A great article published in Forbes.com and written by our friend Carm Lyman, President of Lyman Agency.
COVID-19 has ground the tourism industry to a halt, with the World Travel and Tourism Council projecting the loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue worldwide. Those are staggering numbers. Though not to the same degree, tourism was similarly affected by the 2008 financial crisis, which saw a sharp decline followed by a slow and steady recovery. So, what now? While many in this industry may feel rightfully frozen, it’s high time to get into gear and to plan for when the time does come to reopen for business.
Given we have little idea of the parameters of reopening destinations, resorts and hotels to visitors, it’s still a good time to prepare for when things start to normalize. This includes thinking through all of the possible ways to communicate, as well as what messages will need to be conveyed beyond “we’re open for business!” Of course, it’s only safe to start promoting when the time is right and it’s deemed safe.
Tip #1: Responsibility above all else.
Reopening the doors to any destination, hotel or otherwise, foremost requires safety assurances for every member of society — from locals and employees to, of course, the valued visitors. It’s critically important to clearly explain the new rules and boundaries. Promoting responsible visitation and hospitality measures should be job No. 1.
First, it’s imperative to follow the government’s guidance about when it’s safe to welcome visitors back. Jumping the gun will serve no one, so be careful of the messages conveyed while ramping toward reopening. When it’s finally time to host visitors again, it won’t be like it was pre-COVID. Guests will be unsure, and social distancing and safety measures will initially remain in place.
Tip #2: Get community input and alignment.
One of the major differences between 2008 and the current situation is the potential risk visitation poses to full-time residents. That said, visitors are essential for many communities, especially those that are tourism destinations, such as wine country, mountain towns and ski destinations, as well as beach towns.
It’s important to gather input from key stakeholders to build consensus around how and when to move forward with reopening. Rest assured many of these community members are the shop and restaurant owners, innkeepers and hotel managers, and local government officials that know the importance of the dollars that visitors bring.
Begin the discussions with stakeholders now to be best prepared for when rollout begins. Building alignment within the community is vital, and ensuring both residents’ and business owners’ concerns are heard and addressed is part of the process.
Tip #3: Focus on the core customer.
Like in 2008, fly destinations will likely be impacted far longer than those where visitors can hop in the car and drive to a destination. That means locales like Hawaii and Las Vegas could see a slower recovery while the tourist towns and cities of California, with 40 million car-loving and active residents ready to venture to in-state getaways, will likely see visitors much sooner.
In times of confusion, consumers also tend to go with what they know, and that will likely be true for the first few trips planned. Whomever your visitor will be, in addition to making your messages clear, be sure to speak to their interests.
Tip #4: Tease up the good time to come.
Despite the halt in physical gatherings, now is a time to stay on the mind and remind your visitors of the beauty and activities afforded. The reasons a customer has come in the past will be the same — or even greater — to return, especially those with outdoor attraction. Beyond staying connected via social media, think of ideas to promote virtual tourism. Greece has an impressive and inspiring program called #GreecefromHome. Wanderlust is powerful.
Now is the perfect time to execute email and social media tactics that remind people of what’s to love. Scenics, “wish you were here” messages, live cams, unique features and other reminders are useful tools. Get extra creative by introducing a new ambassador, like Tim, the head of security for the National Cowboy Museum who is temporarily manning the social media (and a good reminder about the power of authenticity!).
Tip #5: Rally constituents to open for business responsibly.
Prepare for a new normal for the foreseeable future. Destination marketing organizations can help local businesses adapt their plan to welcome visitors again. What additional measures are hotels and restaurants taking to ensure cleanliness and comply with CDC or health department guidelines?
Start a campaign to communicate what’s being done, as well as for requesting responsible visitation. This can be both online (website, email, social media) and offline (signage, posters, banners, billboards). Staying vigilant will help keep the community safe for visitors and full-time residents alike.
Tip #6: Get the word out.
A specific date to restart promotion of the destination will likely be a moving target, as federal and state guidelines begin to take shape and consumer sentiment toward travel shifts. To paraphrase California’s Governor Newsom, the reopening will also be more like turning up a dimmer than flipping a switch.
Communication can begin as a teaser campaign to loyalists on owned social and email (“It’s almost time!”) followed by PR and paid campaigns that start simple (“Come visit!”).
It will be important to closely monitor comments on social media as well as review insights, email performance and website analytics to understand audience sentiment and behavior and adapt accordingly. It’s equally important to ensure no one is misinterpreting messages that you might need to clarify.
Finally, as restrictions lift there will be many questions about what’s open and what’s not. A central hub of information and resources that are regularly updated will be highly useful for guests. A visitor’s bureau website is an obvious place for this, with communications mechanisms from various constituents sharing it out.
Preparing now for the future will enable you to not only put your best and most creative foot forward but also not be rushed when the time comes to communicate the good news.