Eight Essentials for Tourism’s Restart & Recovery - Part 2

Head of Research and Insights
Published 6/25/20
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Part two of a two-part blog series. See part one here.

As the number of COVID-19 cases surge across large parts of the U.S., the importance of a comprehensive recovery plan for tourism and the economy has never been more timely. All eight of these steps are interrelated and need action to be effective.  In this second part of our blog series, we focus on four additional essentials in restarting tourism:

5. Rebuilding Traveler Confidence

6. Activating the VFR & Drive Markets

7. Responsible, Respectful Visitors

8. Measurement & Feedback Framework

5. Rebuilding Traveler Confidence

Once a destination has the health crisis under control and are tackling the other critical steps outlined in the first part of this blog then the destination can plan to restart their visitor marketing activities. A foundation for this will be rebuilding traveler confidence. This starts with communicating clearly on the current situation with COVID-19 in your community, offering fact based health advice and highlighting the industry health and safety standards in place in your destination. Another critical part is ensuring your industry’s cancellation policies meet the moment. With U.S. travelers still uneasy and uncertain about the trajectory of the pandemic and concerned about needing to change or cancel travel plans, generous cancellation and refund policies are critical.

Action: Work with your industry to ensure you have easy to follow, generous change and cancellation policies. Receiving a booking and being able to communicate with travelers on the situation in your destinations is likely a far more effective strategy than confusing or onerous change and cancellation policies putting off travelers from making plans until they are 100% sure they can travel. 

6. Activating the VFR & Drive Markets

The most immediate areas of opportunity for restarting tourism into almost every destination is activating VFR and drive markets. While a significant proportion (40%) of U.S. travelers are not planning any trips in the next six weeks, 25% are planning to visit friends and relatives on a road trip in the coming weeks. Another 15% are planning a road trip for a vacation not including VFR.

Action: The VFR and drive market segments provide a smart and targeted starting point to your tourism marketing efforts. Engage with locals to ensure VFR travelers get out and see as much of your community as possible maximizing their spend and length of stay. Remember 30-40% of VFR travelers typically stay in paying accommodation so work with your hotels and also vacation rental sectors.  Keep an eye on the mix of bookings in your destination as it is likely the pandemic may see changes in market share between hotels and commercial accommodation and vacation rentals. See this NYTimes article for more: “Hotels vs. AirBnB – Has COVID-19 Disrupted the Disrupter?”.

7. Responsible, Respectful Visitors

The recovery of tourism relies on locals supporting the reopening of your community to visitors, and visitors respecting the local community.  This means communicating directly on the expectations for visitors in your destination, emphasizing the importance of observing critical health and safety behaviors including social distancing plus wearing masks in public places where this may not be possible.

Action: The responsibility of educating visitors on appropriate behavior has never been more important. First, ensure you have the right laws and guidelines in place in your community such as allowing businesses to ban entry for anyone without a mask and a restriction on gatherings above a certain size. Then clearly communicate your destination's expectations to visitors. For example, the Colorado Tourism Office has built on its "Care for Colorado" program around visitor education with specific messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic. This communication plans reaches out directly to current and prospective visitors and also works closely with businesses to ensure they reinforce and reflect this same messaging.

We need to make this case to local, state/provincial and national leaders; restoring leisure and tourism jobs needs to be job #1 in tackling unemployment.

8. Measurement & Feedback Framework

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis is a highly complex, fast changing global crisis, and your response needs to be flexible and adaptable based on how the pandemic is changing and the results of your response. This requires a renewed commitment to research and data to continually assess progress and results. If your measurement and feedback framework is not fit for purpose, you need to make changes now to ensure you have the right information at the right time. 

Action:  Urgently reassess your research and data efforts focusing on the new key performance indicators (KPIs) that you need to measure in the COVID-19 crisis. There are simple and free or low cost research and data options you can leverage. Focus first on the most critical stakeholders: local residents, local businesses and expert partners in health and safety (e.g.: your local and state health agencies). For example, do you have a local residents sentiment survey in place? How are you seeking feedback from businesses on their status? How you can support them in the reopening and recovery phases?

Then, pause and take a look at your research and data needs for the long-term, looking beyond the crisis to recovery and the role your organization needs to take in a rebuilt visitor industry. A tourism sector that doesn’t just return but rebuilds stronger and with a greater focus on sustainability and resilience.  A great starting point in considering new KPIs to consider is Entrada’s recent blog of "New Roles, Focus & Metrics for the Reset" illustrated in their infographic to the right.

See part one of this blog series for the first four of our Eight Essential Steps in Tourism’s Restart & Recovery.

1. Managing the Health Crisis

2. Clear, Industry Standards

3. Trusted, Comparable and Consistent Visitor Information

4. Recovery Starts with Locals