“Crisis Management for Destinations Re: COVID-19”: Rob Ulmer – Show Notes

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic Agency
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Rob Ulmer
  • Position: Dean of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)
  • Favorite Destination: Favorite golf trip was to St. Andrews, Scotland, otherwise anytime away with the family is a nice trip
  • Dream Destination: Ireland to play golf

“Crisis Management for Destinations Re: COVID-19” – Show Notes and Highlights


Show Highlights

Rob’s Background

  • Rob Ulmer grew up in a small, agricultural town in Saskatchewan, Canada. In such a small province, there wasn’t much going on, but the town had world-class hockey and farming.
  • After completing his bachelor’s degree, he debated joining the military. When interviewing for the Air Force, they said, “If you had a graduate degree, you’d be able to come in at a higher military rank and that could help you move through.”
  • He completed his graduate degree at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota. That’s where he fell in love with crisis communications and higher education.
  • From there, he went to Wayne State University in Detroit for his Ph.D. in communications. In his doctorate, he developed a philosophy about renewal and how organizations can respond effectively to crises.
  • From Detroit, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he worked for 16-17 years at the University of Arkansas before moving to Las Vegas where he and his family have been for about six years.

Crisis Communications Philosophy

  • When organizations look at crisis situations, there’s something Rob calls a threat bias that happens when people become so fearful of the threat and what could happen that they lie, deny, shift blame to others, or don’t communicate at all. A threat bias is when companies are worried about the legal implications of responding to a situation so they oftentimes say very little or place blame elsewhere.
  • When going through crisis situations, organizations can learn from the event, from other people, and from other organizations. 
  • Rob found organizations responding to crises ethically, are looking after their stakeholders, and giving people what is called a significant choice, allow people to make decisions about their outcomes and what they believe is going to be the best decision for them and their family. Those organizations are more successful and effective overall than if they gave into fear and did nothing as a response to the crises. 
  • Organizations need to look to the future, rather than backward, and be models for their industry.
  • Organizations that learn, are ethical in their communications, have a prospective vision, and are able to frame things, are more effective than organizations that focus on their image and reputation or those that shift blame.

Step-by-step: Where to Start

  • It all starts with a connection with your customers. Understand their concerns, what they’re excited about, what they’re thinking about, and their expectations for travel. Once that is understood, you can start to engage with them.  
  • Then, organizations should take a look at their organizational learning and the protocols they have in place. Do your processes meet what the customer is looking for? What type of processes will help the customers feel comfortable? Map the protocols to match what you found in the first informational phase.
  • Third, it’s time to create a vision — a prospective vision. This vision should build upon the relationship with the customer, showcase what you’ve learned, and should be consistently messaging what protocols you’ve established for them. 
  • Finally, find a way to differentiate your destination and be a model for the industry. In order to do this, you have to understand your competitors. Make sure customers get a sense that you’re the best so if they had to choose between one destination and another, they feel like yours is the most appropriate during these times.
  • Don’t copy others because they’ve catered their campaigns for their audiences and what works for them, might not work for you. 

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast