Tourism Crisis Management as Business Continuity Plan 3

Despite the urgent needs for preparing tourism crisis management to cope with unexpected crisis that may hit destinations and tourism industry on the globe, there exist many challenges and issues to prepare tourism crisis management plans and manuals. There are many cases where the tourism crisis management successfully minimized the casualty of the hazard and accelerated the recovery of the disaster-affected destinations.

Masato Takamatsu

Masato Takamatsu Advisory Consultant

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Following are cases in Japan and in the world in which successful implementation of the crisis management plan helped the destinations and tourism service operators to take appropriate measures to save lives of their visitors and customers and to facilitate the recovery after the crisis.

(1) SARS in Hong Kong

In March 2003, when SARS epidemic broke out in China and the first SARS patient was found in Hong Kong, the Government of Hong Kong SAR and Hong Kong Tourism Board immediately implemented the crisis management plan. All the departing passengers from Hong Kong were required to check their body temperature, and if someone is found to have a fever, he was not permitted to depart. Thus, no one with suspicion of having infected by SARS was allowed to travel out of Hong Kong and the hotel that happened to accommodate a SARS patient was closed for quarantine to the public with the rest of guests and hotel employees also kept inside.

Many countries in the world issued travel advisory to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and other destinations in Asia, which resulted in a sharp 64.8% decline of the number of international visitors to Hong Kong in April 2003.

In May, the number of new patients infected by SARS decreased remarkably. In response to this, the World Health Organization lifted the travel advisory for Hong Kong and Guangdong Province of China, which was followed by relaxing the travel advisories for Hong Kong and China issued by Japan and other source market governments.

Four days after the removal of travel recommendation for Hong Kong by the WHO, the Commerce and Economic Development Department Bureau of Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Tourism Board had a press conference in Tokyo and announced the launch of a recovery campaign with a budget exceeding 1 billion HKD. In June, an advertisement sponsored by Hong Kong Government was posted on major newspapers around the world, carrying a message ‘Hong Kong is back to normal. Travel recommendation by the WHO for Hong Kong has been removed.’ A few weeks later, WHO removed Hong Kong from the list of areas of local transmission. Hong Kong started a large scale recovery campaign titled ‘Hong Kong Welcomes You!’ in July. In August, Hong Kong hosted a ‘Welcome Day’ inviting 3,500 key persons in tourism sector from all over the globe. Post-crisis promotional activities turned into a great success and the tourist traffic to Hong Kong recovered in a remarkably short period of time.

Hong Kong owes success in tourism crisis management to preventing and minimizing the transmission of the disease by quarantining the patient at an early stage, and steadily preparing recovery campaign simultaneously.

(2) Sumatra Earthquake and tsunamis in South Asia

In December 2004, a huge earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia followed by tsunamis that brought damages to coastal areas in Asia and Africa. Phuket, one of the best-known beach resorts in Thailand, was no exception. The island was hit by 6 to 9 meter high tsunami waves that destroyed the hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops along the beaches. A large number of visitors from northern European countries and the U.K. were killed and injured.

In such an emergency situation, three private hospitals in Phuket volunteered to receive and treat international visitors who were injured in the tsunami. The hospitals put beds in the hall way and the lobby to accommodate the injured and performed emergency operations there. They offered whatever medical care they could to the international patients.

The King Carl Gustaf of Sweden learned how much hospital staff devoted themselves to save the foreign tourists including those from his country. A few months after the tsunami, he made a royal visit to Phuket, met the Swedish people in the hospitals and expressed his deep gratitude to the hospital staff and government officers for their hospitality. The next year, the King made his second visit to Phuket to donate a conference room named after him to one of the hospitals to show his great appreciation for their warm care to his citizens.

It was reported throughout Europe, which upgraded the reputation of Phuket as a ‘safe resort even if tsunami would hit the island’ and ‘a destination that offer quality medical services and hospitality’. This image helped the early recovery of international visitor flow from Europe. Although Phuket does not focus medical tourism in its promotion, an increasing number of international visitors come to Phuket to receive health care services.

Immediately after the tsunami, the Thai Government organized a crisis management team to plan and conduct activities for the recovery of tourism in cooperation with UNWTO and PATA. The team put together the ‘Phuket Action Plan’ that includes marketing communication, sales promotion, community support, human resource development, sustainable redevelopment of the affected area. The plan was implemented with no delay.

Phuket has been fully recovered from the damages of tsunami as a resort well prepared for tsunami and other disasters. Services at hotels and other tourist facilities have been improved and the resort now attracts larger number of international tourists than before tsunami.

(3) We Love New York Tour: H.I.S.

The terrorists’ attacks on September 11, 2001 gave the people in the world a terrifying image of air travel to the U.S.A. Japanese people being extremely sensitive to safety and security of travel, the Japanese tour operators totally cancelled all the overseas tours, not to speak of tours to the U.S. Most of the tour operators had an impression that they had to wait until the end of year to resume the tour operation to North America.

In such a market atmosphere, H.I.S. Co. Ltd., a Japanese tour operator surprised the travel market. The rapidly growing travel company posted a newspaper advertisement for tours to New York, titled “We Love New York, wishing the recovery of New York”. There were quite a few people in travel industry criticizing H.I.S. for its ‘grandstand play’. 1,600 Japanese joined the tour during the following 10 weeks. The City of New York gave the greatest possible gratitude to the travel company. “When we were suffering from a sharp decline of international tourist arrival, H.I.S. helped us with its brave action to launch tour products and send so many Japanese people to New York.” H.I.S. donated 5% of the revenue from the tours to the Twin Tower Fund founded by ex-Mayor Giuliani of New York.

Traditionally, Japanese nationals tend to avoid visiting destinations which experienced a disaster: they feel guilty of enjoying their holiday while local people are still enduring inconvenience in their life and working hard for recovery. It is a common sense among Japanese not to visit such places until the life is back to normal.

When you look at this from the perspective of a destination that was affected by a hazard, they do thank for the donation, but they would be even more pleased if people visit the destination, stay overnight, enjoy local dining and tourist attraction and do some shopping. Because visitors make a great contribution and give support to the community by spending money, which creates new jobs that were once lost in the disaster, and revitalizes the local economy.

H.I.S. must have had an intention to strengthen the relationship with New York, one of the top destinations in the U.S. and to make ‘We Love NY Tour’ a trigger to thaw out the Japanese overseas market that was frozen by the 9.11 incident. In other words, the tour was thought out during the process of considering the business continuity as a strategy to revitalize the travel market before its competitors do. The strategy was successfully carried out.

(4) Not a single passenger was injured: East Japan Railway (JR East)

When the earthquake hit east Japan, there were 27 speed trains (shinkansen) traveling at maximum 300 km/h on the track. The earthquake early warning system censored the first seismic wave of the quake and automatically activated the emergency brakes of the all the trains in operation. Not a single passenger on the speed train was injured.

The tsunami that followed the earthquake washed away five JR East local trains. After the trains stopped by the automatic train control system, the drivers and the conductors of the trains guided all the passengers out of the train to a higher ground for evacuation. There was no casualty among the passenger of the trains that were swept away by the waves like toys.

Behind the fact that all the passengers of JR East trains survived such a gigantic earthquake and huge tsunami was the railway company’s crisis management system that worked perfectly.

Firstly, their automatic train control system connected with the earthquake early warning system responds one second earlier than the Japan Meteorological Agency issues emergency alert for major earthquake. This ‘one second earlier’ is critical for safety of the train. The earlier the train begins to reduce speed, the slower the train will be by the time the earthquake shock actually reaches the train. The slower the train is, the smaller the risk is to go off the track. The emergency brake that works one second earlier is a secret for the safety mystique of Japanese trains.

Secondly, the train operation controllers immediately instructed the operators of the trains that were in the areas near the coast to evacuate the passengers. And what is more, all the train operators did exactly what was instructed and evacuated all the passengers to a safe place. This made a miracle of ‘no casualty among the passengers of all trains in operation’ a reality. JR East train operators and conductors are required to take strict safety drills again and again. They have learned and mastered the drill procedures which came out of them in the emergency situation.

The case of JR East is a good model of a precise crisis management plan reflected on the operation systems and the employee training program.

(5) Disney Magic in Emergency: Oriental Land Co. Ltd.

The Oriental Land Co. Ltd. (OLC), the operator of Tokyo Disney Resort ®, attracted nation-wide attention for its employees’ actions toward the guests when an earthquake hit the theme resort.

At the outbreak of the recent earthquake, there were more than 70,000 guests in the two of theme parks in Tokyo Disney Resort ®. All rides and attractions automatically came to an emergency stop, and the casts* immediately instructed all the guests to crouch on the floor and protect their heads from falling objects. 40 seconds after the first shock, there was an announcement in Japanese and in English saying that the parks and attractions are earthquake-resistant and all the guests are requested to stay calm and follow the instruction from the casts. Not a guest was injured, and there was absolutely no panic among the 70,000 park guests. After a while, they were guided outside the attractions to safe open spaces for evacuation.

After the earthquake, all the trains in east Japan suspended operation for safety inspection of the rails and other facilities. More than 20,000 Disney guests had lost their transportation to return home and had to stay in the parks overnight. The casts of each park also stayed with the guest.

They gave out clothes, stuffed Disney characters and any other items in the park shops to the guests who were trembling in coldness and fear for frequent aftershocks, so that they can use them to protect themselves from falling objects and for the chill. They also distributed all the cookies and candy bars in the stores to the hungry guests for free of charge. When a cast found little guests in fear, he told them a story about a fairy who will protect them from evil spirit to comfort them. Another cast invited the guests who were sitting on the floor to join the ‘find a hidden Mickey game’.

A majority of TDR casts in the parks are part-time employees. They made their own decision to give the best possible comfort and Disney entertainment to the guests who were shuddering with anxiety. What made these young casts act like this? It is the Disney’s Code of Conduct that is shared by all the cast members of TDR.

The Code of Conduct is called SCSE: Safety of the guests is the top priority, followed by Courtesy to the guests, Show or entertainment and lastly Efficiency of the operation representing the revenue and profit of the company. All the casts of TDR are educated at the Disney University at the very beginning of their employment and SCSE is the first thing to learn.

In an emergency situation such as the recent earthquake, every single cast at TDR acted on their own decision based on SCSE Code of Conduct. As a result, they safely evacuated 70,000 guests without anyone being injured, hosted 20,000 guests overnight and sent them home the next morning with a little scary but pleasant memory of the day and night spent with the Disney casts.

TDR conducts 180 emergency evacuation drills every year early in the morning and late in the evening to ensure their first priority, Safety of the guests. The casts are trained and educated with the knowledge and skills to safely guide the guests on and off the rides, what they have to do in case of an emergency, first aid and how to evacuate the guests. For them, an earthquake of seismic scale 5+ with 70,000 guests in the parks was within their control. They have prepared for even larger earthquakes with more guests in the park. Nothing was beyond their expectation. With these preparation, plans and training behind the stage, the OLC can empower their casts in the front line.

*cast In Disney Resorts around the world, the employees in the theme parks are called ‘casts’.
All Disney casts are expected to perform ‘shows’ in their daily work as if on the stage and entertain the park guests.

Masato Takamatsu