Tourism marketing and coronavirus: decisions now are key to what happens later

Community Bottle Tree in downtown Port Gibson, Mississippi, by artist Stephanie Dwyer – a Main Street Port Gibson project (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Work and planning now will determine your success when travel re-opens.

The world is in the throes of a horrendous pandemic. National economies are “on ice” as spending grinds to a halt. Millions of people are trying to sort out working remotely, IF they can keep their jobs. Travel and tourism activity is largely suspended, and destination marketers are in the odd position of telling everyone to stay home.

(And at least where Leslie and Sheila live, no one can find any toilet paper. Obviously the least of the current crises, but come on, people, stop hoarding!)

It’s so hard to keep any sort of focus right now, we know.

The best advice we can think of for this moment is… the decisions you make now will determine how you come out of this.

Here is how we suggest that you spend some of your time and brainpower in this time of tourism marketing and coronavirus:

To Do Now: Build Your Bench, Strengthen Your Team

Consider this an opportunity to get tourism, economic development, Main Street, and local influencer partners all on the same page. They are your center, your core, your (when things are more normal) town’s ambassadors. They are the ones who can make a visit special. Keep them informed and inspired.

Be a reliable information anchor for your local community – use your powerful social channels during and after disasters to share needed resources, even though that means that some or many posts right now will not be tourism-related.

To Do:

1.  Make sure partners are aware of local, county, state/province, and national pandemic-related economic help, grants, and loans that are available to them. More and more government and private options are popping up each day.

2.  Help your partners get their most current information posted. Have they given you their latest hours open/services offered for your website Resources page? Here is a local Business Updates page example from Experience Columbus, Ohio. If needed, show partners how to pin a COVID-19 status update post to the top of their social accounts. Remind them to update their Yelp and Tripadvisor listings, their Facebook Page Messenger auto-responder, social media bios, email signatures… even their business voicemail message.

3.  Help partners use this time to learn to successfully market not only their business/organization, but the destination as a whole. Coach them through claiming their Google My Business listings, the best thing they can do for local SEO. Do a mini-audit of their Facebook Page or Instagram accounts. Help them think through cross-promotion ideas to start later, like offering a coupon for a free cup of coffee or tea at the downtown coffee shop to customers of the local kayak or bike rental company.

4.  Get help for yourself: ask partners to contribute a blog post to your CVB, DMO, or downtown/Main Street blog, so you can help promote them with online visibility and links. You could have several posts in draft, all ready to publish, once travel resumes.

5.  Consider starting a private tourism partner Facebook Group, or improving engagement in the one you already have. It can help you share ideas, debunk myths, & encourage that #SocialTown cross-promotion both online and off.

6.  Take this time to segment your own partner email list (restaurants only, retail partners only, attractions only, etc.) It’s powerful to be able to email the right people with helpful information that is a perfect fit for them.

To Do Now: Plan Your Re-Launch

There is going to be a “starting gate effect” when travel opens up in another couple of months (update August 2020 – whoops, well, whenever it starts really opening) and you can either think through your choices now, or be scrambling later to get in gear against competitors.

We think it will be best to focus particularly on your 1-2 niche specialties and “perfect” visitor/guest, especially from your drive markets. Even if you have a big budget, this is not the time to throw money against the wall and try to be everywhere. Focus. Start relatively small. Think about how you can include specific local influencers and champions in that outreach, to make it as personal as possible.

The “We have something for everyone so come visit come visit please PLEASE” shout-y desperation is going to be palpable from some DMOs.

Let them holler.

You go for the small but mighty group of visitors, guests, and customers who really love who you are and what you offer. Clear, targeted outreach and inspiration to specific groups will help to cut through the noise.

To Do:

1.  Use this time to lay out the details of your very focused re-launch campaign. Create as much of the media as you can now; shoot the video, take the photos, write the copy, design the graphics. Connect with the partners and locals who will be involved. Get their ideas and input; they should be invested in the success of the destination as a whole.

2.  Run some paid advertising – on your Facebook Page at least – to build your email list, a critical asset that YOU control. Make it enticing: “When travel opens back up, our email subscribers will be the first to know about specials and packages.”

Finally, use all of these experiences and insights to keep building out your crisis communications playbooks and checklists, which may be the most lasting, vital thing of all that you’re creating for your organization or business.

There WILL be another crisis. It could be a COVID-19 resurgence, a natural disaster, or something else, but you and your destination, attraction, hotel, or small business will be ready for it.

We’re sending you hugs and strength…

(Related postis it time to launch an online store? Maybe, and here’s how to start.)


PS. Our whole focus is teaching you and/or your partners how to use digital destination marketing to bring more visitors to your town (when the time is right for that.)

Let us know if you need workshop or conference speakers – including virtual/webinars – or would like some personalized coaching and consulting.

If you want to bounce some ideas around about working with us, ping us through our Contact page.

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