Just this past week, August 21, 2013, a young German woman died in Hawaii from a shark attack. There has been some backlash as to why the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has not released a statement of sympathy for the victim. Does this start to ring aloud with the theme song of 'Jaws'?
You may recall that the local mayor in that movie was not about to make any waves which would impact their summer tourist trade. Then again, most of us remember when Aruba tried to deal with the disappearance of a young female visitor. That story took on a life of its’ own, internationally. So, what is the role of a lead Tourism group for a Destination when a calamity occurs?
Both the HTA and the Governor’s office were prompted by the publisher, Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, of the influential tourism platform, eTN (Global Travel Industry News) about the situation. As of Saturday, August 24, no response had been received or statement made. Mr. Steinmetz, a German-American and resident of Hawaii and also very involved in tourism activities on the island, was incensed due to the insensitivity of the officials. The young woman had been attacked a week earlier off Maui, had lost her arm and was placed on life support before she succumbed on Wednesday.
Mr. Steinmetz issued his own statement of sympathy and represented Hawaii particularly well in his sentiments. He pointed out that shark attacks occur throughout the world, that Hawaii has safety precautions, and that Hawaii still is a wonderful Destination for a holiday. He also shared his dismay with the lack of communication out of Destination management and the governor’s office, noting that the negative PR already out on the airwaves, rolling through Europe, is already hurting the island tourism trade.
The biggest lack of sensitivity seems to be wrapped around the timing. A Destination may not report an attack, but certainly when a death occurs, we have moved into a more dire public relations situation, which needs some immediacy of response. The tourism authority may have been waiting for the medical situation to play out before addressing the circumstances. By all appearances, they have missed a beat, and Mr. Steinmetz has brought them properly to account. Let’s watch the PR drama unfold and learn.
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
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