The Role of Media in Tourism

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A key goal of this project is to find ways for local news outlets to offer better reporting of tourism news. There are definitely ways for news services to assist in developing local tourism industries. Awareness of what is available, both for news services and the readership, is what is going to drive action to improving local tourism services. Hopefully, it will be helpful.

This splits into three major topic areas: How news services can offer more complete information about local offerings, information about the threat of climate change and the responsibility of reporting accurately and fairly. These need to be ongoing efforts firmly rooted in delivery that is geared to improving local conditions for all concerned. Become the 'go-to source' when people have a question about what is really going on.

Do news services present a complete picture of local tourism?

Most people are aware of the importance of tourism as a major industry. So, news services that deliver better and more complete information about local people, suppliers, available products and services are on a path to playing a role in enhancing overall quality.

Increasing readership is key to developing a news/media business. To do this with a specific goal to improve the local tourism offering, news services can offer more articles about tourism.

This might include:

Special coverage of local businesses might link advertising with a feature article to increase value for all parties.

Ultimately the goal is to deliver to readers, both resident and from away, more and better information about the local tourism scene. Visitors especially like to know about these things and residents can also benefit.

Do news services present a complete picture of the threat of climate change?

Climate change is already impacting Caribbean islands. In fact, the Caribbean region will be more impacted than other major tourism destinations. Infrastructure managers and local businesses need guidance as to what to do.

Many services are already broadcasting news reports about these impacts but others not so much. Perhaps, the perception is that there is no real threat.

Whether one agrees that man made carbon emissions are contributing to a rise in air and ocean temperatures, or sea level, it is clear something is happening. It makes sense, in this context, to take defensive action. Just look at recent hurricane and storm damage or the sargassum weed invasions as examples. So, the goal to discuss mitigation strategies, or ways to protect assets still needs to be presented.

Share information about mitigation and crisis management strategies to boost awareness in all citizens and communities. Articles about what local businesses are already doing or plan to do will spur others to participate.

Increasing visitor numbers is putting more and more pressure on resources. Industries that supply tourists must be brought on board with their own actions to mitigate threats.

As well, the Caribbean region has no unified or cohesive strategy with respect to sustainable tourism or climate change mitigation. Local politics aside, this needs to be implemented. This gap in governance also means that other actors cannot implement their own actions. Co-ordinated mitigation strategies are not possible. It is not enough to wait and see, action is needed as soon as possible. Business as usual is no longer going to fix these problems.

It is important that news items discuss real threats but the tone presents a positive way to deal with the threats. It may seem daunting but people need to see a way clear to better outcomes for themselves and their communities.

Does reporting of crime and disasters undermine the goals of legitimate tourism development?

No place is 100% safe. Crime, natural disasters and disease outbreaks can happen anywhere, anytime. However, no matter where or when such an event takes place, news reporting places the event in everyone's line of sight in very short order.

A serious side effect of the proliferation of news is the nearly endless stream of unreliable content. Many reports play on an emotional response, such as fear, and need to be scrutinized thoroughly. The questions that need to be asked are: "How do you know?", "Where's the proof?" and "Can you back it up?"

It is not enough to read 'breaking news' because it is often sensationalised to attract attention. At the same time, these reports are extremely effective because they connect emotionally. It is important to dig deeper. Then, it might be possible to learn the whole story.

News outlets that tend to over-sensationalise need to be placed further down the credibility chain. This 'Media Bias Chart' presents a range of popular media in context of the broader media landscape.

The combination of news reports, travel advisory warnings, tour company warnings, protectionist all-inclusive enclaves, and the like - may be intended to protect the visitor but at the same time create a level of paranoia and cynicism that is not justified given the very low frequency of actual crimes that are committed against tourists.

Quite often, entire countries are made to look threatening when, in reality, only small areas within the country are implicated.

Journalistic ethics

News outlets are bound by codes of conduct regarding how reporting a news event is to be presented. As an example, "The Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues." This Society publishes a code of ethical conduct.

The ideal is fair and balanced reporting and to present a complete outline of important related issues. Some news outlets interpret and adhere to these guidelines narrowly and others do not. Importantly, local services need to be on top of ongoing occurrences so as to present accurate factual local timely coverage and not appear out of the loop.

• Reports need to be balanced - positive aspects as much as negative aspects.

• Avoid pandering to the sensational that might be destructive in the longer term. Actually, people can only rely on facts, not hyperbole.

• Bring the event into context. Include all information related to visitor impact, resident impact, frequency of visitors, size of country, relative safety, areas of concern, etc.

• Reporters, editors and owners all need to realize that their livelihood - and credibility - is mixed up with their relationship to their community.

• Projections and speculation about possible future - read:unknown - outcomes need to be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

• Including local input in the reporting increases credibility and more accurately reflects actual events. Anything else is really heresay.

Media companies are businesses and, as such, need to sell more media. Quite often, this puts media directly at odds with the needs of people and broader Society. Under the guise of 'freedom of expression', news reporting can - and often does - interfere with legitimate objectives of people, businesses and communities. Reporters and editors may be inclined to edit key information, including evidence or statements from their sources, to suit their own purposes. This can happen without any regard for impacts or consequences. Reports may not include knowledge of real facts or context. They can be very carefully worded - crafted - so that the content carries a specific message but this may not be entirely 'truthful'.

In other words, their influence over the way events are portrayed has some impact on the longer term success of the community where they themselves live and work. Quite often, reporters don't consider the impact of the event, or the context, or their own impact in reporting it. There is no easy way to undo reporting that is not fair or balanced. Even more, there is no way to calculate the cost of lost tourism opportunities caused by irresponsible reporting.

Nowadays, with social media, the perceived need to get the story out - at hyper-speed - often neglects, overlooks or ignores salient facts. Although less likely, even official government sources and well-established, mainstream news sources can get it wrong. The reader needs to consider media as one source, but not the only source. Everyone needs to 'fact-check' regularly, especially in matters where your own decision-making may be impacted. The important point is to see news reporting as but one, and only one, version of the truth**.

People tend to want to believe what they read but just because its there 'in print' does not make it true.

What to do

The need to check accuracy has always been present but now, more than ever.

In this editorial 'How to combat fake news and disinformation' from The Brookings Institution are some things for readers to do to help mitigate unreliable news reporting:

• 1) Individuals can protect themselves from false news and disinformation by following a diversity of people and perspectives. Relying upon a small number of like-minded news sources limits the range of material available to people and increases the odds they may fall victim to hoaxes or false rumors. This method is not entirely fool-proof, but it increases the odds of hearing well-balanced and diverse viewpoints.

• 2) In the online world, readers and viewers should be skeptical about news sources. In the rush to encourage clicks, many online outlets resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines. They emphasize the provocative or the attention-grabbing, even if that news hook is deceptive. News consumers have to keep their guard up and understand that not everything they read is accurate and many digital sites specialize in false news. Learning how to judge news sites and protect oneself from inaccurate information is a high priority in the digital age.

Need to verify

When a reported event directly prompts an action on your part, the need to improve your understanding is crucial.

For instance if a news report suggests a risk in a place you plan to visit, you need to know how real the threat is, how close it is to your destination as well as the duration of the potential threat are all key to make an informed decision about altering travel plans.

Check with local people. Look for information from people in the destination close to the event.

And, if a change of plans might be the best option, how will you know that any new destination, or timeline, will be a safe alternative?

In conclusion, local people benefit when local businesses thrive. More, and better reporting also benefits potential, current and past visitors. Tourism is a broad opportunity for local people to get directly involved and offer ground-level products and services that make their destinations unique and interesting. There is a panoply of ways to report about local tourism. Local news services have a central role to play in creating the place that brings all these together.

Related Articles

Is It Safe in the Caribbean? by Robert Curley,, November 23, 2020

Dominican Tourism Is Down But Not Out Following Sensational Visitor Death Headlines, Danni Santana, Skift, 2019
What’s done is done as it relates to the tourism dollars lost in the Dominican Republic this summer. The country is fighting perception at this point, but instead of blaming the media, it should look at local travel industry partners as a means to help regain consumer confidence.

Journalism ethics and standards (WikiPedia)

Reality vs. Actuality: A Construction of the Truth by Carly Cannell, 2008

Reality Check: How dangerous is Mexico for Canadian tourists - CBC News, 2012

Reality Check: Is Mexico getting more dangerous for Canadian tourists? - CBC News, 2017

Place as a determinant of travel and focus for travel writing by Herb Hiller (, 2019)
Place matters, more than destination. Emphasizing local qualities of culture such as heritage, cuisine and customs in travel writing are needed to educate the modern traveller. Improving the visitor as well as the resident experience should be front of mind.

Stacey Dooley Investigates - Crime, Carnage and Cancun (Transcript)
Aired: October 14, 2013: 54 minutes
Every spring, two million partygoers flock to Cancun for a week or two of pure hedonism - the Mexican resort is second only to Ibiza in the party stakes for young Brits. But as Stacey Dooley discovers, behind this famous spring break hotspot there's a darker side to Cancun that the tourists rarely get to see.
Stacey joins the police to see the daily struggle they face to protect the tourists and mop up the trouble they cause. She also spends time with the medics responsible for dealing with the casualties when things go wrong.
Investigating what's hiding behind the glossy resorts and brightly lit megaclubs, Stacey finds out why Mexico's military marines and armed police patrol them, and reveals what life is really like for the thousands of Mexican hotel workers who cater to the holidaymakers. Part of the series: BBC Three - Tourism and the Truth. Video not available.
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(** See, for example: "There are two sides to every story —and then there's the truth by Barry Popik, 2012)

© Alan Barry Ginn, January 2021 (January 2015) |  Trademarks are the property of their respective rights holder.