• 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 21

    In this edition:

    This week, there’s a very real chance that our country’s social and physical distancing behaviors over the Fourth of July weekend – or the lack thereof – will really begin to rear their head much like they did in the weeks following Memorial Day weekend to kick off our current upward trend in new cases. 

    With the holiday weekend starting on July 3, and factoring in up to two weeks of incubation plus a few days to receive test results, we’re sitting on the precipice of when cases transmitted over the Fourth of July weekend should present themselves. 

    Applying that same logic to Memorial Day, when you factor in that the holiday weekend began on Saturday, May 23, add two weeks for incubation and another three days for testing results, you arrive at June 9 as the date when cases should have begun to really spike. And spike they did, as the number of new cases in the U.S. on June 9 was 17,376. According to the CDC chart HERE, no single day has been that low since. In fact, since then the 7-day average daily number of new cases has more than tripled in the U.S., from 21,590 on June 9, to 66,022 on July 18.

    The big question now is whether all of this will result in another broad shutdown, which seems to be the direction we are headed unless the situation somehow quickly reverses course.

    We’re already seeing restrictions tighten further in many states and counties, and in the absence of broad change such as the polarizing implementation of a national face covering mandate (during an election year, no less), states, counties, and even cities will take it upon themselves to protect their citizens.

    Except maybe in Georgia, where the Georgia Governor is suing the Mayor of Atlanta over her recent order requiring masks in public. 

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

    DESTINATION ANALYSTS’ WEEKLY SURVEY FINDINGS

    Not surprisingly given the current state of affairs with regard to new cases in the U.S., the wearing of face coverings, and their requirement (or not) among destinations is a primary focus of this week’s survey findings from Destination Analysts. Along those lines, there are signs of hope – among travelers, at least – that the use of face coverings combined with an increased emphasis on social and physical distancing, and other safety measures implemented in an effort to stem the tide of rising case numbers, will result in an improved situation over the next month and well beyond.

    Optimism gap sees a slight correction: Maybe they are being too optimistic, but for the first time in more than a month the gap narrowed between those who believe the situation will get better in the next month, and those who think it will get worse. This week saw that gap narrow by 5.5%, as 59.8% of respondents currently believe the situation in the U.S. will get worse or much worse (vs. 62.7% last week), while 16.4 percent feel it will get better or much better (vs. 13.8% last week).

    Declining excitement to travel: Despite the slight narrowing of the optimism gap, the number of people who are ‘excited’ about the notion of taking a trip in the next month declined for the third straight week. Only 41.1% of respondents indicated they would be excited if a good friend or close family member asked them to take a weekend getaway in the next month, down sharply from a high of 57.7% at the end of May. Making things worse, only 36.6% feel open to travel inspiration right now – the lowest level since mid-April.

    Read my lips – (most) people support face coverings: Get what I did there? Read my lips? Hard to do unless you’re one of the 7% of respondents who ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with the statement that “in this environment, people should wear face masks when they are in public.” Almost three quarters agree that face masks should be worn in public, while two thirds say they always wear one while out. Side note: face masks are kissing lipstick goodbye.

    Mask mandates widely welcomed by visitors: When asked how they would feel if a destination they wanted to visit required visitors and residents to wear masks while in public, 67.4% responded with ‘very happy’ (41.3%) or ‘happy’ (26.1%). When you also factor in those who are neutral on the topic, 90.5% have neutral or better feelings about the requirement of face coverings by destinations. Of the 9.5% of respondents who indicated such requirements would make them ‘unhappy’ or ‘very unhappy,’ just over half indicated that this requirement alone would be enough to keep them from visiting. And I’m okay with that.

    Pandemic etiquette won’t go away anytime soon: Over the next six months, and likely longer, 68.8% of travelers plan to wear a face mask during trips. While we’d like to see that number much higher for the safety of our communities and those who visit, the number continues to increase and will likely keep doing so. Social distancing (63%), avoiding crowds (61.6%), and carrying hand sanitizer (59%) are some of the other top pandemic etiquette behaviors that travelers stated they intend to practice over the next six months.

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    THE MORAL DILEMMA OF TOURISM DURING A PANDEMIC

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s what it can (and does) feel like for many destinations right now. After months of zero or near zero visitation, leisure travel has returned in earnest, and in some instances, it feels like the floodgates have been opened. How, then, do destinations balance the urgency and pressure to generate much needed revenue and economic recovery, with the responsibility of protecting the health and safety of the community and its residents? It’s a moral dilemma that is being debated across the globe, including at some of the country’s most popular leisure travel destinations.

    Moral or ethical dilemmas are not new to tourism, with sustainability and overtourism often being at the center of the debate. According to the American Psychological Association, “moral dilemmas are challenging because there are often good reasons for and against both choices. For instance, one could argue that it is okay to kill one person if it would save five, because more people would be saved, but killing itself is immoral.”

    While we’re not talking about killing people – at least not willingly or knowingly – the predicament we find ourselves in is extremely challenging nonetheless.

    At DVA, we are fortunate to call one of the West’s top leisure travel and outdoor recreation destinations home. Right now in particular, Bend is proving to be a strong case study – or test tube, if you will – for tourism and recovery marketing during the pandemic. In response to an extremely high influx of leisure travelers over the past several weeks, and compounded by rising case numbers in Deschutes County, the City of Bend recently issued an administrative order strongly encouraging visitors to stay away until Sept. 7. 

    While the administrative order in Bend stops short of being an official travel ban, it’s a bold move for a destination and one that specifically asks operators of hotels and other lodging facilities to refrain from booking any new tourism or vacation-related reservations.

    It should be noted that this order was implemented by the City of Bend and not by Visit Bend directly, though Visit Bend supports the order, has been a strong proponent of safe and responsible travel throughout the pandemic, and issued a statement in response that read in part, “We fully support the reinstatement of travel restrictions, and we’re adding additional messaging to the website underscoring the importance of staying home and staying safe.”

    The order was met with mixed reactions from local tourism and hospitality industry businesses, many of which are desperate to make up for lost revenues through the remainder of the summer travel season, while at the same time protecting the health and safety of themselves and their families, their employees, and residents.

    Is this the case of one forward-thinking community sacrificing short-term gain for the long-term health of its community and its tourism industry? Or is it a sign of bigger things to come in the form of more widespread travel quarantines throughout the country for out-of-area visitors, formal bans or travel restrictions, fines for non-compliance, and other penalties and sanctions?

    In this case, we think both scenarios may be true.

    The destination marketer in us desperately wants to believe that travel and safety can coexist. But as residents of a tourist town, the realist in us knows that not all visitors share the same respect for a destination as the people who call it home. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that many local residents also struggle to practice proper pandemic etiquette. 

    It’s a difficult problem to solve even under the clearest of circumstances. These decisions are particularly challenging at the community level, and are much easier to follow (though no less difficult to swallow) when mandated by or handed down from state or federal agencies. Regardless, it’s a storyline that we have been helping several destinations prepare for and navigate as visitor numbers increase and case numbers show no signs of slowing down. It’s a textbook moral dilemma, and one that is coming soon – if it hasn’t already – to a destination near you.

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    INVESTING IN RESEARCH – WHY NOW IS A GOOD TIME

    When we see such an immediate and monumental shift in short- and long-term consumer behavior like the one we are currently in the midst of with COVID-19 and its impact on leisure and group travel, the initial (and often appropriate) reaction is typically to circle the wagons, survive the onslaught, reprioritize and regroup, and ultimately, recover.

    With budgets and resources stretched thin, it goes without saying that recovery marketing is a critical area that no destination can afford to get wrong. And that’s where research can be instrumental right now in helping to establish a new baseline, identify and hone in on changes to consumer behavior as it pertains specifically to your destination, and emerge more informed, efficient, and effective with regard to your audiences, their motivations, your competition, and more. 

    There is no shortage of research available about COVID-driven changes and trends related to travel in general, but that data is typically sourced from a vast audience and uses broad brush strokes to arrive at some pretty general conclusions. Case in point: the weekly Destination Analysts research that we regularly report on in this newsletter which, while valuable, tends to present findings on topics applicable to an entire industry as opposed to a specific destination – your destination.

    As an agency that relies on research and data to inform, advise, and market destinations based on the specific goals, challenges, and opportunities that are unique to them, we often find it difficult to apply general findings to individual circumstances. At least, not in any manner that is truly actionable.

    That’s where research specific to your destination, particularly as we hit the reset button on consumer behavior with regard to travel, can be instrumental in providing a clearer understanding of how your audience and their motivations may have shifted including:

    • – Awareness & perception
    • – Key destination assets, attractions & attributes
    • – Message priority and testing
    • – Consumer intent
    • – Audience demographics & psychographics
    • – Competitive landscape (new and emerging)

    If your current research is more than two years old, it’s definitely time to seriously consider allocating resources toward gaining new insights. Particularly with the changes we are seeing and will continue to see. You might be thinking to yourself that an expensive research project is something you can’t afford to pile on top of already strained resources, but at a time when every dollar matters most, it’s also a time when you can’t afford not to.

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    SUCCESS OR FAILURE? MONETIZING ROI DURING A PANDEMIC

    How do you measure the success of a DMO during the pandemic and recovery? It won’t be easy, as 2020 will forever appear as an anomaly in our tracking, reporting, and monetizing of the results of a destination’s marketing efforts. It will be impossible to accurately compare year-over-year numbers vs 2019, and the same will be true for year-over-year vs. 2021 and potentially even 2022 depending on the dent that COVID-19 carries into next year (air travel and group business being good examples).

    We won’t be able to rely on the usual metrics such as occupancy, RevPAR, TRT collections, and other metrics, as the data is too skewed. The same goes for indicators such as site traffic, impressions, and even clicks, as much of that data has been and continues to be situational-based and focused largely on maintaining awareness versus driving specific actions or conversions.

    While measuring and monetizing the ROI generated by marketing efforts may not be easy or even possible in an apples-to-apples way under the current circumstances, the biggest and best value of a DMO right now may very well lie in strengthening its role as the trusted leader within its community and among its constituents.

    Local businesses are looking for guidance, direction, and even hope. City and county leaders – the primary funding source for most DMOs – are looking for reassurance that dollars are being used wisely and appropriately. And entire communities want to know when an industry that drives so much economic benefit will return.

    These past several months and the months that lie ahead have been and continue to be the time for destinations to focus less on ROI and more on reconnecting and strengthening relationships with their communities, evaluating the type of destination they want to be, who they want to attract, how and when they want them to visit, and how they want to position or portray the destination. It’s also the time to shore up existing relationships with funding bodies, city, county, and state governments, and to strengthen your position of authority and confidence at a time when people are desperate for leadership.

    While generating a return on investment will always be paramount to a DMO’s success and longevity, now is not the time to be determining success or failure based on traditional metrics. 

    Rather, right now is the time when DMOs are proving their true – and in some ways their greatest – value. It’s an ROI that can’t be measured or monetized through TRT collections, on a spreadsheet, in a budget, or through increases in clicks, conversions, impressions, or site visits. But it’s just as important, and is one that will endure long after the pandemic is behind us.

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    Recent News

    Summer vacation plans stay the course in spite of COVID-19 spikes – CNN

    Virus upends tourism marketing, sparks idea of ‘safecations’ – Associated Press

    Poll: Who always wears a mask in public, and who doesn’t? – National Geographic

    Domestic U.S. tourists flout quarantine & face mask orders – Reuters/Skift

    Should anyone in the U.S. be traveling right now? – Skift

    Useful Links

    Key Survey Findings – Week of July 19 – Destination Analysts

    Marketing That Brings Meetings Report – Destination Analysts

    Expedia 2020 Summer Travel Report – Expedia, July 8

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