In the Aftermath of the Harte Tragedy…


In the Aftermath of the Harte Tragedy…

Can Social Media Help the Mauritian Tourism Sector Today?

Or to be more precise… 

Can Social Media salvage the Mauritian Hospitality’s defaced reputation after the Harte Tragedy?  Can Social Media mend the shattered competitive edge and reputation of the local tourism sector?

What we need to know first

The Mauritian tourism sector suffered some casualties in 2009 and at the beginning of 2010, with the heavy international crises that rocked the entire world economy, the April’s Volcano Ash and the December’s snow storms episodes in Europe. At first sight, the sequels weren’t as bad as one could think then. We were still profiting from positive growth rates, with an industry average of +7.3% for the period extending from January to March 2010 compared to same frame in 2009. And yet, something was still wrong in paradise, even if we welcomed 249 971 visitors for the first three months of 2010. The luxury niche seemed to have lost some of its glitter. Top local hotel groups looked like going through rough tides. Naiade Resorts, for instance, declared losses of the order of MRU 50 million while they closed 2009, profiteering at MUR 11 million. Same for the Rogers Group, which encompasses high standard resorts like Heritage and Le Telfair Golf & Spa. Their profits shrank by 51%. Similar picture for NMH (New Mauritius Hotels), with a 25.3% profit downgrade. These figures might well explain the gloomy atmosphere at the top tip of the Mauritian Hotel Industry. This negative mood is understandable. While the luxury room park (4-star up) had grown up by 115% in 2009, the occupancy rates dropped to 40%. That was just enough to slow down the investment momentum of the sector and in 2011 the pickup was still very slow.

Was there a rescue plan on the line, or were we waiting for the storm to cool off and get back to normal?

According to, at that time Minister, Nando Bodha, in an interview given to Jean Da Luz in May 2010, Mauritius had to withstand its position and not give in to mermaid songs about lowering our rates and downgrading from our actual Diamond Destination status. This stood for 2011. His immediate action plan talked about strengthening the Brand’s positioning as opposed to fast growing competition from countries like Sri Lanka or the Maldives (geared by fast developing Chinese tourist Market). And the operators just had to go down that same line, towards the top. They had to try find out about this little something that would give them the lead or, at least, stabilize it, without excessive finance-intensive solutions. But the main question remained. What could Mauritian 4star-up hotels offer to their target markets apart from the same old promise of unrivaled hospitality and service quality? But then came the Harte tragedy, which happened at the Legends, 5-star flagship of the Naiade Group of luxurious hotels (Rebranded since, Lux Resorts)?

What about the Harte tragedy?

The murder of the newlywed daughter of prominent Irish Football Tycoon, in her hotel room at the Legends, added to the Mauritian hospitality sector’s misery. Communication havoc, media bashing and all the mayhem caused by thousands of online comments hindered the efforts of Mauritius’ second economic pillar into accelerating its recovery. Within one week, Mauritius lost most of all the glittering goodwill it built round years of relentless market upgrade. The anguish of losing even a microscopic market share is relevant and legit. At least then we got to know (well only some of us) how fast and how deep it goes when negative buzzing starts its worldwide tour. Did we learn?

Eighteen months and one catastrophic criminal lawsuit later, the entire Mauritian tourism sector is rocked again by a chain of inflating, as we speak, negative comments.

And adding insult to injury, a Mauritian weekly dared to publish a picture of the crime scene with Ms. Harte’s corpse, after prime suspects gained acquittal.  The Harte tragedy is here to stay as an indelible stain that might grow well beyond the most tactful handling.

Negative resentment has monstrous echo, this is fact!

Echoes from adverse events are known to impact more heavily at one given point in time and stay, than a good point that goes dilute amidst numerous positive comments.

When we see how the press talks of the outcome of the Harte criminal case, we just have to seriously reflect about our stand in the world:

REPREHENSIBLE and REPUGNANT

The Mauritian authorities need now to match their words with actions and ensure that insensitive reporting by newspapers within their jurisdiction does not further exacerbate the violation of Michaela and the hurt to John.

 The Irish Sun quoting the Harte and McAreavey Families

The publication of these images represents an appalling invasion of privacy and is a gross affront to human dignity…
On behalf of the people of Ireland, the Government will be lodging a formal complaint in the strongest possible terms, with the government of Mauritius.

The Daily Mail quoting  Mr. Enda Kenny, prominent  Irish Fine Gael politician

Outrageous abuse…
… the people of Ireland would not rest “until justice was done” for the Harte and McAreavey families.

BBC quoting Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

A Donegal travel agents has stopped selling holidays to Mauritius
following the murder of Michaela McAreavey.

Liberty Travel says it has taken the decision due to ‘a problem with
policing on the island’ and in solidarity with the McAreavey and Harte
families.

Heard from Carolyn Davis on the Shaun Doherty Show on Highlandradio.com

Rheinhardt

1:41 PM on 16/7/2012

I hear today One Irish travel agent has already said they will turn away business if any one is looking to travel there – hopefully this is the start of the boycott

Commenting on a SKY NEWS article

There should be some anguish now!

Reading things like these would get the locals deeply ashamed of what they are not. These words, multimedia content are rounding Facebook, endlessly relayed by Tweets and retweets. As minutes go by, the stain grows bigger.

This is the kind of negative buzz that may well hurt, just when unexpected. Should these echoes cross the English Channel in an unattended way, the damage from our largest tourist pool, France, would definitely mean very dire times for the local tourist sector and people, at large.

  • Are we prepared for that? NO!
  • Is there a communication contingency plan in this case? Never heard of! 
  • Is the MTPA capable at handling this crisis at Social Media Level? I do not think so!

Can social media help mend broken images? Yes, but not if it’s too late!

How? By Monitoring, Analysing and Responding. This is What Social Media can help do best!

Social Media is not THE absolute key and should not be sold as a magic soup. Social Media comes as a toolkit that acts specifically where the damage is going widespread minute after minute, on the Web. Controlling damage on the Web is possible, eradicating brand spoilage not.

Understanding how Social Media works.

Social Media and networking has become for millions of online users a lifestyle in its own. People without a Facebook account are more and more regarded as ‘homeless’, atypical or asocial. With the Social networking mode enabled, an individual will take his time to consult blogs, Facebook groups or his LinkedIn connections. He will be asking questions through tweets, comparing everything online and will make out his decision upon some peer pressure out of a messy information intake.

The pattern is the same when choosing a holiday destination. The customer goes by the bloggers’ trend. This is where Social Networking fits, by basically offering a consolidated and relevant alternative to a user’s search process. So bad blogposts about Mauritius, its Police, its Administration or its People, is a promise of low level of engagement at some point in time and may even lead massive cancellation.

Social Media and Hospitality… naturally compatible!

Integrating Social Media to the hospitality sector is almost a natural procedure. The prominent place of relationship management in the day-to-day business with tourists, makes it easier for the tourism industry to analyze and understand the target’s behaviors, needs and expectations. Social Media management will just plug in to translate all these data into useful information for the development of relevant interactive platforms.

The most complex part of the setting up of such a strategy, resides in the pre-operational routine which implies thorough research on the targeted segments. Investigating social behaviors and expectations are the fundamentals underlying the production of relevant toolsets. This part of the setup is time-consuming and requires proactive human resources.

Dealing with e-reputation.

The Harte tragedy has brought into the limelight, at least for the Mauritian tourism sector, the extent of damages that can be caused by uncontrolled and untapped worldwide buzz. In less than a week it looked like this first and isolated episode had bitten up the competitive edge our Diamond destination had. Felt like a bad mouthed Tsunami had overwhelmed the country’s white shores and modified them forever.

This is where and when e-reputation goes astray. Not dealing with it, equals letting open doors to further havoc. When an entire sector, which has got more than local ambitions has its name brought into a negative turmoil, it needs to react in real-time, at least to defend its brands at the very heart of the battle on the WEB, not on the traditional media where news is disposable.

Due to total absence on the Social Network scene, the Mauritian tourism sector give the impression of not knowing what to do or come up with. They simply are not monitoring what is being said on the Net while exercising high level damage control on the physical scene.

Nowadays both the physical and cyber scenes must be treated the same way, because they both feed each other. A bad online publicity ruins the brand image and reflects immediately on the day-to-day business in the real world. And this can be as silly as a benign allegation on a z-series blog, like:

I loved it there, but there were not enough shrimps in my seafood cocktail!

or

I loved the material mix of their rooms but why do they have to put those old-fashion copper taps in the bathroom?

These may well look silly but that’s enough to up-dig similar resentment, trigger an endless blog thread and end up as a long-going negative buzz, if nothing is done to give minimum explanations or to talk about taking relevant actions through Social Media.

That’s obvious now! A successful sector, brand, group, company and even an individual have the obligation of seeing to it that their names are not being mentioned noisily without any control or monitoring. A business’ or sector’s goodwill is, never like before, at the mercy of its virtual reputation, of its e-reputation. This e-reputation needs to be monitored on a 24/7 basis with a rapid turnaround at tactful commentaries and replies.

Bottom line

When built the proper way, Social Media toolsets allow smooth, seamless integration with the ongoing traditional communication and marketing philosophy. Resourceful Social Media management and its satellite activities can effectively help nation-scale secors into acquiring, widening, nurturing new target markets by developing community-based content and events, via effective interactive platforms. This ensemble, when geared within a proper strategic frame, will aim at giving a more social and sociable global image to the sector and to its brands.

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2 thoughts on “In the Aftermath of the Harte Tragedy…

  1. The Media is not responsible of what’s happening in the tourism sector according to me. And the only ones who are to blame for the importance given to the Harte case are the journalists, the photographers and the sub editors who wanted to go deeper and deeper in the case, thinking being read in Mauritius as well as abroad is more important than the consequences it could have. This point doesn’t concern all the members of the local press, but a part of it. I won’t mention any name here anyway…

    • Thanks for your comment Mauritian. My question stays the same throughout time. When in 2010 I did propose to some public institutions with global or local reach, the concept of e-branding and of e-reputation monitoring via Social Media, they just laughed at me.

      “What can Facebook or Twitter do for a strong Brand like ours? Whatever bloggers anc commentors say about Mauritius, we have the trust of our dedicated markets. ”

      I could understand that they never made case of the blogosphere or Social Networks that plays a prominent role in the country’s Image perception.

      The Harte Tragedy comes as an alarm bell for everyone: the press, the hoteliers, the authorities, the judiciary. It’s a small alarm a drill call but real enough to get everyone to understand that there is the need of building coherent contingency plans.

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