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HomeMr. DEXTER KOEHL Debate – Crisis Communications___

Mr. DEXTER KOEHL Debate – Crisis Communications___


Vice President, Public Relations & Communications

Travel Industry Association of America

(Slide#1)Every one of us in the U.S. travel industry remembers where we were on September 11th, what it felt like to see the terrible attacks, and what it was like to manage a travel organization in the immediate aftermath. While much of the nation could wait for the shock to subside, we had to move immediately into crisis management mode. I am going to share with you how Travel Industry Association of America staff assembled (Slide #2) the travel industry’s troops and launched a ten-week counter offensive literally before the smoke had cleared.

Almost immediately after the news had set in on September 11th TIA President and CEO Bill Norman began to consult with members of TIA’s 15-person executive committee and a Travel Industry Recovery Coalition was formed representing 26 sectors of the U.S. travel and tourism industry. A message and battle plan quickly followed. We knew where we had to go and we had a plan to get there.

(Slide#3) WEEK ONE: By September 17th the TIA senior staff team had created and begun to execute a recovery plan with two major goals: Ensure safe, secure travel. And restore travelers’ confidence. We needed to be unified as an industry. And we needed to bring as many other industry groups and the federal government on board with us.

Our first target was the news media. We had to seize the moment in the media and we did. As you would expect, the media were hungry for statistics, forecasts, literally anything they could get their hands on with regard to our industry. We recognized an opportunity to provide the industry with one voice, one message and the tools to deliver that message.

We gathered more than 50 of the top pr and communications professionals in the travel industry via conference call and presented a common message and strategy, with all the tools to implement a unified industry PR campaign.

(Slide#4) Our message platform was clear and simple: Travel is a fundamental American freedom. We as an industry have a duty and responsibility to preserve and protect that freedom. We support the government’s efforts to enhance safety and we as an industry must work together to restore consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. travel product.

(Slide#5) We provided talking points, facts and figures, sample letters to the editor, and other materials in a special micro-site on the TIA web site, It became an easily accessible source for response for the industry.

(Slide#6) The micro-site was an industry media clearinghouse that communicated to the U.S. and international media our availability as a source for timely information about the industry. Over and over the public heard our message: Travel is a fundamental American freedom. A return to travel is a return to normalcy. WEEK TWO: While our public relations campaign was underway, we were setting up our next phase—a national newspaper advertising campaign.

(Slide#7) Our ad agency held two focus groups, one in New York City and one in the state of Ohio, and created several ads within 10 days of the incident. What we learned was that consumers wanted to know what the industry was doing about safety and security. Consumers wanted an industry message to reassure them that things were being done to make it safe to travel. In addition, they made it clear that they expected a “deal” or an offer to get them back.

WEEK THREE: TIA went ahead with its previously scheduled annual Marketing Outlook Forum in Atlanta with a revised agenda and communications tools for TIA members. This was an ideal setting to meet with almost 500 senior marketing executives and communicate our crisis strategy and message face to face. The timing could not be better – proving that sometimes luck is on your side. We also launched the first round of national advertising October 2nd in eight newspaper markets across the country.

(Slide #8) The ad was clean, simple and had a strong impact. Let me read it to you: We see America as a land where the freedom to come and go as we please is a cherished right.

That’s why America’s travel industry has pledged its full support to the U.S. Congress and other federal agencies to ensure that travel is safe and secure.

After all, America was founded, expanded and made great by travelers.

And nobody can take that away from us. Not now. Not ever.

At the very bottom of the ad it said: is a web portal to all U.S. travel industry sites supported by the Travel Industry Association of America, a non-profit organization representing all segments of the U.S. travel industry. In addition to the paid advertising, the ad ran as editorial in newspapers around the country. The ad launched a comprehensive advertising and public service announcement or PSA campaign using SeeAmerica as a unifying brand.

(Slide#9) is a non-profit, non commercial consumer web site that links to every travel industry organization in the US. It is a one-stop Internet location designed to get travelers to every travel site in America: cities, states, and companies.

(Slide#10) This web site and the SeeAmerica brand name had been promoted the previous year in the UK, Japan and Brazil. It now played an important role in linking the industry together domestically.

(Slide#11) WEEK FOUR: The next advertising component was an advertising template with the message, It’s your country. See it. SeeAmerica. Our members downloaded this art from TIA’s business-to-business web site,, and wrapped it around their own advertising messages.

(Slide#12) We created a print public service announcement campaign for newspapers and magazines and for members to use in their own publications. It simply stated, It’s your Country, See it.

(Slide#13) TIA member USA Today donated $1 million in media value to promote recovery through SeeAmerica advertising. Full page ads appeared in USA Today and banner ads ran on, their online web edition.

(Slide#14) The template campaign then transitioned to a second phase as the Christmas holiday season approached. It centered on the theme of give the gift of travel this holiday season.

(Slide#15) WEEK FIVE: We remained focused on using the national brand, SeeAmerica, to leverage limited resources. Whether it was simply using the SeeAmerica logo in their ads or adopting the whole campaign, the industry benefited by leveraging our resources.

WEEK SIX: The U.S. National Parks and Forests announced that they would not charge entrance fees on Veterans’ Day, the November 11 national holiday, to honor the sacrifices veterans had made.

(Slide#16) We built on their idea and created SeeAmerica Day, as a Veterans’ Day holiday promotion to encourage Americans to see their country, visit their monuments, visit friends—in short, we wanted to get people moving. We solicited offers throughout the industry to post on the SeeAmerica web site and then we announced it through a pictorial e-mail. This allowed us to make a national announcement quickly and at no cost. The e-mail was sent to all of TIA’s 2,000 member organizations who, in turn, sent it to their customers, vendors and employees announcing their special offers. Many cities in America offered free transportation, free entrance to museums and monuments or highly discounted rates for SeeAmerica Day. Hotel companies offered special SeeAmerica rates and some airlines did the same. And all of the offers were listed on the SeeAmerica web site with direct links to the site where the offer could be purchased.

(Slide#17) WEEK NINE: Our most visible crisis communications effort came in week nine with a television ad campaign featuring President Bush and real travel industry workers.

Our industry owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Bill Marriott, Chairman of Marriott International, for personally calling his peers in the industry and soliciting dollars to fund this travel industry recovery television ad which had no government funding.

In addition to the paid advertising, we organized a news media blitz that was incredibly successful. We put the ad onto a world-wide satellite feed and methodically pitched the story to the media, city by city, country by country. In each case we localized the Bush ad story by offering top travel industry executives for media interviews.

(Slide#18) The goal of the news media campaign was two-fold: First, to get the ad to run for free as often as possible; and second, to call attention to the ad so that when it ran, viewers would notice and remember the message.

(Slide #19) And notice and remember they did. A national survey showed than an incredible 70 percent of American consumers said they saw the Bush ad. And 55 percent of the adult population of the U.S. accurately described the message. That was an astounding success.

(Slide#20) In addition to the ad campaign, we took the SeeAmerica message to three of the biggest international trade shows of the year: World Travel Market in the UK, JATA in Japan, and Braztoa in Brazil. And at each event, TIA hosted traditional U.S. Thanksgiving holiday events with the local media, tour operators and other key U.S. travel partners, thanking them for supporting travel to the U.S. during this time of crisis.

WEEK TEN: In week ten we announced a partnership (Slide#21) between the industry and the U.S. Postal Service that leveraged the resources of both organizations to promote travel both within and to the United States.

(Slide#22) The U.S. Postal Service agreed to print and release a set of stamps called Greetings from America featuring one stamp per each state for 50 unique stamps. TIA created a SeeAmerica Sweepstakes on the web site. The Sweepstakes had 50 prizes of a one-week dream vacation for each of the 50 states, designed by each state tourism director. Each prize included a special dream itinerary with six nights hotel, a car rental and air transportation. Posters showing the stamps and promoting the Sweepstakes were placed in state tourism information centers and in post offices around the country, guaranteeing exposure to more than 15 million people a day. A PR campaign announcing the Greetings from America program generated more than 800 news stories with 70 million impressions. It ran in 209 U.S. television markets throughout the nation, including the top 25 markets.


In conclusion, what were the lessons we learned from this ten-week crisis

communications campaign? They can be reduced to just four short points.


1. Develop a strategy and message and stay with it.

2. Engage the entire industry – and government too.

3. Leverage your resources so everyone can participate – in other words partner.

4. And finally, move quickly and take control of the situation – you can’t afford to wait and let it control you.

Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

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