Crisis communication webinar by The Sustainable Tourism and Travel Agenda and Tour Operators Society of Kenya

Tourism businesses have so many questions regarding what to tell their clients, supply chain and community at large.

The Sustainable Tourism and Travel Agenda and Tour Operators Society of Kenya organised this webinar to support Small and medium enterprises to manage the current turbulence caused by the Coronavirus crisis and accelerate into the new normal. 

The hosts of this event were:-

  • Anthony Ochieng 

Chief Technical advisor

  • Judy Kepher-Gona 

Advisor, Analyst, strategy in sustainable tourism

  • Prof. Marina Novelli

Professor of Tourism and International Development and academic lead for Responsible future research and Entreprise Agenda – University of Brighton


  • Lucy Atieno

Tourism Researcher, Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda. 

During a crisis we tend to Concentrate on what is happening in the external environment, this makes us lose our identity or in other words, who we are.

The main objective of this webinar is to learn how to build a crisis communication plan that will uphold your values and encourage people to have shared responses

Evolution of a crisis and sector responses

When the novel Coronavirus crisis hit the world, many sectors were seriously affected. However, the tourism industry was one of the most affected sectors. the fact that it is a service industry relying on human interactions,  the sense of feeling and that it is highly perishable made it highly vulnerable and exposed to risks. 

Let us look at the Tourism and travel sector crisis communication response during the COVID-19 pandemic, step by step. 

Tourism is hit by a crisis

Response: industry focuses on cancellations of bookings

In the initial months when the world was hit by the Coronavirus crisis, communication from most businesses was all about booking cancellation policies.

This framed the situation of an economic crisis, we were all guns blazing trying to cushion ourselves from losing income

WHO announces COVID-19 as a pandemic

Response: The Industry shifts focus to recovery through relief programs and economic stimulus

This focused on the economics side. The industry is viewed as egocentric, working alone and has not yet given a human touch to its crisis communication. 

This move had a short term focus not considering the consequences.

Industry campaign for Travel Tomorrow and Together in Travel

Response: Returned focus on the Traveller 

At this stage, we gave value to the human touch. We were being empathetic and our focus returned back to the Traveller. 

Campaigns such as Do not cancel, Travel Tomorrow and The Magic Awaits illustrated that we cared for our clients and that their health and safety takes precedence. 

Our customers should stay home and dream of the magical places which they will experience tomorrow 

Opportunities for new learning 

Response: webinars for tourism 

This stage is very unique because the value of businesses started to emerge. 

The crisis communication focus shifted from the individual perspective as seen in the first phase to a value-based standpoint.

This was a complete transformation of the mindset since we see organisation value-based communication. The sector represented the other side of who we are in how it communicated. 

Responsible tourism businesses indicated that they cared about saving the wildlife during the crisis since poaching was on the rise, Hotels now opened their doors to the frontline workers to stay in order to prevent them from infecting their families and lodges welcomed vulnerable people in the society i. e the aged and people living in the streets. 

The industry also invited other stakeholders to be part of the solution facing the global economy. 

An example is the conservancies in the Maasai Mara who asked for assistance in helping the members of the community who relied on tourism for a living and are now helpless. Astonishing enough their loyal clients reached out to help in their course. 

Way forward /looking ahead

The industry is now looking internally to rebuild its systems. 

We are now working together with a common plan. 

For example the call from World Travel and Tourism Council “we are in this together” 

This pulled everyone together and made a crisis communication strategy inclusive. 

It is now perfectly clear that the messaging on cancellation policies was a short term solution and did not sit well with the consumers. 

Travellers want more, they want to know what type of business you are. 

More importantly for you to build trust with your consumers ensure that you:-

  • Provide Reassurance 
  • Be persistent in communication 
  • Provide regular impact reports. 

Note: Do not be silent during the crisis and come out after the pandemic asking customers to purchase what you have to offer

Crisis Communication 

Crisis communication is a leadership tool that helps an organization to come out of a crisis.

Let me take you through the roles of crisis communication as presented by Lucy Atieno.

Roles for crisis management 

  • Crisis management used to be apologetic. 

Businesses struggled with what to say to their networks. It was all about being apologetic for the unfortunate events that have occurred and nothing else 

  • Focus on crisis management as a tool for image repair

This focus sees crisis communication as a make-up strategy. 

A great way of building a business image or brand

The setback is that this focus is narrow since you are only limiting your communication to the survival interests of your business. 

  •  Crisis communication as a tool for renewal, growth and transformation 

When you define crisis by acknowledging the opportunities available and defining the specific threats you are facing then your communication will be better, ethical and inspiring 

You will be able to

  •    Learn about the opportunities available. New knowledge means better performance 
  •   Engage with different networks to form new alliances or collaborations to help you through the crisis.

If Kenya learnt from its previous experiences with a crisis such as the Kikambala bombing in 2012, Norfolk Hotel attack in 1980 and the Alshabab attacks in the Country which led to many source markets for tourism giving travel advisories to their citizens not to visit Kenya. Now we could be in a better position to handle the Coronavirus crisis at hand 

On the other hand, other nations are looking out for our game plan in handling crisis communication since

  • They feel we are in a better position to respond because we have a history of the crisis in the tourism industry in Kenya. It is an assumption that we drew lessons from them and we are now equipped to handle the Coronavirus pandemic. 
  • We are a pilot of success in communication crisis. Kenya has received a fair share of travel advisories from the previous crisis but still, it remains to be the desired holiday destination. 

Communication steps for improving crisis response 

Crisis communication steps

1. Understanding your audience who needs to hear your communication most

Direct your communication to people who may have limited understanding about an issue and are open to being informed. 

There are many people in this category hence understand the diversity in your audience. 

Among your audience are the customer, government, supply chain and partners 

Many peoples will be against your information and end up providing counter statements. Don’t focus all your time in engaging them since you will end up wasting a lot of time refuting their claims and helping them publish their opinion. 

This is why it is very important to have boundaries in your messaging audience. 

2. Vision for your responses

Lead communication with a vision of what responding collectively looks and feels like. 

A vision for your responses helps avoid the following pitfalls
  •  Leading with the problem we need to tackle

This focus will provide a short term solution since after handling the problem you will not have a lasting impression with your audience.

  • Leaping straight to the solution 

A vision will help you avoid jumpstarting straight to the solution since this shows that you are working in isolation and not as a team

An important question that needs to be answered is what informs the solution? 

  • Leading communications with alarming statistics 

Use of alarming statistics during a crisis can lead to stigmatization, fear trauma or shock in the industry. 

Your audience will think that the situation is out of hand and is beyond repair. 

You need to package your message in the right way. 

  • Getting derailed with misinformation or unhelpful narratives

This will make you start myth bursting instead of putting yourself in a favourable position. 

3. Make it a priority to communicate what matters most to your audience 

The values that matter most

4. Incorporating better explanations

The following will show you how to integrate your preferred audience and vision into your messaging 

  • Framing 

How you frame your message depends on the segment you are operating in be it wildlife, economic health and social environment. 

Also, frame your message differently depending on your audience i. e supply chain, client, investors or government 

What values define your relationship with different audiences will guide you in framing your crisis message. 

  • Explanatory Chains

Sometimes people do not want empathy in your communication, they want reassurance.

Especially during the Coronavirus crisis being experienced globally, how can you reassure clients that it will be safe for them to use shared facilities. 

  • Using facts

How much is enough to share?

Not every fact about the crisis should be shared to your audience. Choose wisely what should be shared publicly 

Use enough facts and reassurance for better explanations

5. Speaking out 

What is your key message?

As a business, your crisis communication has to make clear the key message. for example, when you will return, you will experience the magic

When speaking out you should follow the rule of the thumb.

Rule of the thumb 
  • Understanding the crisis in context 
  • Understand your audience 
  • Ask for help 
Staying on the message 
  • Begin or end your statements with a reiteration of your key message, yet strike a proper balance so as not to appear to be trying to convince a person of something that is not true 
  • Don’t repeat messages word for word every time you use them 
  •  Messages should be simple concise and realistic 

Parting remarks

Travel and tourism associations have an important role to play in leading crisis communication with its members. They can assist members in building strong networks and new alliances in order to make the necessary strides in crisis communication.

A business can avoid noise in its crisis communication if they adhere to framing their message well, how they speak out and ensure that it’s inspiring and brings transformation. Here you invite others to be part of your communication.

A guide to building your crisis massage by Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda

Takeaway exercise


This was an eye-opening session for the tourism players who attended the session. These insights are applicable in dealing with crisis communication.

Do not worry or panic if you are a small and medium-sized entrepreneur and can’t afford to hire a consultant firm for your crisis communication. This information is gold and can help you sail through rough turbulence of a crisis.

Published by The Eco-traveller

I am a champion for sustainable tourism and conservation practices.I highlight tourism operators who operate under the principles of sustainable development.Let's travel,be responsible and have fun

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