For the remainder of 2020, international tourism to Canada is likely to remain fraught with difficulty at least, and in some cases impossible. This will force many tourism operators to pivot to a domestic tourism market. 

The ‘hyper-local’ market is likely to restart first – travellers from within a one to two-hour radius. These might be people driving to a local destination to ski for a day. Thankfully, in several provinces, a substantial proportion of the domestic market also from within province – in British Columbia, 70% of Canadian travellers are from BC itself. There will also be a significant proportion of travellers who might usually be taking their vacations overseas – maybe to Asia or Europe – who now are planning perhaps multiple trips within their own province. There is likely to be more resistance to getting back on planes.

Operators should consider the following when looking to pivot towards a domestic tourism market:

  1. Review your pricing, and provide options at different price points. Research suggests that domestic travellers spend less than those travelling internationally. But their proximity means they may be better placed to make multiple trips if they have a good experience. 
  2. For accommodation providers, highlight off-the-beaten track local attractions. Many travellers are looking to steer clear of highly-touristed marquee local attractions where there may be a risk of crowds. This may be the opportunity to raise the profile of lesser-known attraction within easy reach. 
  3. Raise your profile on local online forums. If your business has been highly reliant on international visitors, you may not have felt the need to have an active presence on municipal or regional WhatsApp, Facebook or other forums mostly used by locals rather than visitors. 
  4. Leverage existing assets. What people, events and activities are already connected to you? They can be strong foundations to build on.
  5. Revisit your approach to packaging. If you have developed packages – which might, for instance, allow customers to buy multiple elements of their vacation together at a discount – accommodation, vehicle hire, entry to local attractions – they may well have been put together with the international market in mind. Review these to ensure that they meet the needs of your local market. 
  6. Adjust your marketing messaging to reflect the mood of travellers. Even if they are only contemplating a local vacation, research suggests that remaining safe from infection is at the top of the list of priorities for those looking to travel. Relaxation and relief from stress are higher up the list of priorities than they would usually be, as will access to open space and the outdoors. These themes will likely need to be prominent in your marketing. 

In the context of physical distancing requirements and safety guidelines, adapting to new market realities will hold particular challenges for accommodation and hotel businesses. Here are a number of measures that can be adopted in order to both ensure compliance and provide assurance to guests:

  1. Write a re-opening email that lists all the precautions you are taking.
  2. Every page on your website should have a pop-up advisory. Now would the time to begin building this in.
  3. Compile “Best Guests” lists from your customer database to send personalized messages. Loyalty will be essential in the recovery period.
  4. Redraw your meeting space floor plans in accordance with physical distancing requirements. Ensure these new plans are on your website.
  5. Publish your temporary limited menu of spa services (or other relevant in-house services that may be affected).
  6. Apply physical distancing floor plan measures to spa and other relevant in-house services.
  7. Determine bag handling procedures – will your staff be allowed into guest rooms when exposed to common areas?
  8. Consider requiring a COVID-19 affidavit to be signed at the front desk for guests to confirm that they have not been close to anyone showing symptoms.

Restaurants and food & beverage businesses in general have obviously been harder hit than most businesses by the current crisis. Restaurants are will be under intense hygiene scrutiny in the months following the relaxation of travel regulations as travellers and guests are likely to be anxious around hygiene issues, and local authorities will be even more stringent on food hygiene than usual. Here are a few steps restaurants can take to adapt to these challenging new circumstances:

  1. Re-draw your floor plan so that there is a minimum of 6 feet between tables.
  2. Do the same for your bar and/or bar chairs. Clearly mark these positions on the floor so they are visible to guests and inspectors.
  3. Review your shift schedule – e.g. one schedule each for 30% of the previous year’s business, 50%, 80%, etc. You will need to explain to your staff why they are getting only a fraction of their previous hours and they must be made aware of the requirements and their necessity.
  4. Consider and factor into your budget that food costs will increase when you order in lower volumes. Your supply chain and budget will need to undergo multiple tweaks in this regard – your product offerings and menus may need to be equally flexible to account for shifting availability and hygiene requirements.
  5. Consider requirements and sensitivities around serving of raw food where applicable.
  6. Move kitchen stations to maximize space, particularly between line chefs where applicable.
  7. Create a re-opening menu with items that limit the number of cooks in the kitchen at any one time – you may need to introduce a tighter menu to account for shifting availability and disrupted supply chains.

An overview of marketing in COVID-19 recovery  

With the global travel and tourism industry still in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, organizations and destinations will have a complex balance to strike between weathering the ongoing crisis and preparing for recovery. While you may not immediately think of marketing as a top priority during this time, marketing efforts within this context will be crucial to long-term business resilience. The below steps provide a broad overview of marketing priorities and adjustments during this time of crisis.

  1. Triage marketing activities to the essential mission-critical efforts to weather the crisis – consumer confidence is down and will not recover until the peak passes. Advertising and discounted offers are ineffective in the absence of travel intent.
  2. Maintain channel promotions as far as is fiscally feasible as this will maintain supplier relations.
  3. Make use of effective social media outreach, providing up-to-date information and details of recovery efforts.
  4. Prioritize cost-effective booking channels ensuring that book-direct perks are visible across digital platforms.
  5. Consider how to increase revenue from individual bookings, with strategies such as length of stay offers.
  6. Review and restructure advertising budgets in accordance with shifting crisis priorities.
  7. Prioritize marketing budget on domestic and nearby markets.
  8. Target local market and emphasize staycation options.
  9. Promote approved safety guidelines to all tourists, particularly international visitors.

Audiences globally will want to hear from you. Consumers have expressed that they find it reassuring to hear from brands around COVID-19 and their response to the crisis. But for this to be effective it will be important to match audiences to appropriate channels and styles of messaging where possible.

  • Revisit your existing frameworks: Review your strategic plan, media strategy, recent visitor profile studies, etc., and adjust your core messages and priorities accordingly. Adjust your campaigns and personas; the destination marketing campaign you developed six months ago will most likely now need to evolve. 
  • Prioritize channels with increased traffic: YouTube and social media have all undergone spikes in viewership since the start of the crisis (Italy recorded a 70% increase in internet usage in just a couple of weeks, while in Mexico it has already risen by 30%). These will be essential lines of communication with your audience. The more tech-savvy and younger audiences are heavier users of these channels so are more likely to be receptive to inspirational “authentic” travel messaging and an emphasis on the resumption of freedom of movement.
  • Tailor to your local audience: Review your content and itineraries and determine what to share with locals to encourage activities they can do while practicing physical distancing. These can also help drive loyalty and “pride-in-place” among your residents and help reinforce your brand. 

Matching products and services with consumer appeals

  • Seasonal offerings: Consider planning a “summer blitz” in order to be more competitive, along with autumn and winter campaigns to drive occupancy back up in softer months. Outdoor imagery is likely to be appealing to travellers, after a period of confinement.
  • Media outreach on product offerings: Conduct outreach with partners and gather lists of media outlets (print, online publishers, blogs) to contact about positive destination stories (locally made, one-of-a-kind attractions, outdoor spaces).
  • Offer new services: Adaptation is key to survival and product offerings cannot remain locked in a pre-pandemic frame. Some hotels have turned to creativity and transformed their rooms into quarantine facilities. For example, Le Bijou, a boutique hotel in Switzerland opted to remain open 24/7 so people could isolate in their rooms. 
  • Balance safety and relaxation: Travel is often synonymous with carefree abandon and freedom from concern. However in this new reality, even as recovery proceeds, travellers seeking that freedom will need a degree of reassurance around safety in order to “switch off” and relax. Thus brands will have to adapt to find the right balance of highlighting their adherence to safety measures and the offer of carefree experiences.

Leveraging research in recovery  

In a time of misinformation, uncertainty, and fear, it will be essential for the hard-hit travel and tourism sector to project integrity and adopt an evidence-based approach to recovery. To grow consumer trust and confidence in the recovery process brands must promote and inform based on factual and reliable information.

  • Analyze website traffic trends: Use consumer-driven insights to update your content based on contextual relevance. Ongoing search engine optimization, conversion optimization, and lead generation efforts can ensure your website is visible and track organic consumer behavioural metrics that can guide your marketing budget and recovery priorities.
  • Share educational content: Embrace thought leadership about your destination – this could be in the context of general educational content, or aimed at children who have been deprived of schooling (this could be done in partnership with educational professionals). This is also conducive to prioritizing overall information about your destination rather than current events.
  • Use the tools and insights that are available now: Google Trends, Google Analytics, and many other platforms are readily available to provide up-to-date metrics. 
  • Reach out to your network: Follow trusted sources and marketing thought leaders. Enquire as to how the current situation is impacting your consumers and your stakeholder network, and how your business can best respond. 
  • Revisit insights and track trends: You are likely to have some stock of accumulated data that will be subject to review but some will be applicable to contextualize the current circumstances. Consider both short and long-term changes to consumer behaviour and track against previous trends. How will consumer behaviour change and how will this guide your budgets and project offerings?

Measuring impact and recovery

Understanding your data story and potential avenues for recovery is going to be essential in the coming weeks and months. Circumstances are changing fast, however, and measuring your recovery process is complex.

  • Reinterpret traditional performance metrics: Research sources and data options are abundant but not all the same metrics you usually use to track performance will be relevant in their own right in the short-term. For example, while a hotel may measure overnight stays as a key performance metric, this alone measured in the short-term may give an overly negative picture of your marketing impact, as overnight stays may only significantly increase after a lag period. 
  • Take stock and harness the “room to breathe”: This is a great time to examine your resources and determine future needs. This is a chance to take stock and develop your impact strategy as recovery will inevitably be a gradual process – harness this period tactically and strategically where possible.
  • Track online metrics: Traditional metrics like overnight stays and inbound traffic will recover slowly but that does not mean your marketing impact has been ineffective – shift focus towards online trends, advocacy, social media metrics, and perceptions to forecast how your recovery will take shape as restrictions are lifted.
  • Track your media profile: Pay close to attention to how your destination is being portrayed in the international and local media, where there are perceptive gaps or misinformation, and how this is being received by consumers – this media profile will be the only exposure many consumers have to your destination in the lag period as recovery commences.

Adapting to market realities: products, pricing, placement, positioning   

Travel and tourism businesses will need to be as creative as possible to survive this crisis. It is often said that every crisis brings opportunities and what matters is to identify the appropriate ones and to know how to make the most of them in order to stay relevant.

  • Social media is more indispensable than ever: During the pandemic, the number of people turning to social media has increased significantly. Some hospitality providers and agencies are looking to Instagram histories to offer summer promotions or to showcase their products and gain followers who dream of travelling.
  • Prioritize customer service and be flexible: Travel restrictions have forced consumers to cancel upcoming trips and the accompanying hotel bookings, restaurant reservations, and excursion or attraction passes. Consumers forced to pay cancellation fees or unable to obtain a refund may well be unwilling or unable to rebook in future. Although it is not always possible to issue full or partial refunds, brands that provide above-and-beyond customer service are more likely to attract and retain future travellers when demand recovers.  
  • Embrace change and thought leadership: Use this time to strengthen your brand. Some businesses are changing inside out and embracing this change rather than fearing it; for example, you might consider taking advantage of the situation and turn your website into an information hub, updating it with travel cancellations and reschedules and including changes to hotel or trip reservations. This would allow your business to establish itself as a thought leader and recovery pioneer, earning the trust and respect of travellers.

For destinations and travel and tourism products, promoting safe but enjoyable options, even virtually, will broaden appeal and cater various risk appetites:

  • Your local market: More than ever, you will need to activate your domestic market throughout this crisis to help fill the gap left by restrictions. Local loyalty and “pride-in-place” will be indispensable recovery assets going forward.
  • Solo getaways: Trips for one are likely to be more appealing than usual. Opportunities for taking a solo getaway could include bed and breakfast specials and outdoor activities like hiking, camping, or fishing.
  • Outdoor recreation: Travellers will undoubtedly be craving wide open spaces at this time that will inspire them and safely fulfill their need for a getaway. Focussing on areas with a lot of space will appeal to people within your surrounding community. If you have campgrounds, hiking trails, lakes, and open parks—providing people with locations, maps, opening hours, tips and resources will be reassuring and encouraging to travellers.
  • Virtual tours, photo galleries, live cams: Some brands and destinations are promoting virtual tours, even virtual safaris. This is also applicable to city attractions like museums and historic sites.
  • Deals and offers: Many destinations are embracing discounts, deals, and giveaways. As long as safety measures are taken into account, these could be opportunities that can be used/redeemed at a later date.
  • Video messages: Personal messages from individuals within your organization can be an engaging way to provide information and supportive words – particularly in the context of social and physical distance which many people have found alienating and isolating. This can help your brand connect on a personal level and alleviate loneliness.