Dilemma 4: Excessive sea pollution during the most busy season

During a sunny day in August the mayor of Fishville took his granddaughter to Palm Spring beach which was crowded with tourists. The mayor was sunbathing, relaxing and reading. Suddenly his small granddaughter came to him frightened and upset holding a dead fish in her hands. The mayor was shocked, and he tried to calm down the granddaughter. Soon after, they picked their stuff from the beach and went back to his office, even though it was Sunday. He immediately called the waste management supervisor and asked for explanation. The supervisor replied that everything was well-managed and under control.Dilemma: Excessive sea pollution during the most busy season

The next day, the mayor received a phone call from his friend who worked as a manager in Palm Spring Beach Resort. The manager had received various complaints from different guests regarding the water quality in the hotel area. After the process of examining the sea water, the hotel staff had found other floating objects. From the direction of the streams, they assumed that the main problem was the leakage of the city waste water system.

Unfortunately, the local and international media had already received some hints from tourists, and they were about to disseminate news about water pollution. Some of them already started interviewing local people and tourists regarding this issue, and they wanted a comment from the mayor. The mayor contacted the waste water manager again, and under some pressure he admitted that a pipe had broken. He claimed that the plant did not have enough funds for an optimal maintenance, and the city had cut back even further in connection with the establishment of the golf course and the promenade next to the beach resort. He told the mayor that all staff worked on the issue, and he expected the waste waster spill to stop in 2 or 3 days time.

The promenade was the mayor‚€™s favorite project, and he had gained an immense popularity among the hotel owners. The design by a young Japanese landscape architect had won an international award for the innovative sculpturing and the untraditional use of exotic plants.

The hoteliers were in his office. They told the mayor that they had organized voluntary work teams by calling in staff, relatives, and voluntary people from the area to collect dead fish and garbage from the beach. They put pressure on the mayor to say as little as possible, and try to let the story pass.

The mayor had also had an alarmed call from the hospital, where a small boy had been brought in with severe allergic reactions after having swum in the sea. The chief physician said that he considered setting a ban on swimming, and he was in contact with the national health authorities on the issue.

It was time for the mayor to stand up in front of media and public. He did not feel at ease.


The possible solutions:

The mayor decides to be honest about the leakage and that this is due to a lack of proper maintenance. He repeats that the leak will be repaired in 2-3 days. He promises that a modernization will be on the agenda of his political party in the next period. He underlines that none of the political parties have been sufficiently aware of the potential dangers.

The mayor and his staff organizes a range of extraordinary entertainments to take place in the area, such as volleyball matches, horseriding for the kids, openair cinema, street dancing etc. Everything is for free. He announces that the city is sorry for what happened, but he hopes that everybody will enjoy, and he and his granddaughter will also attend.

Realizing that there is not particular political will to give priority to a modernization of the sewage system, the mayor announces that the city must reconsider the financing of the wastewater handling completely. He explains that he wants to invite experts to workshops, and also include the tourist industry and people from the green organisations. He says that he wants to see a completely new way of thinking and acting which also involves the tourists. He is sketching the outlines of the new paradigm for the press, and promises to take action already the next week.

The mayor closes down the beach for a week. Over the night he and his staff will elaborate a crisis plan which will be published already the next morning. He will make sure that the level of pollution is continually controlled, and he will publish new information every 3 hours. It is important for him, that nobody will be harmed. The mayor will ensure that a crisis organization is established in case of a repeat of this event.


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This dilemma was created in co-operation with EMTM master students as part of a course in ‚€œStrategic communication in tourism‚€ at the University of Southern Denmark. (about EMTM: www.emtmmaster.net)