Responsible Crisis Management & Risk Mitigation

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Safety and security are of great importance when visitors consider destinations for their annual holidays. Media coverage of terrorism, national public/political strikes and extreme climate events can have a negative impact on a country/region’s appeal. How tourists were warned, looked after and helped evacuate, have impacts on a destination’s brand image – broadcast by the ever present social networks. In Australia staff and guest safety, and implemented Climate Change Adaptation plans should be acknowledged as tourism businesses ‘licence to operate’. They must plug into a wider destination crisis management plan. A 'whole of tourism' approach in destinations that managing risk as a foundation for sustainable development. There is also the moral responsibility, that should be put above commercial factors, where the hospitality sector and destination managers acknowledge their responsibility to look after the guests they invite and act to minimise their negative environmental impacts.

Practical Steps to a more Responsible Crisis Management and Risk Mitigation for Tourism

Risk Mitigation:

1. There exists a very comprehensive Federal Government Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Risk Management program with a practical methodology and workshop procedure guide. Destinations across Australia need to conduct workshops and prepare Crisis Management Plans. Such plans need to be dovetailed with the emergency services reporting structures and communications. Tourism Australia and the state agencies could endorse accreditation programmes which emphasise Climate Change Adaptation and promote operators whose accreditation policies integrate with the destination's responsible risk management plan. Operators who comply could be highlighted on new online serach facilities within the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse.

2. Implementation of Local Agenda 21. There was an Australian Government commitment to LA21 (developed following the UN Rio Summit in 1992). The previous government gave an APEC commitment to double participation by 2003, although a dormant program now, it represents a single clear plan to create more sustainable development in local government areas, many are tourist destinations. Government agencies and peak bodies need to work more closely with local government and establish Responsible Tourism Partnerships that implement many of the guiding principles within LA21. This way we can progress to a more sustainable tourism sector. Local Government planning along coastal areas also needs to consider the lastest international thinking on building design.

3. Peak industry bodies can organise special sector insurance programmes. Initially with third party insurers but there is scope to develop their own programmes to support their members. There are already examples in tourism transport .

4. Explore the scope for Volunteer Tourism, by involving conservation NGOs who might assist in the repair of natural habitat and injured wildlife. A partnership plan involving nature tourism businesses, national parks and the NGOs could be prepared for future implementation.

5.  The tourism sector must take responsibility for the negative environmental impacts that result from bringing visitors to destinations. 75% of tourisms overall GHG footprint is generated from transport (UNEP 2008). Low carbon transport options could be imbedded into the destination's travel planning communications. This supports a moral argument to visit after extreme climatic events (see point 8 below).

6. Tourism also needs to be seen to act Responsibly to protect the natural heritage assets it consumes. Both tourism businesses and visitors therefore need to contribute to the repair and conservation of protected land and The Commons. Such programmes can become a keystone in a destination's Local Distinctiveness.

Crisis Management:

7. Tourism Australia and state agencies, should create a national tourism crisis management plan to implement:

a) world class visitor communications in the destination and to the outside world before/during/after events

b) sponsor tourism destination crisis management training and develop a Destination Crisis Management Communication Plan. This should interlink with regional and state plans (and the emergency services- we need to speak with one voice and responsibly advise would be visitors).

c) establish destination teams responsible for planning and implementing  media communications including flexible website solutions which permit immediate updates, VIC staff scripts, local radio contacts and briefings, maintaining comprehensive operator contact lists (mobile phones) and designated roles and responsibilities.

d) appointing a local Tourism Recovery team that plan and speak on behalf of the destination to assist its economic recovery. This permits the media to concentrate on key approved spokespeople and focuses the message(s).

8. For recovery, Australian’s need to be presented with the moral argument of helping their countrymen and holiday at home at this time rather than taking breaks overseas. Many regions are safe and suitable for visitors but are suffering from consumer fear. Endorsement advertising using key opinion formers who are well respected by the public could be considered and be ready to action ‘at the push of a button’. This means developing concepts, testing them and contractually agreeing with personalities now for future implementation.

So many lives and livelihoods are intertwined directly and indirectly with tourism. As recent events demonstrate tourism is vulnerable to climate. We cannot afford to ignore the need for national support, local plans, peak body services and the method to build the capacity of tourism businesses’ participation. Tourism is the economic lifeblood of many rural economies operated by micro and small businesses. A responsible plan is required if we are to maintain communities after future natural disasters which Australian scientists predict will occure more frequently.