Of the Caribbean countries hit by hurricanes this year, Cayman was perceived to have been the most prepared.
This was one of the issues that came up at The Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s recent Annual Caribbean Tourism Conference in Aruba.
Acting Director of Tourism Pilar Bush attended the conference and said Cayman’s hurricane preparedness was seen in terms of the emergency drills it does, the existence of a National Hurricane Committee and the fact that, from the Thursday before the storm, people were taking it seriously and preparing accordingly.
‘However, none of the countries had been as good afterwards in terms of responding to the situation, especially in responding to one of the magnitude of Ivan,’ she said.
The setting up of a Disaster Communication Plan for Caribbean countries was another hurricane-related topic discussed at the tourism conference.
‘One of the big things that came out of the conference was that we all felt caught between two audiences,’ said Ms Bush.
The discussion centred on the Bahamas, Grenada and Cayman and how best to deal with family and friends overseas who wanted information on the disasters and also deal with the travel trade and the media. This is a point that will be developed very much in the coming year, she said.
‘How does a country in the tourism business honestly and responsibly tell news to such a diverse audience? This was what we were faced with.’
Cayman was seen to have coped quite well’ said Ms Bush.
She explained that two communication methodologies were practised from the Department of Tourism’s New York office: half the staff dealt with media and travel trade enquiries and half for family and friends of people in Cayman. Ms Bush personally handled family and friends.
The tone of voice and information could differ greatly depending on which section of enquiries was being dealt with.
When she was working with Cayman Airways, Ms Bush explained, she learned a lot about this following the TWA crash some years ago. The US passed legislation that airlines had to have a communications plan to meet minimum requirements of this new law. This included friends and family not having to go through the same channels of enquiry, as, say, the media.
In the immediate aftermath of Ivan, because of a breakdown in communications, the Department of Tourism’s US office could not receive information to inform people about the situation in Cayman and had no information available to it until the Tuesday after the storm. Ms Bush had some concerned people in the US saying she was withholding information on behalf of the Government, when, in fact, she had no information to give at that stage. In fact, she didn’t even know if her own family was OK.
Another issue presented at the conference was that the tourism section of a Government often has a better ability to handle the PR in such a situation, rather than members of central Government.
‘If working together, the central Government and tourism section need to have people appointed to be sensitive to various issues.’
She also said she hoped people did not forget about what happened too quickly.
‘There seems to be a shift taking place in the community at the moment and I’m afraid the tolerance, which has been shown for each other may stop,’ she said.
Ms. Bush finished, ‘If we’re mindful we can remember what was most important to us when the hurricane was over and try to keep the tolerance alive.’