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The Great Barrier Reef and the importance of reputation

What does our country’s greatest natural wonder have to do with brand reputation management?

The Great Barrier Reef made international headlines earlier this month when UNESCO announced it would not list the Reef as an “in danger” World Heritage site.

This move would have placed our greatest living organism alongside other “in danger” sites, such as the Sumatra Rainforests of Indonesia, the Old City of Jerusalem, and many ancient cities and villages in war-torn Syria.

In the process, it would leave Australia’s reputation as a competent environmental manager in tatters. It would also send a message the Reef was no longer pristine and not worth visiting.

With the tourism industry contributing $23 billion to the Queensland economy and employing 241,000 people across the state, there was a danger the listing would have seen a downturn in tourist numbers, job losses and business closures following negative media coverage worldwide.

It would also have severely impacted the positive role tourism operators play in monitoring, researching and protecting the Reef.

It’s a great example of why reputation management is so important and should never be underestimated.

Both brand and reputation are interconnected, built through direct and indirect experiences and emotions.

In our globalised world, tourists actively share their unique travel experiences through technology and social media, illustrating how wonderful, inspiring and beautiful the Reef is.

To effectively manage a brand’s reputation on an ongoing basis, it is important to monitor the traditional and online media landscape, and proactively position how your organisation or product is perceived.

Most importantly, delivering on public promises and managing public expectations will help to build brand loyalty and trust.

In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian and Queensland Governments have begun to do this through The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/long-term-sustainability-plan), pledging to protect and manage the Reef for the next 35 years.  It’s a management plan that contains key priorities and actions that are measurable and timely.

How well this plan is executed will continue to shape how the world perceives the Great Barrier Reef as a “must see” tourism destination and Australia’s commitment to best-practice environmental management.