Riding the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was a considerable adjustment for the travel marketing industry. Marketing agencies and DMOs quickly shut down campaigns or shifted to an entirely unforeseen messaging strategy discouraging travel. However, with months of practice, the industry began to adjust…just in time for the second wave.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, autumn and winter seasons will continue on with lockdowns and travel restrictions. Travel marketers, once more, are tasked with adapting their communication techniques to reflect the current phase of the pandemic.
Whether a destination is accepting visitors or not, here are six creative messaging techniques and content ideas for tourism destinations to successfully ride the second wave:
Welcoming Visitors to a New Kind of Travel
Even as destinations reopen, COVID-19 safety guidelines and restrictions are changing travel. The days of crowded hotels and large events are giving way to secluded adventures that lend well to social distancing. The wide-open space in the great outdoors offers unique marketing opportunities for rural destinations, campgrounds, and road trip attractions.
An influx of metropolitan travelers are exploring rural destinations as an escape from stringent COVID-19 restrictions in cities. With several school districts, colleges, and businesses extending shelter-in-place orders, rural destinations may be able to extend their 2020 tourism seasons.
The shift to remote school and work creates greater personal freedom over where working and learning happens. As long as a destination offers reliable internet service for remote tasks, rural destinations may benefit from promoting themselves as an “outdoor classroom” or “outdoor workplace” to school-goers and employees who are no longer bound in place. This messaging technique reframes the inconveniences associated with COVID-19 into an opportunity to experience a destination at a less-traveled time of year. Particularly after city-dwellers have spent the summer developing cabin-fever in their metropolitan apartments, working and learning in an actual cabin will likely be appealing.
The Rise in RV Travel
Hotels drastically increased cleaning measures during the pandemic, but reports show that staying in a hotel is still a risk for travelers. Alternatively, RV sales show a near 170 percent uptick from past seasons. As more travelers are forgoing traditional lodging for RV travel and camping, campgrounds and rural destinations should expect increased traffic.
Based on this new lodging trend, destinations should focus on promoting their campgrounds and RV parks as a pandemic-safe lodging option. This may even be an opportunity for RV parks and campgrounds to extend their typical seasons and services.
Digital Experience Staycations
While promoting physical travel is still neither feasible nor responsible for all destinations, marketing efforts should not stop entirely. A report from market research firm Mower highlights that consumers respond well to authentic marketing during a crisis, and halting communications can irreversibly harm brand awareness. Fortunately, travel marketers honed several creative methods for responsible marketing during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are four creative ideas for reaching all types of travelers that are still—or once again—stuck at home:
Online Educational Content
For families unable to travel, creating educational, family-friendly social posts engages the kids and excites the family for when they are able to travel.
PBS created a simple educational video about The Grand Canyon:
Even without the production abilities of PBS, a similar video with fun facts about a destination may entertain young viewers who are learning from home. Further, creating authentic content that acknowledges the challenging adjustments to COVID-19, like distance learning, builds connections between destinations and future travelers.
Feeding the Foodie Digital Content
Food tourism was drastically impacted by COVID-19 with travel restrictions and restaurant shutdowns. Luckily, online cooking videos easily reach and intrigue foodies. Cooking blog, Eater, exemplifies engaging food-related content. In this video, a chef visits a local restaurant in Texas to learn how to cook authentic Tex-Mex:
Destinations can use this video format to engage food tourists while featuring local restaurants and cuisine. Until restaurants and destinations open again, sharing recipes and cooking tips through engaging videos keeps the foodie audience (and their taste buds) excited for their next trip.
Live Performances and Events Online
Mass-cancellations of performances and events drastically changed summer plans for experience-oriented travelers. For those that enjoy large events, indefinite cancellations are disappointing. However, over the past few months many artists created live videos, and utilized online video premieres to simulate the feeling of attending a live show. For example, Global Citizen’s #TogetheratHome initiative featured various musical artists on Instagram as they casually performed in their own homes.
Destinations can emulate this by hiring local talent to record live sessions on social or even plan to migrate annual events online. While not quite the same as an in-person experience, digital events preserve awareness and generate highly engaging content. Conveniently, the Facebook algorithm distributes live videos with greater reach, often resulting in more impressions and longer video views, thereby keeping your audience connected to your brand for longer, regardless of their visitation.
Vicarious Travel through Brand Ambassadors
Influencers play a near-essential role in travel marketing. They work to humanize a destination by posting about their experiences and allowing followers to live vicariously through them. With COVID-19 stay-at-home mandates, influencers with the ability to travel play an even more critical role in promoting safe COVID-19 travel. After months of lockdown, travel content may also satisfy viewers’ unfulfilled desires for a destination vacation.
Several YouTubers have gone viral for the trend titled “I Let my Instagram Followers Control My Life For the Day.” This trend works by allowing followers to make decisions for the influencer with the polling feature on Instagram stories. Based on this trend, influencers can personalize travel experiences by allowing followers to make decisions about their travels: whether it’s the hiking trail they take, the restaurant they eat at, or the outfit they wear. This will allow followers to feel as though they are part of the trip, even if they may not have the ability to travel yet themselves. In addition, influencers emulating safe travel prepares followers for the changes they may see in their own travel experiences post-COVID-19.
Riding the Second Wave
Whether your destination is ready to welcome back travelers or not, you should continue your marketing efforts for preservation of traveler awareness and excitement about the destination. Destinations that are able to open will likely need to adjust strategies to reflect traveler behavior while destinations that are unable to open will need to create future-focused content. Luckily, the first wave of the pandemic offered unique adaptations to content strategies that now serve as a foundation for creative inspiration. With a bit more preparation time, and a bit more experience, destinations can truly get creative with reaching travelers and sustaining excitement in the new reality of travel.