With the gradual easing of travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, many destinations across the U.S. are shifting focus to recovery strategies. Over the last three months, significant changes in consumer behavior and sentiment have impacted the travel industry and the way DMOs talk to potential visitors. DMOs are now not only faced with adjusting expectations and benchmarks for media performance, but also with infusing their media plans with dynamic strategies that leave room for real-time modifications.
No matter what stage of recovery/reopening your region is experiencing, here are five things to consider when you’re ready to turn media on again.
1. Take a Phased Approach
Just as public regulations around safety and health are evolving, consumers’ mindsets around travel continue to evolve – and likely will continue this evolution over the coming months. A phased approach to restarting media allows DMOs to stay relevant in their messaging, tactics and targeting by making adjustments with each new phase. Serving content that is high-funnel, brand-building and evergreen in nature is a great place to start before slowly reintroducing lower-funnel considerations as travelers show interest in planning trips again.
2. Monitor Data
Identify trusted data sources and research in order to monitor changes in the market. Being well-armed with data can help you understand your audience’s behavior, and in turn guide your decisions about when to move to the next phase. Data points such as car traffic from the Arrivalist Daily Travel Index, hotel searches/bookings and foot traffic from Google and Uber Media give indications of how many people are leaving their homes or taking road trips. Travel sentiment studies from Longwoods International and organic search trends provide real-time insights on consumers’ comfort levels and the kind of information they’re looking for. Miles has also been curating and summarizing critical data points from various travel industry research partners from week to week.
3. Be Flexible
As the situation changes quickly, the ability to pivot media is more important than ever. Consider how media consumption has changed during the pandemic (increased mobile and streaming TV usage, more time spent on social media) and prioritize more flexible channels and tactics to align with dynamic opportunities in the market.
4. Rethink Target Audiences
With many travelers currently reluctant to travel by air, prioritizing nearby and extended drive markets over fly markets will likely make sense for most destinations in the first phases of recovery. As travel slowly begins to regain momentum, targeting lower-funnel travel intenders and searchers may also be more fruitful in the short term, at least until more consumers begin feeling confident about traveling.
5. Audit Existing Content
Take a critical look at existing visuals and messaging to avoid anything that may be perceived as tone-deaf. Stay away from images with crowds, large events or activities that are currently closed. Instead, focus on destination assets that align most closely with what travelers are looking for in a post-COVID world – outdoors, beaches, parks, etc. Consider messaging that is more informational and health-focused or that points to evergreen topics. If you’re not sure what messaging to proceed with, test the content with lower budgets, or see how it performs in organic social posts. Both options will give you some insight into whether it resonates with travelers’ current sentiment.
Find clear, timely answers to questions about COVID-19 and travel and tourism in Miles Partnerships' Clarity in a Time of Crisis resource center, including essential insights and recommendations for DMOs and tourism organizations.