How to Keep Your Destination Top of Mind During a Pandemic
Wednesday, Jul 29th, 2020
We’re in This Together. New Normal. Safe Travel. These phrases have become part of every Destination Marketing Organization’s (DMO) messaging to their target audiences. But when every destination is saying the same thing, how can you stand out?
As a team of experienced marketing professionals, our goal is to help our clients succeed. And during COVID-19, where travel completely stopped for our destination clients and is on a gradual recovery, business-as-usual isn’t an option. Through various strategy sessions, webinars and research, we crafted this three-part recipe to help DMOs stand out amongst the clutter.
Develop a Phased Approach
There is so much unknown, and unless you have a crystal ball, no one can truly identify what’s going to happen next. That’s why it is so imperative that you have a phased approach that is flexible enough to pivot back-and-forth on.
This plan should encompass all earned, owned and paid media channels, with each playing an important part within the various phases. Make sure you’re using the best channels to reach your target audiences. A recent study highlights that people are most receptive to learning about destinations via websites that were found via a search engine (34.3%), email (29.6%), online content such as blogs (22%) and social media (Facebook 19.4%, Instagram 15%). Using the right organic and paid tactics are essential when getting your message out.
We recommend the below three phases, at a minimum, to help a destination align messaging to traveler sentiment:
- Recognition – acknowledge the situation and offer hope to potential travelers, inspiring them for future travel planning. Utilizing your DMO website, organic email database and social channels are great ways to get this message out.
- Rebound – provide potential travelers with the tools they need to visit again in confidence and remind them of what your destination offers so you can be top of mind when travel returns. Similarly to the Recognition phase, earned and owned channels are recommended to get this message out.
- Recovery – openly welcome people back in a non-pushy manner by reassuring them your DMO has taken every step needed to ensure the safety of visitors and the destination alike. While this phase also utilizes earned and owned channels, this is the only phase we recommend adding paid media tactics, allowing DMOs to reserve their budgets during previous phases.
The only way to ensure you’re going to reach your target audience is by staying true to who you are as a destination.
Take the time to understand what previously piqued people’s interests to visit and learn the types of activities consumers are most likely to participate in once they do travel. Of these activities, identify the things that only your destination can tout to really differentiate you from your competitors.
Currently, outdoor activities continue to top the list of travelers with 39% planning to visit a park (local, state, national, etc.) and 32% planning to visit a beach, so make sure people know what outdoor experiences you have to offer as a destination.
Above all, you need to stay true to your brand while remaining sensitive to your audiences, community and the overall situation. Educate people on the steps your destination is taking, not only to meet CDC guidelines, but to exceed them. Be optimistic, but don’t overpromise. Make sure your calls to action are appropriately aligned with the phase you are currently in (Book Now would not be appropriate during the Recognition phase but is perfect during the Recovery phase).
You also want to check for potential insensitivities within your content to avoid terminology that prior to COVID-19 could have been completely harmless – don’t mention that your hotels are having “killer deals”.
Finally, with COVID-19 impacting every state, county and city differently, DMOs need to navigate what the situation is in that specific area they are targeting. Just because your destination could be open and managing the number of new cases, doesn’t mean the same is true for where your target audience lives.
Responsible travel has been a growing trend for the travel industry, encouraging visitors to make a positive impact on the environment, society and economy. Sustainable travel is an important message in which COVID-19 will have an impact, focusing on a destination’s safety, providing resources to help visitors, but also preparing communities to host travelers.
For travel to recover, people will need to be convinced of their safety – both from a sanitary standpoint as well as from an emotional perspective. According to Destination Analysts, 49.2% of travelers say personal safety is a top priority when selecting a destination. The new value is not necessarily the deal they’re getting, but the safety protocols that are being implemented.
Poor pandemic etiquette behavior by others is also affecting the desirability of travel destinations. 61% of American travelers say such behavior would make a given destination less desirable. To encourage travelers to visit, it’s recommended for businesses to provide people with safety materials with the following being the most important to consumers: hand sanitizer, face masks, disinfectant wipes (37%), having cleaning/sanitizing procedures well-explained (32%) and having cleaning activity visible during a stay (30%). And when brands take the time to do so, it pays off.
There is no part about marketing during a pandemic that is easy. There is so much that is unknown. By having a messaging framework in place that aligns with traveler’s sentiments, keeps true to your brand and reinforces efforts to keep travelers safe, you’ll position your destination to be more successful with welcoming back visitors. We’re also here to help you make it happen. Reach out to us today!
 Destination Analyst: July 21st Update on COVID-19’s Impact on American Travel
 Destination Analyst – Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus – Week of June 8)
 Destination Analyst – Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus – Week of June 15)
 Destination Analysts – Insights Into Americans + Travel