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The 10th Anniversary of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

What learning can destinations apply to the current crisis?

Today marks ten years since the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland. The crisis brought flights in Europe to a standstill and interrupted people´s lives worldwide. This brought Iceland into the news, not always for the right reasons. Though only a small fraction of the country was affected, global media depicted Iceland as a country covered in ash with noxious chemicals in the air.

Icelandic tourism was hit hard. The industry had just started to recover from the financial crisis of 2008 and was very optimistic for the summer season with an outlook of over 10-20% growth. But within days of the eruption, that changed dramatically with revised projections of a 20% decrease in annual tourism, a fact which would potentially set the country’s development back years.

The crisis response, Inspired by Iceland, overturned the negative perceptions and the tourism industry worked successfully together and returned the industry to growth that year and the years to come.

So today, on this tenth anniversary of the eruption, I wanted to reflect on the steps that were put in place to counter the volcanic disruption and see if there are lessons that we could apply to today’s crisis response.

Crisis response – Inspired by Iceland

One of the first things done was the government and the private sector coming together to create a crisis group with all the most relevant stakeholders from the tourism sector. This group met every morning for several weeks to continually reassess the situation and communication as well as the next steps for the industry. We knew it was going to be temporary, volcanoes don´t go on forever, however was the world going to dare to visit Iceland and feel safe that summer and on into the future?

This cooperation lead to the largest public private campaign ever for Iceland. In a way, I would say that by working together we kept going and something incredible came out. Over 120 stakeholders joined forces and the Inspired by Iceland campaign was created within a few days, launching in the middle of May when it was considered safe.

Iceland has never been more awake

Our communication was designed to show that Iceland had never been more awake. The country was literally bursting with more energy than ever before. It was not the time to stay away, it was a time to come closer. To experience our arts, music, food, activities and nature. We also wanted to get the people that loved Iceland to love it even more, and those who had not been to Iceland to discover it at this exciting time.

The Inspired by Iceland campaign harnessed the power of people, to get everyone else to tell the story with us. So, on 3rd of June the nation was asked to stop working for an hour and send out a video message to friends and family around the world (remember the one with the dancing people and the catchy song with Emiliana Torrini, Jungle Drum!). One third of the nation took part, reaching over 6 million people. We also, got other people to tell the story of Iceland, including Yoko Ono, Frank Hvam, Eric Clapton, Viggo Mortensen, as well as over 400 travelers in the country at the time.

At the time, social media was used effectively for the first time for the destination, live streams were used in adverts, events and OOH – pioneering live feeds in the undergrounds of Paris and London from major attractions. We also hosted a music event to fuel the campaign which attracted more than 100 thousand live views from over 52 countries, with thousands of Icelanders attending the event in the city center of Reykjavik. Press trips and PR were also used effectively and over 400 journalists were assisted that year alone.

In short, we kept going and were consistent in our messaging, we brought positive stories to the world in an innovative and creative way and we joined forces. Saving the industry that year by actually returning tourism to profitable growth, despite the projections of drastic decline. We then actually kept working together for a decade by bringing Inspired by Iceland stories to the world with constant development of emphasis and objectives. In this time the tourism industry grew to be the largest revenue generating industry in Iceland and I am proud to have been a part of that story and success.

Today´s crisis and place branding

We know that today´s situation with COVID19 is not temporary and completely different from 2010. This crisis is about human lives and is something that will change the way we all think, live and travel forever. How dramatically, no one knows currently. This is going to be a long battle, both for destinations and the global industry, a battle that no destination will win with a single marketing campaign. It will take time to recover and build up trust for people to start travelling again.

In terms of the implications for country and place branding today, my take outs would be:

  • Bring good to the world

Think of what good your destination can bring to the world. Keep telling stories and harness the power of people – be honest, creative and uplifting. Be consistent in your messaging and remember that people are at home dreaming of better times. So now is not the time to stop all activities, but keep your marketing relative to the situation and the place that you’re branding.

  • Create a crisis group and strategy

Put together a crisis group (e.g. 10-15 people) with stakeholders for the destination to lead the way both from public and private sectors. Meet on a regular basis, discuss the situation, focusing on both the immediate and the long term concurrently. Reassess the strategies now and regularly for the future, adaptability is important for at least the next 1-2 years.

  • Develop a platform for cooperation and support

Create a platform for all of your stakeholders, both to communicate and to get different views and understanding of the situation – times of crisis are a good time to listen but also be available for discussion and support. This is not only important for local stakeholders but also for international stakeholders e.g. airlines and tour operators.

  • Network around the world

Use the network with other destinations e.g. Nordic and European countries. Share knowledge, listen, learn and be supportive. It can be effective for creative and innovative thinking and it can possibly start new ventures between companies or destinations.

Those points need to take into consideration not only the threat of the Covid19 but also health and safety in general, sustainable development goals and responsibility. All the challenges and opportunities before this crisis do not go away but it is a matter of how to go forward and what your destination wants to stand for in the future.

Resilience, adaptability and patience – join forces

I know that all of us in tourism will tackle the threat that is in front of us and re-build our destinations around the world. To do so, we will need a lot of resilience, adaptability and patience as places and individuals. We must never forget that together we are stronger and together we can focus on problem solving and long term positive thinking – joining forces now is a powerful tool both for our own destinations and a connected, healthy global tourism industry. 

First published on LinkedIn 14th April 2020

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