marketing & PR COVID-19 travel hospitality tourism

Image source: National Park Service

Coronavirus lockdowns have almost completely shut down long-distance vacations, hotels and travel destinations. It’s not clear how soon they’ll reopen. You might think the travel and hospitality industry is in a hopeless situation and that PR and marketing people in the sector have nothing to promote.

Tourism and hospitality brands aren’t sending their usual come-visit-us messages to the media. Many are telling people to stay away for the time being.

Building Awareness and Loyalty

“There’s no amount of budget that can secure interest that’s simply not there. In fact, going overboard with promotional activity and fire-sale-like behavior could negatively impact your brand equity for when the current crisis passes,” says Mark Murray, head of travel at Yieldify.

Rather than advocating immediate trips and visits, shrewd PR and marketing pros are focusing on maintaining and building awareness of their brands, hoping to benefit from pent up demand for travel once restrictions ease. Instead of seeking bookings, they’re developing relationships with potential customers and gathering contact information through website conversions.

Those steps will be critical for recovery after the crisis passes.

How Travel & Hospitality can Survive

Experts in the field offer these recommendations:

Use all owned media channels in addition to earned media to keep the public informed about your organization’s policies and schedule for opening. It’s important to emphasize steps the organization is taking to protect patrons in order to allay their fears. All travelers are thinking about the virus; there’s no point in evading the issue.

Because the situation remains fluid and government directives can change quickly, it’s crucial to update website information promptly. Keep the site’s FAQs current. Website visitors read FAQs to learn if the business or nonprofit is open, when it may reopen, and if it has a social distancing policy. FAQs are a particularly good way to do content marketing and to do organic marketing, Erik Newton, vice president of marketing at Milestone, told PhocusWire.

Seek local visitors. Few people will be willing or able to fly any time soon, but the impact on local and regional travel appears to be much more muted, according to research by Yieldify. Travelers with cancelled international flights may seek domestic vacations this summer. A web page dedicated to “staycations” can help draw visitors who live within driving range. People may not visit large, crowd-attracting venues soon, but smaller state-side attractions may be able to capitalize the staycation trend. Make clear the COVID-19 safety precautions each facility has put in place.

Use the current down time to analyze audiences through social media analytics. Reviewing audience demographics and other characteristics can improve segmentation. That can help improve audience targeting, identify advocates and improve engagement.

Consider changing how you use channels. If social media is normally a major acquisition channel that’s suddenly dried up, ponder how you can use it to deliver value-add content and improve customer loyalty.

Ideas for Travel & Hospitality Media Pitches

Despite the industry-wide shutdown, journalists covering travel beats are still considering PR pitches. Travel magazines, typically have long lead times and hope social distancing restrictions ease by the time they publish upcoming issues.

Journalists offered these suggestions for media at recent webinar hosted by Kellie Jelencovich, PR manager at Travel Leaders Group and president of PRSA’s New York Chapter.

  • Service-oriented travel stories and advice such as how to get refunds for canceled trips.
  • First-person “as told to” accounts of the problems travelers endured because of the coronavirus shutdown.
  • Advice on how travelers can protect their health, such as recommendations on using masks.
  • Updates on new products and travel trends and news about new hotels and cruise ships.
  • Evergreen travel stories and “aspirational content” that will be relevant three to six months from now.

No More Resiliency Stories, Please

A recent survey by Development Counsellors International (DCI) reveals that many PR pitches may be off base.  According to its survey, 82% of travel writers are looking for travel topics. They’re confident that life will return to normal and traveling will return. But since they cannot travel now, they’re seeking stories that don’t involve travel, such as stories on food, culture and the outdoors.

Stories on COVID-19 resiliency have been covered by hard news media outlets and are already well worn. Only 30% of travel writers want COVID-related stories. More want travel news topics, destination features and lifestyle stories.

“Travel PR is spending so much time trying to position their destinations in the framework of COVID-19 resiliency that, in fact, they may be missing the mark with journalists,” writes Karyl Leigh Barnes, president of DCI’s Tourism Practice.

Bottom Line: Brands in travel, tourism and hospitality face tough times due to coronavirus fears. Rather than seeking bookings, marketers have pivoted to building awareness and developing relationship to set the stage for recovery once travel restrictions ease.

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