The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is creating a cascading series of unprecedented challenges for the tourism industry and wider economy. Rapidly changing events, the complexity of the issues involved plus the natural human emotion of fear are creating a hugely demanding environment for tourism leaders. Here are eight principles to help guide your decisions and provide practical information to government and industry partners as well as your wider community.
1. Facts Not Fear – Amplify expert, independent information.
Understandably there is a lot of concern and yes, fear, about the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. It is important to recognize and empathize with these feelings but also focus on expert, government-led health and economic/business advice. This includes highlighting official advice from sources such as the US State Department or Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US – or similar authorities in other countries. Miles has curated a list of these authoritative sources as well as compilations from our industry partners as a starting point in these discussions. See the list of sources at the bottom of this post.
The PBS NewsHour had a useful interview for understanding and managing anxiety and fear in our lives with Professor David DeSteno of North Eastern University.
2. Fast & Flexible – This crisis will reward nimble organizations & leaders.
Events, expert advice and travel markets are shifting by the hour. Work with your team to refine your organization’s ability to quickly assess new information and adapt your plans based on changing challenges and opportunities. Be prepared to quickly improvise and consider new, innovative and unconventional responses.
3. Connect & Collaborate – Be an advocate for travel when appropriate.
In times of fear and crisis, it is natural for humans to retreat and shelter, even while it is important to seek opportunities to connect and collaborate. When appropriate (guided by official government & health advice), highlight the power of travel to build bridges and solve problems in difficult times. In times of travel bans and other restrictions, look to stay in close contact by phone call, webinar and other communication channels.
4. We are in this Together – Offer help and be a catalyst for collective action.
The scale of this crisis requires both individual support and collective industry and government action. Continue communicating and be ready to offer, or accept, a helping hand. Advocate clearly and powerfully for collective industry action and government support to help our industry rebuild from this unparalleled shock.
5. Recovery Starts at Home – Seek the support of your local residents.
Business closures, event cancellations and travel bans will pass. When appropriate be ready to activate locals and drive markets to quickly start rebuilding business. The recovery starts in your community with locals first and then drive markets. Think about how you are communicating with and engaging with your local residents. The current crisis is an ideal opportunity for tourism to build closer relationships with the all-important host community. This will also be important when our industry starts bouncing back and growth returns.
6. Reduce Barriers to Travel – Offer complete cancellation and refund policies.
One practical fear that will impede any return of travel is the concern of losing money if travel plans have to be changed based on changing health and travel advice. Work with your business partners to introduce no hassle, simple and complete cancellation and refund policies. This will remove one critical barrier to travel when it is appropriate, and our recovery commences.
7. Long-Term View – Show your commitment to markets and partners.
Huge portions of the travel industry including most international travel and major conferences and events are suffering tremendous short-term dislocation. In this crisis, reinforce your long-term commitment to the local industry, your important visitor markets and partners. Connect with them and be ready to be back in these markets early. Proactive communication and offers of support now will strengthen your long-term relationships for when better times return.
8. Step Change – Seize the opportunity to “future proof” your organization.
Major crisis offers a unique opportunity for transformational change. Look beyond the immediate recovery and identify how your organization needs to change to be “future ready”. For DMOs this could include accelerating a shift from a Destination Marketing focus to a broader role in Destination Management and/or tackling foundational issues such as your core capabilities, how tourism is funded in your destination and how you are measuring success.
Official COVID-19 & Crisis Communication Resources
- U.S. Travel Emergency Preparedness and Response: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Destinations International COVID-19 Industry Resource Page
- US State Department Information including advice for travel for outside the US
- World Health Organization
- CDC COVID-19 Information for Travel
- UNWTO Toolbox for Crisis Communications in Tourism
- Worldometer COVID-19
- Plus, official government health and travel advice in your local region, state/province or country.