Saturday, June 11, 2005

Handling the PR for Aruba

In a recent article in O'Dwyer PR Website, it's noted that the NY-based PR firm Quinn & Company - who has handled the Aruba tourism account for the past few years - is also working with the island on the missing Alabama teen, Natalee Holloway.
New York firm Quinn & Co. has dispatched PR staffers to the Caribbean Island of Aruba, where the disappearance of an 18-year-old Alabama student has captivated media.

Q&C won a three-year pact in 2003 to handle PR for the Dutch island, which uses the tagline "where happiness lives."

Natalee Holloway, a native of Mountain Brook, Ala., disappeared while on a five-day graduation trip with her high school class. Island authorities arrested three men today who said they gave Holloway a ride the night she disappeared.

The Aruban government has offered a $20K reward for information about the disappearance and her family has offered up another $30K. A bar Holloway visited that night has also posted a $5K reward.

Carla Caccavale, partner for Q&C, heads the Aruba account and has traveled to the Caribbean with other staff to handle PR for the crisis. She has not yet been reached by O'Dwyer's.

Seventy-five percent of tourists that travel to the tropical island – which is about the size of Washington, D.C. and known for its white sand beaches – are from the U.S.
Quinn did have an official statement on the disappearance of Holloway (as of June 9):
In response to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, the Government of Aruba and the Aruba Tourism Authority pledge their full support and cooperation to Ms. Holloway's family.

A thorough investigation is has been underway for over a week now with the support of both local and international authorities. Hundreds of concerned Aruban citizens have also joined the national search efforts along with Americans residing on island and tourists. The massive island-wide search is taking place on land and sea. Aruba Search and Rescue Teams, Dutch Marines, and Coast Guard, who have provided helicopters to assist in the search from the air, are aiding efforts.

Everyday approximately 50 to 250 search volunteers including locals, Americans living in Aruba, along with visitors, comb different areas of the island. This comes as a shock to Aruba where crime against tourist is almost non-existent. Aruba is one of the safest islands in the Caribbean and a favorite amongst travelers with a repeat visitor rate of 40%, the highest of any Caribbean destination.

The island extends its sincerest thoughts and prayers to Ms. Holloway's family and friends for a positive outcome.
In the past, there has been much written about using blogs for crisis communications; the disappearance of would have been a good example of how Aruba could have used a blog to keep press, and public, up to date on everything that the island nation had been doing.

I sent Quinn a few questions via email, and follows are the questions and answers...
Thus far, Aruba has only put up $20,000 of the $50,000 reward, with the bulk put up by the family. Does the island plan on putting in more? How is Quinn & Company combating what may be viewed as the island being cheap?

Following is the breakdown for the reward: $10,000 from the government of Aruba, $10,000 from the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association, $10,000 from the family and $20,000 from anonymous investors in Birmingham, Alabama.

Are there any estimates on how much in US tourism dollars Aruba might lose from this disappearance?

We do not have that information.

In the age of open communications and up-to-date news, did Quinn and Company or Aruba think of setting up a crisis communications blog to be constantly updated with news of what the island is doing, and news updates?

Aruba has a message board on the Web site and Quinn & Co. has made sure that all of Aruba's travel partners are kept up to date at all times as more information becomes available.

What are the post-crisis plans, to try to alleviate any fears and convince people to vacation on the island?

Currently we are completely focused on supporting the Holloway family and bringing the situation to closure.
A few thougths about this: with a country that relies heavily on tourism, to only pony up $20,000 while the family and friends in Alabama brought in $30,000 seems like an inbalance. The island relies on American and international tourism, and should have brought more to the table than just $20,000 - it's almost insulting. The PR firm should have pushed the client to put in more than the family and friends. A lot more.

In regards to a message board on reaching out to the island's travel partners, those are not the people that need to be reached with up-to-date information, but rather people that were thinking of traveling to Aruba and now have concerns. Update: Q&C did call me to let me know that they are also responding to all consumer questions and concerns personally - each email is personally addressed, not automated.

A blog - separate from the Aruba Website - could have been an interactive press room, where members of the press could get the latest updates via RSS feeds and the public could have come to find information and post questions and comments. While not every company needs to blog, blogs are tools that should be used in crisis situations.

In this instance, you want the island government ot be proactive, out in front of all the others, and in full control of the investigation - a blog could have helped with that.

In situations like these, no amount of crisis planning is going to help, but having certain communications tools in place can at least get information out to the public.

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