What Destination Marketers Must Understand to Thrive in the Covid-19 Era
Covid-19 continues to disrupt the travel industry, but it's a mistake to halt marketing efforts.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As a creative agency that works with several brands in the travel and tourism industry, my company has had to make drastic changes in how it positions the messaging and approach of our clients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on the entire travel industry. Hotel bookings and airline reservations plummeted to almost nothing, and the cruise industry was paused entirely. The majority of countries had travel restrictions, and some closed their borders entirely. This created a massive challenge for destination marketers.
Before the pandemic, tourism marketing budgets were planning far in advance, and campaigns were designed annually, but that is no longer the case, as it's just not feasible to operate that way with so much underlying uncertainty about what the future holds for the travel industry.
To thrive in the current environment, destination marketers must understand Covid-19's impact — in the present as well as the immediate future. There are always going to be unanswered questions, but there are some things destination marketers can do to be best prepared.
Related: 5 Ways Social Media Has Transformed Tourism Marketing
Covid-19 isn't going away anytime soon
First came the Delta variant and then the Delta Plus variant, and health experts predict that there are and will be additionals variants of Covid-19. We are already seeing many countries tighten up restrictions, and some, like Australia, have gone back into lockdown mode.
Los Angeles reintroduced its mandatory mask mandate, and other areas are following suit. For a moment, it looked like everything was going back to normal, and then the variants began to surface.
The truth, no matter how awful it is to think about, is that Covid-19 and the obstacles it presents to destination marketers aren't going away anytime soon. If anything, it is likely to get worse before it begins to get better. Accepting this reality is important to best prepare marketing budgets and strategies.
Leverage the thought of future travel possibilities
The best marketing approach now is to leverage the thoughts and desires of future travel. Consumers are sick of being limited, and once things are back to normal and traveling has fewer restrictions, there is going to be a surge of bookings, creating a demand like we have never seen before.
The businesses and brands that remain in front of their target customers during the pandemic and Covid-19 challenges are the ones that are going to be rewarded. You cannot simply pause all marketing activities during this downtime. Doing so will be detrimental to a business.
When Disney's theme parks were closed, their marketing message switched to "see you soon" and leveraged that desire, which paid off big time. When restrictions were lifted, their parks were sold out due to the demand. The approach Disney used is a perfect example of how being consistent even during difficult times can pay off once consumers can travel again.
Related: 3 Ways Tourism Hotspots Will Evolve After Lockdown
Understand that "normal" will return
Regardless of how bad or tragic a situation is, just know that things will return to normal at some point. While nobody can predict exactly when that will happen, businesses mustn't just lose hope and give up.
The 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City changed travel entirely, and the world was able to overcome that. The 2008 financial collapse crushed the economy, directly impacting the travel industry, and that eventually rebounded.
Destination marketers have to realize that we will eventually return to normal, with open borders and the ability to travel worldwide. It's important to reassure clients that while revenue might be down at all-time lows, once "normal" returns, we are going to experience the biggest surge across the entire tourism industry. There will be an opportunity to make up for lost ground, so businesses must remain active and consistent to get a piece of that pie when it comes around.
Make health and safety priority No. 1 in all messaging
While it's important to remain on the minds of potential customers, a business cannot market the same way it did before the Covid-19 situation. Now, it's more important to focus on relationship building than driving bookings, as that's not an option for everyone currently.
Marketing messages that focus on health and safety hit home, and consumers are going to be naturally drawn to businesses that are genuine with this messaging. "We are all in this together" and "Your health and well-being are our number one concern" are types of marketing messages that create genuine connections.