My sister gave me several promotional buttons that she picked up at a conference — one of them was to encourage people to “Visit Malaysia 2014”.  

When I say “Malaysia” what instantly pops into your head?  I’ll bet if you are like most, the answer is “missing Malaysian Flight 370”.  Being the head of the Malaysian tourism bureau is one job I would not want right now.

The jetliner disappeared on March 8 and the search is still underway.  Apparently the promotional campaign has been launched as well.  My hunch is that saying that Malaysia is “Truly Asia” is not going to be enough to entice droves of tourists to head there.  If the plane had crashed and been recovered as in previous air disasters, it would have little impact on future travel.  But the sensationalism caused by the mysterious disappearance and the negative response attributed to Malaysian officials will take more than a booth at a conference to overcome.

The time to think about your image and promotion is before a disaster befalls you.  Have you established relationships with key members of the media?  Do you have a strong social media presence that can communicate updates and messages in real time?  Are your internal organizational members aware of who is (and is not) the spokesperson for your group?  Have you earned trust and loyalty from your clients by treating them well along the way?

I’ll bet if you asked the head of the Malaysian tourism industry what he wishes he would have done differently before the disappearance, he’d have a list of ways he could have been more proactive that would assist him now.  Don’t wait for your plane to disappear before you put a messaging strategy on your radar.

— beth triplett

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