The COVID-19 crisis has plunged the global travel and tourism sector into a deep freeze.
Medical tourism and health related travel around the world have stopped. Airline flights have fallen dramatically.
While many travel destinations and healthcare providers are wondering, “When will business return?”, a better question to ask is, “What should I do now?” Effective crisis communication deepens customer engagement, improves your brand, and protects your staff relationships. Ensure that these benefits are in place for when it is time to get back to work.
Crisis Communications: What to say
The worst thing to do in a crisis is to do nothing. This principle applies to destinations (destination management organizations, travel and tourism agencies, tourism boards, etc.) as well as health providers (wellness, dental, hospitals and other clinics). Your audiences – customers, consumers, and intermediaries – should find relevant information about the pandemic through you and your organization. For example, put helpful resources from legitimate authorities on your website that explain what is happening, provide useful links, and inspirational stories about how people are responding coping. This type of authoritative and helpful information creates positive relationships among you, your brand, and your audiences.
Information and links to authoritative resources is “passive”; it would be accessed only by people who visit your website. A more “active” approach is to push messages to your audiences through emails and social media channels. These messages should be useful to your audiences and reflect the personality of your brand. For example, a hospital or clinic should post helpful tips and supportive messages for their staff (“healthcare heroes”). From a wellness spa, the messages can be about healthy living during periods of physical distancing and isolation – diet, relaxation, exercise etc. From a destination, messages should focus on the unique appearance of familiar tourist spots during this time of physical distancing – busy places that are quiet, like this video about Lisbon.
This time of distancing and isolation is an extraordinary opportunity to reach out to your audiences about your brand using social media. With so many people in isolation, Internet usage is extremely high. Using social media to communicate is timely, so the right messages can be very effective at this time.
Remember, the purpose in your communications during this crisis is not to move your customers to action, but to reinforce the very essence of your brand.
Managing the Media in a Crisis
During this extraordinary crisis, many destinations and medical & wellness providers should be proactively engaged with the media. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media are working hard to cover this story as it continues to unfold. This is your opportunity to help them!
How do you manage these media contacts most effectively?
The first principle is to prepare. When possible, ask for interview questions or talking points in advance. Do not speak or write spontaneously, or “off-the-cuff.” Prepare your remarks with a statement about your vision, mission, or values, describe the situation, or to the question, and then repeat your vision, mission, or values. This is called the “sandwich”, and if you listen to any trained politician or business leader, you will hear this formula repeated constantly. (We cover this in the webinar: Health Tourism Grounded: Crisis Communications Webinar. )
Second, never be bullied or pushed into answering a question or responding immediately. Politely but firmly explain that you are not able to respond right away, but that you will respond in a timely fashion. Confirm their contact details and make a scheduled appointment to revisit the questions. In the extraordinary situation where you must make a statement, use the “sandwich” with a simple statement in the middle about being unable to comment at this time.
Third, always verify the credentials of the media person who approaches you. Make sure the reporter or editor is who he / she claims to be, and that you are comfortable talking with or sending a reply to that media outlet. Ask for a telephone number and then call that number to make sure you are reaching a credible media outlet.
Finally, always reply to every media inquiry or request. To say nothing, or “No comment” is to invite speculation. The lack of a statement will most assuredly not help your brand or your reputation.
Crisis – Communications Opportunities
In any crisis, communication is important. Communication can destroy, create, or reinforce your brand. Effectively managing your passive and active communications channels can reinforce your brand so that when the crisis is eased, your audiences will recall and respect your role in keeping them informed, inspiring them, and supporting them through these extremely difficult times.
For immediate assistance and guidance in creating and delivering key messages in the time of crisis, Stackpole & Associates is offering this webinar series.
The first webinar on April 29th – Health Tourism Grounded: Crisis Communications – was focused on how health tourism providers and destination managers can best handle both external & internal communications in this crisis.
In the second webinar, on May 13th, Irving Stackpole & Laszlo Puczko talked about Health Tourism After COVID-19: The Road Ahead. They discussed the likely recovery of and the future for health & wellness tourism in the post-COVID-19 period.
In the third webinar of this series, on June 3, Irving & Laszlo will present Health Tourism After COVID-19: The Road Ahead Updated, with new information about this rapidly unfolding situation, and discuss how these emerging changes impact wellness, health, dental and medical tourism providers as well as health tourism destinations.