A Critical Opportunity for Tourism & DMOs to Lead in the Recovery

Head of Research and Insights
Published 7/21/20
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Clear, consistent and mandatory COVID-19 policies for visitors and locals not only save lives; they are essential for tourism’s recovery

Read more: For a wider overview of reopening and recovery best practices, see my blog “Eight Essentials in Tourism’s Restart & Recovery”

The COVID-19 crisis impacting travel and tourism is first and foremost a health crisis. The recovery of our tourism industry is entirely dependent on first tackling the crisis with good health policy. This includes universal mandates on wearing masks in public places in the U.S. and many other countries where community transmission is an issue. Failing to do so not only risks the health of locals and visitors, it also negatively impacts the speed at which the recovery of tourism and hospitality can occur.

Through DMOs and industry associations, the tourism industry has the opportunity create awareness and influence policy by emphasizing the importance of government action to reinforce and require good health and safety practices in our communities. Plus, in parallel, we need to ensure we are doing our part through rigorous and consistent health and safety protocols across tourism and hospitality. 

Here are four new data points that explain the challenge and opportunities we need to take action against now:

1. U.S. Travelers Overwhelming Want Mandatory Mask Wearing

Our most recent research with Longwoods International highlights that over six out of ten U.S. travelers will either only visit destinations that require the use of face masks in public* or are more likely to do so. That is more than eight times the number of U.S. travelers who are against mask wearing mandates – just 9% are either less likely or will not visit such destinations. The bottom line: the lack of mandatory mask wearing is costing destinations visitors and business.

*required mask wearing in public when social distancing is not possible. 

2. Inconsistent Practice and Mandates by Tourism Operators

However, many destinations in the U.S. and tourism operators are still not requiring mask wearing. Our partners at ARIVAL undertook a national survey of 287 tourism businesses in June 2020 and found that less than half of tours, activities and attractions required guests wear masks. This is a major disconnect with the wishes of most travelers and locals who want to feel safe when out in public. DMOs have the opportunity to engage with local businesses and attractions by sharing the latest research and encouraging them to do their part.

More: Douglas Quinby of ARVIAL presented this and other research in our Global All-Stars breakout session on recovery best practices at Destinations International’s Annual Conference. View the presentation here.

3. Local Governments & DMOs Vary in their Support of Business Reopening 

This same survey also found that just one in five tourism businesses got direction and guidance from their DMO in their reopening strategies. In a critical area of tourism’s recovery – robust reopening guidelines – many DMOs have not stepped up to provide information, or their information and offers of support hasn’t reached businesses. Plus, over four out of ten tourism businesses reported being dissatisfied with government health and safety guidance.  

4. Locals and Travelers Lack Confidence & are Staying Home

Due to many destinations failing in health and safety strategies (including making wearing masks mandatory), locals and visitors are not feeling confident about restarting tourism or even in getting out of their house.  For example as of late July, just over one third of Americans (36%) agreed with opening up their community to visitors and just over four out of ten feel safe venturing out locally to dine or shop (see the most recent U.S. Travel Sentiment Research with Longwoods International and Miles). The recovery needs to start with locals feeling more confident about getting out into their community or even venturing from their homes.

The reopening of tourism and hospitality businesses, the return of locals and visitors and the restoration of jobs in the sector is all built on confidence. For now, tourism is struggling to rebuild the required confidence amongst our residents and visitors – confidence that is essential to our recovery. 

Here are three final takeaways on critical steps for every DMO and their tourism industry partners:

1. Be a leader with your government partners and in the community for an assertive health response to help manage and mitigate the health crisis. Emphasize that there is no sustained business, economic or workforce recovery without first tackling the pandemic.
2. Be an advocate for creating mandatory mask rules in all tourism and hospitality businesses and more broadly, in public places in your community (in situations where social distancing is not possible). This is not only good health policy but it is essential to keep our industry’s workers and guests safe. It is also vital to the recovery of our industry.
3. Reach out to your industry with guidance and support on their reopening strategies and practices. Make health and safety protocols as consistent as possible across your destination.  There is a wide range of free resources available to help guide your industry’s efforts from U.S. Travel Association’s “Travel in the New Normal” to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s #SafeTravel in addition to sector specific and local resources.