1. You can’t run from the past
Despite having one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa and often cited as one of the most impressive cases of post-conflict recovery, Rwanda is widely known for one horrific event, said Sunny Ntayombya, the marketing and communications manager for the Rwanda Development Board. That event, of course, is the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed by the majority Hutus in 100 days.
“Throw in the fact that there’s only been one major Hollywood movie about Rwanda, which fuels the negative perception of this small African country that’s kind of unknown already, so even if you know a little about Rwanda it’s probably in the prism of ‘Hotel Rwanda,’” Mr. Ntayombya said.
“The way we’ve tackled that is not by running away from our past, but rather by telling the world that Rwanda is not just one thing, not one event, not one series of events — it’s a story of the depths of humanity, if people work together and are disciplined,” Mr. Ntayombya said.
Although Colombia’s conflict was vastly different from Rwanda’s, the idea that drugs were everywhere and that a Communist insurgency also stoked violence have been fueled by popular shows like Netflix’s “Narcos” and the Colombian telenovela “Pablo Escobar, The Drug Lord.” Much like in Rwanda, those charged with promoting the country could not ignore the past.
“We didn’t want to hide away from the fact that, yes, there was violence in the country and a guy like Pablo Escobar is associated with the country,” said Julian Guerrero, vice minister of tourism for Colombia. Until this summer, Mr. Guerrero was vice president of ProColombia, a government agency in charge of promoting Colombian exports, international tourism and foreign investment to Colombia.
Rwanda and Colombia’s success might be instructive for the Dominican Republic, where the deaths of at least nine Americans caught the attention of the international media and resulted in a decline in tourism earlier this year. Foreign arrivals fell 11 percent and 7 percent in July and August compared to those months the previous year.
Specialists in crisis management said that the country mishandled the news from the beginning, arguing that the deaths were not statistically unusual and there was no cause for alarm, rather than getting ahead of the narrative. “From the onset Dominican officials have had a defensive response,” said Beck Bamberger, chief executive of BAM Communications, a public relations firm that deals with crisis management. “That response doesn’t instill any trust for travelers.”