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June 11, 2020

Pivoting Tourism & Hospitality Initiatives During COVID-19

Samantha Davis

We’ve all heard about the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant and travel industries. But let’s not forget the communities, cities, and regions that all benefit from these diners and travelers. While some areas around the country are slowly reopening and adapting to a post-COVID environment as we head into the summer season, the majority of tourism and hospitality organizations find themselves completely reimagining a traditional visitor experience.

Travelers from all walks of life admit to feeling anxiety about jet setting anytime soon. This is signified by a pretty drastic decrease in global flights, hotel bookings, and Airbnb reservations. So what is an industry that is solely dependent on large groups of people all in one place to do when social distancing is a paramount concern all across the world?

Good news—it won’t last forever. Tourism and hospitality are going to be radically different in the short term. But the saying is true: absence makes the heart grow fonder. A whole other level of wanderlust is brewing in the hearts and minds of travelers. Lacking the ability to book any real travel at present, people are daydreaming about the day when they can take a trip with friends and family to anywhere but their kitchen.

This article isn’t meant to minimize the real and present challenges convention and visitor bureaus across the country are experiencing right now. Instead, its intention is to offer up some easy-to-implement ideas that can keep you going in the interim and prime your team for success when it’s time for travel season again.

Your city is still a destination—capture future visitors now.

While it’s INCREDIBLY tempting to cut back on marketing initiatives, projects, campaigns, and budgets, I strongly urge you to reconsider if you can. Some cities are left with no choice. But if you have a “rainy day” fund somewhere, grant money you’re having to get inventive with, or a generous donation—spend that money. Your city is still going to be a city when people begin traveling again. How can you maintain interest in your community as a destination? By continuing to reach potential travelers!

Show off your region’s beauty. People are TIRED of staying indoors, and they want to see interesting, expansive scenes. Dig up old content that you have on hand, like videos or imagery that you can reuse on social channels or refresh on your website. Focus on target demos that are within driving distance. While flights might be out of the question for most folks right now, millennials, retirees, and families alike are much more likely to hop in the car or RV to visit a place within 3-4 hours’ driving distance. This may be outside your normal markets, but these are anything but normal times. Curate quick day trips that are easily consumable and shareable. Affordability and easy-to-get-to are TOP priorities for potential travelers right now. Where can they get the most bang for their buck, and how can they do it safely?

Continue to position your area as a “must-visit” place. The communities that can pivot their messaging and continue reaching potential travelers are the ones who will come ahead stronger when the industry returns.

Offer virtual tours of museums, exhibits, and popular locations.

These have been all over social media, and for good reason. Travelers are doing anything but traveling right now. They’re instead at home, spending record time on devices and streaming content. If you have an art museum, permanent exhibit, or other fascinating tourist destination that is otherwise closed right now, contact your community partners to see if they’d be open to a virtual tour. Even the most amateur photographer/videographer can capture fascinating footage all from a cell phone.

Experiment with Facebook/Instagram Live—these forms of entertainment have gained popularity as users have grown weary of mindless scrolling all day. A key niche target for this tip are children. Do you have any kid-friendly destinations in your city? Parents are pulling duty as educators, short-order cooks, childcare providers, and full-time housekeepers. If you can provide FREE and easy entertainment for families, you’ll create brand affinity that will pay dividends in the future.

While a virtual experience can rarely hold a candle to the real deal, think of this activity as “buying goodwill.” You’re investing in providing interesting content for travelers to your city that they will likely remember and visit in person in the future.

Highlight outdoor attractions.

Parks, trails, coasts, greenways, and lakes are incredibly attractive to travelers right now. It’s easier to social distance when you’re not confined by walls. And in parts of the country that are still experiencing cold winter weather, the outdoors is all the more desirable to escape from home. Post an easy access guide to all outdoor attractions in your region on your social channels and website. Ensure you’re recommending guidelines for visitors to stay safe, keep track of hours for use, and relevant parking information.

If your regional outdoor attractions are still closed, consider creating fun posts on social media that engage travelers through voting or recommending the first venue they’ll visit when it’s reopened. This can provide you with some good metrics around engagement from your own citizens. Giving visitors a locally crowdsourced list makes it feel genuine. Here is where recycling old content you have on file works best, too. Continue to post pictures of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping amenities in your city. Humans want to have something to look forward to again, and sharing appealing content can help satiate that innate desire.

Keep it real.

This is not the time to pretend everything is normal. We know some cities are really struggling right now with a lower volume of travelers, and this can create ripples of anxiety throughout communities. Small businesses and service providers are also deeply impacted by a decrease in tourism and hospitality. Your community partners need to feel supported more than ever before.

Consider featuring a small business every week (or even day if you have enough!) on your social channels or email lists. Create a section on your website that showcases all the great things businesses are doing in your area and how they’re differentiated. Recommend that followers or visitors buy gift cards, follow them on social media, share the love. Consider giveaways on social media that positively benefit your local business owners. Feature pictures and profiles of popular businesses in your community to create awareness for when they’re reopened and people begin traveling again.

And connect with your local residents! They’re your biggest advocates for future potential travelers by recommending your community, restaurants, bars, attractions, etc. Foster a sense of community love and support while we’re all physically here “together.” Above all, keep your messaging human. Level with travelers. Say things like, “We miss you.” Or, “We can’t wait to see you again.” Make use of throwback posts and humor, but use good judgment. Couldn’t everyone use a good laugh these days?

These tips and tactics are some ways we’re helping our clients pivot during this weird time. As a personal lover of travel myself, I’ve grieved cancelled trips, weddings, and concerts already this year. But the silver lining to all of this is that I can’t wait to rediscover what exists in my own proverbial backyard. I’m making plans to take day trips with my family and friends, frequent restaurants in my city I haven’t tried yet, and I’m definitely going to appreciate travel more than ever before. Maybe we’ll all be a little more intentional about travel once this is all over. Perhaps we’ll find a new favorite place to visit that we wouldn’t have otherwise.