How the Travel Industry is Staying Relevant Amid the COVID Crisis

How the Travel Industry is Staying Relevant Amid the COVID Crisis

Written By: Kelsey Schroeder

Coronavirus has been devastating to the travel industry. According to a report by the US Travel Association, travel industry losses will result in a GDP impact of 1.2 trillion dollars in 2020. Many of us have had to cancel or rethink future travel plans, and people everywhere are dreaming about much-needed vacations. Afar reported that conversations about “wishlist vacations” have increased by 57 percent. 

With destinations across the globe itching to open their doors, these travel brands are fighting to make it on vacation wishlists for when it’s deemed safe to travel again. Here are six creative ways to be top-of-mind and emerge from this pandemic situation with demand at the ready: 

1. Transport Guests Virtually: With potential guests unable to physically visit anywhere, properties and destinations are finding ways to create virtual experiences that allow people a small taste of the brand experience from the comfort of their homes. Hotels, cities and museums like the Musée d’Orsay in Paris are creating virtual tours. More than ever before, beaches and other outdoor locations exhibiting natural beauty are being live-streamed from around the world. Sweet Farm, a sanctuary in California, is even providing a unique opportunity for people to have a llama or goat join their next zoom call

Whatever a brand can do to give guests a small hint of the live experience will drive them to consider a real life experience in the future. 

2. Give Back to First Responders and Others Impacted: People everywhere have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, and now many are looking for ways to give back. Hospitality brands have continued to make headlines with goodwill efforts despite the hardships. Hotels around the world are opening their doors to first responders, COVID patients and vulnerable populations like the homeless while their occupancy rates hit record lows, making use of valuable space for the good of the larger community. 

Our sister company KemperSports, a leading golf course management company, partnered with the Illinois PGA and FootJoy to form Rain Suits for Responders, an initiative to collect new and gently used rain suits to help protect healthcare workers on the frontlines. 

Some brands have found creative ways to provide for their staff during this challenging time while also driving business. Bandon Dunes, for example, is raising money for more than 350 caddies that serve their five courses via a GoFundMe– which received more than $72,000 as of mid-April. Pinehurst, is raising money for its employee fund by auctioning off unique experiences for future visits to the property, raising more than $300,000 for their employee relief fund

3. Create Shareable Content: Within days of Illinois mandating the stay-home order, one tiny penguin quickly captured the attention of families and media everywhere. A video of Wellington the penguin exploring an empty aquarium was shared on the Shedd Aquarium’s social channels–and soon became part of Governor Pritzker’s “All In Illinois” PSA. During the lockdown, the Shedd has continued to share content about Wellington and his friends exploring the museum using #WheresWellington in addition to educational resources for kids forced home from school. 

For many places, this period of low traffic is providing an opportunity for content teams and staff to capture visuals without crowds or guests in the frame. People are spending increasing amounts of time online, with The New York Times reporting that YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and Netflix are seeing more than 15 percent increases in traffic. Brands should consider their niche expertise and unique selling propositions to share compelling content during this time. Are you utilizing Instagram Live or other platforms like TikTok to create new content and reach audiences immediately? You should be. Being visible, active and relevant on social media is crucial at this time–people are paying attention! 

4. Promote–But Don’t Sell: Nobody likes a desperate date–and speaking to an audience can be compared to courting a potential partner. You want them to like you! However, properties still need to be sensitive to the impact of this crisis. It’s easy to become tone-deaf or pushy about encouraging ticket purchases and bookings, but properties must put all communications through a lense of compassion. 

Social media is littered with stories of brands missing the mark when it comes to communications. Leave ‘selling’ language on the sidelines and use this time to engage in thoughtful storytelling and personal connection. Are your employees doing something interesting while the doors are closed? Has your team been able to focus on sustainability or an ecological effort while guests are off property? What maintenance or enhancements are being implemented during this time? Highlighting these efforts will keep you top of mind for potential guests without running the risk of seeming desperate, sales-driven and tone deaf.

5. Share Your Plan: Given the uncertainty of the future, everyone is asking–what’s next? There are no experts in coronavirus lockdowns in our modern time. Travel and how people move about the world is going to change forever. There isn’t a day that goes by without journalists or future travelers wondering how they can be safer when they decide to book their next trip. Make sure that you communicate about the steps your property is taking to ensure guest safety. Being vocal and transparent about your plan for re-opening will give would-be guests the much-needed confidence to make a buying decision.

Think about the overall user experience: will you be reducing the capacity of your dining rooms or changing the food and beverage experience altogether? What do your cleaning policies look like on a daily, if not hourly, basis? Proactively answering these and other questions will help to address concerns and reduce hesitation for future customers to book.

6. Focus Locally: As the world begins to slowly reopen and regain a sense of normalcy, travel may take a bit longer to come back.  Local and drive-in markets may be a good focus for more immediate business when reopening.

Destinations will need to carefully examine their communications strategy to ensure they are not only reaching these markets, but also speaking to them effectively.  Are your guest packages friendly for small groups considering a quick weekend getaway or staycation? Are you promoting drive-in activities for the day geared toward local families?

KemperLesnik clients such as Streamsong Resort and Silvies Valley Ranch have packages encouraging local guests to play a round or two of golf and take advantage of open spaces while enjoying an overnight stay. Promotions like these will be key to enticing drive-in guests while people ease back into travel and wait for things to feel safe once again.

While the travel industry will feel the effects of the COVID-19 crisis for a while, travel brands should continue to look for innovative ways to communicate with their target audiences so that when the travel demand does return–their destination is the friendlier, smarter and safer choice.