Leveling the tourism playing field

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Some travelers will postpone their bigger trips planned originally in 2020 back to 2021. But they will still begin to plan and research those adventures in advance, especially with flexible cancellation policies from airlines, tour operators, cruise lines and various other travel suppliers.

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What can tourism marketers do to navigate the current unknown travel market? DMOs should separate plans into two distinct buckets. They must focus on short term tactics plus longer term approaches to be sure to capture as much new demand as possible. With all the craziness from the coronavirus pandemic, it is hard to find silver linings. But one thing we know is that people love to travel even when they can’t travel. They still like to dream and plan. Travel gives them hope and a nice distraction from the stressors of everyday life. Your destination can start to build that new connection with new potential travelers long before they make it to your location. Bucket #1 includes building awareness for your destination perhaps with a targeted connected TV campaign. We just worked with a Caribbean destination on a connected TV program that exceeded all expectations and enjoyed a lower than normal competitive landscape with many other destinations going dark. Let potential visitors virtually visit your destination with enhanced itinerary builders or virtual reality content.

Some travelers will postpone their bigger trips planned originally in 2020 back to 2021. But they will still begin to plan and research those adventures in advance, especially with flexible cancellation policies from airlines, tour operators, cruise lines and various other travel suppliers.

As people begin to venture out on vacations, destinations have a chance to reinvent themselves. Many people are opting to avoid large crowds and are not focused on the most popular, biggest cities. This creates opportunities for smaller towns and destinations to showcase what makes them unique. They have a competitive advantage if they are off the beaten path or a hidden gem. Travelers are interested in outdoor adventure, beaches, country and western locations with wide open spaces. Imagine having to shelter in place for weeks in a tiny urban apartment. Now those folks are itching to get away with drive vacations.

DMOs used to only have to focus on marketing. These days the best Destinations are stepping up and doing anything and everything to help their local tourism product survive. I have seen some DMOs act more like an extension of the mayor’s office than a typical marketing agency and that is what is needed now in the industry. All hands on deck as destinations close, then reopen only to close once again.

Ask yourself how you can work with local partners to enable them to create safe attractions and things to do in your area.  Building an outdoor obstacle course or setting up a massive area with partitions and lights for outdoor seating can create a new reason for visitors to come. If restaurants are on board, then highlight that in your marketing. 

Anything you have that is in the fun from 6 feet away category needs to be promoted more than normal. An indoor children’s museum takes a back seat to one that gets creative and moves some exhibits or activities to an outdoor space or pavilion.  Bucket #2 includes ways to make it easier for visitors to experience your destination all while putting their fears to rest.  Of course there is still risk for visitors to get or spread the virus, but show them what you are doing to minimize that risk is equal to or better than their own hometown safety protocols.

Just as consumers prefer to shop at a grocery store with plastic shields at checkout, so will travelers prefer to feel safer as they move across your destination. If your local partners are not at full capacity anyways, then consider putting limits in place to reduce foot traffic at indoor attractions. This will reassure visitors who are on the fence. Be sure to promote any new content on your site with new blogs and social media posts. As travelers search for safe destinations and things to do, they will not yet know their final destination. They will select their destination based on how safe the fun things you offer truly are. Normally most people focus on the top attractions and destinations. In this new environment market share will be shifted to places that would normally not see new demand simply because those tourism marketers had safer attractions, destinations and coronavirus protection procedures in place.

Yes we will all get through this COVID-19 pandemic together as an industry. But don’t you want your destination to emerge a little bit sooner or better than average? Put some of these strategies into place to position your destination as safer and you’ll be able to recover faster.