With record-high infection rates peaking in some of the world’s largest countries (and states), the quick recovery we were hoping for seems tenuous. Use the extra time to really prepare your destination with Resonance’s new recovery-focused Destination Marketing & Management Toolkit.
Restarting tourism marketing in a world following the COVID-19 pandemic will require destinations to rethink how to reach visitors in new ways. Attitudes towards travel have changed. Financial considerations are different. Communication and interpersonal contact has been altered.
At Resonance, we believe that travel will rebound in stages—three in particular. Essential travel will lead to increased local and regional travel, broader domestic travel, international leisure travel, and finally, large events and conventions.
Each destination will rebound at different rates depending on geography, infection rates, health policies, and governance.
In some cases, as we’ve seen in recent news, destinations will put a halt to their reopening progress, while others will reverse course and re-impose restrictions previously relaxed.
Regardless of the overarching recovery curve, each destination will go through three distinct phases of marketing and management changes. Each stage offers unique challenges and opportunities that will help destinations, hotels, and resorts in weathering the paths to recovery.
Even before travel begins to slowly restart, this is the period where preparing, developing strategies, and creating game plans is critical.
Destinations should rework target audiences and messaging, clean house with digital assets, and align marketing and management operations for the short- and near-term.
Following a virtual standstill of demand generation marketing at the onset of the pandemic, there are still important elements to execute during this phase.
While travel may be limited to essential trips, brand awareness, strategic planning, and marketing to locals still will be required.
PRE-RECOVERY MARKETING OPERATIONS
In the months leading up to travel restarting, destinations should take stock of brand and marketing strategies, review performance metrics, and tighten target audience and messaging tactics.
1. SPRING CLEANING
This is the time to look at existing assets like websites, social media pages, blogs, whitepapers, press materials, data sheets, and advertising materials and make changes.
Run websites through free SEO analysis tools to check for zombie pages and ineffective links and analyze viewer flow and performance through Google Analytics.
Update links, bios, hours of operations, reviews, images, and profiles across public-facing materials. Take stock of printed materials in storerooms that may no longer be useful, take inventory of marketing assets that can be distributed when marketing restarts. While not the flashiest of activities, getting the proverbial house in order will pay dividends later on and can save time and money as marketing restarts.
Before actually putting out any communication, take the time to ensure your house is in order. Use this period of time to check the effectiveness of your website using Google Analytics and one of the many SEO analysis tools, including Seobility (www.seobility.net), MOZ (moz.com) and SEO SITE CHECKUP (seositecheckup.com).
2. STRATEGY ALIGNMENT
One of the most common mistakes that any marketing team can make is to blast forward with campaigns without considering the overall vision and purpose. Understanding—and articulating—the overall vision, mission, and brand attributes for a destination is critical before successful marketing can happen.
Now is the time to revisit strategies and ensure groups are aligned on the overall vision.
Align teams around the brand essence and attributes that each destination uniquely owns. While a pandemic very well may change marketing tactics like target audience, marketing channels, or messaging, it will not change a strategic vision. A solid and clear vision will lay the foundation for all marketing to come.
3. PREPARE OPTIONS
It’s highly unlikely that pre-pandemic marketing plans will still be totally relevant as travel begins again. Audiences will change, patterns of spend will change, some activities will be more desired than in the past. Destinations can’t assume that restarting a seasonal marketing campaign that used to work will work again—you need options.
After the marketing and brand visions are confirmed, spend time looking at options of target audiences. Destinations who relied on international visitors need to rethink what a local or regional campaign looks like.
Attractions that thrived on large crowds and festivals need to rethink an experience coming out of social distancing and in-home isolation. It’s best for marketing teams to rethink multiple target audiences, the associated value propositions for each, and revised reasons to believe (USP’s) and messaging for each. Aligning how each destination’s unique offering matches the needs and expectations of each potential new audience will increase effectiveness and relevance of the marketing.
PRE-RECOVERY MARKETING CAMPAIGNS
While almost all marketing will be stopped during this phase of recovery, there are opportunities to still highlight your destination’s brand and stay top-of-mind.
1. KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Destinations should not go completely dark – even when most marketing is turned off. Generally, all outbound marketing campaigns should be paused or canceled. Forgetting to turn off digital marketing, promotional marketing, or incentive campaigns can make your brand feel tone-deaf and could have a negative backlash.
Ensure that websites, social media pages, phone numbers, voicemails, and physical mail is monitored and addressed. Updating sites with current information, updated hours, or policy implications is imperative. For customer service touchpoints, ensure that phone calls, messages, emails, and social posts are handled in a timely fashion. While most SEM should be canceled, there may be certain cases (ex: marketing to essential workers or healthcare provider travel) where pared-down search marketing makes sense.
2. BRAND AWARENESS: GATHER STORIES TO TELL
There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed the way we live and communicate and its impacts on social norms, culture, and business will be wide-spread. The positive side of a collective humanitarian crisis comes from the stories and shared experiences that remind us of what being human is all about. Collect stories, images, social posts, videos, and anecdotes from the town and region that showcase how the people worked together to get through.
Restaurants that helped medical workers, small businesses that pivoted and survived. Community organizations that volunteered to help schools. Creating a database of stories to help articulate the gestalt of a destination are excellent ways to convey the brand and the feeling of a place. Highlighting authentic experiences in social media, online, and in infographics are ways to show the community and visitors a slice of what the location is all about.
3. PROMOTE LOCAL
As demand generation and outbound marketing are on pause, there is still opportunity for a DMO or regional marketing organization to promote local businesses to residents.
From information on essential stores, restaurant take out, and business openings to information on local governmental and health policies, typical marketing may need to yield to local marketing. Using the web, social, and media relationships from a DMO may become a critical asset to the community and its residents.
BRAND AWARENESS: CAMPAIGN THOUGHT STARTERS
COVID-19 has given us all a greater appreciation for our communities and the cities we live in; your city may not have changed but the way you experience it has. As a way to reinforce this message and encourage people to ‘rediscover’ their city, we could play with the concept of ‘same and different’ through all our senses: we now see our city with more color, taste it with more depth, feel the heartbeat of the people, and experience it with more richness. As time passes, we could invite people to rediscover and share their local experiences using unique tags.
4. SELL THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
While this period may not be the most appropriate to do broad demand generation, it may be the perfect time to be selling a destination for the years following the anticipated recovery.
DMOs have already had success landing business for 2021-2025 based on current books of business and in-process negotiations.
It’s generally accepted that travel will have rebounded and normalized (following vaccines, treatments, and reopenings) by late 2021 or early 2022. Working with convention bureaus, meeting planners, and event organizers now to be top-of mind for consideration for the coming years can help bolster a destination’s future business.
Key ingredients in addition to the sales presentation will be how the destination is equipped and prepared to host (hygiene, distancing, safety) and flexibility of terms (cancellation policies, payment schedules). Other considerations will be regional drive markets versus flight requirements, attendee perceptions of city versus suburban destinations, and state or regional policies shaping events and activities.
Conferences and seminars are in the pipeline; what’s required is reassuring communication that these will be safe to attend. Make sure you create suitable messages that feature (in some way or form) the measures in place to make your event safe.
As we look at the pre-recovery phase for destination management, we see an important list of priorities for DMO roles and responsibilities.
1. INDUSTRY AND BUSINESS ADVOCACY
As most know, the U.S. Travel Association has led the charge for protecting travel and tourism during this crisis.
DMOs need to follow suit and lead the effort locally. Mayors, city managers, and town council members need to know the important economic impact that travel and tourism delivers to local economies and the large numbers of jobs at stake. DMOs need to protect and defend their local industries and operators. The situation is just too precarious to assume these officials understand.
2. COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AND BUSINESS CONTINUITY
DMOs are getting the word out about restaurants offering meals to go and home delivery. But it’s much more than that—it’s about helping small business owners and operators survive, and in the process, saving the local industry.
DMOs need to think like small business consultants providing experience, expertise, mentoring, networking, and advice to keep these local businesses running and the lights turned on. Helping with financial considerations, operational realignment, online sales, social media connections, and more, are all part of the DMO role now.
3. RELATIONSHIP BUILDING AND MAINTENANCE
In the best of times, DMOs build strong relationships with visitors and potential customers from afar. In times like these, DMOs also need productive connections with government officials and community leaders from Mayors to Economic Development officials, philanthropic organizations, and much more. The pressure on the DMOs mission, operations, and budget will only get more intense as the shutdown continues and it takes time to scale back up to business as usual. These relationships are critical to survival.
DMO leaders need to make the calls, hold the online meetings, write the emails, and keep those relationships strong, productive, and supportive of their mission.
4. DESTINATION COMMUNICATIONS AND MESSAGING
DMOs have been terrific at creating external marketing messages since the dawn of tourism, but now the messaging needs to pivot and include the destination itself. Communicating to a home audience is different, but uses the same skills and resources: the new audience is onsite visitors, local industry partners, and destination residents; the new messaging is about safety and security, the new normal for social distancing, sanitation, health checks, and traffic to start.
5. SANITATION & HEALTH SCREENING
It’s unfortunate, but the days of worry-free travel are over. Now, every single touch point must be re-thought. How does a virus move from place to place, from person to person? How do we re-engineer facilities and operations to prevent the spread of this and other diseases? Tourism must now join in partnership with health authorities to rebuild the industry, and high-traffic locations like airports, cruise terminals, convention centers, and sports venues are the foundations.
And don’t forget the individual hotels, restaurants, and shops which may or may not have their own protocols to deploy, share, and learn.
6. YOUR MEDIUM AND LONG-TERM MANAGEMENT PLANS
Over the past few years, the industry has begun focusing on destination plans. ‘Sustainability’ was the buzz word for a very long time, then ‘overtourism’ made management plans more urgent, and most recently ‘stewardship’ joined the lexicon.
Now, COVID-19 provides more incentive than ever to think about destination management: how do DMOs manage their destination and deliver excellent experiences for their visitors, deliver return on investment to their industry, and quality of life for their residents, while at the same time protecting their visitors, industry, and residents from harm?
This is now a perfect opportunity to undertake scenario planning exercises to consider how the future might unfold and focus energy and resources to implement the preferred scenario.
Winston Churchill famously advised that, “we should never let a good crisis go to waste.” The message for destinations is clear—we must not let this crisis pass without preparing for a new future. Take the time, resources, and energy to develop and put in place medium and long-term management plans for your destination, which is of course the kind of work that Resonance enjoys doing.