Egypt is in all the news these days because of protests that started in Cairo and have been spreading out the country. We see pictures of riot police, fires and hear that over 90 people have been killed. Yesterday the Internet and the mobile networks were shut down and this morning the government resigned. The protests are still going on and people are not satisfied, they want president Mubarak to step down as well.
A friend of mine, Jane Akshar, runs holiday apartments in Luxor in Egypt and wrote on her blog Luxor News on Thursday about the average man in Luxor:
"His priority is earning a living and the only living in Luxor is servicing tourists and he knows if they are scared, they will stay away and he and his family will suffer."
They have been there before and know how important it is not to scare away the tourists, specially where a big part of the economy is based on tourism.
Here in Iceland we were facing crisis in the travel industry last year as Eyjafjallajokull started spewing ash all over Europe closing down airports. People got scared and travel companies started getting cancellations. We also saw the news on channels like FOX news where they warned people about going to Iceland because of violent riots following the economic crash in 2008 which I thought was absurd as the protest was limited to one square in down town Reykjavik and was non-violent with one exception, and none lethal.
The protests in Iceland didn't cause any cancellations as far as I know but the eruption in Eyjafjallajokull did. People saw pictures in the news from farmers below the mountain where the ash was so thick you could barely see your own hands. At the same time I was living only 100 km away and had seen no signs of the eruption, air quality was just as good as normal, the international airport was open and the eruption wasn't affecting us in any way. Still, many tourists were scared away from visiting Iceland.
Information is the antidote to fear.
It was interesting to hear tour operators talk about the effect the eruption had on bookings. Those who reacted immediately by sending out updates to all their clients telling them how the situation was in reality got in general no cancellations at all. Preventing decline in new bookings was harder as the direct relationship had not been establish but the same medicine is used there - enlightment - the distribution of correct information about the situation.
Social media is crucial for this kind of reaction. I started by writing a blog post on my travel blog called "Is it safe to travel to Iceland?" which immediately became one of the top results on Google for that question. There I provided realistic information about the danger of traveling to Iceland (or the lack of thereof) and what was in fact dangerous and what not. The Icelandic tourist board also started a new online campaign called Inspired by Iceland which was quite a big success in certain circles.
The most important reaction is for ALL tour operators to inform about the situation via their blogs, email lists, travel agencies, airlines, twitter accounts, facebook, youtube, search engines and other communication channels. The search engines are a vital factor making sure that the correct information floats to the top when people search for information about the situation. In the case of Egypt it would be what pops up when people search for phrases and questions like:
security in Egypt
is it safe to travel to Egypt
tourist safety in Egypt
am I safe in Egypt
how are the protests affecting tourism in Egypt
where are the riots in Egypt
what places to avoid in Egypt
Monitor questions about travel in your area on LinkedIn, Yahoo Answers, Quora, thorntree, tripadvisor and other chat boards and forums and provide good and accurate information in the answers and keep in mind that being unrealistically optimistic is not credible. For credibility you have to admit where there is a real problem or danger and rather provide information on how to avoid them.
A situation like we had in Iceland, and like Tunisia, Egypt and more countries are facing at the moment, needs a fast and well syndicated reaction to minimize the damage to the travel industry. Remember that some say "bad publicity is better than no publicity". This is also an opportunity to increase interest in the country or the destination. Look for those opportunities and make the most of them. I admit that it's much easier to do with a raging volcano than a raging population and not really comparable, but how to react is pretty much the same. This year, Iceland is on the top destination lists of many of the biggest publications. Hopefully the turmoil in Egypt and North Africa now will bring reform, prosperity and security in near future that can boost the travel industry, as well as other aspects of society.
ps. if you want to know more about how Jane Akshar is dealing with it from Luxor in Egypt I recommend following her blog. Even though she still has no access to the Internet her friends in the UK are talking to her regularly via telephone and updating her social profiles.
- Here's information on how to bypass the internet blockage in Egypt