Right now the oil moving inexorably towards our coastline is on everybody’s mind. The media has created the 24-hour news feed, the battle lines have been drawn between BP and the pelicans, and consumers are hanging onto the edges of their seats for the next update. The consequences of this tragedy, perhaps the largest domestic environmental crises to date, will go on for decades. But what happens when the next great new event pushes the Deepwater Horizon off the front pages? What will be the long-lasting effects to the beachfront tourism industry from Texas to Florida and beyond?
Do you think the issue won’t go away that quickly? When was the last time you were glued to your TV to find out about conditions in Haiti, the Time-Square bomb scare or even health care reform? We Americans have a notoriously short attention span and when the media moves on, we do too.
Of course you know that just because the situation doesn’t make front-page headlines anymore doesn’t mean that everything is better. Far from it. Post earthquake-damaged Haiti is still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and suffers from every possible ill of poverty, a non-existent infrastructure and aggressively corrupt leadership; it’s just that we’re not so actively involved anymore. Out of sight, out of mind is not just a glib saying; it’s an accurate description of our national attention deficit syndrome.
So maybe the cameras moving on to the next subject will be a good thing for tourism. After all, if pictures of gooey petroleum-soaked seabirds aren’t on our TV screens 24/7, visitors might forget about the oil and rebook their vacations. On the other hand, what happens if oil-fouled beaches are the last things consumers see before the cameras leave and there are no inviting images to change that perception?
As I wrote in my last post, the solution is not to tell people the reasons why they shouldn’t not come but instead to build compelling stories that connect with consumers’ emotions and build desire. I’m still waiting to see those campaigns from the affected destinations. Let’s hope they’re coming soon.