The image of the beautiful young couple wearing surgical masks at their wedding is still vivid in our minds. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak of SARS “contained” this month, news reports of the deathly sickness are not forgotten.
SARS is the first severe and easily transmissible new disease to emerge in the 21st century. It devastated China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and spread to 27 other countries. People spent the spring living in fear. It pummeled the Asian economy and all but stopped travel to the region.
With the travel season underway, how do tourism boards and airlines spread the word the countries plagued by the epidemic are now SARS-free? A well-orchestrated Web site could contribute to the communications effort. Recently, I took a tour of a few sites to see if they offer any insight into how — or how not — to use Web content to help handle the aftermath of a dicey situation.
Don’t Scare Readers
All Asian travel-related sites face acknowledging a crisis occurred, without scaring readers. China Airlines gets kudos for accomplishing this balancing act. A “No SARS” icon appears on the left-hand side of the home page. When clicked, it leads to an informative section stating, “China Airlines Leads the Way to Your Healthy Journey.”
On the page are the latest updates on SARS, international news, videos, and ticketing issues. Additionally there’s a description of the airline’s “Hi-tech Air Filtration System” and more information on how China Airlines is taking “stringent actions” to protect passengers. It borders on information overkill, but it’s just about all you need to know from the airline. Now that the threat is reduced, the Webmaster might consider removing the photos of masked employees.
Singapore Airlines provides similar information, although you have to search the word “SARS” to find it. Nevertheless, for the SARS-concerned traveler, there’s helpful stuff, including what to expect when boarding the plane, answers to commonly asked questions, and a whole section on the mechanics of airline HEPA filters.
On the China National Tourist Office’s official site, you have to dig fairly deep for any mention of the deadly disease. Under “News Release” there’s a release declaring, “China National Tourist Office Pleased WHO Lifts All Travel Advisories for China.” Interesting phrasing. One would think far more than the China National Tourist Office would be pleased the warning’s been lifted.
What’s to be learned from this recent health crisis? The more information disseminated, the better. It doesn’t have to be plastered all over the home page, particularly as the crisis subsides, but it should be easily accessible for those who are truly concerned. Other suggestions to consider:
- Be welcoming. Few of these sites welcome or thank potential travelers for considering an Asian journey. There’s much celebration that travel advisories have been lifted, but not a lot of, “Thanks for thinking of us.” Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau does a nice job of welcoming people with an informative letter.
- Don’t minimize the issue. When a disaster story hits international news wires, don’t try covering it up. Instead, use language that addresses the safety measures and precautions being taken. I went to the Soviet Union three months after Chernobyl exploded. When my tour group landed in Moscow, we were handed tiny slips of paper stating, “There’s been an accident. Your tour has been rerouted.” Accident? My daughter spilling cranberry juice on the carpet is an accident. This was a catastrophe of global proportions.
- Make the site accessible in more than one language if you promote international travel. Providing more than one language option shows the destination is open as a showcase for the world. Especially for travel sites, it demonstrates you’re prepared for serious international business.
- Use external sources to prove your case. True, referencing the WHO advisory is far more convincing than simply stating, “You can come here now.” Yet wouldn’t it be more powerful to include a direct statement from the WHO official who proclaimed the travel warning lifted?
- Use caution when removing crisis information from your site. As I inspect some of these sites in July, many already decided the crisis is over and have moved on to other content. People’s memories span more than just a few months. International travel is seldom a spur-of-the-moment decision. The sites would be well served to keep SARS information somewhere.
For those traveling during these summer months, bon voyage — and have a safe journey!