When coronavirus hit Dubai

I travelled to Dubai for a week in January and was looking forward to the sunshine.

A couple of days in, the UAE had confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. It’s fair to say I’ve been watching the comms around this since for a number of reasons.

When I was on holiday, we visited a beach restaurant that we had eaten at the day before. On the second visit, all the staff were wearing face masks. When we asked the staff why, our server said “we are all scared of the virus and we’re trying to protect ourselves.”

That day, I sent out a tweet and copied in the hotel group where I was staying. My message was simple. Staff are creating fear because they don’t know any better. You need to have a strategy to communicate with staff about best measures and you need to communicate with hotel guests, as fear was spreading across the UAE, not just my hotel. A few followers who knew I was making sense echoed the statement and another was looking for advice as she was supposed to be out the following week.

24 hours later, I’m sitting on the beach and had decided to send out a further series of tweets with my recommendations to the hospitality industry and tourism industry. It was about being upfront, factual, helpful, consistent and repetitive to stop misinformation, fake news and widespread fear. It must have gained attention though from the hotel group (that’s a whole other story, for another day).

But STILL, despite the attention and the discussions, the hotel group took NO action. None.

And only yesterday, journalists are writing about their hotels being in lockdown, the fear of the virus and that was a month after my visit…

So here are my thoughts, again:

  1. Outbreaks should be part of your risk and crisis plans. You never know when and where they will strike but you should always have a plan in place for your staff, customers and wider stakeholders – this is just good business practice
  2. DO NOT stick your head in the sand. Coronavirus will not just disappear. Being helpful doesn’t mean it’s your fault or you’re admitting something. Being helpful in this situation, could literally mean the difference between life and death
  3. In this specific case, there could have been serious discrimination as 75% of our hotel guests were from China. So think about scenarios when making plans
  4. Companies should be offering flexibility to their staff – this will depend on the type of business you run, but remember transportation, working in offices and air con etc all transfer germs. Is remote working a possibility, for example?
  5. You need to remain calm, only talk with facts and listen to advice from the professionals such as the World Health Organisation (or in the UK, the NHS)
  6. You need to work collaboratively as an organisation and with other organisations – think of all your challenges, come up with collaborative solutions
  7. Are there large-scale events you need to cancel?
  8. How often do you monitor and adapt your communication around coronavirus? It needs to be a daily action (if not constant action, depending on your organisation)

And finally, the proactive rebuild of your organisation, its relationships and how it moves forward, needs to be considered now, so plans can start to be developed, not when things are at their worst and broken…

A few of the activities reported in Dubai in the last few days:

Dubai Lynx postponed

Journalist was in lockdown in Dubai

Dubai’s gov games postponed

I hope this was helpful. I hope people now start to understand the huge importance and the critical role of proactive communication in a situation like now. Any maybe now businesses and organisations across the world will also realise the importance of risk and crisis planning, internal communication, stakeholder engagement and the absolutely necessary and crucial role of the public relations profession.

Please do share this blog as it has a fairly unique point to it, and it could also help shape future plans for organisations across the world.