H1N1 Swine Flu Crisis Communications Plans in Vacation Land – Mexico and the Swine Flu

I’m just back from a summer vacation to Mexico, where I’ve been thinking about you.

My wife, 2 daughters and I went on our annual scuba diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico, to find the island is virtually deserted because tourists are afraid they’ll get the Swine Flu.

One tourism official tells me it is worse than the last 5 hurricanes combined.

So what are our communications lessons?

Some may say Mexico is the victim of the old adage that, “no good deed goes unpunished.” I would say that is only partially true.

To Mexico’s credit, it did alert the world early of a possible Pandemic, to which the World Health Organization responded with a bevy of travel advisories. Those advisories indicated it would be a risk for people to travel by cruise ship to islands such as Cozumel. The cruise companies responded by canceling most of their trips to the island.

Experts applaud Mexico, indicating this is the first time Mexico actively engaged in such crisis response and crisis communications. And for this, some would say the drop in tourism is their punishment for the good deed of being proactive.

In the world of public relations and crisis communications, this lack of tourism amounts to a lack of crisis communications plans and skills by the tourism industry and the individual tourism destinations.

For example, when we arrived in Cozumel on a flight only three-quarters filled, we were greeted by a sign in the airport that says, “there have been zero cases of Swine Flu on the island of Cozumel.”

Well this was news to me. My airline never told me this. Travelocity, with whom I booked my trip, never told me this. My resort never told me this. The airline, the travel agency and the resort all should have a formal, well written crisis communications plan with instructions on how to communicate this critical information. Each failed to communicate with me.

Crisis communications is about keeping people safe and protecting the revenue of your organization. Swine Flu has taken a huge financial toll on Mexican tourism destinations. Tourism officials have invited tourists to return, but I’ve seen no extraordinary campaign to undue the Swine Flu stigma.

And if you’d like to look at the facts, to date, Mexico has reported 10-thousand cases and 117 deaths while the U.S. has reported 33-thousand cases and 170 deaths.

What lesson is there in this for you? Don’t depend upon others to do your crisis communications for you. If you want true crisis communications, it needs to come from your crisis communications plan. And the midst of a crisis is the worse time to plan for or write communications for a crisis. The best time to do it is on a clear sunny day when emotions are low, pressure is low, and you have clarity of logic.

Swine flu could still become an issue for your organization later this year. The best time to prepare is now.

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