Cecil, tourism and modern communications

2015-08-20 06:00

THE global outcry about the unfortunate shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe illustrates that the actions of one person and the power of today’s communication tools can be a double-edged sword for the tourism industry.

No doubt the Zimbabwean and southern African “ethical” hunting industry may experience major public relations and customer retention challenges in the months ahead.

In short, it can take one incident, an aggrieved party and massive exposure on the internet and the perception of a destination’s appeal can be altered for the worse.

I recently read in a Durban newspaper of a person who had a personal experience of crime on the lower South Coast. This is not good publicity and while many committed organisations, agencies and the tourism sector (our Sunny and Safe Campaign) are making a lauded difference, we have a responsibility to address this national concern and utilise publicity in as positive a manner as possible.

There is a saying in tourism that for every downside story, one needs dozens of positive media angles to sustain consumer interest in an area. I do not subscribe to a head- in-the-sand approach however, we do need to continually inform our markets, the media, tourism trade and the public in general about what is working, happening and positive to the world out there.

Some short-sighted observers say “any publicity is good publicity”- a statement I do not totally agree with. It takes huge effort to right negative perceptions (correct or otherwise) then counteract them through managing the issue and then using communication campaigns to stabilise any imbalance.

It seems that internet-based commentary is now not immune to legal action, defamation cases and all sorts of accusatory quagmires. I guess it boils down to individuals and organisations needing to be responsible for the accuracy of content and opinions before they inadvertently cause an untoward epidemic of misinformation.

Poor Cecil’s senseless demise may have been media manna from heaven for animal rights groups and environmentalists, but the flip side is that Zimbabwe’s tourism may well have taken a knock in the process. That is how fine that line between positive and negative publicity can be.

We believe in addressing tourism-related issues and at the same time aligning to the principle that good, not any publicity, is good publicity - and there is enough very good stuff here that can be communicated to the world

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