DMO Insights – August 12

In this edition:

My alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. every morning during the week. On weekends, it’s a different story. Though, with a five-year-old in the house “sleeping in” still means no later than 7 a.m. This past weekend, while our son stayed with the grandparents for a full day and night, it was different. 

To avoid the crowds that are flocking to our lakes, rivers, and trails these days – many of them in direct conflict with the city’s administrative order discouraging tourism through Labor Day – we woke up before 5 a.m. to increase our chances of having the trails to ourselves. We took the Jeep up an unmaintained 4WD road to further distance ourselves from others. And we opted for the longer (and more scenic, but most people don’t know that) of two trail options to get to our ultimate destination, which shall remain unnamed.

That’s what needed to happen last weekend if we wanted to get a popular hike in before the trails were over crowded and the parking areas were over-filled. 

My point is two-fold. First, that being a tourist (or a resident, for that matter) in your own town can be frustrating at times, but it can also be very rewarding. It’s a reminder to me why I chose to visit and eventually establish roots here more than 20 years ago, and why others still want to do the same. 

Which leads to my second point. No matter what we ask or tell visitors to do – whether it’s to avoid traveling to a destination, requiring a quarantine for out of state visitors, or something else altogether – many are ultimately going to do what they feel is in their own best interests. 

And it’s not specific to tourism. The same individualistic mentality, as opposed to a collectivist approach, that brings visitors to a destination when perhaps they shouldn’t be there, is the same mentality that has failed to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

I don’t blame others for wanting to visit, particularly right now. But right now might not be the right time, and I do wish others would be more respectful of that request. 

After all, part of me still wants to have my cake and eat it too.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and we hope you continue to find value in this newsletter. If there is a particular topic that you’d like us to explore in depth, please drop me a note at justin@dvaadv.com and we will be sure to work it into an upcoming issue.

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LATEST RESEARCH FINDINGS FROM DESTINATION ANALYSTS

With more than half of Americans still feeling the pandemic will worsen in the next month, and many fears and concerns expected to extend over the next six months or longer, this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts (PDF available HERE) show a shift among younger travelers in particular to prioritize their psycho-emotional needs like relaxation and escaping stress. Excitement for near-term travel and openness to travel inspiration are back to early June levels. Airline, hotel, and restaurant discounts are becoming increasingly appealing to travelers, although “bargain hunting” right now is a little unfortunate to hear given the hardships these industries in particular have faced. And once again, our society’s propensity for short-term memory loss appears to be evident as now less than half of American travelers say the pandemic will impact the types of destinations they choose.

Travel activities & safety: The perceived safety of all travel activities improved slightly this week, and has generally been trending in the right direction over the last month. This chart says a lot about the pandemic, peoples’ mentality toward it, and the notion of pandemic fatigue. Back in mid-April, when the country’s case count was less than 750k but stay at home orders were widespread, fear was extremely high. Those fears dropped sharply over the next month, bottoming out around Memorial Day. The post-Memorial Day spike sent fear back up, where it remained at around 60% for several weeks before starting its current, gradual decline. 

Wellness still a priority for all: Staying safe from infection continues to be the top priority for all Americans, but as we discussed way back in our April 27 DMO Insights, wellness (along with slow travel, staycations, and private travel) and activities or behaviors that promote wellness are an increasingly prominent trend that will likely be with us for a long time. With lifestyle priorities shifting in general, and society’s mental health and wellness being tested perhaps like never before, many of the activities that contribute to overall wellness have become increasingly important to travelers.

Travel & happiness: Back in the May 26 DMO Insights we wrote about how Planning Your Next Trip Can Make You Happier. This week, when asked whether planning a vacation for sometime in the next six months would bring them happiness, only 19% of travelers said it would not. Which leaves 81% in the neutral or better category, including 57.3% who agree or strongly agree that planning a trip in the next six months would make them happy. 

Top destinations for travelers: When asked what three U.S. travel destinations they most wanted to visit in the next 12 months, some of the places that were most impacted by COVID-19 (whether by case numbers or related closures) were at the top of the list including Florida, Las Vegas, Hawaii, California, New York, Orlando, Arizona, and Texas. Keeping more in line with many of the trends we are seeing related to outdoor and less crowded destinations, Colorado, Alaska, and Montana also showed strong interest among travelers.

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THE EMERGENCE OF “WORK-CATIONS”

There’s traveling for work, which is something many of us used to do on a regular basis pre-COVID, and there’s traveling to work, which involves going somewhere other than home to work in a different environment or setting and has been increasing in popularity over the past several months. Just ask the tourism folks in Barbados, where the recently-launched Barbados Welcome Stamp program provides the equivalent to a 12-month visa for those who want to work remotely for up to a year while calling Barbados home.

Call it whatever you want. A work-cation. Tele-zoomuting. Bleisure travel. The past five months have taught us that for the most part, the ability to accomplish work successfully and remotely is not mutually exclusive. 

It’s one of the reasons why for many companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Square, Slack, Shopify, and ZIllow, a permanent remote work option for employees is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, Brett White, the CEO of global commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, predicts that the permanent remote workforce could double to nearly 10% as a result of COVID-19. 

Exactly how that plays out over the long term remains to be seen, but for now, at a time when many if not most of us are still working remotely and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, the idea of a work-cation is increasingly appealing.

Personally, the thought of working poolside in Palm Springs or Sedona, or on a deck overlooking Lake Tahoe or the Pacific, sounds pretty good right now. And there’s really nothing (aside from maybe a little guilt) holding me back from being able to accomplish everything I need to in Hawaii, Arizona, Montana, or even Mexico, as opposed to from the “comforts” of my home-office-in-a-bedroom in Oregon.

So, what does that mean for destinations? First and foremost, it means there is an opportunity to motivate and incentivize this audience – particularly younger, affluent urban professionals – to take a much-needed break from the monotony and routine in which they are currently stuck. 

It also means the opportunity to capture an audience that is likely to visit for an extended period, may bring other friends, coworkers, or family members with them, and contribute to the local economy in many of the same ways a traditional leisure or business traveler does. 

Not to be lost in the benefits to the destination are the benefits to the consumer, which are the primary motivators for this hybrid-travel and can be modified or tailored to your destination’s unique selling points. These include:

A change of scenery: Let’s face it, we’re all stuck in a routine that as we have mentioned previously in this newsletter, resembles Groundhog Day. Changing up the routine, simply by changing up the setting or environment around us, can provide a much needed boost to our motivation and morale. 

Productivity: The structure of working from a home office can be, well, a little unstructured to say the least. And that impacts our productivity through daily distractions ranging from kids and pets, to laundry, mowing the lawn, cleaning, and more. When our home is our office, and our office is our home, the lines between the two often become blurred. When that gray area is removed, it’s easier for productivity to fill the void.

Wellness: We don’t have to leave our work behind in order to find relaxation, escape stress, or improve our emotional well-being. In fact, the opposite can often be true in that dropping everything and going offline for a few days, a week, or longer can actually increase the stress we feel related to the work that is waiting for us back home. Combining the emotional benefits of a vacation, with the satisfaction of knowing the work is still getting done, can have a greater impact on our overall wellness right now.

“Me” time: If you’re like me, between work, owning a small business, parenting, and all the various responsibilities mentioned above, there’s not very much time left over at the end of the day for “me.” 

Whether they have already announced extended remote work plans into 2021, or have made the option of permanent remote working a part of their corporate culture moving forward, companies like Google, Microsoft, and others have established a model for other businesses of all shapes and sizes to follow. Along the way, they have created a new traveler profile, one that destinations would be remiss not to target.

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AS TRAVELER OPTIMISM RETURNS, LOCALS DIG IN THEIR HEELS

We mentioned this topic briefly last week, and have touched on it several times including in our July 21 DMO Insights piece about The Moral Dilemma Of Tourism During A Pandemic

As optimism among travelers increases, and as popular leisure destinations throughout the West and beyond continue to experience high visitor numbers given the current circumstances, it’s not surprising that the anti-tourism cries among concerned locals are also growing.

It’s a collision course that nobody wants to see, but if travel activity picks up further in the coming months, and locals dig in their heels in defense of their community’s health and safety, the two are bound to meet head on. 

We’re already seeing signs of this in several destinations, and three examples come immediately to mind.

In Taos, NM, where the state of New Mexico has a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period, tourists are still flocking to this artistic adobe community in a manner that has created Tourist Trouble in Taos.

Jackson Hole has its own problems. Thanks to Jackson’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park, combined with the popularity of road trips this summer, surging tourism is straining this Yellowstone gateway town with upwards of 40,000 people per day passing through this town of 7,000.

And in Bend, Ore., one of the country’s top destinations for outdoor recreation, the city of Bend issued an administrative order discouraging tourist, recreational, and discretionary travel through Labor Day that has done little to slow the pace of travelers to Central Oregon.

The research from Destination Analysts clearly indicates that a large percentage of locals are opposed to seeing tourism ads promoting their destination right now, and by extension, don’t want to see visitors in their community. 

Last week’s findings indicated that only 29.1% of respondents would be ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’ to see an ad promoting their community as a place for tourists to visit when it is safe. The key words here being not today, not tomorrow, but when it is safe. For the 37.5% who said seeing an ad promoting tourism in their community when it is safe would make them ‘unhappy’ or ‘very unhappy,’ seeing visitors around town or out of state license plates on the streets right now is like nails on a chalkboard.

Despite the efforts of government and tourism officials to encourage otherwise, visitors continue to flock to Taos, Jackson Hole, Bend, and other destinations. It’s a classic example of the individualistic mentality we discussed in the opening, whereby as a society we tend to prioritize our own unique needs or desires, or feel as though the rules don’t apply to us, as opposed to acting with a collectivist mentality that prioritizes the needs and goals of the group as a whole.

So what can destinations do? Short of an outright ban on travel, it would seem like our hands are somewhat tied and therein lies the moral dilemma. Tactics such as mandatory self-quarantine and orders discouraging visitation have been met with marginal success, and continue to divide three of the key players in the room: tourism officials, visitors, and locals. 

At the root of the issue is the notion of the Interdependence Economy that we discussed in our DMO Insights back on May 11.

The basic premise of this theory is that many of the businesses, services, activities, and more that residents enjoy, cannot be sustained by local patronage alone. In a recent Skift article, the author shed light on the Interdependence Economy by describing it as follows:

“It is unfortunately lost on many residents in any given city that the restaurants, retail establishments and attractions they all enjoy are supported by both visitor and resident dollars. And if the visitor dollars go away, so will many of the things the residents love. I call that the ‘interdependence economy,’ and it could well be one of the silver linings that comes from this crisis — a better understanding, appreciation, and respect for the value DMOs deliver to the vibrancy of local experiences, and the local economies.”

If visitors to your destination are coming in direct disobedience to city, county, or state restrictions, that’s another story. But if travel is allowed, as it is to some degree in many destinations, then the DMO has a role to play as a mediator of sorts in the situation.

Though it’s a delicate topic and must be carefully crafted, an op-ed or guest column written for the local newspaper, or some targeted outreach to broadcast media, can be a good way to tell the whole story, on your terms. 

And because messaging that comes directly from the DMO itself may sometimes fall on deaf ears with a local audience, consider enlisting your stakeholders – the business owners, managers, and even employees whose very livelihood is tied largely to tourism – to tell the story for you. The power of their voices can help locals view the issue from a broader and more relatable perspective, one they might otherwise miss.

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MANAGING YOUR SOCIAL REPUTATION AMID BACKLASH

Everyone, and everything, is under a microscope these days. And perhaps nowhere is that more evident in the tourism industry than the scrutiny that social media content is subjected to, and the growing number of negative comments and feedback being left on stories and posts.

The fact that people are spending much more time on social media during the pandemic, combined with the razor thin wire that destinations are trying to navigate between awareness, inspiration, and call-to-action, makes the situation even more delicate.

Whether it’s as simple as someone not wearing a mask or maintaining proper physical distance in a post, a story that doesn’t portray any People of Color, or a geotag of an overcrowded trailhead or recreation site, users have a keen eye for the obvious and subtle elements of each and every piece of content. Just ask Tom Brady, who was recently called out by an observant Twitter user for still clinging to his old iPhone 6+ despite his new $25 million per year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There will always be those who take it upon themselves to call out your errors or mistakes, try to make you upset or angry, speak from a position of entitlement, exaggerate the facts or truth, or make personal attacks on your destination and the people responsible for promoting it. If you have spent any time on the Nextdoor app reading the posts and comments in what is supposed to be a community of friendly neighbors, you know exactly what we are talking about.

It’s how you deal with those individuals in a respectful, professional, and timely manner that can make the difference between shutting down a potential landmine, or having it blow up in your face. This TED Talk from Meteorologist and social media maven Emily Sutton, titled “Don’t Feed the Trolls: How to Handle Jerks on Social Media” is a good place to start. Here are a few other good rules of thumb:

Report policy violations: If a comment is a violation of your social media policy, or the policies of the platform to which they are posting, notify the individual and report it if necessary.

Acknowledge valid concerns: If they have a valid point, reinforce it, thank them for bringing it to your attention, and let them know what you are doing to resolve the issue.

Correct misinformation: If they are misinformed or wrong, respond with the facts. Politely. And use it as an opportunity to further educate them, or others who might read the comment.

Ignore trolls: For the most part, it is wise to ignore them as eliciting a reaction is typically their primary objective. Continue to monitor their comments and behavior on the site, as others might not ignore what they have to say. 

Avoid being baited: Similar to ignoring the trolls referenced above, try not to feed them either. 

Diffuse with humor: Easier said than done, humor as a response needs to acknowledge the customer, recognize the problem, apologize, and mirror the criticism with a witty reply. When done right, humor goes a long way toward humanizing your brand and diffusing the situation.

Any or all of these tactics will help in the handling of negative comments, criticism, and other backlash on social media. That being said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By making sure your social media plan is well formed and aligned with your overall strategy, your editorial calendar is thoughtful and diverse, and your content is immune (or as close as possible) to criticism, your destination will be better positioned to avoid comment conflict and will be better prepared to deal with it when it does arise.

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Recent News

As some Americans avoid travel, others visit COVID-19 hot spots anyway – USA Today

COVID-19 and the Travel Industry – Bloomberg (video)

Trend Insight: The New Ways We Will Travel – Forbes

How COVID-19 is Reshaping Consumer Behavior – Skift

Useful Links

Key Survey Findings – Week of August 10 – Destination Analysts

COVID-19 August 10 Travel Insight Report – MMGY Global

COVID-19’s Impact on American Travel – Destination Analysts

Weekly COVID Impacts on Travel Expenditures in the U.S. – U.S. Travel

Coronavirus and Travel: Everything You Need to Know – Conde Nast Traveler

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