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  • 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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  • DMO Insights – August 5

    If you read one thing this week (other than this newsletter, of course), please take the time to pore over Destination Analysts’ in-depth findings related to COVID-19’s Impact on American Travel (link available in the Useful Links section below). It’s full of a ton of current and historical data from their research, including how we feel about travel, the pandemic’s continued impact on travel plans, travel states of mind, those traveling in 2020 vs. those not, school reopening, and the pandemic at home. Now on to this week’s news…

    In this edition:

    I went back through some old emails and found one from March 18 – the earliest days of the pandemic – in which my partners and I discussed the notion that “the work we are doing right now is some of the most important work we will ever do.” 

    For many destinations, there are just too many moving parts for them to navigate alone right now, particularly at a time when every move is carefully orchestrated, closely scrutinized, and critically important. 

    As an agency that specializes in helping destinations thrive, we take great pride in our work and the close relationships we have been fortunate to build with clients over the years. And while the work we do is important on any given day, it’s our ability to provide sound strategic guidance, act as a careful steward of resources, and serve as a trusted partner that is equal parts cheerleader and adviser, that provides the most value particularly during times like this.

    It’s a testament to the team we have slowly but deliberately built, and it’s why we are proud to say that at a time when many agencies are reducing staff or disbanding altogether, our public relations team grew by 50% this week with the addition of a third PR account manager, Nina Braga. Some of you may already know Nina, as she spent the last decade as the director of public relations and communications at the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole. It’s a position that took us six months to fill, certainly not due to a lack of interest, but because of the deliberate approach we take to the work we do and the people who do it.

    Growth during a time of widespread contraction can be a scary thing. It can also provide reassurance and validation that what you’re doing is, in fact, demonstrating value, being well-received, and making a meaningful difference when it is needed most.

    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’ll be sure to work it into an upcoming issue.

    LATEST RESEARCH FINDINGS FROM DESTINATION ANALYSTS

    It’s starting to feel a little bit like Groundhog Day in this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts (PDF available HERE), as we relive some of the same sentiments from travelers and residents that we saw more than a month ago.

    Optimism among travelers is increasing, but so too are the anti-tourism cries among residents. Stay tuned, as we could be on a collision course 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.

    We’re already seeing signs of this in several destinations, and plan to dive deeper into the topic in next week’s DMO Insights.

    Stuck in a holding pattern: People’s concerns that the pandemic will get worse over the next month improved 7.8% this week, with 53.7% now saying it will get worse or much worse, down from 61.5% last week. At the same time, the number of people who think the situation will stay the same increased 6.5% to 30.3%. Only 16% believe the situation will get better or much better in the next month, up slightly from 14.7% last week. This would indicate that while a decreasing number of respondents think things will get worse, they aren’t getting much better, either.

    Locals still wary of tourism messaging: Not surprisingly, the number of locals who would be “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with seeing a tourism ad for their own community jumped to 37.5% in July, an increase of 6.2% from June. At the same time, the number of people who said they would be “happy” or “very happy” seeing one dropped to 29.1% in July, down from 35.8% in June. Further evidence that the moral dilemma of tourism during a pandemic that we discussed in the July 21 newsletter is still very much real and relevant.

    If school’s out, travel is in: As we discuss in greater detail below, the increasing likelihood that many schools will not reopen in the fall has parents scrambling to make plans. Among those plans, 34.5% of parents with school age children say they are more likely to take more family trips this fall as a result. Another 37.7% are neutral on the subject, while only 21% are less likely to take part in family travel this fall if in person school is cancelled. 

    Travel in 2020 is split 50/50: About half (48.5%) of respondents have at least one leisure trip planned in the remainder of 2020. The other 51.5% have no plans to travel this year. Of course these numbers will fluctuate due to cancellations, last-minute decisions to go somewhere, and short planning and booking windows that are so prevalent right now. 

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    RETHINKING THE LARGE EVENTS STRATEGY

    With events of all shapes and sizes being postponed indefinitely or canceled outright for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, destinations are being forced to take a difficult and honest look at their events strategy moving forward. 

    There is no question that the pandemic will have lasting impacts on events and will in some ways forever alter their size and success, their positive impacts on the local economy, and their priority in a destination’s marketing plan. 

    As the manner in which events are executed becomes more complex, and the costs associated with doing so increase, additional hurdles are encountered. That doesn’t mean there will no longer be a place for them in the strategy, but it does mean that big changes are coming to an event near you.

    Looking for a silver lining among the chaos that has engulfed events, it is perhaps the fact that many of them have become complacent, stagnant, or in need of an injection of new life, direction, and purpose. Well, there’s nothing like a pandemic to give us a reason to wipe the slate clean, and plenty of time to do so. 

    Destination Analysts’ most recent research on the topic from July 12 gives us two primary insights into the future of events as the chart below indicates:

    The first insight is that events already rank low on the list of peoples’ leisure travel priorities and are largely not considered to be a primary travel motivator. Only 24.3% of respondents listed “attending festivals & events” as being of importance or high importance to their travels. This put it near the bottom of the list of priorities, ahead of only meeting new people, attending sporting events, and bragging rights.

    The second is that of all leisure travel activities, events have perhaps been hit the hardest. When asked which leisure travel priorities have been most impacted by COVID-19 for the remainder of 2020, “attending festivals & events” topped the list with 64.5% indicating that the pandemic “has significant effect or makes impossible.” The 40.2% gap between priority and probability was second only to attending sporting events (44.9%).

    Knowing that events have been devastated in the short-term, will be severely impacted for at least the next year, and will likely be forever altered in some way as a result of the pandemic and future health threats, what can and should destinations be doing right now to rethink, reimagine, and pivot their events strategy? Here are a few things to consider:

    Cost-benefit analysis: The first evaluation of any event should focus on the cost-benefit analysis. While some events barely break even and are used as a loss leader to attract visitors, others serve as a primary revenue source for destinations. For the foreseeable future, the costs associated with producing events – everything from staffing, security, and social distance monitoring, to health & safety checks, medical staffing, and even liability insurance – will likely increase. The question then becomes whether the investment is worth the return, or if those dollars are better utilized by being redirected toward other, more targeted efforts and initiatives to attract visitors.

    Quality over quantity: Rather than packing the calendar with a weekly lineup of events from Memorial Day through Labor Day, scaling back and focusing on the quality of a select few “anchor” events over sheer quantity can be more manageable, provide a better and safer experience for attendees, and drive demand during specific timeframes. It also allows you to dedicate more marketing resources toward a handful of initiatives, as opposed to spreading them thinly across dozens. 

    Reservations required: There’s no question we are moving quickly toward a more reservation-based economy for everything from the obvious activities like dining and wine tasting, to less likely candidates such as outdoor recreation and possibly even grocery shopping. Shifting events – even those that are free of charge or not typically ticketed – to a reservation basis is one way that destinations can still pull off larger events in a safe and enjoyable manner. This includes going as far as requiring attendees to choose a specific block of time for their ‘reservation,’ similar to the OpenTable concept for dining. While it may limit spontaneity to a degree, it will allow for better management of crowds, increase physical distancing and overall safety, and provide valuable information for things like contact tracing should any unfortunate health concerns arise. Not to mention there are the added benefits of allowing you to better forecast and prepare for attendance, and to capture valuable contact information for future marketing efforts. 

    Scale back & find a niche: Look at dialing back the size and scope of events as a whole, and consider smaller, more manageable events – particularly those that target a specific niche such as nature photography, private aviation, an automobile rendezvous, or other groups who might not visit otherwise. 

    Off peak: While many events are already seen as a way to drive visitation during the shoulder and off seasons, that trend will only get stronger. A summer festival or event when visitation is high might not be the right strategy to attract even more people during an already busy time. Shifting popular events to the shoulder and off seasons when appropriate, or creating new events during those timeframes, however, may help bolster visitation during slower months.

    Hybrid events: When people can’t (or won’t) attend in person, finding ways to give them the same or similar experience can be challenging but is another area where change is inevitable. Adding a well-produced live streaming element such as Facebook Watch or YouTube Live for iconic events can keep a destination’s awareness, sentiment, and engagement levels high. 

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    FALL FAMILY TRAVEL POISED TO SURGE

    According to a recent announcement from the United Nations, the current global pandemic has “led to the largest disruption of education ever.” With U.S. school closures extending into fall in most states, Labor Day does not signify the ceremonial end to the travel season that it typically does. 

    For parents, extended school closures mean once again having to balance the demands of work, childcare, and family life. But somewhere in between remote working and online learning lies an opportunity that, as stated above in the research findings from Destination Analysts, might help fuel a fall and even winter boon for tourism.

    Looking at the same chart as the previous story that weighs travel priorities versus the realities of COVID travel, many of the top criteria are well-suited to family travel this fall and beyond.

    Focus on drive markets: Most travel-related decisions being made right now in general, including those that might involve planning around work schedules and online or home schooling, are being made at the last minute. The current popularity of spontaneous travel would imply that focusing family travel messaging on drive markets is the way to go. 

    Don’t dismiss day trips: While day trippers do nothing to line the lodging tax coffers most of us rely on, they do bring much-needed revenue to other local businesses and create a reason or incentive to return in the future. 

    Midweek & long weekends: With the added flexibility many of us have in our schedules right now, many families have the ability to travel midweek and visit during slower times. They also have the valuable ability to extend weekend stays by a night or two on either end.

    Edu-tourism: Incorporating new or promoting existing educational elements of your destination – such as history, geology, cultural, or other subjects – can provide a real world learning experience for both children and families while breaking up the monotony of learning from home and allowing them to turn your destination into their own personal outdoor classroom for a few days.

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    ARE 250,000 BIKERS REALLY HEADING TO STURGIS THIS FRIDAY?

    This one seemed too crazy to pass up. The good news, I guess, is that event organizers aren’t expecting the typical 600,000 attendees when the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally kicks off this Friday in Sturgis, South Dakota (pop. 7,000). The bad news is that they are still expecting upwards of 250,000 attendees for the 10-day festival, despite local outcry for what is being described by some as a “huge, foolish mistake.” Did I mention that the event takes place in South Dakota, one of only two states in the country that has no government mask-wearing requirements in any circumstances?

    That’s a quarter of a million people descending on one corner of a state that has a total population of less than 900,000 and whose largest city, Sioux Falls, is home to less than 200,000 people. While the state only has 9,079 confirmed cases as of today, the average number of new cases per day is up 37% from two weeks ago. 

    According to one local Sturgis business owner, “It’s the biggest single event that’s going on in the United States that didn’t get canceled, and a lot of people think it’s going to be bigger than ever.”

    The biggest concerns, which are also the biggest question marks, are just how many people are actually going to show up, whether and to what extent COVID-19 might be prevalent at the event, and how many people are going to bring the virus back home with them to their families, friends, and communities.

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    School’s out: How the pandemic could change the way your family travels – The Points Guy

    More than half of Americans willing to fly domestically for next vacation – Travel + Leisure

    Afraid of airlines? There’s always a private jet – The New York Times

    Surging tourism is straining this Yellowstone gateway town – National Geographic

    The push to open schools is guaranteed to fail – The Atlantic

    Useful Links

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

    Key Survey Findings – Week of August 3 – Destination Analysts

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

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  • DMO INSIGHTS – JULY 28

    In this edition:

    This weekend I finally ate in a restaurant for the first time since early March. Well not actually in the restaurant – though many people seemed comfortable sitting in the dining room – but on their outdoor patio. I guess that makes me part of the “wait and see” audience who wanted to let the early adopters go first. Or maybe I’m just being too cautious, if there is such a thing right now. Either way, the decision still wasn’t easy. But I had grown tired of my own cooking, become desensitized to my fears, and I just really wanted some good Mexican food.

    The thought of eating at a restaurant seemed almost unheard of to me just one month ago. At the same time, my wife and I sent our son back to full-time preschool three weeks ago when his Montessori school was allowed to reopen, albeit with numerous restrictions.

    Something I have learned through all of this – and it applies to everything from dining and travel to grocery shopping and going to playgrounds – is that everyone approaches every situation with different levels of caution. We all have our own levels of comfort, and we’re all on our own timeline. And that’s okay. 

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

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY FINDINGS

    Signs of improving traveler sentiment and pandemic etiquette showed up in this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts (PDF available HERE). At the same time, pandemic induced stress, travel enjoyment, and travel morale appear to be suffering as COVID wears on.

    Travel excitement grows: Excitement for travel and openness to travel information both jumped this week, up 6.8% and 8.6% respectively. Now, more than 65% of travelers are neutral or better when it comes to their excitement to travel over the next month, and 65.4% are neutral or better with regard to learning about new travel experiences or destinations to visit. Looking at the number of people who answered “not at all excited,” to either question, it appears travel largely remains an either/or option for people right now. Either you’re excited or you aren’t, and there isn’t much middle ground.

    Mask wearing & social distancing improve: As mask mandates expand, and as the use of face coverings becomes less stigmatized and an increasingly normalized behavior, it’s not surprising that perceptions and compliance are both up this week. What is a little surprising, though, is that social distancing practices are also up. Often an increase in one of these behaviors (face coverings or social distancing) leads to a decrease in the other. But we’re seeing increases in both behaviors, which is a good sign that people are once again taking their safety and the safety of others seriously. Though my wife did witness a confrontation on a popular bike path this weekend that culminated with a masked walker confronting a group of unmasked bike riders with, “put some $!#&ing masks on or go the $!#& home!”

    The stress & travel chain reaction: Who isn’t feeling a little extra stress these days? If you’re like 44.8% of respondents, you have a higher degree of daily stress right now. It’s even stressing me out to think about the 55.2% of people who lied and said they weren’t feeling more stress right now than a month ago. Among those reporting the highest incidence of stress are Millennials, who not surprisingly also tend to be in the most extroverted life stage. This increased stress among Americans has a trickle-down effect on travel that plays out as follows: I am more stressed (44.8%). If I were to travel, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as a result (60.5%). Therefore, I have lost my interest in traveling for the time being (49.5%).

    Just how friendly are the friendly skies?: According to the 11.3% of respondents who have recently traveled by air, the friendly skies are actually pretty friendly these days. Almost three quarters (74.8%) of recent air travelers said they were satisfied (40.7%) or very satisfied (34.1%) with airline coronavirus safety protocols during their most recent flight, and a similar percentage (73%) felt the same about airports during their most recent flight. Airlines and airports have gone to great lengths to increase cleaning and safety protocols, and among the few who are traveling by plane, these efforts seem to be evident.

    Air travel still lags behind: Despite the increases in safety protocols referenced above, air travel still appears to be near the bottom of peoples’ preferred modes of transportation right now. According to the survey, air travel will continue to lag well behind automobiles through the end of the year and will track slightly higher through the winter. It isn’t until April 2021 and beyond when air travel appears to see demand return at any meaningful level. Or, this may be another case of letting the ‘early adopters’ be the current test subjects, with the ‘proof of concept’ and ‘wait and see’ audiences following soon after.

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    RESUMING MEDIA AND INFLUENCER VISITS

    This week, we hosted a trio of media and influencers including a writer who helped Ariana Huffington found Huffington Post, an influencer who also happens to be Yanni’s daughter, and a photographer who accompanied them. We are in the process of actively planning another half dozen or so media visits over the next 2-3 weeks. And just yesterday we received an email that read in part, “We are starting to publish travel articles again and are looking for destinations and properties open to hosting media.” 

    There’s no question that following a four month hiatus, and with a few notable exceptions such as states with mandatory quarantines or other travel restrictions, the opportunity to host media, influencers, and bloggers has returned. 

    I was talking with the West Coast Editor of Conde Nast Traveler last week related to a story she is writing about destinations that have implemented visitor “pledges” or similar programs intended to help alleviate health and safety concerns among travelers. Not surprisingly, she told me that one of the most challenging aspects of her job during the pandemic has been finding new and unique ways to write about travel without actually traveling. 

    Throughout this pandemic, we have been maintaining regular communication with a core audience of media and influencers to keep them abreast of the situation in the various destinations we represent, provide timely and unique story ideas, remain top-of-mind for their current and future needs, and to remind them that once they were ready to travel again, they only needed to make one call. Based on the interest we are seeing from media and influencers looking to resume their travels, I believe that approach and investment is just now really starting to pay off.

    Whether or not your destination is actively recruiting media and influencer visits, there are a few important elements to consider when doing so:

    Prioritize drive markets: This likely goes without saying, but an emphasis on generating media visits from drive markets will likely yield the highest return on investment right now and for the foreseeable future. Consider expanding your efforts to markets within an 8-10 hour drive radius, as Americans are willing to drive further than usual for the safety of traveling in their own vehicle.

    Plant seeds for flight markets: Just because people aren’t flying, or flight schedules to your airport have been temporarily reduced, does not mean you can or should avoid targeting those markets. Investing the time and resources now will pay dividends down the road. 

    Target niche audiences: There’s a big difference between drinking wine and visiting wine country. RV travel and van life are seeing huge increases in interest and participation. Private pilots have the ability to travel greater distances by air without compromising safety. Family travel will continue into fall as ‘Roadschooling’ starts trending. And everyone could use a little extra wellness in their life right now. These are just a few of the many trends that represent opportunities for destinations to target specific media and influencers whose niches align with yours.

    Instant and delayed gratification: While public relations is most often a long-term play, there is a greater need to utilize PR to generate awareness and coverage right now. As such, a combination of instant gratification (social media, bloggers, broadcast, and digital/online) and delayed gratification (magazines, newspaper features) will allow destinations to demonstrate an immediate ROI while waiting for the long-term payout of larger feature coverage.

    Don’t sugarcoat things: If ever there was a time to underpromise and overdeliver, now is that time. As an agency, we would rather be honest and transparent and miss out on the opportunity to host a writer or influencer, as opposed to misrepresenting a destination and risking backlash from having the experience differ greatly from the expectation.

    Pay it forward: We often ask tourism partners within destinations to provide in-kind products and services as part of the broader itinerary for media and influencer visits. That’s an easier pill to swallow for some than for others, particularly right now. Being mindful of that, asking for a media rate as opposed to a comp, or offering to pick up a portion if not all of the tab will not only demonstrate a commitment to your tourism partners’ success, it will build long-term trust and equity with them as well.

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    HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY – STAYING SAFE OUTSIDE OF WORK

    Hospitality industry-affiliated businesses – particularly restaurants, hotels, bars, breweries, wineries, distilleries, attractions, and boutiques – are doing everything they can just to stay open and generate much needed revenue right now. If they are even allowed to operate at all, as is the case with many bars and restaurants that have been forced to close or greatly alter their operations.

    Having an employee test positive for COVID-19, as many businesses have already found out the hard way, creates a ripple effect that can reverberate throughout a community severely and quickly.

    Not only does it take a health toll on the infected individual, it taxes the broader system by triggering contact tracing, requiring others to be tested and to quarantine, and business shutdowns for an extended period of time. Further compounding the issue is the fact that many service industry workers hold more than one job, and a positive test could and likely would impact multiple businesses.

    While not 100 percent avoidable, instances of employees bringing COVID-19 into the workplace from outside are a good reminder that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    Although it still is not entirely clear in many places, the steps for what to do once an employee tests positive are more clearly defined. But what about the steps that can be taken before a positive test is ever received?

    DMOs should make it a point in their ongoing communication with members and tourism partners to discuss what employers can do to help minimize this risk before it happens. This can be as simple as a friendly reminder for them to continuously inform and educate staff about practicing safe and responsible social behaviors outside of work. Many, if not most employers are already doing this, but the importance of continuing to communicate this to staff cannot be overstated.

    These employees are at the front lines of keeping other team members, customers, and businesses safe, healthy, and open. Without their efforts and sacrifices, many local businesses simply wouldn’t be able to operate right now. That responsibility continues when they are “off the clock,” and are put into situations that may increase their risk of exposure due to social behaviors outside of work. 

    This largely involves encouraging staff to avoid situations such as social gatherings where physical distancing isn’t possible, but also extends to the CDC’s How to Protect Yourself & Others guidance including wearing a face covering, maintaining social and physical distance, frequent hand washing, and staying home from work if you show any signs of illness.

    By encouraging employers to make it a habit to include these reminders in pre-shift or other team meetings and communications, you can help lower the risk of having an employee introduce COVID-19 into the workplace, and the resulting toll it takes on everyone.

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    THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE

    The rules and regulations related to COVID-19 recovery seem to change almost daily for destinations and their constituents. Amidst restrictions that seem to ebb and flow with county, state, and national case numbers, it seems as though the only constant in life these days is change.

    As an agency that works with destinations across five western states including California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, it can be difficult to keep track of what county let alone what state is in what phase, where case numbers are increasing or decreasing (which is easier now when cases are generally increasing across the board), restrictions on indoor vs. outdoor business operations, face covering and other mandates, allowable gathering sizes, travel restrictions and advisories, and many more variables.

    The amount of information we have consumed over the past four months might be enough to fill a hall at the Library of Congress. If it were open. It’s our job to take in all of the information available to us, sift through and distill it, and develop meaningful and actionable marketing recommendations during the most critical of times. Somewhere along the way, all of this information overload has made us, by default, an authority on the subject of marketing destinations through a pandemic. 

    What we have learned, and what we are working hard to apply, is this very principle that the only constant in life, indeed, is change. And the better prepared we are – and by we I mean the destinations we represent – the more successful “we” will be when those inevitable changes come.

    And when change is constant, it is paramount, as most destinations are finding out firsthand, to be nimble. Nimble happens to be one of our agency’s core philosophies, which is both a testament to the all-senior staff we employ as well as our approach to planning, executing, and adapting marketing strategies quickly and efficiently. In the current climate, and as it pertains specifically to destinations, nimble refers largely to the following:

    Forming short-, mid-, and long-range recovery plans with the ability to expedite or delay tactics as conditions and restrictions warrant.

    Planning and committing to campaigns on very short terms, and being prepared to quickly pivot and make weekly or even daily changes to align with changing regulations.

    Developing situation-specific messaging, visuals, and other assets such as portraying masked employees and visitors in imagery, as well as representing diversity and people of color in creative.

    More frequent if not ongoing monitoring and optimization of campaign performance across digital and social media platforms.

    Communicating all of the above, plus other timely information, to members, constituents, public officials, and tourism partners on at least a weekly basis.

    In addition to adapting to current changes as they happen, we can also expect to see many long-term changes as a result of COVID-19. Much like school shootings have forever changed the environment in which our children learn, this pandemic will forever change human and traveler behavior, and the ways and the extent to which our nation responds to future pandemics and other global health threats. 

    While we are still dealing with the first phase of the first wave of the virus, and the situation will continue to change with regard to the current threat and related restrictions, we can assure you that public officials and health experts will want to take every precaution to avoid a similar outcome in the future. 

    As a result, we can expect to see permanent changes that will be implemented at the first sign of future health emergencies. These changes may include preemptive face covering mandates, more frequent and shorter-term incidences of stay-at-home orders, short-term closures of public spaces, greater restrictions on public and social gatherings, and more. Not only are these and other tactics likely to become more commonplace in our future, we can also expect these measures to be implemented more quickly and more universally than the COVID-19 response has been. 

    While we are still very much in the throes of providing triage related to COVID-19, the destinations that emerge most successful will likely be those with the greatest ability to evolve and adapt. And the destinations that stand the greatest chance of long-term success, even in light of future health threats, will be those with the foresight to anticipate, plan, prepare, and accept that the only constant in life is change.

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    MESSAGING FOR LOCALS & VISITORS: A CROWDRIFF LIVE Q&A

    We have talked extensively in this newsletter about the importance of taking both visitors and residents into consideration when it comes to tourism and recovery, including this story about the interdependence economy in our May 11 edition, and this one about solving the visitor/resident dichotomy from our June 1 edition.

    Now, the folks at Crowdriff are holding a live Q&A on Thursday, July 30 at noon PDT to talk about and answer questions related to satisfying the needs of both audiences while also protecting their health and safety. Titled “Balancing Local and Visitor Messaging as Your Destination Reopens,” the webinar features presenters from Visit Seattle, Wyoming Office of Tourism, Visit South Bend Mishawaka, and Crowdriff, who will discuss the following topics:

    • – How DMOs are approaching messaging campaigns right now to adhere to health and safety protocols
    • – How different DMOs are working with partners to support their business and amplify their message
    • – How DMOs are building trust with locals and visitors alike to ensure a safe and sustainable re-open

    The event is free and you can register HERE. If you can’t attend, registering will still give you access to a recording of the webinar to view when it’s convenient.

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    Recent News

    Family travel during coronavirus – Conde Nast Traveler

    Longer, Slower, Farther: Savoring the Prospects of Future Trips – The New York Times

    Americans’ wanderlust is stronger than ever – New York Post

    Where to travel now? We’re all just guessing – Wall Street Journal

    Useful Links

    Key Survey Findings – Week of July 27 – Destination Analysts

    US Travel Forecast – US Travel Association

    The Drivers of Uncertainty in the Travel Outlook – Tourism Economics

    Travel Insight Report – July 20 – MMGY Global

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  • DMO Insights – July 14

    In this edition:

    Where do we go from here? Back on June 8 we wrote that “More COVID-19 cases do not equal panic…yet” and while most states and destinations haven’t pulled the ripcord yet, they are at least holding it in their hand as the further tightening of restrictions, possible rollbacks into previous phases, and a slowing of reopening progress is already occurring.

    These weekly DMO insights were never intended to look at travel through rose-colored glasses. Rather they are meant to help keep you informed and aware of the key impacts COVID-19 is having on tourism, and to present that information – the good, the bad, and sometimes even the ugly – in a manner that is quick, easy, and insightful. 

    Unless or until states take formal action to further restrict movement, people will continue to make individual decisions about travel based on factors including their personal beliefs and concerns, the situation in their own community vs. other communities, and an assessment of the risk/reward of staying at home vs. hitting the road.

    Travel is an experience, and ‘experiences’ often trump ‘things’ when it comes to the happiness we derive from both. And who couldn’t use a little extra happiness in their life right now?

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

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY FINDINGS

    There’s a mix of good and bad in this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts. As the number of cases continues to rise, more than 41 percent of travelers now say they have no trip plans for the rest of the year. At the same time, 35.7 percent expect to be traveling by fall. Amid all the uncertainty, these numbers are extremely volatile and can (and likely will) continue to yo-yo from week to week. 

    The optimism gap is officially a chasm: The chart says it all here. We are back to late March/early April numbers with regard to the number of travelers who believe the situation will get better or worse in the next month. The good news is that the gap only grew by 0.4% this week. The bad news? The numbers started heading in opposite directions about two weeks after Memorial Day weekend and the related physical distancing indiscretions, and we are still waiting to see what impacts July 4 weekend has on the number of cases.

    Short-term opportunities: Planning and booking windows are among the shortest they have ever been as most people take a ‘wait and see’ approach before making last-minute decisions about where to travel, or whether to travel at all. The number of travelers who are likely or very likely to take a trip in the next three months if the right opportunity presented itself stands at 35.3 percent, about the same as those who are unlikely or very unlikely to do so (36.7%). The actions of the middle ground – those who are neutral (28%) – will likely be determined by what takes place over the next month and their swing one way or the other will have a big impact on remaining summer travel volume.

    Getting away from it all – literally: Not surprisingly, camping and RV trips sit atop of the list of activities that travelers feel are safest right now. Three weeks ago we suggested that “destinations should start preparing for an influx of RV travelers”, and these numbers appear to support that claim. What’s surprising? Given the amount of negative publicity that beaches have received recently – largely due to Florida’s current outbreak – beach vacations still came in at #3 on the list.

    Local advertising sentiment remains low: Despite the importance of tourism to a community’s recovery, which we touch on in greater detail below, less than 40 percent said that seeing an ad encouraging people to visit their community when it is safe would make them feel happy or very happy. This further supports the need for ongoing messaging and education with regard to face coverings, physical distancing, and other personal safety precautions for both residents and visitors alike.

    A travel tax credit might help: Although it is a long way from becoming reality, the proposed idea of a federal travel tax credit of $4,000 per American not surprisingly seems to have the support of travelers. Almost 45 percent of respondents indicated that the travel tax credit would increase their likelihood of taking a trip they had not previously considered.

    GROUPS: NOW IS THE TIME TO BE SELLING

    Will the meetings, conferences, and conventions industry rebound in 2021? The answer is most likely yes. And no. Or maybe, depending on who you ask. 

    While larger conferences and conventions such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas face huge obstacles as outlined in this Forbes article titled “Will business travelers still flock to tradeshow and conventions despite COVID-19?”, there remains optimism that the industry – through a combination of downsizing, adapting to changing conditions, and evolving to meet shifting demand – is already recovering as demand increases for 2021. 

    If COVID-19 has taught us anything (it has taught us many things) about the way the economy functions, it is that with some exceptions it’s possible and even productive to conduct business in a remote or virtual environment. That being said, while group events are on hold for the time being there still exists a need and a desire for them to take place as soon as it is safe and acceptable to do so.

    If your destination is not already planning, selling, and booking group business for 2021, it’s not too late but it’s definitely time to start doing so.

    Yes, there is uncertainty and there are still a lot of things that need to take place before the group sales industry rebounds from COVID-19. Permission for large gatherings, expansion of currently reduced airline schedules, major overhauls to conference and convention venue operations, corporate permission to travel and attend large gatherings, and individual comfort with business travel are just a few of them. 

    But if history is any indication, those cards will fall into place over the remainder of 2020 and a new model for group meetings, conferences, and conventions will emerge. While that model will likely be different for large cities and those with massive investments in convention infrastructure, smaller second- or third-tier destinations are well-positioned to reap the benefits.

    A few things to keep in mind when selling your destination in the current (and foreseeable) climate:

    1. Smaller is better: Large scale conventions and conferences are unlikely to return to their pre-COVID levels in 2021. Not only does smaller (likely >50 people but potentially >100) apply to the size of meetings that should be targeted through sales efforts, it also applies to the smaller markets and destinations that are likely to be more appealing to meeting planners. 

    2. Think regional: Organizations and industries that have traditionally held a single annual conference or convention will be more likely to parse them into regional events in the interest of keeping group size smaller and manageable.

    3. Go back to the well: Events that have historically rotated from one destination to another from year to year will be more likely to return to one they are familiar with. In reaching out to past clients, chances are you will find that they are more receptive to the idea and more interested in returning than you thought they might be.

    4. Lead with your trump card: Smaller communities. Outdoor recreation. Within driving distance (>8 hours). Open spaces and venues. Committed to visitor health and safety. These are just a few of the trends that will continue to be prevalent in 2021. If any (or all) of them apply to your destination, then, by all means, tout them. 

    5. Demonstrate flexibility: Nobody is going to want to attend indoor meetings and work sessions all day, or stroll the aisles of a convention hall for hours on end, only to attend indoor cocktail receptions and dinners in the evening. Mixing in some outdoor or alternative meeting, activity, and social options, while always important to hosting a successful event, will be more important in 2021. They also give venues a chance to “turn over” (air circulation, cleaning, etc.) meeting spaces at various times throughout the day.

    6. Invest in technology: For those who are uncomfortable with travel or are not allowed to travel, having the technology assets to pull off a hybrid in-person/virtual event could mean the difference between winning business and losing it. Virtual attendance can still be monetized to the benefit of the destination, allowing it to capture some of that revenue while still providing overall cost savings to the attendee or employer.

    KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM EXPEDIA’S 2020 SUMMER TRAVEL REPORT

    As the world’s largest online travel agency, Expedia should know a thing or two about forecasting trends and demand for leisure travel. In their recent 2020 Summer Travel Report, which included mining their own search and demand data as well as polling more than 1,000 Americans, Expedia was able to draw numerous conclusions. Among them were increased interest in same-state stays, road trips, and flexible travel plans. 

    While that’s not breaking news, perhaps the most notable finding in their report was this fact:

    85 percent of U.S. travelers are planning or likely to take a road trip this summer.

    That’s a huge number, and one that should create a sense of optimism among DMOs near and far. Adding to that news, year-over-year interest in summer domestic stays is up 10 percent, accounting for nearly 85 percent of hotel searches in June. Again, not surprising given the restrictions and uncertainty surrounding international travel, but good news nonetheless.

    A few other notable highlights from the report, a summary of which is available at the link above, include:

    1. Demand for staycations is on the rise: Nearly 85 percent of hotel searches on the site in June were for accommodations located within the U.S., and almost a quarter of June bookings were for same-state stays.

    2. Last-minute getaways: More travelers are booking trips 0-7 days out this summer than in previous years according to the report, another indication that forecasting travel will be difficult with changing restrictions and consumer uncertainty and hesitation.

    3. Flexibility is important: 97 percent of stays booked in June were refundable rates – a 20 percent increase year-over-year

    4. Staying safe: Health, safety, and the avoidance of crowds are being prioritized over price point when it comes to travel. 72 percent of survey respondents said they’re opting for a road trip this summer because it feels safer than flying, and more people listed health and safety (72%) and avoiding crowds (68%) as top concerns over budget (60%).In fact, some travelers are even using price point as a means to avoid crowds by opting for privacy and exclusivity.

    5. Fresh air & a change of scenery: Among the 85 percent of survey respondents who said they are planning or likely to take a road trip this summer, a change of scenery (43%) and the desire to enjoy the outdoors (36%) were among the top motivations mentioned.

    6. Be prepared: Survey respondents suggested having a detailed travel plan (and a backup plan), knowing where to stay, doing vehicle maintenance, downloading apps, carrying cash, and packing the essentials including extra masks, food, water, toilet paper, sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes.

    Data for the report was based on interest or demand on Expedia.com during June 2020 for travel between June 1 and September 7, 2020, compared to the same time periods in 2019. The consumer survey was commissioned by Expedia and conducted by Survey Monkey, polling 1,077 respondents, aged 18+, located in the U.S.

    WHAT HAPPENED TO ‘FLATTENING THE CURVE?’

    When it comes to our own safety and the safety of our families, we have said all along that we would rather be too cautious and look back thinking we could have been less careful, than be less careful and look back wishing we had been more cautious.

    It’s the old “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adage, and unfortunately, many states, counties, and individuals are learning that lesson the hard way right now while the number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. skyrockets as seen in the chart below.

    So, what happened? How did flattening the curve work, and then break, and what can be done to fix it?

    Well, flattening the curve worked for obvious reasons. We shut down. We stayed at home. We watched, and we waited. That patience, and those sacrifices, were evident in the number of new cases, which spiked in early April before starting to slowly taper. Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a socially distant high five. And reward yourself by getting together with 10 of your closest friends to celebrate at a nearby bar.

    Which is exactly what leads us to what broke.

    We grew weary, tired, frustrated, caged. And the minute the first restrictions were lifted, it felt as though we had all been paroled. Gatherings were held. Face coverings were not worn. Life resumed. And many of us – despite strong warnings to the contrary from health officials – declared ourselves ‘winners’ in the fight against COVID-19. 

    Shortly afterward came Memorial Day Weekend, which should have been (and was, for many) an early indication that things were about to get worse, not better. The number of confirmed new cases started rising sharply in mid-June, which not coincidentally came as expected about two weeks after Memorial Day. They have continued rising steadily ever since, with record numbers being reported in many states and as a country overall while the toll from Fourth of July Weekend remains to be seen. Look for those numbers to start showing up around July 20.

    Until then, here we are with more than 3 million documented cases of COVID-19 in our rearview mirror. To put that number into perspective, it took just over three months for the U.S. to reach 1 million cases on April 28. It took about half that time, 44 days, to get to 2 million cases on June 11. And it took only 26 days to reach 3 million cases on July 8. At that rate, we could very well reach 4 million cases as soon as July 22. Over that time, the average age of COVID-19 patients has dropped by 15 years, a further indication that the individuals who tend to be least compliant are also becoming the biggest spreaders, even if unknowingly at the time.

    And if we could go back we would probably do things differently. Or maybe we wouldn’t. Here are a few of the things we may have done differently if given the opportunity today:

    1. Allowing individual states to govern their own pandemic-related mandates, closures, orders, restrictions, and reopening processes.

    2. Not implementing a national face covering mandate particularly after it became clear that, as reported in The Washington Post on June 5, “social distancing is over.” 

    3. Beginning to reopen the country prior to two major holiday weekends, Memorial Day and Fourth of July.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but what we can do, and what we are seeing now, are states taking aggressive steps to counter the increase by mandating the use of face coverings indoors and outdoors, reducing gathering sizes, closing indoor dining and bars, and on the verge of returning to even stronger sanctions. It’s a bit of closing the barn door after the horses are out, but in a society where it seems to be easier to throw resources at a problem rather than change the behavior that is causing it, it’s a step in the right direction while we hobble along waiting for the silver bullet in the form of a vaccine.

    Recent News

    The travel industry is turning to private jets to spark its recovery – Forbes – July 8

    After months of telling people to stay away, some big cities need new ways to bring tourists back – NBC News – July 9

    Bike Touring may be the perfect way to travel this summer – Treehugger – July 13

    Marriott CEO on the future of the hospitality industry – Forbes – July 13

    Best guess on when business travel will recover? It could be years – NY Times – July 13

    Useful Links

    Key Survey Findings – Week of July 12 – Destination Analysts

    Expedia 2020 Summer Travel Report – Expedia, July 8

    AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

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

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  • DMO Insights – July 7

    In this edition:

    “Comply or go elsewhere.” Those were the first four words of a press release I wrote for a DMO client of ours last week, imploring people to be prepared to visit on the destination’s terms or make other travel plans for the July 4 weekend. How effective that direct message truly was remains to be seen, but the July 4 holiday weekend came and went in that particular DMO and across the country with a simultaneous whimper – and a bang. 

    The whimper came from canceled or scaled back fireworks shows, parades, BBQs, and other annual traditions – although Joey Chestnut still managed to consume a world record 75 hot dogs in less than 10 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which was held without spectators and moved from its traditional Coney Island stage to an undisclosed indoor location.

    The bang came not from fireworks, but from more stories, images, and video of crowded beaches, packed parties, and other examples of virtually non-existent social distancing, as well as more explosive increases in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., which added another 145,980 positive results over the three-day weekend. 

    While tightening restrictions including closures of more businesses and mask mandates in many states – the Governor of New Jersey is lobbying hard for a federal mandate – we will hopefully see pockets of progress when it comes to slowing the spread a second time. But in general, we can expect confirmed cases to continue to increase as we look at the data two weeks from now, and as more infected people are infecting more people.

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

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY FINDINGS

    When compared to travel over the Memorial Day Weekend, more than twice as many people took trips for the Fourth of July weekend. And those who traveled skewed younger and male, and were more likely to be urban city dwellers with higher household incomes. In this week’s findings from Destination Analysts, we learn a little more about who is traveling at the moment, what types of destinations they are visiting or planning to visit, and what their fears and concerns are about traveling to certain communities right now.

    Optimism gap (still) growing: Exactly one month ago, the 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 in the single digits. Today, that gap stands at 48.5 points, up another 2.9 points from last week as almost 63 percent of American travelers now believe the situation will get “worse” or “much worse” over the next month.

    Memorial Day Weekend x2: Despite this significant increase in the optimism gap since late May, more than twice as many Americans (16.5%) took a trip over the July 4 holiday compared to Memorial Day Weekend (5.9%). The answer to why may be found in the “Why poor risk assessment is human nature” story that follows below.

    Young affluent males escaping the city: No big surprise here, as the demographic widely considered to contain the majority of “early adopters” was at the forefront of July 4 holiday travel. This segment was predominantly male, more likely to be millennials, largely urban dwellers, and affluent. Side note: while the current urban environment has spurred people to travel outside their home city, this will likely be a long-term trend that results in permanent relocation for many of these individuals and even families who seek the attractive qualities of quieter, safer, slower, and more rural communities.

    Situational avoidance: The number of Americans who said they will avoid certain destinations they might otherwise consider increased 7.7 percent over last week. This is due largely to factors such as increasing case numbers, the community’s pandemic response, the behavior of other visitors as well as locals, and unfavorable media coverage of the destination.

    DMOs ASKED TO DO MORE WITH LESS

    With budget shortfalls and reduced funding becoming the rule rather than the exception among DMOs for at least the next 12-24 months, and with many destinations starting up their new fiscal budget cycles as of July 1, we are all charged with the difficult task of finding ways to do more with less at a time when tourism marketing and promotion is needed most. As one of the hardest hit industries, not to mention one of the most critical to the success and prosperity of small businesses that rely on tourism (as we discussed in a previous newsletter article about the ‘Interdependence Economy’ which you can revisit HERE), leisure travel has taken an unfair share of the blows from COVID-19. 

    Now is not the time for DMOs – or the public agencies that govern them – to abandon marketing or make hasty decisions with regard to funding, as we previously stated almost three months ago:

    “The roles, responsibilities, and pressures on DMOs have never been greater than they are right now. Summer travel is right around the corner. Uncertainty abounds with regard to travel restrictions nationwide. DMO budgets are being closely scrutinized and re-forecasted across the board as revenues fall far short of projections. But if history is any indication of COVID-19 recovery for destinations, those DMOs who continue to make investments in marketing, even if the purpose of those dollars shifts from media spend to strategic planning, will benefit most in the months and even years that follow. Having a sound recovery strategy that starts now with pre-recovery planning and continues well into the foreseeable future is critical to the path to recovery for all destinations regardless of size, location, budget, or audience.”

    As predicted back in mid-April, we are seeing this scenario play itself out among our clients and at other destinations throughout the West and across the country. But as is the case with most challenges, there are some silver linings to be found that can help position destinations for success. So just how does this happen, and what should destinations be doing differently to market themselves at a time when there is no definitive end in sight short of a COVID-19 vaccine?

    In this case, a reassessment and reprioritization of everything from funding mechanisms and staffing, to goals, measurement, and individual tactics is needed. While there are many different solutions, and every destination is unique in its challenges, here are a few simple things that can be done now:

    Trim the fat: Look for areas of overspending or “luxury” marketing, including financial and/or human resource intensive efforts such as long format video, event or venue sponsorships, original programming, etc. Even the elimination of a printed visitor guide – which holds less value particularly right now at a time when the shelf-life of content is so short and changes so rapidly – may be an opportunity to trim tens of thousands of dollars from a budget.

    Narrow focus: A marketing plan that may have previously included numerous marketing channels like print, digital, social, search, out-of-home, and more, needs to be pared down to the tactics that have the greatest likelihood for increasing awareness, perception, and hopefully conversion.

    Reassess KPIs: Traditionally, KPIs have been centered around metrics that can be easily measured and monetized, such as goal conversions (i.e. clicks to book), occupancy rates, and room tax collections. With the visitation bar reset in the current climate, and likely to remain low for some time, it isn’t possible to evaluate MoM and YoY numbers and derive any sort of realistic (or accurate) success or failure measurement. 

    Research: If you don’t already have current qualitative or quantitative data available for your destination, or are operating off of hunches, assumptions, and a “this is what we’ve always done” mentality, now might be the time to invest in some formal research. While the upfront costs can be substantial, the efficiencies and savings that are created on the back end – not to mention the insights gained from the data and cross tabs – can more than pay for themselves in short order by the clarity they bring to the overall marketing effort. And you might even be surprised by what you learn.

    Public Relations: From an ROI standpoint alone, earned media generated through public relations and influencer outreach can pay for itself many times over. Consider that a single editorial feature in a magazine such as Sunset can carry a value of more than $3.5 million, and it’s easy to see why many destinations are placing a greater priority on PR. Not to mention that right now, travelers are increasingly looking for information and suggestions from independent and trusted sources such as print, broadcast, and digital media outlets, as well as influencers.

    Consider outside help: The thought of spending money to hire an outside consultant such as an ad agency or public relations firm – or both – might seem counterintuitive at a time when cost savings are a priority. But the experience, insights, and objective perspective they bring to the table can be invaluable. Again, another example where at a time when DMOs may be taking on more responsibilities than usual, finding ways to outsource some of the work to the right marketing partners can pay dividends in both the short- and long-term. And make you look good in the process.

    WHY POOR RISK ASSESSMENT IS HUMAN NATURE

    On Memorial Day, there were 1,720,152 confirmed cases in the U.S. Two weeks later, on June 8, that number had grown to 2,028,208, an increase of 18 percent. As of yesterday, there were 2,982,928 confirmed cases in the country, a 73 percent increase over Memorial Day and a 47 percent increase over June 8. 

    In a June 30 article titled “Why You’re Probably Not So Great at Risk Assessment,” the New York Times focused on five key factors that contribute to our ability (or inability) to process risk: optimistic bias, exposure therapy, confirmation bias, false sense of control, and unclear cultural cues.

    The basic principle that “I don’t think my risk is as great as your risk” is known as optimistic bias. It’s why I have no qualms with sending a quick text message while driving, yet I look down upon others when I see them doing the same thing in the lane next to me. And while it thrives in communities throughout the world, it is most prevalent in highly individualistic countries and cultures such as the United States.

    Most commonly used to help people overcome major fears or anxieties in their lives, exposure therapy works off the principle that the more you are exposed to your fears, the more desensitized you become to them. The mere act of living through the current pandemic is, in itself, a sort of exposure therapy as we all become less nervous and fearful through prolonged exposure to the situation. 

    At its core, confirmation bias is the behavior whereby we seek out the answers we want to hear to the questions we have, as opposed to hearing both sides of the explanation or answer. With regard to face coverings, this could mean searching for “do face coverings protect me from getting coronavirus?” as opposed to asking the more appropriate question of “do face coverings make everyone safer from the spread of coronavirus.” With confirmation bias, we know the answer we want to hear so we ask a loaded question, as opposed to rephrasing the question so the answer is actually what we need to hear.

    The more control people have, the safer they feel, and this false sense of control is a strong contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19. The article points out that people who have an irrational fear of flying are more likely to drive somewhere if it means avoiding an airplane, even though 36,560 Americans died in car crashes in 2018 as opposed to 381 in aviation accidents. Mask wearing is a great example of a false sense of control, as simply donning a mask does not keep you from coming into contact with the virus and must be combined with other measures such as frequent hand washing and sanitizing, as well as continued social distancing. 

    Our President is most often seen not wearing a face covering. Public officials and even leading health experts are inconsistent with their recommendations and guidance. And we don’t have any history to learn from with regard to dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude. These unclear cultural cues make it difficult for us to follow the lead and direction of others in the present or from a historical perspective, and we are often left drawing our own conclusions or formulating our own opinions and beliefs from the broad spectrum of information that is available to us.

    While the increase in new cases we are seeing (it should be noted that while total case numbers are increasing, the number of deaths is decreasing) can be attributed to many things, most of them point back to our relative inability as human beings to properly and logically assess and respond to risk. Whether we see large gatherings of people without proper social distancing, a single shopper in a store not wearing a face covering, diners without face coverings or proper physical distancing, or all of the above, most of those behaviors can be traced back to one or more of the five factors mentioned above. Maybe this is partly in defiance, partly due to entitlement, or the result of a lack of information, but it is likely due in large part to our poor ability as humans and as a society of individuals to properly evaluate and assess risk.

    THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF GROUP TOUR OPERATORS

    Their presence is unmistakable. Large, luxurious motor coaches with heavily tinted windows roll into town during the morning, offload guests, and park around the corner while their passengers spend time and money at shops, restaurants, and other local businesses. 

    Whether they are taking travelers on a pre- or post- cruise shore excursion, transporting groups to and through National Parks, or running ‘leaf peeping’ tours in the northeast and other popular fall foliage destinations, Group Tour Operators are a critical link in the travel and tourism food chain. And unfortunately for them, much like the cruise industry itself, almost nobody wants to travel in a confined motorcoach for hours or days with upwards of 50 strangers right now. And financial incentives, enhanced safety measures including lower capacity, and even no questions asked cancellation policies don’t seem to be moving the needle for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.

    Just as their presence is unmistakable, so too is their absence. According to the American Bus Association, which collects data on bus tours, more than 6 million people go on such trips every year in the United States, spending an estimated 80 million nights in hotels and creating 2 million jobs.

    As a result, traditional group tours will likely be replaced, at least in the short-term, by one or both of the following formats. 

    Private tours: In our April 27 Weekly DMO COVID-19 Update newsletter we identified Private Travel as one of four key trends to watch (the others being slow travel, wellness, and staycations) during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Now is the time for DMOs to cozy up to private travel operators to cross promote the convenience of accommodating and catering to the needs of small groups, and the relative safety that comes with touring privately. While the private travel trend applies to everything from private jets and private islands, to private cabanas and private dining, private tours and itineraries in support of them should not be overlooked as a means to attract small groups who are looking to avoid crowds and minimize risk of exposure.

    ‘Individual’ group tours: While it may sound like an oxymoron, the number of people who have had group tour excursions cancelled, rescheduled, or otherwise displaced by COVID-19 is in the millions. For these people and many others like them, the options are limited: reschedule for next year or beyond, or take to the road in the privacy, comfort, and safety of their own vehicle and take an “individual group tour” in lieu of a traditional group tour. With demand for road trips (and RV travel, as discussed HERE) surging, destinations would be well advised to repurpose or even develop group tour itineraries and activities that can be adapted for individual travelers, including downloadable guides, route maps, highlights, and suggested itineraries.

    Until such time as the group tour industry recovers, and travelers feel safe and comfortable with the notion of traveling en masse with people outside of their own circles, group tours as we knew them are likely to remain on indefinite hold with very few exceptions. And not only will the businesses and individuals who rely on their existence for a paycheck take a hit, so too will the communities they visit. Being prepared for their absence, and nimble in finding alternative solutions, will help soften the blow to destinations who rely heavily on group tours and travel. 

    Recent News

    AAA says coronavirus will dent summer travel, but not road trips – USA Today

    Refusing to wear a mask is like driving drunk – NY Times – July 1

    Summer travel: Out with planes, in with rural getaways – NBC News – July 5

    Tourism marketers map out reopening campaigns – The Drum – July 1

    Gen Z and Millennials are key to travel industry’s recovery – Travel Pulse – July 4

    How the pandemic affects the future of Gen Z travel – USA Today – July 6

    Useful Links

    Key Survey Findings – Week of July 6 – Destination Analysts

    How DMO social media drives travel decisions – Destination Analysts

    AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

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

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  • 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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  • DMO Insights – June 22

    I got a COVID-19 test this morning. Not because I have any symptoms or have been in close contact with anyone who has a confirmed or presumptive positive test result. And not because I thought I could be an asymptomatic carrier. My family has been about as diligent as you can be with regard to practicing self-care. We still haven’t been to a restaurant, we wear face coverings in public, and as my son likes to say, we do our best to “keep our distance so we don’t get the allergy.” 

    Rather, I got the test because my mother, who is a 72-year-old lung cancer survivor, is coming to visit this week and I wanted to provide her with some additional peace of mind due to her elevated risk factor. 

    The test itself was surprisingly simple and minimally invasive. I pulled into the urgent care parking lot at 8 a.m. and was back home an hour later. After answering a few questions over the phone from my car, a nurse came out to ask a few more questions and take a nasal swab. A few minutes later, a doctor came out to listen to my heart and lungs, and in 48 hours I should have the results in my inbox. The whole visit took about 30 minutes from start to finish. All in all a very small inconvenience for some important peace of mind ahead of mom’s upcoming visit.

    In this edition:

    • Face coverings work. So why do they divide us?
    • BLM + BIPOC + LGBTQ+ = You Are Welcome Here
    • Latest research findings from Destination Analysts
    • Road Trip! As RV sales surge, are you prepared?
    • Signs the virus that causes COVID-19 may be weakening
    • Recent news, useful links & upcoming webinars

    FACE COVERINGS WORK. SO WHY DO THEY DIVIDE US?

    Science tells us that face coverings work. According to a recent study, the “Best way to reduce coronavirus transmission is by wearing a face mask.” In California, Gov. Newsom recently mandated the use of face coverings in public, and in a letter to Arizona’s governor, nearly 1,000 members of the state’s medical community recently implored the governor to mandate face coverings in public as cases and hospitalizations surge there. 

    So why do so many people refuse or choose not to wear them, and what can (and should) DMOs be doing to help encourage their use among visitors and residents alike? Is it possible that in fact we generally agree on some very common and controversial topics (i.e. face coverings reduce COVID-19 transmission), and are really only divided on the surface?

    To answer these questions, I simply asked my wife, who holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Houston and manages the e-Campus Psychology Program at Oregon State University. She quickly pointed out a number of factors – any or all of which may be at play – including defiance, conformity, arrogance, stigma, ignorance, access, entitlement, and even pandemic fatigue. But at the heart of the matter, she suggested a likely culprit: Cognitive Dissonance.

    According to Psychology Today, the theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people are averse to inconsistencies within their own minds. It offers one explanation for why people sometimes make an effort to adjust their thinking when their own thoughts, words, or behaviors seem to clash with each other. 

    When someone does not wear a face covering in public (behavior), yet they know that an uncovered face increases their risk of COVID-19 infection or transmission (thought), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance. The individual has two choices: change the behavior or modify the belief. Changing the behavior simply means starting to wear a face covering in public. Modifying the belief means rationalizing the behavior by minimizing or discrediting scientific findings, citing the small risk of infection, or defending their personal rights. Smoking and speeding are two good examples of cognitive dissonance. Both increase your chances of injury or death from the behavior, yet many people still choose to do them and find ways to rationalize the behaviors as a means of resolving their own dissonance. 

    There are several reasons why this week’s Destination Analysts survey findings show an increasing number of Americans (56.8%) are uncomfortable with visitors coming to their destination, and the use (or lack thereof) of face coverings is one of them. So how do we, as DMOs and marketers, help?

    While the decision to change behavior is ultimately up to the individual, we can and should be taking steps to minimize the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of doing so. Some of the tactics DMOs can implement include:

    Educate locals and visitors: Travelers are less likely to visit a destination where they perceive safety and compliance to be marginalized. Locals are less likely to encourage or support visitors to their community if they feel like proper protocols and safety measures are not in place. The education of both audiences is critical not only to the resumption of travel, but to making sure that both sides of the picture are comfortable with it. Share and disseminate information and literature. 

    Normalize the behavior: Depicting people (both visitors and locals) wearing face coverings is the easiest way to help. This can be done through imagery on the DMO website (Leavenworth, Wash. is a good example), organic social media posts and stories, digital advertising, and email communication with stakeholders and consumers.

    Reduce the stigma: Look for opportunities to make simple but meaningful changes. The semantics of referring to face coverings, which is a more encompassing and less stigmatized term than masks, can make a big difference. Likewise, city, county, or even statewide mandates can remove the stigma by making the use of face coverings a requirement as opposed to a choice.

    Lead by example: This may go without saying, but as destination marketers and leaders it is imperative that we set a good example for others to follow by practicing what we preach. 

    BLM + BIPOC + LGBTQ+ = YOU ARE WELCOME HERE

    Countless statues of controversial figures are being toppled nationwide. Brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, and Eskimo Pie are pivoting or disappearing altogether. And just yesterday, a noose was found hanging in the pit garage of black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. In short, we have seen the good, the bad, and unfortunately the ugly from individuals and society over the past few weeks. While the long-term changes still remain to be seen, if there is a silver lining to come from recent events it is that awareness is high, conversations are happening, and changes are already taking place. 

    So what happens when Black Lives Matter, the BIPOC movement, and Pride Month all converge, and are all making headlines at the same time? One answer, and one that DMOs have the ability to incorporate into their existing inclusivity messaging, is the You Are Welcome Here campaign recently launched by Out Central Oregon in Bend. 

    This symbol is one version of the Pride flag, called the “Progress” Pride Flag, and it includes specific colors that represent the transgender community (pink & blue) and the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community.

    This local unity campaign, which speaks to business owners and consumers, residents and visitors, is another way for destinations to position themselves as being inclusive to people of color, transgender people, and LGBTQ+ people. It lets all people instantly know they are welcome as your guests and patrons. Not only is this valuable for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC tourists, it also tells residents where they can choose to shop and do business.

    From a local business and tourism perspective, You Are Welcome Here is centered around three pillars:

    • Welcoming BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people
    • Celebrating diversity
    • Creating positive change

    This is one step that can be taken to promote your business and also to promote safety, inclusion, and solidarity with people of color and LGBTQ+ customers. More than 120 businesses including Visit Bend have already “applied” for the program, and walking around downtown on Sunday afternoon I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of Your Are Welcome Here stickers at local businesses. 

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY

    Americans’ concern about personally or friends/family contracting COVID-19 increased this week. Now half of American travelers feel the coronavirus situation will get worse in the US in the next month and less than 20% feel it will get better. Americans’ perceived safety of various travel activities also worsened this week, returning to the levels they were at 3 weeks ago, and this has caused some to reverse their travel readiness. As seen in this week’s findings from Destination Analysts, we still have a long way to go to get over the hump.

    Optimism gap (still) growing: The 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,” continues to grow. And not in a good way. This week, 50.6% say it will get “worse” or “much worse,” while just 19.8% think it will get “better” or “much better.”

    The reality of want vs. need: When it comes to the gap between activities that are important to our lifestyle, and those activities we have recently done, no gap is wider than leisure travel. 58.5% of American travelers say leisure travel is important to their lifestyle, with only 12.1% having recently done so. By contrast (and not surprisingly), Americans are spending more time on activities that are of lower importance to them as a whole, such as social media, binge-watching TV shows, reading, and gardening.

    Openness to visitors: After reaching a nine-week low last week, the percent of American travelers who say they do not want visitors coming to their own community right now returned to 56.8 percent. Observing unsafe behavior by their fellow residents appears to contribute to this sentiment. Trust in people to behave safely should increase comfort in travel and tourism overall.

    ROAD TRIP! AS RV SALES SURGE, ARE YOU PREPARED?

    As Americans return to travel, road trips are replacing air travel as the transportation method of choice for many this summer. With more people expected to choose the comfort, safety, and predictability of their own transportation for the time being, USA Today recently reported that “RV vacations could see boom as coronavirus camping restrictions lift.” 

    Increased interest in RVs as a method of travel, coupled with many manufacturing facilities closing for extended periods of time during stay at home orders, has created a demand unseen in the industry in years. And with 46 million Americans planning to take an RV trip in the next 12 months, many of them this summer and fall, destinations should be prepared for an influx of Airstreams, Winnebagos, R-Pods, and more. 

    With that in mind, right now is the time to make sure your destination has the capacity to meet demand without over-taxing existing infrastructure and services, damaging the environment, or disrupting local residents. A few things to consider include: 

    • Dedicated parking/camping overflow space to minimize overcrowding at dedicated campgrounds, destruction of sensitive environmental areas, or parking on city streets
    • Additional RV related services, particularly waste disposal
    • Maps, literature, and instructions (online and offline) for RV travelers, many of whom may not be used to traveling by RV

    National Geographic Traveler recently published a “What to know about traveling by RV this summer” guide for both first timers as well as for seasoned travelers who are unfamiliar with RVing in a COVID-19 world. This guide is one of many resources available through the media, the RV Industry Association, and Go RVing. When it comes to planning and preparing for increased RV travelers this summer and fall, it’s better to be prepared and not need it, than to need it and not be prepared. 

    SIGNS THE VIRUS THAT CAUSES COVID-19 MAY BE WEAKENING

    As first reported in The Sunday Telegraph (UK), there are signs that coronavirus is weakening and could disappear on its own, even without a vaccine. According to Italian infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matteo Bassetti, the virus appears to have become less potent, perhaps due to genetic mutations. Effective social distancing measures, combined with a lower “viral load” on humans as a result of global efforts to contain the virus, may be contributing to its downgrade from an “aggressive tiger” to a “wild cat.” Dr. Bassetti cites the fact that “even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before.” While it’s unlikely that coronavirus will disappear on its own anytime soon, it’s possible, according to Dr. Bassetti and others, that it will be eradicated before researchers find a vaccine.

    USEFUL NEWS, LINKS, WEBINARS & MORE

    Recent News

    How to plan a summer ‘Safecation’ – Today.com – June 19

    Yes, wearing masks helps. Here’s why. – NPR – June 21

    11 ways the pandemic will change travel – Washington Post – June 15

    Iceland now feels like the coronavirus never happened – CNN – June 19

    Business travel won’t be taking off soon amid coronavirus – Wall Street Journal – June 15

    Useful Links

    You Are Welcome Here – Out Central Oregon

    Key Survey Findings – Week of June 22 – Destination Analysts – June 22

    AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

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

    Upcoming Webinars

    Maximizing the utility of geo-location data – Destination Analysts – June 23, 8 a.m. PDT

    Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Findings – Week 15 – Destination Analysts – June 23, 8 a.m. PDT

    5 local campaigns from DMOs starting to re-open – CrowdRiff – June 25, 12 p.m. PDT

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  • 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

    Read More
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  • DMO Insights – June 8

    What a week it has been. As a nation, we now find ourselves in the throes of two prominent crises. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has been with us for almost six months now. And the social injustice, systemic racism, and police brutality crisis that has been with us for much, much longer but now seems to be gaining the traction it deserves. 

    In this edition:

    • More COVID-19 cases do not equal panic…yet
    • The ethics of traveling during recovery
    • Un-Phased – aligning recovery phases/stages and what they mean
    • Latest Destination Analysts Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report findings
    • What does (or should) travel marketing look like during recovery?
    • Recent news, useful links & upcoming webinars

    MORE COVID-19 CASES DO NOT EQUAL PANIC…YET

    As the number of new daily COVID-19 cases inches up in many states and counties, or ebbs and flows in others, there is the fear of regression and a return to increased restrictions on travel and day-to-day life. While that’s not entirely out of the question, it’s not likely either – at least not for the time being. 

    Florida recorded more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day for five consecutive days last week, including a record 1,419 on June 4. Yesterday, Oregon broke its single-day record for new positive cases with 146. By contrast, on June 6 New York saw its number of new positive cases dip below 1,000 for only the second time since March 16.

    But the increase in positive COVID-19 cases, while an indicator that the virus will continue to live and spread among us for the foreseeable future, is by no means a sign that things are getting worse. It is, however, due to a number of factors that would naturally produce a greater number of positive results, including:

    • Increased testing capabilities & capacity
    • Thorough contact tracing 
    • Isolated outbreaks at individual businesses
    • And yes, relaxed personal/social vigilance as restrictions ease

    In the wake of continuing social justice demonstrations, the Washington Post declared this weekend that “Social Distancing is Over” and that society is now basically running “a natural experiment that scientists could never have ethically undertaken.” Will we see an increase in the number of cases due to little or no social distancing precautions being taken during these demonstrations? Or will we learn, as has been the case so far with the infamous Lake of the Ozarks pool parties over Memorial Day Weekend, that we can gather en masse as a society without fear of a communal spread? Only time will tell, but for the time being, increased cases do not mean it is time to sound the alarm.

    THE ETHICS OF TRAVELING DURING RECOVERY

    Last week, National Geographic published a thought-provoking story titled “With trails opening, is it safe – or ethical – to go hiking this summer?” that explores the struggle many destinations – and many travelers – face in this regard.

    Which begs the question of whether it is safe – or even ethical – for Americans to travel this summer and risk contracting or potentially exposing others to the virus in the process. The answer is not as black and white as we think it is, and it’s probably a little bit of both depending on who you ask. 

    This question has been repeatedly raised with regard to the public traveling during COVID-19 recovery, and also as it pertains to marketing and promoting travel. For many destinations, it is a complex issue that is part science, part cost-benefit analysis, part economic survival, and partly the exercise of free will.

    While I can’t speak for everyone, if someone chooses to go hiking or to travel right now, and if county, state, or federal health officials tell us it is safe and acceptable to do so, it does not mean the traveler lacks morals or ethics. 

    Ultimately, the decision is left up to the individual who is traveling, and the destination they plan to visit, to determine what is safe, acceptable, and even ethical. But what it doesn’t excuse anyone from is their obligation to visit, recreate, and otherwise travel responsibly, from respecting local rules and restrictions to protecting the safety of themselves and those around them. 

    This issue is partly the responsibility of the health authorities to establish policies and protocols, partly the responsibility of the destinations to communicate critical information and set shared expectations of both the traveler and the DMO, and largely the responsibility of the visitor to ensure they are aware of local regulations, accepted best practices, and the environment surrounding them.

    UN-PHASED – ALIGNING RECOVERY PHASES/STAGES AND WHAT THEY MEAN

    Is it just me, or does anybody else wish that states could align their recovery phases so that Phase 2 means the same thing in California that it does in Washington? Except that California refers to their “phases” as Stages, which further compounds the confusion. Much like my personal frustration with the Metric vs. Imperial weights & measures systems (can’t we all just pick one system and stick with it?), I wish states could have come together early on to define the recovery phases or stages together and develop a consistent set of criteria, measurements, and plans for each phase. 

    But that train left the station long ago, so we’re left to read between the lines of each state and each phase or stage, to determine what it means for each state and when. With DMO clients spread across four Western states, it can sometimes be difficult to stay on top of which state (or individual county) is in which phase (or stage). 

    Generally speaking, the phased recovery approach follows the same five stages. And while there may only be three or four Phases in any given state, these are the broad stages contained within them:

    1. Isolation and stay-at-home orders: which were first implemented in early/mid-March
    2. Initial/limited reopening: allowing for additional essential services, outdoor recreation, etc.
    3. Expanded reopening: further easing of restrictions to allow for more freedom of movement
    4. Broad reopening: to allow for large gatherings, unrestricted travel, return to business, etc.
    5. All clear: or as close thereto as we will get as a society moving forward

    With some exceptions, most states are currently in or close to being in the third step of this model – Expanded Reopening. And while many of us are hoping for an “all clear” sooner rather than later, using China’s recovery as a benchmark we can anticipate that the Expanded Reopening phase will be with us for a while – perhaps even through the summer –  before broad reopening follows. 

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS CORONAVIRUS TRAVEL SENTIMENT INDEX REPORT – JUNE 8

    There’s no question that as travel restrictions loosen across the country, many Americans are eager to set out and explore. As American travelers’ feelings about their health, financial, and travel safety continue to improve, more Americans report that they are already traveling or ready to travel according to this week’s Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report. Among respondents, 70 percent will take at least one leisure trip in the remainder of 2020, and 40 percent say their next road trip will take place this summer. You can download the full findings presentation deck HERE.

    On the road again: According to the survey respondents, 53% of American travelers are either ready to travel or are already traveling, an increase of 3% over last week, and further indication of the momentum that is building around the return of leisure travel activity. 

    Summer travel plans: More than three quarters (76.4%) of American travelers have a “very well developed” or “somewhat developed” sense of where and when their next leisure trip will take place, we know that much of that travel is scheduled to take place over the June-August timeframe. And while demand for commercial air travel appears to remain relatively flat through the first quarter of 2021 as expected, 40% of American travelers have plans to take a road trip between now and the end of August.

    Further recovery into fall: Perhaps the biggest early indicator of a rebound or recovery is the current intention of travelers to take a trip in the fall. While those plans could accelerate or slow between now and then, 61.8% of American travelers say they have at least tentative plans to travel during September, October, or November. This represents a 5.2% increase over last week, and a 14.1% increase over two weeks ago.

    WHAT DOES (OR SHOULD) TRAVEL MARKETING LOOK LIKE DURING RECOVERY?

    Navigating the various phases/stages of recovery can be confusing (see related story above) to DMOs and travelers alike. So what should your marketing and messaging look and sound like during recovery? Here’s a quick primer, which we are always happy to discuss further as your interest allows:

    Objective

    As with all communication, creative and messaging should be developed and deployed with the following goals in mind:

    • Inspire visitors to plan and prepare 
    • Increase safety & compliance
    • Set shared expectations
    • Increase trust between businesses, visitors, residents, and government

    Tone

    Messaging tone should be direct, and consistent with past style, tone, and sentiment. While specific messages are different for every destination, as a rule, the tone of recovery messaging should be:

    ALWAYS NEVER

    Confident Apologetic

    Reassuring Ignorant

    Calming Inciting

    Humble Arrogant

    Welcoming Hesitant

    Sincere Disingenuous

    Want Need

    Eager Desperate

    Unwavering Wishy washy

    Respectful Dismissive

    Tactics

    Phase 2 recovery tactics should focus on digital/electronic channels, with updated messaging and content to address common visitor concerns, behaviors, and interests as travel resumes.

    Boosted Organic

    Boosting organic social media posts increases the reach of organic social content, and provides opportunities for retargeting with additional information and a specific call to action.

    Paid Digital

    A mix of upper-funnel awareness display ads, mainly across Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Audience Network, supported with retargeting ads to reach lower funnel audiences with a more specific call to action. Implemented over three phases as follows: 

    Step I: Local and short drive in-state

    Step 2: Incorporate legacy and broader drive markets

    Step 3: Begin more regular marketing with regard to markets and messaging

    Paid Search

    Continue existing paid search efforts while broadening keywords to include popular current search terms related to safety and travel, such as “safest vacation destinations,” “travel destinations coronavirus,” “[YOUR DESTINATION] coronavirus,” and others. Revise/update search ad copy to quickly communicate key messages of safety, etc.

    Website 

    Develop specific landing page or pages tied to recovery campaign, incorporate creative and messaging to create a seamless customer journey. Update homepage, visitor updates, and other appropriate pages of the website (ongoing) to reflect the current status of visitor services in the destination, including but not limited to the following key content:

    • What’s open and what’s closed
    • Rules, regulations, and restrictions
    • Tips & recommendations
    • Visiting responsibly
    • Visitor resources

    Consumer email

    In addition to the destination’s standard cadence for direct-to-consumer email marketing, develop a standalone email/newsletter to be distributed upon your entry into your reopening phase. Similar to the website, incorporate travel inspiration and provide planning resources as appropriate. 

    Our clients have likely heard some or all of this before, but it’s a good reminder that messaging, tone, and tactics can and do shift, and need to be revisited periodically or sooner as circumstances warrant.

    USEFUL NEWS, LINKS, WEBINARS & MORE

    Recent News

    “Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer” – AP News – June 3

    “Social Distancing is Over” – Washington Post – June 5

    “With trails opening, is it safe – or ethical – to go hiking this summer?” – National Geographic – June 5

    “Global vacation rental bookings skyrocket after surge in domestic tourism” – AirDNA – June 5

    “Vrbo exec says travelers have new ‘confidence’” – USA Today – June 5

    Useful Links

    Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus – Destination Analysts – June 8

    AirDNA Covid-19 Data Center – AirDNA – ongoing

    Weekly COVID-19 Travel Data Report – U.S. Travel – June 4 

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

    Upcoming Webinars

    Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Survey Findings – Week 13 – Destination Analysts – June 9, 8 a.m. PDT

    Best Practices for Communicating Health & Safety Guidance – U.S. Travel – RECORDING

    Delayed Recovery Curve: Getting Back on Track – Knowland Group – June 9, 11 a.m. PDT

    On Track Recovery Curve: Getting Back to Growth – Knowland Group – June 10, 11 a.m. PDT

    Leading Recovery Curve: Getting Your Groove Back & Keeping It – Knowland Group – June 11, 11 a.m. PDT

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  • DMO Insights – June 1

    I can’t believe it is June. On March 12 when DVA began working remotely, June seemed so far away. Yet here we are. In some aspects the last 12 weeks have gone much quicker than I thought they would, and in some aspects they have passed much slower.

    If you’re anything like me, or most Americans for that matter, the COVID-19 situation and its impact on my life in general and on the travel industry specifically has been a roller coaster. A while back, I started looking at my own journey through the lens of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief (that’s what happens when you are married to a psychology instructor). Though typically associated with relationships or the loss of a loved one, the principles of this cycle can be applied to many other situations, including destinations and DMOs. It looks something like this:

      Denial: avoidance, confusion, shock, fear

      Anger: frustration, irritation, anxiety

      Depression: overwhelmed, helpless, hostile,

      Bargaining: struggling to find meaning, reaching out to others, telling one’s story

      Acceptance: exploring options, new plan in place, moving on

    Fortunately, most of us (and our destinations) have entered the acceptance stage and are ready (and finally allowed) to move on. And while getting to where we are today has been a struggle, and will no doubt continue to have its challenges moving forward, grief is an important process for our mental, emotional, and even physical well-being as we emerge from COVID-19 and look toward brighter days that lie ahead – or in some cases are already here.

    In this edition:

    • Sophie’s Choice: solving the visitor/resident dichotomy
    • Latest Destination Analysts Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report findings
    • Rural destinations remain a popular choice
    • Useful links & upcoming webinars

    SOPHIE’S CHOICE: SOLVING THE VISITOR/RESIDENT DICHOTOMY

    States, counties, and cities are reopening. Visitors are once again allowed to travel or will be able to do so soon. Destinations are actively recruiting travelers or encouraging travel planning. While it’s not quite Sophie’s Choice, the decision about when, where, and how to ramp up advertising efforts and go to market in support of leisure travel must weigh two important factors:

    • The need to quickly resume leisure travel in an effort to stem losses and spur your local hospitality industry
    • An obligation to remain sensitive to fears and concerns (whether real or perceived) of the communities in which we live

    We are seeing this story unfold to varying degrees in the destinations we work with (and even in those we don’t work with yet) throughout the West. While some DMOs are taking a more aggressive approach to promoting and encouraging travel, others are allowing that process to evolve more organically. And while no two destinations – and therefore solutions – are alike, the basic premise remains the same: communities need visitors, and vice versa.

    In a previous version of this newsletter we talked about the “Interdependence Economy” that exists between a destination’s tourism industry and a community’s residents. This theory is based on the premise that many of the things residents enjoy most in their community – restaurants, retail, attractions, and more – are supported by both resident and visitor dollars. If the visitor dollars go away, which we are witnessing firsthand right now, so will many of the things residents love.

    On one hand DMOs are eager to restart their tourism economies as soon as they are allowed to do so. As we head into late spring and summer, there is a “we want them back, and we want them back now” sense of urgency among most destinations – many of which will be actively marketing summer travel for the first time – to recapture as much lost revenue as possible during peak travel season.

    On the other hand, many residents are hesitant to welcome visitors back to their community for two primary reasons: 1) concerns over the health and safety of themselves and their community, and 2) the desire to enjoy their town during peak spring/summer travel season and without the presence or “inconvenience” of visitors. The first of these factors is pretty straightforward, and is largely based on DMOs following federal, state, county, and city guidance on how and when to safely allow travel to resume. The second factor is less clear, and some might even say selfish “have your cake and eat it too” attempt. I am just as guilty as the next person in that regard, as I have enjoyed getting outdoors and recreating with fewer crowds than a typical springtime here in Central Oregon. But it doesn’t take long for residents to realize that those empty trails also translate to empty hotels, restaurants, breweries, and shops, layoffs and furloughs, unemployment hassles and hardships, and more. And while the short-term enjoyment may be high, eventually the grim long-term prospects of that situation prevail.

    Which may explain why we are now seeing that nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of American travelers feel neutral or better about advertisements encouraging travel to their home community, and almost one-third (30.5%) feel happy or very happy about it:

    We talked about the NIMBY Mentality in a previous newsletter as well – the notion that Americans want to travel and are feeling increasingly comfortable with the idea, but don’t want people visiting their community. While we haven’t seen recent data related to travelers’ feelings about people visiting their community, we are seeing sings that people are becoming more and more comfortable with marketing their community, and we expect those two to trends continue to improve and closely mirror each other moving forward.

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS CORONAVIRUS TRAVEL SENTIMENT INDEX REPORT FINDINGS – JUNE 1

    This week’s Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report tells us that Americans are not only eager to travel, they are increasingly ready to hit the road. Americans continue to exhibit greater feelings of safety, both about travel and about fears of catching the virus in general. Not coincidentally, the number of American travelers who have at least tentative plans to travel at some point in 2020 grew to nearly 70 percent, with many of these trips likely to take place sooner than previously reported. You can downloaded the full findings presentation deck HERE.

    Majority of American travelers are ready to…drumroll please…travel: According to the survey respondents, just over half of all Americans have now declared themselves ready to travel or are already traveling, a significant increase from previous survey findings and an indication of the momentum that is building around the return of leisure travel activity. This return to travel is being led by the “early adopters” who are already traveling, followed closely by the “proof of concept” audience that is now ready to travel with few or no hesitations, the “wait and see” audience that still needs more time, and eventually the remainder of travelers.

    Still slow, but steady through fall: The months of July through November saw increases in the number of people reporting they have travel plans, hovering in the 18-20 percent range for each of those months. The number of travelers who said they “have no plans to travel in 2020” dropped significantly over the past week, from 32.6% to 25.6%. This group largely consists of the “wait and see” audience, whose hesitations about travel will continue to decline as long as no major setbacks are hit along the way.

    Travel as an emotional security blanket: Emotional well-being may be a factor in the number of Americans who are planning to resume travel sooner rather than later. After spending months in isolation, more than two-thirds (66.5%) of American travelers say that leisure travel will be very important or important to their emotional well-being over the next year. Roughly the same number of respondents (67.7%) indicated that leisure travel will be very important or important to finding joy over the next year. We have known the emotional and psychological benefits of travel for some time, and last week’s newsletter even referenced National Geographic’s story about why “Planning your next trip can make you happier.” But after spending months of researching, planning, and dreaming about travel from the confines of our own homes, it would appear that travelers are now ready to turn those plans into actions and reap the emotional benefits that come with exploring once again.

    RURAL DESTINATIONS REMAIN A POPULAR CHOICE

    Urban and metropolitan areas already had the chips stacked against them with regard to recovery, as travelers generally view them as less safe due to population/crowds, lack of open space, greater number of COVID-19 cases, and more. In fact, only a tenth (10.5%) of American travelers surveyed by Destination Analysts listed “exploring a city or urban area” among the travel experiences they would find most relaxing in the coming year. By contrast, taking a road trip (35%), Staying at a beach resort (34.4%), and visiting a national, state, or regional park (42.6%) were among the activities most frequently mentioned. Not coincidentally, they are all activities typically associated with more rural destinaitons.

    Rural and even suburban communities were already poised to see an increase in popularity among travelers as a result of COVID-19, largely due to the health and safety concerns tied to large cities as mentioned above. But the uphill struggles facing metropolitan destinations have unfortunately only been compounded over the last week. Cities large and small across the country have been the site of recent protests related to the tragic death of George Floyd. While these protests were well-intentioned and in many cities existed as the peaceful demonstrations they were meant to be, sadly a number of these protests – particularly in large metropolitan cities – have been and continue to be marred by violence, looting, fires, and even rioting. Without being too opinionated, it’s just one more example (school shootings being another) of how political agendas can and often do take precedence over social justice. And while these injustices are in no way meant to be a comparison to traveler concerns over COVID-19, expect these events to also play a role in shaping traveler choices particularly when it comes to the safety of the destination they choose to visit.

    USEFUL LINKS & UPCOMING WEBINARS

    Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Survey Findings – Week 12 – Destination Analysts – June 2, 8 a.m. PDT

    Prepare for the Bounce Back – Destinations International – June 3, 8:30 a.m. PDT

    Reimagining Major Travel Experiences – Miles Partnership – June 4, 12 p.m. PDT

    COVID-19 & The Impact On Travel Marketing – Expedia Group – June 4, 10 a.m. PDT 

    “Why the LGBTQ community may be the first to travel again” – Skift, May 27

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