Always Prepared: Crisis Response Requires Critical Analysis and Planning

Ryan Becker, Vice President of Communications at Visit California

Today’s destination marketing reality dictates that the next crisis is always around the corner.

The catalysts – whether it’s natural disasters brought on by climate change, social unrest or acts of violence sparked by geopolitical turmoil, public health epidemics or tourist accidents – don’t matter as much as a destination’s ability to respond to ensure crises don’t spiral to upend all of the work done to inspire visitation in the first place.

When a crisis hits, the travel industry’s first priority should be to unify the community during healing — and to restore the destinations’ reputation and their critical tourism economies that are on the line.

It can be very challenging to strike a balance between ensuring the safety of residents and visitors, while continuing to promote a destination and share the vital “open for business” message — as well as when to build the bridge back to the region’s core brand message.

To better understand impact of the numerous crises that crop up, Visit California has developed a Crisis Evaluation Matrix to inform its crisis response strategy in the heat of those situations.

Click here to view the Crisis Evaluation Matrix.

Kathy Janega-Dykes, President & CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, and Caroline Beteta, President & CEO of Visit California, host a Community Tourism Recovery Forum after wildfires and mudslides in the region. Visit California’s Crisis Evaluation Matrix helped guide the Forum’s content.

Of course, every crisis is unique and requires a dynamic response. Deploying the matrix allows the crisis team to evaluate and quantify a situation through a tourism lens to better react and respond in supporting affected communities.

Understanding the facts is critical – including tone and frequency of media coverage, online conversations and sentiment, the spread of misinformation and how the crisis is shaping the perception of an area’s safety and accessibility. 

By assigning numerical values to a series of criteria, those benchmarks can track how a crisis evolves in severity, and determine the need and scale of a response plan.

The matrix is divided into four main categories:

EVALUATION

Input basic facts about the crisis, including longevity of crisis, population impacted, geographic scale and breadth of media coverage, as well as pertinent details such as emergency declarations or government agencies deployed in response.

IMPACT TO TOURISM

Completed by the Crisis Team with input from stakeholders in the region. Factors include scale of affected region, cancellations, damage to tourism infrastructure, recovery timelines and destination marketing programming impact.

NEWS COVERAGE

Track the number of news hits covering the crisis across all relevant markets, as well as sentiment, accuracy, visuals, frequency of media coverage and breadth of coverage. This information can be gathered with the help of a public relations agency, or simply using clipping services or internet searches on your own. Be sure to include all anecdotes that showcase how widespread media coverage may be.

SOCIAL MEDIA SENTIMENT

Using social media monitoring tools, track the number of mentions and conversations across social media channels, as well as their sentiment, visuals and passion intensity. If no monitoring tools are available, it will be important to conduct thorough searches as frequently as possible, as conversations can shift quickly

Each subcategory requires a severity score on a scale of 1 to 4, which total a possible score of 80. For a long-term crisis, the tool should be updated daily. The rating system allows the Crisis Team to quantify how the crisis evolves as the score fluctuates. The higher the score, the higher the likelihood of a DMO response, and the more significant the response should be.

Visit California began beta testing the matrix in early 2018, deploying it for official use during wildfire season, which started in July 2018.

As fires first broke out, the incidents scored in the low 50s, as tourism infrastructure remained untouched and media coverage was minimal. However, when additional fires erupted across the state, affecting major tourism attractions including Yosemite National Park, the Crisis Team saw shifts in the media narrative and event conflation, and spikes in online conversations, increasing the score.

As a result, Visit California has been able to shift its response and develop a proactive messaging strategies, educating both the media and consumers on the safety and accessibility of the affected destinations.

The immediate crisis may be ongoing, but having a reliable tool to assess the situation has already proved invaluable.

The Grateful Table, a 500-person Thanksgiving feast prepared by chef Tyler Florence, was a critical response effort to let the world know that Northern California’s Wine Country was open for business after fires captured headlines around the world. Visit California’s Crisis Evaluation Matrix showed that the fires were acutely damaging perception of California’s Wine Country as a safe travel destination.

About Ryan Becker:

Ryan Becker is the vice president of Communications for Visit California. He leads the team responsible for developing communications strategies that promote Visit California’s mission to cultivate demand for the California brand. These strategies encompass corporate communications, media relations, industry relations and public affairs initiatives. Ryan has worked at Visit California since 2012. He has more than 10 years of media experience, primarily as a newspaper editor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.