Norovirus. A nasty stomach bug with unpleasant side effects… for hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and sports federations. It’s the stuff tabloid headlines are made of. It’s the news that sends social media into a frenzy. It keeps General Managers, Communications Directors and lawyers awake at night.
Don’t believe me? ‘Norovirus outbreak hits cruise ship passengers. They’re thinking about changing the name from Sun Princess to sick Princess’. #norovirus. (Twitter user, 11 Aug). ‘It wasn’t us’, the Tower Hotel London in response to the norovirus outbreak at the World Athletics Championships (Reuters, 8 Aug). ‘Do-nut touch that doughnut’ reporting 200 people struck by virus in a pastry shop in Ohio (Daily Mail, 10 Aug). ‘Why Brits got the bug for holiday sickness scams’ a story about a couple that face losing their home for falsely accusing a hotel of giving them food poisoning (The Guardian, 31 Jul).
Fake news and fake claims are nothing new in the hospitality and travel industry. But their scale, pace and reach is unprecedented.
We won’t know who’s to blame for the latest outbreaks of norovirus until investigations have concluded. But in some ways, it’s irrelevant. Reputations have been damaged. It’s on the media’s radar. It should be another wake-up call for a sector that needs to be prepared. Prepared for an outbreak. Prepared for the court of public opinion. Prepared for the media spotlight.
Through our recent work with global hotel chains, the Foreign Office, Counter Terrorism Policing UK and ABTA, we are helping the Travel and Tourism sector get themselves prepared, through rigorous media training, scenario planning and public awareness campaigns. Businesses and organisations need to expect the unexpected. They need to assume it will happen to them rather than it won’t.
Reputations are at risk as much as health this summer. Trust me. I work in PR.
By Heidi Mallace