Yes, it completely sucks when you watch your short and medium-term business evaporate before your eyes and your income statement shrinks during a global crisis. What we’re experiencing now is unprecedented, scary and stressful. The comforts of close family, friends, colleagues and your customers keep you motivated, and knowing that everyone else is in the same position helps. You wonder when things will return to normal and what the new ‘normal’ may look like for you and your tourism business.
In the meantime, you really want to talk to your customers, but are not sure what’s right and what’s not. To help, we’ve compiled a list of things you can do to keep your brand and business relevant during this crisis; with examples from some of the best in the business.
Short Term (During Crisis)
1. Feed Your Feed With Happy – The World Wide Web is the go to during a crisis and is full of dire, important updates, official announcements and scams. Let’s give people a little memory moment of your business. It can be a shot of a sunrise, the pool, your canoes, a stoic moose or your favourite rooms. Even updates on your pets or co-workers’ kids who you’re sharing the home office with. Get creative with your captions and take your customers back in time to create a smile. Don’t flood your feed, one post a week is cool.
2. Send an HONEST and Heartfelt Email – Wow, our inboxes are chock a block full of emails from all the big brands we engage with. Every CEO is sending a letter to say how concerned about you they are, and what they are doing as a company during the crisis. Most are corporate gibberish written by a junior communications staffer, which causes us more often than not to hit the delete button. The ones that have stood out for us are the frequent updates from Loblaws and their CEO, Galen Westin. They are honest, believable, and real. They speak to us in the first person, like we’re someone they care about. You can actually hear Galen reading them in his collared shirt and sweater. Your customers want real insights into you and your business during this time. They’re already invested in you, so give them the straight goods.
3. Go Back to the Future – No not the movie. Look to the past to see how both the tourism industry and individual tourism businesses have rebounded after a crisis. There are several examples from tourism regions that have been impacted by hurricanes, civil wars, wildfires and other pandemics like SARS and the avian flu. Learn from their marketing comeback stories and see how you can implement some proven ideas. It’s not like we don’t have a little time for reading right now.
Medium Term (Immediately After)
1. Deploy Strategic Creativity – Post pandemic, it will be a tourism advertising frenzy with messages of “Come Back”, “Get out of the City”, “Crave wide Open Spaces?”, “Need Nature?”, “Get Together with Friends” etc. etc. with each of these messages aimed at the same highly populated target cities. Think about how you will stand out when big budget heavy hitters with trendy ad agencies will be throwing everything they have at tourism marketing.
As our good friend Terry O’Reilly says, “Don’t outspend them. Outsmart them”. Even as a small tourism business, you can win the game by prioritizing creativity over the size of the ad spend or radius of the post. People like real and honest in this business, so start their memorable experience with you, right from their feed.
2. Leverage your Quirky Differences – Again, with so many generic travel messages emerging right after the crisis, think about those little details and experiences you can leverage which set you apart from the competition.
Would you rather promote that you simply have a full-service restaurant; or that you serve Grandma’s famous three story Empire Apple Pie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and 5-year aged Thornloe cheddar? Find your ‘apple pie’ and make your target market drool. Show them the recipe on your blog and you’ll have a customer for life.
Long Term (Six Months After)
1. Listen – Things will be different post pandemic, so pay attention to what your returning customers are saying. Do they want hotter water for washing their hands, more automatic hand sanitizer stations, shorter stays, more distance between other guests etc.?
We don’t know what the new normal will look like, but if you listen to your customers and adapt to their needs, they will show you the love with 5-star reviews. Social feedback will be more important than ever as travellers will want reassurance that things are safe.
2. Be Nimble – We know tourism marketing is highly driven by the seasonal cycle, and often requires advanced booking and planning of marketing tactics such as trade shows, magazines, media events etc. You know what tactics work best for your business, but use this as an opportunity to think about what new marketing channels you can leverage because the channels and mediums on which your customers will be spending time is changing. Look at how fast the world adapted to online video conferencing tools like Zoom? The digital space just became even more important. Just think about where your customers will be.
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Marketing a tourism business is tough (even without a global pandemic). No doubt your brain is racing with ideas about how you will get customers to re-book and come back. Use this as an opportunity to be bold, and as we like to say, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s likely a great idea that you should run with.