UNWTO pleads for Madagascar but also blasts poor communications strategy


(Posted 04th November 2017)

The Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization Dr. Taleb Rifai has visited Madagascar to express the Organization’s full support to the tourism sector. Madagascar’s tourism is facing a challenging situation following a plague outbreak which has prompted some countries to implement travel restrictions with Madagascar. Mr Rifai recalled the World Health Organization (WHO) advises no restriction on travel or trade on Madagascar.

“UNWTO is echoing the advice by WHO to governments not to rush to issue inaccurate travel advisories. The WHO Key Messages updates dated 26 October recalls that the risk of international spread appears unlikely. WHO advises no restriction on travel or trade on Madagascar based on the current available information‘ said Dr. Rifai before adding: ‘We can not penalise a country twice – once by the country being hit and having to confront and pay the direct heavy price of a devastating crisis and second by us, human community, falling into misguided perceptions and, as a result , shunning and isolating the victim country and adding to the problem rather than to the solution‘.

WHO recalls that it is important to strike a balance between encouraging countries in the region to be ready to act in case of an outbreak, while avoiding panic that could result in unnecessary or counterproductive measures such as trade restrictions or travel bans on affected countries.

We are facing a perception crisis. Clear and factual communication on the real situation in Madagascar is crucial to prevent damaging advisories from adding gravity to the crisis‘ concluded Dr. Rifai in effect criticizing the Madagascar government for their extremely poor communications strategy over the plague outbreak, in other words themselves being largely responsible for the reaction by other countries in the region which resulted in cut air links and even quarantine for travelers coming from Madagascar. This in fact is a shortfall seen from many countries facing either a health or some other crisis that they constantly lag behind reporting on mainstream media leave alone the lightning speed with with, admittedly often inaccurate information spreads through social media. Concealing and belittling such problems in fact then strengthens public perception elsewhere that the government and country in question have something to hide and reactions then are entirely predictable when goodwill and trust have evaporated as a result.

Meeting with the Minister of Tourism, members of government, the President of the National Assembly, representatives from the United Nations in Madagascar, including the WHO Resident Coordinator, the World Bank, local private sector and media, Dr. Rifai then recalled that positive news are coming out of the sector such as the new strategic partnership between Air Madagascar and Air Austral and that there is a need to communicate the good news; build our capacity and restore confidence. That alone however is clearly not enough unless the Madagascar government can show cause how, if at all, they managed to contain and then eradicate the outbreak, incidentally one of several over past decades.

The Minister of Tourism Roland Ratsiraka responded by saying: ‘Being an island with 80% endemic biodiversity, Madagascar has a natural calling for sustainable tourism. Mr. Secretary General, your visit is rich in meaning, gives hope to a whole people and those who still doubt the economic benefits of the tourism industry‘.

Collaboration among all countries in crisis situations is critical and we call upon all countries in the region to cooperate in a way that reinforces prevention without creating unnecessary travel bans‘ said the Najib Balala, Chair of the UNWTO Commission for Africa and Minister of Tourism of Kenya, a country which has incidentally also put into place special screening measures for passengers from Madagascar.

The UNWTO Secretary-General and the Minister of Tourism of Madagascar will be meeting the press next week at the World Travel Market in London to brief on the current situation in the country.

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