Tourism management and destination recovery through the crisis
Suggestions for moving your destination through the economics of COVID-19
Welcome to the age of adaptivity. As the world tries to anchor itself amidst the COVID-19 crisis and the virus-induced reality of an impending economic downturn, destination organizations and the hospitality industry will need to apply a new perspective on destination, development and community engagement.
Destination organizations can take immediate action to help adapt to the current situation. Below are 11 moves destination leaders should consider in the days ahead.
Where do I start?
Get finances in check
Revise, revise, revise. According to industry expert Julie Hart, budget adaptivity is vital. Scope out the budget impacts conservatively for the next three months of the current fiscal year and see where you can make modifications. If you are funded by hotel tax, forecast future collections for the next budget cycle to minimize surprises when planning for next year. Align immediate decisions to more clearly validate strategic priorities.
Go virtual for more face time
While the face-to-face visitor center is not available, you can still get necessary face time by going virtual. Remember to stay connected and encourage team members to tell the stories of heroes in their communities. These stories matter, now more than ever, and they will be important for morale when we begin to recover.
Save your brand by hitting the brakes on marketing
Marketing to prospective travelers or pushing out messages that encourage traveling will get lost in the shuffle and not be perceived well. Pause marketing efforts that don't support the "now" and communicate the importance of safety regarding customers and staff, keeping in mind suggestions encouraged by our global health leaders.
Keep things moving
Relationships matter more than sales
Support the Sales and Business Development teams whose jobs are heavily impacted by client interaction. Encourage your teams to maintain relationships by picking up the phone and ensuring customers that they're important. Listen and allow them to share their situations and challenges. Reassure them business will eventually resume and destinations will recover, keeping in mind the utmost safety of all customers and staff. Also remind them that if they have immediate needs, you are here for them, knowing that everyone has been impacted through this. Relationships matter now more than transactions.
Support your stakeholders
Advise, but also empathize. The businesses you partner with are the core reason destination organizations exist. You have an opportunity to engage in a new way and connect the dots between their needs, direction and the next steps they should take. For example, many destination organizations are already making strides in staying connected with local restaurants via social media updates, minimizing parking ticketing for take-out pickups and providing delivery to healthcare and public safety officials. You have an opportunity to partner with them and provide resources as they adapt in this changing environment.
Reeducate on resources
Retrain team members to understand the assistance programs available through your state and local economic assistance agencies. There will be a lot of mixed messages about Small Business Administration programs, unemployment regulations and business assistance options as destinations recover. Your community will depend on your ability to navigate these questions about these programs. Make sure your businesses know that you are a resource to help understand and access these programs. As you learn more about the options, continue to share across your stakeholders.
Acquire authorization on reserves
Many organizations have already activated access to reserves, but for those that have not, now is the time. Thoughtful consideration on the purpose of those funds will be important to the direction of the organization. Securing future event investments, local human services for the out-of-work and reinvestments in destination development will be potential items to consider, beyond the obvious basics of maintaining operations.
Make your voice heard
Our governmental bodies are hard at work. You are leaders in our communities, and this is a time to illustrate your expertise. Offering options and ideas for recovery will be important over the coming weeks. We recommend preparing for the present and the future by organizing plans into three different categories: (1) Recovery, (2) Reconvening and (3) Preparing.
How do we rebuild business volume after the crisis passes? Think of ideas that will help drive short-term hospitality business. During the 2008 recession, recovery efforts focused heavily on booking sports and hobbies, concerts and festivals and gradually growing from staycations to wider-market visits. Recovery from this downturn will likely be quite different and depend on shifting attitudes toward travel, public gatherings and the ability to purchase.
What can we do to encourage future social gatherings after recovery? Focus on how we can overcome stigmas created by forced social distancing. Human nature wants to gather, but the viral spread of COVID-19 could linger. In addition to shifting attitudes, we must educate and reassure the public once it passes.
What will be different the next time? Government and public health responsiveness to future viral challenges will undergo demonstrative change. Shutdowns and travel restrictions will likely become more commonplace and immediate to combat future pandemics. Think about how you can minimize the impact to protect your business and contribute to your community in future incidents.
Learn from the data
Understanding the data story and potential avenues for recovery is a key step during the coming weeks. Research sources and data options are abundant. This is a great time to examine your resources and determine future needs. There will be a need to harness your community's visitor profile and assemble around your available opportunities as recovery steps begin to materialize.
Mobilize and connect your talent
Prior to the pandemic, many destination organizations were implementing strategies to help their communities attract and retain talent. Many destination organizations were helping the tourism industry fill job vacancies through job fairs and placement assistance programs. Now, the potential of largescale unemployment opens these same organizations to focus more on finding options. There is an opportunity to adapt community talent into volunteer options for the short-term, while leveraging valued skills for paid opportunities as business begins to grow. Connecting with local and state job assistance efforts can help create options to fill needed positions across the community, while also providing a valuable service.
Expect the unexpected
Strategic plans should be malleable by nature. Strategies should be adaptable, while tactics are rigid and prescriptive. The more tactical the plan, the less it matters right now. Make revisions and adaptations to strategic plans now to accommodate the immediate needs of the next 18 months. Divide the weeks and months ahead into manageable time periods. Need help getting started? Organize your plan revision like this:
Let's face it, we're not going to market our way out of this crisis. Our customers, stakeholders and quite frankly, ourselves, will need to shake off the haze of social distancing once the immediate threat passes. These steps should provide a framework to begin navigating the challenges ahead.
Our next updates will focus more on specifics around each of these moves. Until then, stay healthy and share ideas.
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