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:
- Isolation and stay-at-home orders: which were first implemented in early/mid-March
- Initial/limited reopening: allowing for additional essential services, outdoor recreation, etc.
- Expanded reopening: further easing of restrictions to allow for more freedom of movement
- Broad reopening: to allow for large gatherings, unrestricted travel, return to business, etc.
- 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:
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
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:
Unwavering Wishy washy
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
“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
“Vrbo exec says travelers have new ‘confidence’” – USA Today – June 5
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
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
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
As the COVID-19 virus situation changes daily, we are all increasingly aware of its current and potential impacts on global and domestic travel. The travel industry, including destinations, airlines, hotels, attractions, and more are anxiously monitoring the situation to determine how to address and respond to consumer safety and concerns.
While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the domestic travel industry remain uncertain, it is clear that due in large part to constant media coverage, speculation, and misinformation spread across multiple channels particularly social media, have fueled a sense of worry and fear among the traveling public.
The U.S. Travel Association currently lists COVID-19 as a low risk situation, and has not issued any travel restrictions, advisories, or warnings in the U.S. That being said, most major media outlets are recommending delaying or canceling any non-essential travel. In response to heightened fears in a dynamic and quickly evolving situation, DVA recommends that DMOs take some simple yet important steps to help travelers stay informed, educated, and active.
It is also worth noting that while many travelers have and will continue to alter or cancel their travel plans, we believe there are a few silver linings to be found:
- Travelers with plans to visit larger metropolitan cities may forego those plans in favor of visits to less crowded, more wide open destinations.
- Travelers with existing air travel plans may shift their focus to destinations within driving distance, and may be more likely to drive greater distances than they might otherwise.
With this in mind, DVA has provided the following resources, recommendations, and materials to help you navigate the short- and long-term uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and its impacts on leisure, business, and group travel.
WHAT TO DO
- Make sure you, your team, and your stakeholders stay updated and informed. The World Health Organization is a great resource to help cut through the media clutter.
- Let travelers know that you are still open for business, though consider keeping advertising spend relatively flat for the next few weeks as the situation evolves.
- Be a vocal advocate for safe and responsible travel. As part of responsible messaging, we recommend you address the travel concerns within your region. Presently, Oregon is considered low risk. Dedicated content addressing this on your website will help contain fears of traveling.
- Should you choose to post information on your website, we would also recommend a Facebook post to support this information. You can ‘pin’ this post to the top of your page.
- If messaging is placed on your site, be sure to include contact information, so travelers can seek more information about the situation in your region.
- As this is a rapidly evolving situation, be sure your team is nimble in messaging and able to address the situation as it evolves and impacts are felt in your region.
- Consider shifting your messaging to drive markets, rather than flight markets.
- Address this situation with your constituents. If travelers are canceling their plans to your region, it is not because they are going somewhere else, but rather they are being cautious about the unknown impacts this could have on themselves and their families. While we recognize many local hotels and businesses cannot take a similar stance on cancellations as many major US airlines, some degree of understanding will pay itself forward in the times ahead.
WHAT NOT TO DO
- As media coverage continues to fuel consumer anxiety, now is the time to avoid pouring fuel on your marketing fire. We don’t recommend significant increases in spend until there is a little more clarity around containment.
- Be aware of your holistic messaging efforts. Campaigns, posts or other communications should be considered for relevance in the face of the current climate. We do not want to appear tone deaf, indifferent, or ignorant of the situation at hand.
- While the topic is uncomfortable, we don’t recommend ignoring the situation. Providing clear, transparent information, providing resources, and communicating a message of safe and responsible travel will show your commitment to the health and safety of your visitors and their families.
World Health Organization – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak
World Health Organization – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) travel advice
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Travel Oregon – COVID-19 Travel Information
U.S. Travel Association – Emergency Preparedness & Response: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
AAA Travel – COVID-19 Information for Travelers
Travel + Leisure – Everything you need to know if you’re traveling during the Coronavirus outbreak
CNN Travel – Travel advice for Coronavirus: everything you need to know