DMO Insights – June 15

March 11 was the last day I worked in my office. It has now been more than three months since I last spent a day working in a real office – not my home office where the dress code and grooming standards are marginal at best and my office mates include a four-year-old, a psychology instructor, and a Betta fish named Sweet T. 

We gave employees the option of returning to the office effective June 1. We even went so far as to put together an elaborate return to work policies & procedures manual for staff, and made sure we had plenty of sanitizer, wipes, and masks available throughout the building. Yet here we are on June 15, and all of us continue to work remotely (and surprisingly productively) to do our part in minimizing exposure and risk for ourselves, our families, and our community. We will re-evaluate on July 1 and see where things stand then, but will continue to have a remote work option in place for the foreseeable future.

I have heard several unfortunate stories of agencies similar to ours having to make difficult decisions ranging from drastic reductions in staff, to closing their doors altogether in the wake of COVID-19.

But as DVA has done since day one – 30 years this month – we have sought to continue to make ourselves valuable, relevant, and hopefully indispensable to our destination clients when they need us most. And that’s largely due to the relationships our clients have allowed us to foster with them over the years. We have continually strived to bring a broad industry expertise and POV, treated each client as though they are our only client, and functioned as strategic business partner as opposed to “just an ad agency.” 

It would be an understatement to say that we feel humbled, grateful, and privileged to be in a position to help guide our clients through the current climate. And at a time when everything from birthdays to graduation ceremonies are taking place virtually, we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this month with some virtual high fives and an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm for many more years to come.

In this edition:

  • Hope for the best – but prepare for the worst
  • What Black Lives Matter means to DMOs
  • Latest research findings from Destination Analysts
  • Recent news, useful links & upcoming webinars

HOPE FOR THE BEST – BUT PREPARE FOR THE WORST

Last week we reported that an increase of new COVID-19 cases was not a cause for panic…yet. But as the number of cases continues to spike in many states (18 states reported increases last week including five with a week-over-week increase of more than 50%), the possibility of a regression becomes a very real threat. And in Oregon, one of those states with a greater than 50% increase in cases last week, Gov. Brown hit the pause button on allowing several counties to advance into the next phase of the state’s recovery plan.

It’s still too early to postulate whether or not a second shutdown will be needed. And let’s all hope we can avoid a scenario that CNN described this morning as “Why a Second Shutdown over Coronavirus might be worse than the first – and how to prevent it.”

Here’s what you need to know about the very real possibility that the U.S. could have no choice but to take a step back in reopening progress among individual states or even nationwide in light of loosening restrictions, relaxed vigilance among citizens, exposure and spread through Black Lives Matter protests, and the increase in cases that is being attributed in part to all of the above.

Yes, some of the numbers can be attributed to the virus’ normal spread through society, which is detected with greater frequency as testing becomes more widespread and contact tracing helps identify others who may have been exposed through close contact with an infected individual. 

Due to delays in testing and reporting, a more accurate depiction of the severity of spread can be seen through hospitalizations and deaths, which should remain consistent whether infected individuals are tested or not. In Arizona, for example, where the Governor’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen 49% from May 26 to June 9. Given the virus’ incubation period of up to 14 days, much of that increase can be attributed to relaxed restrictions and social and physical distancing.

What this all means is that there is a bona fide risk that the general public views the loosening of restrictions as a sign that it’s okay to let down their guard. All I have to do is go to the grocery store to see this firsthand – as the number of people I have observed wearing face coverings has dropped off dramatically in recent weeks.  

As far as DMOs are concerned – specifically as they progress through the various phases and stages of non-essential travel recovery – the ongoing education of and communication with visitors and stakeholders is of critical importance if we want to avoid squandering the last three months of sacrifice. Visitors from outside the area need to be educated on safe practices that may differ from those in their home city or state, reminded that the act of keeping their guard up and maximizing the enjoyment of their visit are not mutually exclusive, and encouraged to be mindful and respectful stewards of the destination they visit. 

WHAT BLACK LIVES MATTER MEANS TO DMOS

Since we first started bringing this weekly newsletter to you back on April 6, it has focused solely on COVID-19 and its effects on the travel industry as a whole and on DMOs specifically. I didn’t think anything would or could shift the media spotlight away from 24/7 coverage of the largest global pandemic since the Spanish Flu. 

Then Black Lives Matter happened. Well, it didn’t “happen” so much as it reached another tipping point – one that appears to finally have the support and momentum to effect real change. Anyone with a pulse knows just how prevalent the movement surrounding social justice, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, racism, and other related topics is right now. 

There is a role for DMOs to play in this effort and the conversation surrounding it. This includes a DMO evaluating its own plans, messaging, markets, audiences, and partnerships to determine where – and how – it can continue to fulfill its mission while supporting social justice for all, putting a peaceful end to police brutality and racism, and further advancing the mission of groups that advocate for Black, Indigineous, and People of Color such as the BIPOC Project

From the DMO perspective, this process begins with listening, and then by acting on what we hear and learn. 

Listening is the first and perhaps most important step in this process, and when done correctly a wealth of actionable knowledge and insights will fall out of it. There are a few pieces of low hanging fruit that a destination can utilize as initial steps in this process, including:

  • Adopting a dIversity inclusion statement
  • Engaging and consulting with BIPOC community leaders such as a diversity coalition or a higher education office of diversity & inclusion for guidance
  • Developing a diversity & inclusion advisory group to help guide future communications
  • Facilitating regular diversity & inclusion workshops or webinars for tourism partners

The listening process and the learning process will likely run concurrently, as we have so much to learn by simply listening. While the race conversation has been circulating in tourism for years, including this 2018 story about “Making visitors feel welcome by fighting racism,” it has recently seen a resurgence. Here are a few current resources specific to the tourism industry and racial justice/racism to help spur the ‘learning’ process:

“Black CVB leaders write an open letter to colleagues” – PCMA – June 11

“Let’s have the race conversation and change tourism once and for all” – Skift – June 10

“How the travel industry can do its part in the fight against racism” – Travel Pulse – June 2

“Don’t miss this seminal moment for racial justice, travel industry” – Skift – June 1

“Visit Jackson CEO offers statement on Black Lives Matter” – Northside Sun – June 5

As a white upper middle class male in his late 40s, I know I have a lot to educate myself about when it comes to social justice, racism, police brutality, and more. And I am committed to doing so from both a personal and professional perspective.

But something I do know is that at it’s very heart, travel is the privilege of exploring and connecting with new places, people, cultures, and lifestyles that are often different from our own. And tourism is about returning the privilege by welcoming and embracing these same people, cultures, and lifestyles to our own communities. We therefore owe it to ourselves and to everyone else to be informed and educated as travelers, DMOs, and as human beings.

DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY – TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Just when we were making great progress within the tourism industry and traveler sentiment with regard to the return of leisure travel in a COVID-19 world, this week’s findings from Destination Analysts prove that intent and behavior will likely continue to ebb and flow with increases and decreases in the number of cases, and the corresponding news cycles that surround them. 

Optimism gap grows: Just as the number of American travelers who believe the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. would get “better” or “much better” over the next month was set to surpass the number who believe it would get “worse” or “much worse,” those numbers headed in opposite directions this week for the first time since early May. This is likely due to recent spikes in the number of cases, the current political and social climate, and whispers about the possibility of a course correction with regard to recovery efforts and loosening restrictions.

Change of plans? The number of American travelers who say they have no plans to travel in 2020 rose 2.4% this week, and has risen 5.6% since the end of May. While this number continues to fluctuate greatly from week to week, it’s worth noting that each of the remaining months of the year saw at least some decrease this week with regard to upcoming plans to travel. If this trend continues, expect to see deep discounts and attractive offers becoming more prevalent through the summer and fall months.

A familiar face: More than 60 percent of American travelers say their next leisure trip will be to a destination they have previously visited, and 37.7% reported that destinations they are familiar with are either “more” or “much more” appealing in the current environment. A good reminder that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” and focusing on repeat guests as opposed to new customer acquisition is a strong tactic over the short-term.

‘Pandemic etiquette’ & visitation: It’s not surprising that 61.2% of American travelers say they would be “less interested” or “much less interested” in visiting a destination if they were to see media images that depicted crowds, a lack of social or physical distancing, or poor pandemic etiquette. This is something to keep in mind when choosing images to accompany media outreach or when updating the image library in a press room, for example, but also across all marketing channels including social, digital, and traditional.

USEFUL NEWS, LINKS, WEBINARS & MORE

Recent News

“Why a second shutdown might be worse than the first” – CNN – June 15

“As coronavirus cases pass 2 million, what’s the impact of reopening?” – LA Times – June 12

“Being careful doesn’t mean not traveling” – AFAR Magazine – June 12

“Don’t confuse travel’s reopening with recovery – a long road lies ahead” – Skift – June 15

“Americans are more likely than Canadians or Brits to keep their travel plans” – Skift – June 15

Useful Links

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus – Destination Analysts – June 15

Key Survey Findings – Week of June 15 – Destination Analysts – June 15

AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

Weekly Coronavirus Impact on travel expenditures in the U.S.  – U.S. Travel – June 11

Guidance for promoting the health & safety of all travelers – U.S. Travel

Upcoming Webinars

Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Survey Findings – Week 14 – Destination Analysts – June 16, 8 a.m. PDT

A Deeper Dive Into KPIs for DMOs – U.S. Travel Association – June 19, 9 a.m. PDT

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