[pullquote]More than what the weather is like or any other prosaic issues, meeting planners want to know what the actual situation in the city is – and this means safety[/pullquote].With all of the terrorist attacks that have happened in Istanbul, it seems that people have now got used to it. On the one hand people still feel shock, but on the other it seems that news like this doesn’t affect us or shock us at all any more, unless it happens right under our own noses. In this case we then react differently, but the fact is that these shocking events have become a part of the new congress normality.
An attack targeted at an airport – a place through which people of almost every nationality go through – can be read indirectly as an attack on the meetings industry. An attack on Istanbul, however, should resonate even more strongly with the public and the congress fraternity, as it is one of the world’s most popular meetings destinations. The Ataturk airport is the third busiest airport in Europe, right after London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Last year there were more than 61 million passengers transiting the aiport, which took it to eleventh place on a global scale. I have therefore been surprised at the unbelievably weak response from the international congress community.
After the initial shock of this news that we woke to, the key question then arising regarded crisis communication on destinations, where safety has become the most serious matter. The most important thing is therefore to have answers to some quite delicate questions – honest and real answers, as a terrorist attack or even the risk of it can definitely affect the long term trust and reputation of a destination. In these cases crisis communication really helps.
Important information therefore needs to be well organised and quickly channeled to the wider congress society. With that in mind, the key activity is direct contact and proactive steps of communication, and any absence of relevant or key information is unacceptable in an age where social media is so dominant and readily available. As with communication, in destination promotion it is also vital to build your reputation on ethically indisputable material, otherwise the market will quickly learn whether your promotional message is flawed, faked or exaggerated. The best thing for a destination to do is to therefore establish a line of measures to reassure crisis communication; taking into account the scale of the crisis, destinations might be thinking of opening special virtual media centres. Events like this need to be talked about extensively until the situtation is normalized.
After the attack the unbelievably rapid response of Turkish Airlines and also the local congress industry was a welcome fillip, as almost immediately a normal schedule was established again. Yet the fact remains that certain congress participants will now avoid Istanbul until conditions settle; part of the new normality will definitely be tighter security at every level.
I personally believe that the beautiful city of Istanbul is an incredible organism that can withstand even the worst of disasters. The metropolitan city has become a target for terrorists, as it has the most cultures living in coexistence. I am certain that the city’s rich history and premium congress offer will continue to attract congress organisers – the local congress scene is unbelievably vital and Istanbul isn’t stopping business because of terrorist threats.
We feel a deep sympathy for the victims of the recent tragedy and condemn this kind of gruesome and senseless violence, which leaves so many suffering and us suffering with them.
Crisis connects us colleagues to help each other make the quickest recovery of a destination possible. We need to adapt to this new congress normality and, perhaps unrealistically, hope that Europe can remain isolated from similar such events.