Tourism Marketing: Finding Opportunity in a Crisis

With travel suspended, what is a tourism marketer to do?


by Peter Coish

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This piece was commissioned by our beloved and longstanding clients at RTO 12. It’s written for the more than 1,800 tourism operators across the region that includes Muskoka, Algonquin Park, Parry Sound, the Almaquin Highlands and Loring-Restoule.  

“Things will get worse before they get better.”

We’ve heard this a lot over the past few weeks. But as dire as this sounds, it’s also reason for hope – because things will get better.

With travel suspended, what is a tourism marketer to do? Perhaps not surprisingly, with funds tight, many have decided to go dark – Google and Facebook are reporting precipitous drops in their advertising revenue.  But we think there’s a void to be filled by savvy and forward-thinking marketers, provided it’s done with sensitivity and tact.

Content Marketing Has Never Been Needed More

Unlike advertising, content marketing is not overtly promotional. Rather, content marketing turns marketers into storytellers. With everyone isolating at home, it’s a good time to provide content that entertains, inspires, educates. Depending on length and format, this content can be published on your blog and/or social platforms.

But in these sensitive times, what kind of content should you be creating and amplifying? Here are five ideas:

  • We’re all dealing with the impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on our lives. Tell the story of how your business is dealing with the crisis. If you are open now, what is your organization doing to keep your employees and the public safe?  What changes have you made? What has the crisis taught you about your business that might be interesting to your customers and prospects?
  • A crisis of this magnitude will have a lasting impact. Try to visualize how your customer’s behaviour might change once this crisis is past. Anticipate what changes you might need to make post-lockdown and start telling your customers and prospects about them now. These could include changes not only to operations but also to your policies such as those around cancellations direct bookings
  • What is your business doing to help others in your community affected by the crisis? Share what you are doing on your social accounts
  • We love nostalgia, and in these trying times it can take us back to a place where we dream of going again. Historical photos generally perform exceptionally well on social (that’s why #TBT exists). There are many tourism operators that go back decades – now is a great time to share some of those memories
  • In a vein similar to nostalgic content, tell your origin story. It can put a human face on your business, and people love to hear stories of businesses that overcome challenges to succeed
  • Share your craft. Most businesses specialize in something. Give your followers an insiders glimpse behind the scenes of what you do

Now is the Time to Improve Your Digital Game

Have you been so busy over the past couple of years that you’ve neglected to take care of its digital presence? Why not take advantage of this pause in business to get it up-to-date?

  • Is your website content fresh?  Much of that time is being spent on social apps – now is a great time to get updated content
  • Take the time to learn the basics of SEO – search engine optimization. SEO is no longer just about making sure you have certain keywords on your site – it’s also about content and technical factors that ensure your website works
  • These days, most of your audience is accessing your site on mobile devices. In fact, according to Nielsen, the time we spending on our mobile devices has increased 80% in march 2020. Is your website optimized for mobile? With Google now indexing mobile sites first, this is also critical to protecting your search ranking
  • Update your Google My Business page with the most accurate, up-to-date information. Check other review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to ensure you have claimed those listings, and that they are also up-to-date
  • If your competitors are selling online, you should be too. It’s never been easier to implement e-commerce, so now is the time to implement it

Don’t Abandon Promotional Marketing

Right now, consumers are hypersensitive to promotional messaging. As the lockdown wears on, and consumers adapt to the “new normal”, this sensitivity will subside and it will be okay to once again do more overtly promotional messaging. But in the meantime, consider the following:

  • As people engage in your blog and social content, ask for their email addresses and in return promise to give them extra value once you are open for business again
  • Make “retargeting” a permanent part of your marketing mix, even during the lockdown. If someone engages with your content on Facebook, or visits pages on your website, there are simple-to-execute digital advertising techniques to deliver marketing messages to these people
  • Target your message locally – most experts think it will be one to two years before “fly markets” are viable again
  • Where possible, create partnerships with other operators that complement yours
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is right for this moment.  For one thing, the cost per click on Google has declined 5-10% (depending on category/market) due to decreased demand. And PPC marketing is an “inbound” technique which means you only pay to reach customers who are searching for something they want – so there is little risk of putting off consumers who might find advertising offensive right now

So while others are scaling back, consider investing now with the expectation of a return over the long term.