Partner Spotlight: How Destination Marketers Are Navigating COVID-19

In recent weeks, our COVID-19 webinar series has created an industry forum for sharing insights and perspectives, challenges and opportunities, and discussion on how travel advertisers are navigating the global crisis and preparing for recovery. The first two webinars focused on the role of destinations and recovery readiness, featuring conversations with destination marketers, tourism boards and our own digital media experts.

In case you have not been able to watch the on-demand recordings of these webinars, we wanted to highlight key themes and perspectives from our destination partners who joined us for these discussions. We hope you find these excerpts valuable on your own path to recovery.

Use this time to refresh and improve

Many destinations are using this time as an opportunity to rally partners and stakeholders – including hotels, airlines, activities, local businesses and, when relevant, government officials – to reset their strategies and path forward, and ensure everyone is working from the same playbook. From adjusting content platforms and strategies to assessing strategic partners to implementing new tools and resources like CRM and contract management systems, there is an opportunity to refresh and reset as part of broader recovery efforts.

  • Gavin Landry of Visit Britain “During this time, it’s not only about keeping the lights on, but we can take the time to focus on how we can become better as an organization, and how we come out of this crisis as being better and more agile into the future.”
  • Dennis Englund of Visit Denmark “We work closely with our most important partners [airlines, OTAs, media and travel trade] to ensure that we are aligned in terms of campaigns, messages and timing. Otherwise make sure you have a tourism product that is ready to receive tourists, which is a bit more tricky as it is all about keeping hotels, restaurants, attractions, museums, infrastructure alive.”
  • Bjoern Spreitzer of Tourism New Zealand “We look at the crisis as an opportunity to shape the future of tourism. As an industry, we’re looking at a process that we call ‘Reimagine Tourism’ – a view that in the long-term, tourism enriches New Zealand. By enrich, we mean tourism gives more to New Zealand – more than it takes away – and this will be measured by social, cultural and economic impact. Long-term that asks, how can improve the quality of jobs in our sector? How can we build a more sustainable sector with different product offerings? How can we develop our industry more digitally?”
  • Leah Chandler of Discover Puerto Rico “Our experience with crisis has really strengthened the capabilities of our DMO. It’s helped us hone our preparation skills and has really empowered us to pivot quickly amidst our newest crisis, COVID-19. We’ve invested really heavily in crisis preparedness and developed a crisis preparedness playbook covering roughly 20 scenarios… and believe it or not, we actually had a scenario planned out for airborne contagion that we were able to adapt very quickly… We were able to, for all intents and purposes, really hit the ground running, largely due to the lessons we learned from past experiences, allowing us to mobilize our resources and pivot activities and messaging and mitigate as much as risk as possible to the island.”
  • Fletch Brunelle of Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority “Our foundation has always been on research. We’ve always talked to our customers and made all of our marketing decisions based upon what they think. We want to listen to our base of customers, we want to know what they think, we want to understand what their concerns are. Do they want to get back to travel sooner or later? What are they thinking about for Las Vegas? … What’s the most important areas that people want to see that reopens, because we know not all of Las Vegas will open at one time.”
  • Staci Mellman of VISIT FLORIDA “We’ve dealt with crisis across every category; environmental, man-made, terrorist attacks, political and even organizational crises. And every experience for us has been an opportunity to learn and improve on our ability to manage the next one that might come our way – although we hope it doesn’t.”
  • Caroline Beteta of Visit California We are no strangers to crisis, but this has truly changed the role of the DMO both at the local and state level… Since the outbreak began, we have focused on real time communication, serving as the primary point of information for California’s travel industry. Right now, that means connecting with law makers, gathering research and preparing for recovery and supporting efforts to obtain meaningful relief.”

Focus initial efforts on domestic tourism

As different countries, states and cities are at various stages of impact and recovery from COVID-19, we expect that domestic travel, and especially local market travel, will be the first to reopen. This is largely the path the “open” destinations have followed thus far, looking to minimize the potential risk posed by international or cross-border tourism. While the approach to reopening will vary by state, country and region, as evidenced by examples from our advertising partners, various research shows that travelers have expressed more comfort with car travel and road trips over air travel.

  • Dalma Horvath of Hungarian Tourism Agency “In the middle of April, the Hungarian Tourism Agency launched their first domestic campaign after the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in. The main message of the campaign was #iwillbeback, which was more of a sympathy campaign that communicated ’If we take care of each other, we will make it.’ The inspiration of Hungarians to travel again began on the 1st of June, with the message ‘we are back!’”
  • Dennis Englund of Visit Denmark “Visit Denmark is experiencing an increase in one-day and weekend bookings for hotels and seeing bookings that are longer – at least a week and beyond – are going toward home rentals and camping.”
  • Brent Hill of South Australian Tourism Commission “On a local level, businesses that have normally been focused very much on international, have changed to focus on a domestic audience and are adapting what they’re doing. For example, a business that focuses on a 10-day wildlife tour of South Australia, may shift to a highlight tour that might only take a day. That kind of innovation is really good to see.”
  • Manoharan Periasamy of Tourism Malaysia “As with most countries opening up [from COVID-19], we are going to emphasize domestic tourism. Malaysia is fortunate to have various destinations within the country, where we can encourage Malaysians to travel. According to our survey data, 72% of Malaysians have indicated their preference, post-COVID-19, to travel within the country and many prefer to use their own transport.”

Lean into social media and digital channels

As COVID-19 spread around the world, marketing budgets across destination marketing organizations, hotels and other travel brands were cut drastically. As marketers had to change their approach, they leaned heavily into their owned and digital channels to drive their message to their followers.

  • Gavin Landry of VistBritainDuring and after a crisis, managing information and delivering clear, consistent messaging is incredibly important, and digital channels offer the most flexibility and are often the quickest way to reach large audiences. In today’s environment however, digital channels and social media are also effective platforms for destinations and tourism boards to engage and share information with consumers – from news to entertainment to recovery initiatives.”
  • Brent Hill of South Australian Tourism Commission “We’ve spent a lot of time building up our digital profile and community and have a very strong profile through our website SouthAustralia.com. That has been a really important channel for us to communicate to the local community, alongside medical professionals and the government. One thing that’s been really good here is that deference has been given to medical professionals in Australia, but it’s been our job to help interpret that from a tourism perspective to help locals.”
  • Fletch Brunelle of Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority “Without travel, entertainment and large gatherings, people are consuming more content than ever online. As the entertainment capital of the world we wanted to bring entertainers and personalities together to show their unique ‘only Vegas’ talents from the comforts of their home, from social media. What you could find [with #TogetherAtHome] is different workouts, culinary, music and more, and people get the Vegas experience without having to physically be here.”
  • Caroline Beteta of Visit California “In this pause phase our communication continues through our owned channels reaching our 33 million followers. It’s flipped our way of communications and in the past we have been very brand led and social follows, but now we are flipping that and being very socially-led and brand inspired.”

Clearly communicate safety and hygiene protocols to (re)build trust with travelers

To rebuild trust with travelers, they need to feel safe and secure. There is now a greater expectation on cleanliness and other safety protocols, which will change the travel experience, and should be a core component of messaging and advertising content. Travelers will seek out this information as they begin researching, planning and booking future trips, so credibility, consistency and transparency are imperative to helping them feel reassured.

  • Shoo Ling Lim of Singapore Tourism Board Earning trust goes beyond marketing and from the start of the crisis, Singapore has remained open and transparent in sharing updates and explaining measures we have taken. This can help raise affinity towards a destination. We also looked at building confidence through measures such as the SG clean sanitation and hygiene certification program, which helps to reassure tourists that our local businesses have robust measures in place.”
  • Dennis Englund of Visit Denmark “We will take a strategic approach to ensure that work processes, social distancing, hygiene measures are in place, so that as a customer you can feel safe – providing, obviously, that you yourself have a responsible behavior.”
  • Leah Chandler of Discover Puerto Rico “We are implementing thorough cleanliness measures, as I know many destinations are, that will follow the U.S. Travel Association’s health and safety guidelines. This, paired with locally enforced mandates developed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, will position Puerto Rico as the gold standard in health and safety in the Caribbean and hopefully beyond.”
  • Fletch Brunelle of Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority “We looked at strategic implications for resort operators… one of the top things we found [through research], is travelers want to know that all staff at the properties have been trained on the new health and safety protocols…The staff has to be wearing gloves, masks, there has to be more hand sanitizers, they need to know that their room was cleaned properly. They want to have the visuals of these things [that are happening]… In hospitality, typically you want to do things when nobody’s looking, you want to make sure it’s cleaned without having people inconvenienced. But now frankly, people want visual signs of the cleaning, they want to see what’s happening in the resort.”
  • Staci Mellman of Visit Florida “We always act in a manner that facilitates trust, and we encourage other local businesses to be honest about their recovery efforts and avoid saying they are ready to host visitors until they are in fact fully ready. We want to make sure that we are managing traveler expectations and exceeding them when they arrive here.”

 Stay top of mind with travelers

Travel is an essential part of life, and tourism will always play a critical role in reinvigorating the economy and supporting destination recovery after disaster strikes. Whether inspiring travelers to dream about their next trip, educating them on the state of travel, or driving demand, staying top of mind can help keep potential travelers engaged and reduce the recovery timeline. Industry research shows that consumers want to hear from brands they know and trust, and there are myriad ways to promote your destination in tonally appropriate, inventive and uplifting ways.

  • Brent Hill of South Australian Tourism Commission “We knew we couldn’t bring tourists to South Australia, but we could bring South Australia to the tourists. We had a view that we’d strongly built up our audience through our digital and social programs and felt we needed to support the industry through this process – hence, SATV was born. SATV was a platform that allowed us to drive our audience to local businesses that had set up e-commerce platforms in response to the crisis. SATV also gave us a channel to give a bit of travel inspiration ready for when people start thinking and hearing about South Australia.”
  • Shoo Ling Lim of Singapore Tourism Board “For actual travel, we have to be sensitive to consumer sentiment not just in Singapore but also overseas. That said, to keep ourselves top of mind, we continue to engage audiences with relevant content while they’re still unable to travel. Firstly, we create our own content and help our audiences make the most of staying at home, with our ‘Try This At Home’ series. We also stream experiences that can be enjoyed from the comforts of their own home. Secondly, we co-create with partners, for example our upcoming virtual party, with Zouk, one of the top clubs in Asia. Thirdly, we look at how we can catalyze creators and support the creative industry. We have rolled out a 2 million dollar Singapore Stories fund to support creation of compelling stories about Singapore. With more people staying at home, we know there is appetite for this kind of content. When we co-create and catalyse, we also help to support the industry. ”
  • Leah Chandler of Discover Puerto Rico “We launched a new campaign titled ‘All in Good Time,’ focused mainly on our social channels, reminding our travelers that we’re going to welcome them back with open arms really soon…Phase 1 was focused on developing top of mind awareness, but Phase 2, ‘It’s Time,’ is about giving consumers permission to travel, it’s about instilling confidence and communicating Puerto Rico is a safe and accessible destination. We strategically built this campaign to be a phased approach, trusting that all we’ve put in place to keep Puerto Rico in the hearts and minds of future travelers will inspire them to visit our beautiful island when the time is right.”

Here at Expedia Group Media Solutions, our continued mission is to help support our advertising partners as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis and look toward recovery. most recent webinar highlighted U.S. traveler insights from our agency partner MMGY Global and the latest best practices and creative guidelines to help ensure your campaigns hit the right note with travelers.

You can watch an on-demand recording of “How the Travel Industry is Preparing for Recovery.”

Monya Mandich

Vice President, Media Solutions Marketing

Monya Mandich is the VP, Marketing of Expedia Group Media Solutions and oversees all integrated marketing and communications activities for the brand. In her role, she is responsible for raising awareness of digital media opportunities for partners across the Expedia Group suite of leading global travel brands. With nearly two decades of experience, she evangelizes a thought leadership approach both externally and internally centered on data-driven insights, which has resulted in travel and marketing industry recognition and accolades. Monya previously managed strategic partnership development, executing strategies for top-tier partnerships, maximizing traffic and revenue for Expedia.com. She started her career in the travel space at VacationSpot.com, where she ran the B2B marketing and customer acquisition efforts for the vacation rental booking site. Monya is on the board of directors for Destinations International and the U.S. Travel, and also participates on the advisory committee for U.S. Travel's Project: Time Off, which aims to shift thinking around the health, business and economic value of personal time off, Monya was also recognized as one of HSMAI’s Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing. She is a graduate of Western Washington University and lives in the Seattle area with her family.

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