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
“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
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
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
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
May 15, 2020The questions about travel have already started rolling into Eritage Resort from potential visitors. “People want to know when we can start to book reservations,” said Terra Luthi, who manages the luxury wine country destination. In preparation she plans to join a movement out of destination marketing organization Visit Walla Walla called the “Peace of Mind Pledge.”Announced this morning, the campaign is intended as a demonstration by local businesses of their commitment to the health and safety of guests. The pledge is voluntary and rolls out well before economic reopening phases that authorize nonessential travel. But Luthi, also a board member for Visit Walla Walla, said tourism and hospitality operators “want to keep Walla Walla top of mind while giving local businesses a platform to demonstrate their commitment to reassuring travelers that Walla Walla is a safe and healthy community eager to welcome them.”The initiative, bolstered by support from the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, asks lodging properties, restaurants, wineries and breweries, tour operators, activity providers and other businesses, to demonstrate their commitment to meet — and possible exceed — best practices as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic closures.Those include many of the practices that will already be issued by local, state and federal operations as well as trade organizations relevant to each business. They also include acceptance of the additional cost to businesses that will come as a result of prioritizing health and safety, implementing health and safety policies and protocols specific to individual businesses and employees, and increase transparency in the process.More than a dozen businesses have already committed after the offer was extended Thursday.Justin Yax, partner and public relations principal for Visit Walla Walla-contracted firm DVA Advertising & Public Relations, said health and safety concerns will likely be one of the biggest hurdle destinations will face with return of leisure and group travel.Organizations like Visit Walla Walla “have the ability – and the credibility – to assume a leadership position with regard to traveler reassurance, and according to research are second only to ‘friends or relatives’ when it comes to who travelers trust to provide them with the information they need to travel safely right now,” Yax said.“In the case of Visit Walla Walla, the Peace of Mind Pledge brings together partners from all corners of the Valley’s tourism industry, unites them around a critical need, and delivers it from a position of trust and authority that helps mitigate down one of the biggest barriers to travel right now.”Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phased approach to reopening, broad nonessential travel could begin to return late June at the earliest.Travel research firm Destination Analysts, which has published findings of its Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report every week since March 13, reports more than 70% of American travelers are excited to return to travel when they feel it is safe, the Peace of Mind Pledge announcement said.“There’s no question that consumers will be making their travel decisions in the coming months based in part on the safety of a destination, whether real or perceived,” Yax said. “Eventually I believe programs like this will become the rule rather than the exception, but right now Visit Walla Walla is one of the few destinations I am aware of that is doing so. That says a lot about the community, and the individuals and businesses who rely so heavily on tourism.”Walla Walla is well-positioned for recovery in that it’s home to wide-open spaces and driving distance from major markets where weekend getaways are more likely to be part of initial travel plans for visitors than longer vacations.“This is what our travelers are going to want,” Luthi said. “We want people to stop wishing and start traveling.”For more information on the program, visit wallawalla.org/peace.