California Tourism fights fire rumors by monitoring press

Even though wildfires are an annual occurrence in California, last year's raging fires became an international sensation in the media when some neighborhoods near Los Angeles and San Diego were evacuated.

Even though wildfires are an annual occurrence in California, last year's raging fires became an international sensation in the media when some neighborhoods near Los Angeles and San Diego were evacuated.

But when the California Travel and Tourism Commission (CTTC) suspected that the over-hyped media coverage would deter tourism, the commission enlisted Edelman and launched an extensive campaign to attempt to dispel the rumors and myths that were surrounding the fires.

Strategy
"We had to let people know that it wasn't 100% of the state," says Susan Wilcox, VP of communications at CTTC. Wilcox says the strategy incorporated three key messages: the evacuations were short-lived and did not impact tourist destinations; California was functioning and open for business; and to remind travelers that California is still a viable tourist destination.

"What was important to us [was] changing the tone of the coverage," adds Steve Telliano, GM of Edelman's Sacramento office.

Tactics
CTTC held two press conferences to show the media the fires did not affect that California's tourist attractions. The conferences featured Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amplifying the importance of tourism as part of the state's recovery efforts, Wilcox says.

The team also monitored social media conversations, sometimes responding to comments about the fires. Video footage of the governor's recovery tour and updates were posted on the CTTC Web site.

Results
Tourism increased last year, with a 12% spike from international visitors. Media coverage included USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Forbes.com.

Future
The team has been monitoring media coverage of this year's fires to decide whether to do another campaign, but so far has decided it's not necessary. The commission still works with Edelman.

PR team: California Travel and Tourism Commission, local Visitor's and Convention Bureaus and Edelman (Sacramento)

Campaign: Dispelling wild fire myths

Duration: October 2007

Budget: $129,000

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