DMO Insights – July 1

Since April 6, DVA has been bringing you this weekly newsletter in an effort to make your life – and your job – easier, and to help your destination navigate the unprecedented waters of COVID-19 and recover as rapidly and successfully as possible. 

With so much information, research, news, and data out there it can be overwhelming to try to track down and absorb even a fraction of it each week. So we try to consume as much of that information as possible for you, stay abreast of state and national news and trends, combine it with our own experience and expertise in destination marketing, and distill it into something that is insightful and valuable so we can deliver it to your inbox every Monday.

I realize today is Wednesday, but I had the opportunity to spend a few hours yesterday with Matt Bean, the editor-in-chief of Sunset Magazine, while he was visiting Central Oregon. I wanted to get his take on the short- and long-term trends (and challenges) facing destinations. It was a rare opportunity to tap into the mind of one of the most influential people in leisure travel in the West, so we pushed back this week’s newsletter and are happy to share what we learned with you.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and we hope you continue to find value in this newsletter.

In this edition:

  • Recovery thoughts from Sunset editor Matt Bean
  • Latest research findings from Destination Analysts
  • Will a ‘Second Spike’ hit the reset button on recovery?
  • Face mask exempt cards are a (fake) real thing
  • #StopHateForProfit targets Facebook in July
  • Recent news & useful links

RECOVERY THOUGHTS FROM SUNSET EDITOR MATT BEAN

First published in 1898, Sunset magazine shares “the best of life in the West” including extensive travel coverage with more than 1.25 million subscribers monthly. It’s widely considered the “Holy Grail” with regard to travel editorial content, and we sat down with editor-in-chief Matt Bean on Monday to hear his thoughts on COVID-19’s impact on tourism, as well as his thoughts on recovery and the future of leisure travel.

If I had to sum up our conversation, I would reference the saying that “The one constant is change.” From Matt’s perspective, this appears to be the situation facing the leisure travel industry for the foreseeable future as the virus itself – and its impacts on travel – fluctuate as we ride the disease curves. He sees no clear timeframe for recovery, but rather a series of fits and starts that slowly return us toward normal with no real timeline established. We are seeing this currently with restrictions being eased and subsequently tightened, and it’s a learning process for everyone as we navigate it for the first and probably not the last time.

What he does see is that recovery will be different not only from region to region or destination to destination, but also from individual to individual as everyone has their own concerns, motivations, and comfort levels with travel.

One of the most encouraging things he has seen thus far has come from cities, counties, and states that are relaxing previously strict regulations regarding outdoor dining and drinking, and embracing the concept of al fresco even if it is driven out of need rather than want. This practice, he believes, is similar to what is considered normal in other countries, and he hopes will become another standard that is adopted on a long-term basis as it creates a more casual and communal European feel that is so appealing. 

Another bright spot from his perspective, which may very well benefit the leisure travel industry moving forward, is how the virus has forced so many of us to slow down and reassess our priorities. This bodes well for travel as individuals realign their values with their actions, and make more time for the things (and people) they care about most. One of his COVID-19 routines has become to grab a beer and a Yeti can cooler, hike up a nearby mountain, and enjoy it from the top of his hike while he reflects on his day – something he rarely had (or made) time for previously. 

As far as challenges facing the industry particularly in the West, he believes unpredictability will play the biggest role. Not only with the virus itself until a vaccine is developed, but also with the challenges and changes to traveler behavior. Previously popular events and festivals will be faced with uncertainty. A shortened booking curve will present challenges with revenue forecasting for hotels, convention spaces, and destinations. And the biggest question looms in fall and winter when – particularly in the northern climates – people will be spending more and more time indoors. He sees areas such as the desert southwest as being increasingly popular in the fall and winter months – when outdoor activities from recreation to dining are more accessible – and more enjoyable than in their northern counterparts.

In the midst of so much change and uncertainty in our industry, his parting comments were related to the very root of travel itself. Of discovering new people, places, and cultures, and finding inspiration and renewal from the experiences that travel affords us. He believes travel will continue to be the escape we all want and need, and he is confident that Sunset will be there as it has been since 1898 to help tell the stories, inspire adventures, and connect people over shared experiences. 

DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY

With the number of cases in the U.S. on a steep upward trend, and with some counties and states tightening restrictions once again as a result, it’s no surprise that according to this week’s findings from Destination Analysts the number of American travelers who believe the Coronavirus situation in the United States will get worse in the next month rather than better now stands at 60%, a double-digit increase from just last week. 

July and August trip cancellations are increasing, and now more than one third (37.4%) of American travelers say they currently have no plans to travel in 2020. 

On the bright side, 35% say they would consider taking a leisure trip that they have not already considered if an opportunity presented itself soon. And more than half of American travelers say that seeing a travel ad would make them feel happy right now. 

Optimism gap (still) growing: Last week’s gap between the number of American travelers who believe the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. will get “better” or “much better” over the next month, and the number of those who think it will get “worse” or “much worse,” was 30.8 points. This week that gap has grown to 45.6 points, with more than 60 percent of American travelers believing the situation will get “worse” or “much worse” over the next month.

Support for Quarantine & Face Coverings: More than 70 percent of survey respondents indicated they support state policies to implement mandatory 14-day quarantines for travelers from states with high case numbers. And with regard to enforcement policies related to the use of face coverings, there is three times as much support as opposition.

Converting the unconverted: Although a great deal of uncertainty still abounds, so too does the opportunity to convert the unconverted. When asked how likely they would be to take a leisure trip they had not already considered in the next three months if a good opportunity presented itself, 35 percent of respondents indicated “likely” or “very likely.” 

What travelers want (at least, for now): With more than 60 percent of American travelers expressing nervousness about visiting destinations that might be crowded, it’s not surprising that more than 30 percent of travelers identify “uncrowded” as one of their top three most important destination attributes. Joining uncrowded on the list are affordable/not too expensive (34.9%) and relaxing (32%).

Ad messaging and content: When picturing the ideal travel ad and the features that would inspire the most excitement to travel right now, nearly one third (31.3%) of respondents indicated discounts/deals. Other top attributes included safety information (28%), info on pricing (22.9%), and ideas for things to see and do (22.6%). With 55.4 percent of respondents indicating they will do “a lot of extra planning” before traveling in the current environment, making that information readily available and easily accessible through advertising, social media, website, blog content, and more will help further eliminate barriers to travel right now. 

WILL A ‘SECOND SPIKE’ HIT THE RESET BUTTON ON RECOVERY?

While many are calling it a second spike, it’s actually still a hump within the first wave. Regardless, one thing is certain: the number of new cases is increasing at an alarming and unsustainable rate, and it will likely have an impact once again on leisure travel and destination recovery efforts. 

With a six percent positive test rate, the United States is behind only Brazil (8%) and well ahead of Germany (0.9%) and Italy (0.5%) with regard to testing among developed nations. Likewise, with 107 new cases per 1 million people, the U.S. is behind only Brazil (163 cases per million) and well ahead of Germany (7 cases per million) and Italy (5 cases per million).

When isolation and stay-at-home orders were first implemented in late March, they were never intended to eliminate the virus altogether. They were implemented to “flatten the curve” by slowing (and by extension, prolonging) the spread of the virus through our society to avoid overtaxing our hospitals and healthcare systems. 

That worked, and in many instances the burden on the healthcare system ended up being far less than the worst case scenario. But as the curve flattened, as communities reopened, and as individuals relaxed their vigilance, a sharp spike like the one we are currently seeing in Arizona, Florida, Texas, and many other states was inevitable. 

Now, counties and states have no choice but to make the difficult decision to reverse course on certain restrictions such as those related to bars and nightclubs, making the wearing of face coverings mandatory, tightening restrictions on large gatherings, and closing beaches once again.

It’s much easier to go forward than backward, and a lot still remains to be seen, but in our haste to reopen the economy – not to mention following the lead of other countries who have successfully slowed the spread – hindsight might tell us that there was a better long-term approach.

That’s not to say we have been doing things wrong as counties, states, and as a country with regard to policies. The fact remains that among individuals who continue to practice safe social/physical distancing, and who wear face coverings in public spaces, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains very low even as our ability to move about more freely increases. It’s likely more a factor of compliance (or lack thereof) among many people who equate the loosening of restrictions with a decreased threat, permission to resume their normal day-to-day behaviors, or ignorance about the risks of relaxing their guard. 

For destinations, this means several things, all of which are supported by this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts. It means that in the near future – once the initial wave of pent-up demand subsides – travelers may become increasingly hesitant to visit communities, counties, or states where there is an increase in new cases. It means that communities, counties, and states with low case levels may be less welcoming of visitors from outside the area, particularly if those visitors come from states with a significant increase in new cases. Which would leave us with travelers from states with little or no increase in new cases, wanting to visit (and being welcomed by) destinations with flat or declining cases. All of a sudden, the pool of travelers and communities eager to welcome them becomes smaller and smaller.

That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to every rule, as there surely are. This weekend in Bend I saw license plates from at least a dozen different states, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida, as well as many from California and Washington.

While these visitors and the dollars they contribute to the economy are needed, we suspect that this initial wave of pent-up demand may decline in the coming weeks unless the number of new cases reverses course. Which leads us to our next story…

EDUCATING LOCALS AND VISITORS ALIKE

Week in and week out, the Destination Analysts survey findings have included data related to the level of comfort and acceptance that locals have with regard to welcoming visitors to their communities. It has also reflected travelers’ willingness to visit other destinations with regard to perceived safety and comfort level.

While those two numbers have generally been heading in the direction we want them to over the past several weeks, the trend reversed course slightly this week and we expect to see the latter audience (travelers visiting other communities) in particular take a step back over the next 45-90 days.

There are several reasons why this will likely happen, but the largest and most important reason is related to individual noncompliance in destinations with regard to social and physical distancing, the use of face coverings, and the record rise in new COVID-19 cases.

When stay-at-home orders were first relaxed and leisure travel began to return, communities were wary of visitors coming into their destination from other areas (particularly from large metropolitan areas with high case numbers). While that still remains the case in many destinations, the tables have somewhat turned to the point where visitors are increasingly becoming skeptical of visiting destinations where there is a sense (whether real or perceived) that local residents are not taking appropriate measures to protect themselves, their communities, and those who visit.

As destinations we have been focusing our efforts largely on educating travelers about the policies, procedures, protocols, and other health and safety measures that are in place to ensure visitor safety. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the same educational efforts that have been directed toward visitors, also need to be directed toward residents. 

Not only to provide additional reassurance to visitors, but also to limit the virus’ spread within our communities. While such an effort isn’t necessarily (or typically) the responsibility of the DMO, it does have an impact on tourism and therefore the DMO needs to have a seat at the table if it doesn’t already. 

In collaboration with city and/or county officials and health departments, it makes sense for DMO leaders to be involved in conversations with regard to the education of local audiences. Working together to prioritize messaging pillars and consistency of delivery, reiterating the positive economic impact of tourism, and drawing a correlation between resident compliance and visitation numbers, will only help expedite recovery and should also help reduce new case numbers in the community.

FACE MASK EXEMPT CARDS ARE A (FAKE) REAL THING

This is definitely one of those “I can’t even believe it’s a thing” things. Last week we talked about how Cognitive Dissonance can be applied to many people who choose not to wear a mask or other face covering in public, despite knowing the risks of not wearing one and benefits of wearing one in public. Face coverings have also become a political divider in our country, and mandating their use as many states have recently done will likely only be met with partial compliance.

At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., opened the hearing on the state of the coronavirus pandemic by re-upping his past recommendation that President Donald Trump wear a mask to reduce the political divide on that health recommendation.

Alexander lamented that “this simple life-saving practice has become part of the political debate that says this, ‘If you’re for Trump you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do.’”

Regardless, it seems some people are willing to go to great lengths in an effort to avoid donning face coverings in public. The Americans with Disabilities Act recently posted a warning for fraudulent face mask flyers in the form of “Face Mask Exempt Cards” that people are trying to use, issued by the fictional FTBA or Freedom To Breathe Agency. If the typos and grammatical errors aren’t enough to raise suspicion, the notion of a face mask exemption card alone should be. 

For what it’s worth, in a June 18 blog post titled “From the Frontlines: The Truth About Masks and COVID-19,” the American Lung Association states that “Masks are designed to be breathed through and there is no evidence that low oxygen levels occur” and that, “There is absolutely no scientific evidence that mask wearing or physical distancing weakens the immune system.” It also states that “Mask wearing and social distancing are the keys to controlling the first wave and diminishing or avoiding subsequent waves of the virus. Mask wearing allows us to open the economy up faster. Not wearing a mask around others only worsens the pandemic, leads to more disease, and worsens the economic effects.”

#STOPHATEFORPROFIT TARGETS FACEBOOK IN JULY

Just as many destinations have reached the light at the end of the tunnel and the much anticipated point where they have the opportunity – and finally the ability – to resume paid digital campaigns that have likely been paused since sometime in March, many are now faced with a new dilemma.

In light of current and recent global events related to racism, police brutality, social injustice, and hate speech, the NAACP and other leading civil rights advocacy groups recently launched the #StopHateForProfit movement as a platform to send a message to Facebook that their current efforts to reduce, limit, or eliminate hate speech from their owned social media platforms are simply not enough.

At the core of the movement is a request that brands demonstrate their opposition to hate speech by pausing their spending on Facebook and Instagram during the month of July. Specifically, the organizers and supporters of StopHateForProfit.org are asking Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to address the following core demands:

  • Provide more support to people who are targets of racism, anti semitism, and hate
  • Stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content
  • Increase Safety in Private Groups on Facebook

Backed by the participation of major brands including Verizon, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, The North Face, Magnolia Pictures, Eddie Bauer, Unilever, REI, and many more, the #StopHateFor Profit movement is gaining traction (and media coverage) as the July 1 start date approaches.

Has #StopHateForProfit already achieved its intended result and had a profound impact by getting the attention of Facebook and furthering the conversation and dialogue around racism and hate speech? And is that alone enough? 

According to Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti Defamation League, the answer is no. In an open letter to companies that advertise on Facebook, Greenblatt wrote that while Facebook has listened to their concerns, “Hate, extremism and misinformation still thrive on Facebook in sanctioned misinformation, conspiracy theories, and unmoderated hateful groups.”

And in a June 21 post on their Facebook for Business blog titled “Where we Stand,” , Facebook voiced its position “against racism and in support of the black community,” admitted that its enforcement of content rules “isn’t perfect,” and outlined some of the steps it is taking to review its policies.

The question becomes a moral dilemma for smaller advertisers and brands, many of which are just now returning to the Facebook advertising platform after COVID-19 and have a stronger than usual sense of urgency with regard to generating awareness and revenue.

In society’s current climate, there is increasingly no gray area with regard to racism, social injustice, and hate speech. There is only support or opposition. But does it make financial sense for smaller brands and businesses to try to hit Facebook where it hurts most in a manner that may also inflict self-harm, or harm to their stakeholders? 

Ultimately that decision is in the hands of every individual advertiser, and it may very well be different for every one of them. DVA has developed this #StopHateForProfit Situation Analysis to serve as a resource to help destinations and other clients make an informed decision when it comes to how or whether to participate in the movement, continue with planned paid digital efforts, or something in between. 

RECENT NEWS & USEFUL LINKS

Recent News

The coronavirus is reshaping who can travel where – Washington Post – June 26

Younger people are a factor in surge, analysis shows – USA Today – June 26

Arizona town will go ahead with summer events, sans masks – AZCentral.com – June 28

Only two states are reporting a decline in new coronavirus cases – CNN – June 28

How the White House coronavirus response went wrong – The Atlantic – June 29

CDC urges Americans to socially distance July 4 as cases surge – USA Today – June 29

Useful Links

Key Survey Findings – Week of June 28 – Destination Analysts – June 29

AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

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

That’s a wrap for Wednesday, July 1. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out at any time with questions.

Cheers,

Justin, Mary, Gary & the entire DVA Team

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