It would have been hard to imagine that destinations with major concerns around over-tourism, just a few months ago, would now be left deserted, but here we are. Government restrictions, travel industry struggles and public concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have had a huge global impact on not just leisure tourism but on the event industry and business tourism too.
As a result, destination marketing strategies have been severely disrupted. So, how can marketing teams promote destinations, whilst lockdowns across the world are causing meetings and events to be cancelled or postponed?
As working from home has been widely enforced, social activities have been limited and technology has come to the forefront, people are spending more time online for work and play. Time to review your digital marketing plan, think long term and get creative. I've worked on projects for several different convention bureaus, helping to create a variety of online content, so here are a few of my ideas:
1. Educate on sustainable tourism practices
Nature has been reclaiming the environment whilst humans have been isolating and the media has been highlighting different examples of where smog has lifted and wildlife has returned to previously abandoned habitats. Will this cause a rethink on the future of travel and tourism?
Bridge into a forest
Across the event industry, the focus on sustainability was really ramping up before the COVID-19 pandemic hit but now there is an opportunity to press the reset button and consider how to really embed sustainability in your destination management plan. Where human isolation has had a positive impact on your destination, share this across your marketing channels to show why sustainability is so important. Highlight your existing sustainability plans and show how they align to the Sustainable Development Goals. What does your destination offer environmentally conscious event planners? Update your online audiences about any reconsiderations or amendments made to your destination management plans, for when life returns to normal. How will you be helping to further achieve the SDGs and preserve the environment?
You can't do this alone. You'll need to enlist the support of your new and returning visitors. Focus on ways that visitors to your destination can contribute to sustainable activities e.g team building that can be centred around beach cleans, bee keeping, giving back and more. It will take contribution from all parties for any improvements to be successful, so this is a great way to be inclusive and create a movement together by challenging existing habits and offering more sustainable solutions for event planners and their delegates. Consider creating a hashtag to bring together examples of people's more sutainable behaviour when they do visit again.
2. Share your destination’s contribution to
combatting COVID -19
Global expertise from science, manufacturing, technology, medical and beyond is being called upon to fight the spread of COVID-19. How have your local industries been involved? Have your local universities been contributing to research?
Showcasing these contributions is a great way to demonstrate the value of your destination's knowledge clusters. Use targeted content to update those in your aligned industries about learnings, innovations and success stories from your destination. Reach out to experts and ask if they will share their insights on newsletters, blogs, podcasts etc.
Demonstrating these expertise will help create an association with your destination amongst the industries that you are trying to attract. Once the pandemic is over those industries are more likely to consider hosting their next conference amongst that expertise. Be a part of the communities you want to attract and add value to them.
3. Tell your story of managing the pandemic for your clients
Convention Bureaus and Destination Management Organisations will be at the forefront of supporting those event planners impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak but how have they been doing this?
Top tip: Don’t just do it. Share how you are doing it. How have you been supporting clients and keeping them informed about your local situation during the pandemic? What solutions have you helped clients to find? Share these stories across social media channels, obtain testimonials from clients and demonstrate the value of working with a Convention Bureau or Destination Management Organisation rather than going it alone.
4. Utilise technology to bring your destination to your online audiences
With travel off the agenda, virtual reality is a great way to show off your destination to online audiences. Although many existing virtual tours are aimed to attract leisure tourism, why not use them to introduce people to your destination for business tourism? If you don’t have a destination wide one, why not reach out to local venues and ask if they have one? Collate them on your website to create an online directory of virtual tours. Highlight the tours across your channels and encourage people to contact your team to ask questions via video call. If your team are working from home consider using photos of your destination as a background to look professional and to create another opportunity to inspire.
5. Showcase your lesser known locations
Pointing to a map
As a high number of event planners look to reschedule their events during the already busy autumn season, with the hope that the pandemic will be over, now is the time for lesser known locations, that might have more availability, to shine. Offer comparisons between second or third tier destinations and traditionally more popular locations, highlighting why they are the ideal alternative. Online quizzes have proven really popular during lockdowns and offer a great way to improve people's knowledge and bust any myths. How about a destination quiz? If quizzes are not an option consider using polls across your social media channels to interactively engage your audience.
6. Activate your community
Amongst your destination partners, clients, staff and others there is a wealth of knowledge. Why not use this knowledge to create content for your channels?
Hands painted with a heart
Share news or stories from your partners. Encourage venues, airlines, tour operators and others to create entertaining and educational content. Work together to show what your destination can really offer. Interview clients and encourage them to share their stories of planning events in your destination, to inspire other event planners. Encourage members of your team to write blogs, sharing their tips and lesser known facts about your destination. This is a great way to foster relationship building by showing who the people are behind the scenes.
7. Connect with existing content creators
Content creators have a library of existing content that may align with your marketing and content strategy. Even if it is not destination specific it could support your messages e.g advice on choosing sustainable venues could be used when highlighting sustainable venues in your destination.
Blogger/podcaster working on a laptop
Open a conversation with content creators, ask them what content they have available and if they are happy for you to share it. Keep them informed. They will be keen to hear about innovations or ideas that their audiences would like to know about. Where suitable connect their expertise with your audiences by hosting interviews with them and sharing across your marketing channels. Peer to peer learning and thought leadership adds a different dimension to your online voice.
The events and tourism industry is facing some of the biggest challenges it has faced in a lifetime. Although the immediate challenges must be met, it is important to also focus on when and how things will return to normal. Keeping connected with your stakeholders and communities in the meantime is key to maintaining relationships. With so many channels available and people more receptive to the use of technology, marketing and content has a crucial role to play in connecting, educating and inspiring your audiences. Don't just tell people about your destination show them your destination digitally.
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