miracle in New York" ad campaign, which featured notable New Yorkers like Barbara Walters and Woody Allen doing beloved activities that one could only do in New York. The ads received international recognition and acclaim.
Give it time
Destinations do not rebound overnight. Novum said it may take two years or more to fully rebound from such an attack.
Abraham Pizam, dean of the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at University of Central Florida, believes the impact of the Mumbai attacks on American tourists may be long-lasting, in part because events unfolded over several days when people were home for the holidays, watching the TV footage over and over.