5 tips for Destination Marketing during a pandemic

In two months time we will be 1 year into the pandemic. the first global lock-downs happened in March and April of last year. Without doubt 2020 has been a very challenging year for destinations, and tourism in general. Everybody was scrambling to get information, updates and ways to “stay in the game”. As destination marketers we have been bombarded with growth and recovery scenarios; also making our own scenarios. What I have learned is that in this case, it is the governments who decide what can and will happen, and not so much the data. The missing element in the growth and recovery scenarios was timing. No one can indicate when people are allowed to travel except for the governments and as you also may have experienced, this has been very random and all over the place with differences per country and sometimes even per region within a country.

What to do? I got direction from philosophy, focus on what you can control. We don’t control the decisions made by the government or the behavior of the Covid19 virus, but we do control our marketing. I want to share with you the 5 steps my team and myself have taken towards marketing during this pandemic:

  1. Regain and maintain customer confidence

Currently there is a lot of (mis)information out there, and your customer is probably concerned, scared and lost. They want to travel, but are not allowed unless they follow many rules and regulations…..very confusing and annoying. Travel should be fun. As a destination you can provide peace of mind by being open about the situation in your country. Keep communicating with your customers with all the tools you have at your disposal. Even though budgets are small (or decimated), there are always cost effective of “free” ways to stay on touch with your customers. The obvious ones are Social media, newsletters and your website. But any other creative way of communicating here is welcome. In our case, my sales team started doing live interviews targeting the trade. Almost like Joe Rogan’s podcast. Keep providing information and updates regularly. This will help you keep the awareness of your destination (brand) alive and stay top of mind.

2. Remember your stakeholders

The pandemic has changed the market place, and it has forced all of us to re-think our business models and processes. Therefore, as a Destination Marketing & Management Organisation (DMMO) you need to keep close contacts with your stakeholders who are in control of the product. These include among others, your local government, hoteliers, incoming operators, activity operators, F&B industry, you name it. Everyone who makes your destination what it is. Together, you need to come up with a unified plan of action. This will help you send a single, easy and practical message to your customers. If you skip this, the tip of point 1 will become weak.

It is also very important for you to communicate back to your local stakeholders what the situation is in the market you are serving. They might be overwhelmed as well, by trying to keep track of global developments, and perhaps also bench marking their decisions on local situations. So, as a DMMO you need to communicate in different directions simultaneously, towards your customers and towards your stakeholders.

3. Work on your messaging

With all this communicating going on, it can be easy to loose sight of what it is you actually want or need to say as a destination. Most probably you cannot use your traditional “come visit us, we have a fun place in the sun” taglines anymore, because people can’t travel. But you still want them to remember you and keep you on their consideration list. Traditionally most marketing campaigns are developed at the beginning of a year and executed according to a strict time planning. With things changing so fast (faster than it already was pre-covid), you need to stay flexible. We took an AGILE approach towards our messaging. This entails a continuous evaluation of the situation and coming up with new messages, copy and taglines. Sometimes you won’t even get to use them, as reality catches up with you. You can manage your messaging by determining some case scenarios and decide what your communication strategy will be per scenario. This way you are better able to react to quick changes in the marketplace.

Also here, it is important to relay back to your stakeholders, as they need to be aware of the changes you make in communication promoting a product they manage. The collaboration can help in generating fresh ideas on a regular basis and provide you with additional or new content. Which will alleviate your team members who have to come up with new ideas constantly now.

4. Have your campaign ready to launch

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

If you are in a situation where customers in your market cannot travel to your destination, and you are doing all of the above. It might happen that you forget to make sure you have your “traditional” actions ready. This can include a.o. your paid media campaign, working with “paid for” influencers & sales events. As indicated in point 1, we are heavily dependent on what governments decide , but also on medical developments, such as the vaccine. You never know how quickly markets can open up again after some positive developments. If this is the case, and you start working on your “traditional” actions to generate sales again, you might be too late. Remember, the recovery studies and reports are still valuable. They indicate the propensity to travel and can also provide insights and data about how many people will/want to travel. The only thing they can’t tell you is when. Therefore you need to be ready. Just like with your messaging, an AGILE approach here is important. Perhaps you need to revisit your plans regularly, to make sure you still manage to reach your target market at the most cots-effective way possible, especially now, with budgets being under pressure.

Again, reach out to your stakeholders, as they can help you add value to your sales proposition by providing upgrades, discounts, extra’s etc. note: I am not against discounting, but perhaps added values are better than discounts. It will help you keep the value of your product or service on a decent level and you can bounce back financially quicker by not compromising your revenue. The important thing here is to be able to provide quality and value for money to your customer.

5. Timing

You might encounter pressure from the outside world, your management and stakeholders to advertise, or execute marketing activities, this is understandable. People are not used at doing “nothing”. Remember, you are active & you are communicating, but you are not burning through your marketing budget just like that. As mentioned earlier, we are dependent on the travel advise and lifting of restrictions by governments. It is important therefore for you to keep track of local politics and sentiment. This way you can get a sense of when people will be allowed to travel again, or at least when some restrictions will be lifted. Just like in the movie Apollo 13, the crew had just enough fuel left for one last burn in order to enter the atmosphere safely again. And the ignition of that last burn took precision timing. I like this analogy for holding back my main marketing campaign (burn) for when it will be most effective. Have all your senses set to sharp and wait for that right moment to unleash your creatives, messaging, copy texts , taglines…..everything you’ve got.

That is the trajectory to recovery.

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