WTM 2018: ‘Support countries after natural disasters with tourism’, says Guatemalan minister

The best way to support a country in the aftermath of a natural disaster is not to send money but to continue visiting the destination, according to the Guatemala tourism minister.

Jorge Mario Chajón Aguilar, speaking at a World Travel Market session on Destination Crisis Management, said a swift response had been vital following the eruption of the country’s Fuego volcano in June.

He said: “Having a clear message is important, and being able to communicate that to media as well as to tour operators. They need to know exactly what’s going on and they need to hear it from us.

“The best way to support the country was not to send money but to visit Guatemala, and we undertook advertising campaigns in this regard.

“We directed our messages to our key markets. We recorded videos in Japanese, Italian, French and English and channelled them direct to these specific markets, and we worked with booking engines such as Expedia so through searches, we could promote different destinations in Guatemala.

“This was a private-public undertaking and in three weeks, we were able to go back to the booking levels we had prior to the volcano eruption.”

Caribbean tourism ministers Edmund Bartlett, of Jamaica, and Dominic Fedee, of Saint Lucia, also gave examples from the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, which devastated several islands and prompted a huge rebuilding effort.

Bartlett said: “The nature of our vulnerability is that if our economies, which are so dependent on tourism, are damaged by these events, then the region is at risk. The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region on earth; more than 40% of GDP in the region is directly related to tourism. But the good news is that tourism is also the most resilient of all industries, so the capacity to bounce back fast is always there.”

He added: “Capacity building is really what’s going to save us from annihilation, because these disruptions are going to continue to happen, and even if we’re able to keep global warming at the level that sea rises at 1.5cm, over time it is going to overtake a number of our lower-lying areas within the region.

“We are island states so we are susceptible to this, so we have to constantly prepare ourselves and build capacity to deal with it.”

Bartlett added that the ‘three Cs’ – of control, coordination and communication – are the key focal points for a response to such events, and that the new Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre, recently established in Jamaica, would coordinate efforts to measure destinations’ level of resilience and create a toolkit on best practice.

The Travel Weekly team is reporting extensively from this year’s World Travel Market, stay up to date on our live blog and event microsite

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