Crisis Communications and Recovery Toolkit

Program Summary

This toolkit offers a variety of crisis communications preparedness and recovery assets for communities and organizations impacted by natural disasters and tourism crisis situations.


Type: Toolkit

For: Tourism partners

OEDIT division: Colorado Tourism Office

We highly recommend that all organizations prepare and regularly update a crisis communications plan.

Important components of a crisis communications plan include:

  • a crisis team with up-to-date contact information
  • a media spokesperson
  • checklists
  • communication resources
  • notification procedures
  • news and social media response
  • integration of emergency procedures
  • coordination with partners and up-to-date partner list 

When coordinating a communication plan during a crisis, industry partners should utilize the Colorado Tourism Office's six tips to create effective message.

  1. Tell the truth. Transparency is vital to an organization’s credibility. Some think they can “spin” the situation to avoid telling the real story, but the truth always catches up with the lie. 
  2. Know when to respond. When a crisis arises, typically there is a point when a crisis reaches a tipping point and there is pressure to respond immediately response is required. However, never respond to a crisis without carefully accessing the situation and having a plan in place.
    • During a crisis:
      • assign team members to gather information on the ground
      • create messaging/draft statements, and formulate a plan of action for a response
      • if a proactive response is warranted, the action should be taken immediately so it is not assumed the organization is trying to avoid the situation
      • if a response is immediately required but details are sparse, implement a buy time statement
  3. Dedicate a media spokesperson. You cannot control a crisis, but you can manage it. Identify a lead spokesperson with media-facing experience or invest in media training for a senior member of your organization. Use an authoritative figure who can communicate with the media and facilitate accurate and fair reporting, while simultaneously communicating key strategic messages.
  4. Identify media sources. Reporters will look to interview many different individuals to gather quotes that will help frame the story. A reporter will keep attempting to reach potential sources until they find someone who will support their story. This is why it is imperative early on in a crisis to communicate your organization’s key messages to your constituents and industry partners and “speak with one voice”. Encourage inquiries to be routed to a lead spokesperson. If the media wants to talk to those on the frontline it is helpful to provide them with key messages. This way, if contacted by the media, they will be prepared to answer specific questions while simultaneously communicating the broader strategic messaging. 
  5. Don't write headlines for the media. There are officials who will give regular emergency or operational updates to the media. Think of emergency management personnel, local police, and fire departments. Meet
    with these individuals to stress that, while updates should be accurate and factual, they should be careful not to use language that can easily be taken out of context. For example, a couple years ago, the Today Show used a headline “fire of epic proportions” after hearing a local fire official use the term during a media briefing on a wildfire.
  6. A picture says a thousand words. Images reported by the media can be damaging to public perception. However, if the situation in your area is different than what the media is reporting, the best weapon you have is the truth. Share real-time content (images and video) via your social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, and encourage your followers to share this content with their networks. Take advantage of the Colorado Tourism Office’s social media resources. We can help communicate the real situation on the ground when what is being reported is less than accurate.

Please keep the Colorado Tourism Office public relations and social media teams informed about crisis situations in your areas and the best resources for information on those situations so we can relay information to our Welcome Centers, call center, web team, and international team and best convey the situation on the ground to visitors. 

Communicating to media

Some things to remember when communicating with the media are:

  • ignoring the media won’t make them go away
  • reporters will tell the story they want to tell if you don’t tell your story
  • not presenting a spokesperson makes everyone else a spokesperson
  • once the story has been told, it is very difficult to take it back or get it corrected

These statements can be used as a guideline by you and your team to communicate to the media, during a crisis. 

Buy time statement

My name is (full name) and I am (title) with (XYZ Company). We can confirm that there has been an incident, but we don’t have details. (Give minimal details if confirmed including time, location and nature of incident.) We don’t have enough information to answer your questions. Our spokesperson will be back in touch once we have more information. Until then, we have your contact information. (Or you are welcome to stay in this safe area.) We will provide you an update once more information is available. We will also post updates at xyz.com and on Twitter at @(twitter handle).

No comment

No comment can imply:

  • guilt
  • the organization is hiding something
  • a lack of command and control
  • a confirmation of the facts

Instead of no comment use:

  • I don’t have information I can confirm right now.
  • You’re asking me to speculate, and I won’t do that.
  • What I can tell you is …
  • That will be part of the investigation.
  • You will need to speak with the (organization) for that.
  • That’s private information and we respect people’s privacy.

During a crisis, it is important to use social media to your advantage. Social media will help put the company in a position to become the source for official and verified information and reduce the need to present a spokesperson. The company can communicate directly with its audience, owners, partners, public, media, employees, and victims.

Some social media crisis tips are: 

  • Be honest. Your destination is viewed as a trusted source of information.
  • Monitor the conversation. Jump into the travel conversation, you need to understand what is being said. Monitor the discussion with tools like Sprout Social
  • Watch your tone. Insensitive, out-of-touch or tone-deaf messaging is preventable. A lot of people will be on edge and you need to be a comfort to them. Take this time to bring fact-based messaging to the table.
  • Respond in a timely manner. Keep a close eye on your social media notifications to monitor issues that arise. A timely response reiterates your platform as a trusted source of information.
  • Plan ahead. It’s best to have a plan in place for how you will respond when/if a crisis happens again. Develop a plan to ensure your organization is ready for the next challenge.
  • To message or not to message. When evaluating a crisis situation, look at three different phases — green, yellow, red. To determine the current level and when to change levels or take certain courses of action, it requires the intuition of the social media manager and brand team to decide the tipping point for changing levels/action.

The Colorado Tourism Office and other divisions under the Office of Economic Development and International Trade offer a variety of crisis recovery assistance opportunities.

Available funding opportunities include: 

CTO also offers multiple marketing communications opportunities and mentorshipto support areas impacted by crisis situations. This includes focused pitching and news releases to generate influencer and media coverage of the destination.

Available marketing promotion and mentorships programs are: 

For additional details regarding how these assets can be used, please contact the program manager below.

Program Manager

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