As I write this article, the world has been upended by the coronavirus and whole industries have been decimated, particularly the tourism industry. Having been around for a while and seen the effects of 9/11 and the financial crisis, I’m hoping to offer some strategies from a marketing and PR perspective to navigate these challenging times.
In the past weeks I’ve spoken to DMO’s, several tourism business owners and researched as much as I can on the topic. And while it is indeed grim, I think there are things businesses can do to lessen the pain, and even some opportunities.
To start with, the Adventure Travel Trade Association has compiled a great list of resources that covers all aspects of dealing with the crisis. There are practical ideas and inspirational ones in there too.
Get a COVID-19 Policy on your Website Now
What are your practices for keeping people safe? What are your policies on trip bookings? Will you be refunding trips, or allowing rebookings? If you’re still able to run trips, how will they be different? When it comes to the actual wording, consider reaching out to your DMO or tourism association. They might have something already. Here’s a good example of a COVID policy for a tourism operator. And once you’ve got your policy written, don’t hide it in your ‘news’ section, get it on your home page, front and center. Your guests will want to see that.
Consider making your website more ‘COVID friendly’ in the short term. Colourful (and crowded) markets might have made great photos for your website a few months ago, but now, not so much. I recommend doing an audit of your site content and removing photos and videos showing large groups, and lack of social distancing. Same goes for the written content on your site and descriptions of your offerings. Things really need to be filtered through a different lens at the moment.
Consider Diversifying Your Business
With airlines grounded and borders closed, long-haul bookings will be near zero for the near future and possibly longer.
“We’re now focussing on the local market and particularly family travel,” a colleague of mine at Destination BC, our provincial tourism board, told me recently. I think this makes a lot of sense. Once things settle down a bit, people will be wanting to travel, and if they can’t travel overseas, they’ll want to get out closer to home.
I think we’ll see a trend towards local travel, small and private group bookings and family travel. If you’re not serving any of these segments currently, could you? Does your business offer gear rentals or self-guided options? These could also be good revenue streams in the short term.
A fishing outfitter I’m working with has decided to start offering ‘family’ trips, as a new product. Not only is a family a private group, but such activities can be marketed as the bonding experiences which we all need right now.
I have a strong hunch that you’re going to see a big increase in people searching for these types of trips in the near future, using search terms like ‘private group trips, family travel and small group travel.’ The best place to track these, and potential others will be Google Trends.
Support Your Staff
Many guides are really struggling right now. Work with them to create new offerings and brainstorm ideas you’ve never done before.
I recently came across this story about a guiding outfitter that started selling webinars on their destinations and areas of expertise, led by their guides, who are local experts. This not only inspires their customers and builds awareness for the future, but can generate content for their website and social media, and most importantly, much needed income for the guides who are no longer working.
Use This Time to Create Content
Create new content for your core offerings, even if you don’t use it now. Those blog articles you’ve never got around to writing, will improve your authority and rankings with Google once things come back.
Invite Media on Your Tours
Coming from a background working as a travel journalist, I can tell you that travel media are a different breed from your regular clients. In the past, after a crisis or calamity had struck a destination, my journalist colleagues would often be the first ones to travel to a destination and give them some good press.
But the media industry is in turmoil too. Many publications may fold and editors may lose their jobs as ad revenue dries up. But travel journalists who’ve been around for a while will continue to find a way to be around, so even if they can’t guarantee publication, invite them anyway and trust they’ll get those stories published somewhere when things get back to normal. And especially consider inviting photographers and videographers on trips in exchange for B-roll, to further boost your visual content.
Survive Now and Thrive Later
The changes going on in our industry will sink a lot of businesses. Some of your competitors will not survive. I think of the scene in the movie Forrest Gump where Forrest and Bubba decide to get into the shrimp business. They buy a boat and go out fishing and when they haul up the net, they catch two shrimp. The next day they go out again and get one shrimp. Another day and only some rusty pop cans.
Then the mother of all storms hits and every shrimp boat on the Mississippi sinks–except theirs. Then you hear Forrest’s deep southern drawl voiceover “And then we caught shrimp,” as the nets haul in shrimp by the ton and Forrest and Bubba become millionaires.
We will rebuild. The fundamentals are still there. The biggest demographic, millennials, will continue to buy experiences over things, and there will be pent up demand. Adventure travel will come back faster than any other segment of the tourism industry. For those who can make it through these difficult times, the rewards will be vast.