Lessons From The Holloway Disappearance
We are continually surprised at the number of press releases and other publicity pieces that we receive every day. To look at our email, you’d figure we were a “real” news organization instead of some friends who had an idea on New Year’s Eve two years ago – while passing a rum bottle around a fire on the beach.
Today we received a newsletter from a travel industry publication Travel Wire News that caused us to think about the vulnerability our own travel industry. The title hook to the lead story … “Aruba: Post-Natalee Holloway”
We’ve got news for Travel Wire News… it isn’t yet “Post-Natalee Holloway” for Aruba if your publication uses her name as a story hook – and that’s the simple truth. It is also the simple truth that an entire generation raised on the media and CNN will forever think “Natalle Holloway” when they hear the word “Aruba” in any context.
Lessons For Barbados Tourism
In my opinion, Aruba’s longterm fallout from the Natalle Holloway disappearance/murder/incident stems not from the tragedy itself – for tourist deaths, robberies, injuries and disappearances are not unknown at any travel destination. For Aruba, the damage resulted from the government and police response to her disappearance – both during the initial, obviously incompetent and corrupted police investigation and then as Aruba failed to counter an image that the Aruban elites are treated with kidd gloves and are above the law and common morality. In a word the perception was, “cover-up”.
Lesson one for Barbados therefore, is to realize that, once in a while, terrible things will happen on this island. Drunken teenaged tourists will get into cars with bad people while their school mates do nothing to prevent it, or the naive will go for a midnight swim in the surf – not thinking that hungry sharks come closer to shore for night feeding. These things will always happen no matter how much we try to prevent them.
Lesson two for Barbados is that the initial police response to any crime or incident must be thoroughly professional – because the performance of our police, medical profession and other first reponders will be held up to scrutiny and compared against the best in the world. Any incident involving foreigners, no matter how major or minor, has the potential to generate international media attention under a variety of circumstances.
Lesson three for Barbados is that the international traveling public will accept a few unfortunate tourist incidents – but only if there is not one hint of a cover-up or sloppy, uncaring response. Everybody knows that trouble happens – and they also know that what happens after the trouble occurs is the true test of any organization.
Lesson four for Barbados is that there should be a professional “international incident” response plan and policies in place. Perhaps 70% of our economy is tourist based in one way or another, and we should be responding to any incident with an attitude, resources and actions that show we care. For the police, that means that senior experienced officers are assigned from the first opportunity, and that senior management does everything it can to provide resources above and beyond the normal response. That might sound like a double standard when a victim is a tourist vs. a citizen – and it is – but the international scrutiny demands 110% and nothing less.
Sidenote: Maybe our blogging friend and Public Relations expert Karel McIntosh would care to weigh in on the issue of having a prepared response? We think that Adrian Loveridge could also lend some experience to the issue.
Look to Aruba to see the results of having no plan and no personnel in place to handle incidents that might involve international media attention. Street cops “winging it” in front of CNN cameras is a prescription for disaster.
Lesson five for Barbados is that it does much good to immediately invite foreign police investigators from the victim’s country to team up on the investigation. The egos of local police and political types must be left out of the equation. Foreign police investigators on the team provide information resources from the victim’s home country and a cultural perspective on the victim that Barbados police officers do not have. Foreign police services often have access to superior crime laboratories and other resources. Lastly, the inclusion of foreign police investigators goes a long way to remove any doubts about cover-ups.
The False Lesson Apparently Learned By Aruba’s Travel Industry…
The article from Travel Wire News seems to contain only one lesson that Aruba learned: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, in this case the American tourism market.
We think that is a false lesson because news and communications are everywhere. That Holloway was an American is less important than the fact that she was a young tourist whose disappearance was totally mishandled from the start. Aruba is now targeting the Spanish markets, but there is nothing to say that the next young girl who feeds the sharks won’t be Spanish!
Better to have a proper response, we think.
We’d be surprised if the “eggs in one basket” is the only lesson that Aruba picked up from their devastating tourism losses due to their pooched response to the Holloway disappearance.
Here’s an excerpt from that Travel Wire News article…
Putting all eggs in one basket – the American market – has proven to be unwise for Aruba. Back then, the island enjoyed 2004 as its record year. “The beginning of 2005 was good too; we could not even handle the business coming into Aruba. Unfortunately, we experienced the sad incident (Natalee Holloway disappearance) in May. We saw the downturn in the US market at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 translated to a drop of 14 percent in the 70 percent of our total business,” said Briesen.
Since this major fallout made a huge impact on tourism, seeking markets other than the US through the Spanish or any European chain offers Aruba a reasonable fallback position from today onwards.
No harder lesson than this setback has taught the Arubans about working exclusively with Americans or any single market, for that matter.
… read the entire article at Travel Wire News (link here)