Weathering the Storm: Destinations Combatting Natural Disasters
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among the top five most active in recorded history, and the extreme weather impacted the entire travel industry. For example, United Airlines estimated in October that severe weather reduced its revenue $210 million during the third quarter. The airline blamed Hurricane Harvey for its cancellation of 7,400 flights and higher overall fuel costs (USNews.com). Shortly after that, over 12,500 flights were cancelled as a direct result of Hurricane Irma (USAToday.com). Then came the cancellations from Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria and Nate. As an agency with a bevy of travel and tourism clients, we monitor the impact weather events have on the destinations we serve – from both physical and perceptual vantage points.
Peter Mayer calls New Orleans home – so we understand firsthand the devastation these disasters can bring to the tourism industry. In 2004, 10.1 million visitors spent a total of $4.9 billion in New Orleans, according to The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. That number plummeted to 3.7 million visitors who spent $2.8 billion the year after Hurricane Katrina caused more than 80% of the city to flood (Fortune.com).
Fortunately, the global tourism industry is becoming increasingly resilient. By 2014, less than a decade following Hurricane Katrina, the number of New Orleans visitors bounced back to 9.5 million and they spent a record $6.8 billion (Fortune.com).
Just before the arrival of Hurricane Irma in August of this year, Florida (home to some of our significant clients) announced record visitation during 2017. Consumers have gotten far bolder since Hurricane Katrina, as the logistical implications of Irma are thought to have only impacted travel for a two-week period in September after Labor Day, when travel typically slows annually (FRLA.org).
While flight cancellations and physical damage that follow natural disasters can’t be helped – the perceptual damage of weather disasters can often be mitigated with smart marketing. Hosting opinion shapers such as media outlets and travel agents is a strategy often employed by destinations to challenge negative perceptions following a disaster (TheConversation.com). Exposing the reality of the damage (or lack thereof) can help prevent potential visitors from imagining the worst and cancelling trips.
To combat perceptual impacts from Hurricane Irma, Visit Florida invested $5 million in post-storm marketing to advise people that Florida’s destinations and beaches were open for business (OrlandoSentinel.com). It paid off, as Visit Florida announced that 88.2 million people visited the state – a 3 percent increase from the same time period in 2016 – during the first nine months of the year.
Despite concerns, leisure travel has become a lifestyle necessity for most people with disposable income.
In combating natural disasters, destinations and businesses should always challenge perceptual damages by:
- Spreading the word that they are open and ready to welcome visitors
- Publish photographs of the destination so would-be travelers can experience the destination and relieve themselves of fears
- Use their resources to connect with the local community in recovery efforts to build both tourism and goodwill