Marketing is typically a light-hearted field, full of fun and creativity -- often inciting the envy of other career paths. Destination marketing, especially, is packed with positivity and hope. There’s nothing better than inspiring others to travel to new places and create lifelong memories.
So what happens when the role of destination marketing is turned upside down, both in terms of a pandemic and amid social unrest? Instead of encouraging people to visit and experience an area firsthand, you are thrust into a world of asking people to stay home -- and asking your residents to stay safe while speaking out.
Simultaneously, the businesses your work supports are negatively impacted in a domino-like effect.
That is exactly the scenario we in the tourism industry have faced with COVID-19’s arrival and the fallout from the George Floyd protests.
Heading up marketing efforts for a major metropolitan area, I have learned a few things so far that my fellow marketers -- even those outside of the tourism space -- can leverage:
Be an early leader. In times of uncertainty, it's natural to look to others for guidance. But in unprecedented situations like the one we’re currently navigating, many organizations find themselves in a holding pattern: hesitant to make waves, or late to the game when they decide to take a stand.
The organizations that have been bold and taken a risk have risen to the top. In my own home state, Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine was one of the first to restrict large-scale events and implement stay-at-home orders -- not popular decisions initially, but the boost in community trust and safety have paid major dividends and served as a model for other states.
Additionally, Ohio is on a path to become the first state to declare racism a public health crisis.
Pivot efforts strategically. While a tourism marketer's primary job is to attract visitors, the pandemic forced us -- and many others -- to shift our focus to remain relevant.
In our case, that meant launching a new marketing campaign, “Live Forward,” to inspire hope and a forward-thinking mindset among local businesses and residents during a time of crisis. Part of that shift included creative collaborations with partners, like the “Cheers for Frontline Hospitality Workers” initiative we recently launched in conjunction with BrewDog USA. Meant to celebrate frontline tourism workers, it is just one of the partnerships we anticipate leveraging as part of our marketing evolution.
Promote responsibly. As businesses and destinations slowly start to reopen, we must be empathetic to this unique situation and honest in our marketing efforts. For some, that means continuing to discourage widespread travel until it is safe.
In Columbus, we have jumpstarted a “Live Forward” pledge process for business owners to help streamline and communicate health and safety measures to consumers. This pivot in efforts allows us to empower our local business partners and seed the consumer confidence needed to restart our local tourism economy, when the time is right.
We have also had to consider the social climate right now for current residents, given the protests occurring in our city’s center. It is time for all of us, businesses and individuals alike, to use our voices to speak out against violence and push for change.
Always look forward. In a time like this, it is easy to lose hope and become stagnant in our marketing mission. My best advice to fellow marketers: Keep moving forward. Our industries are resilient, and we will recover. And for humanity’s sake, I can only hope that all organizations recognize this historic moment in racial equality and take a stand.