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How Destination Marketing Organizations Can Prepare for Crisis


While it’s impossible to predict where and when a natural disaster, virus outbreak or terrorist attack will happen, it’s not impossible to have a strategic plan in place that will empower destination marketing organizations (DMO) to mitigate the impact to local tourism during and after a crisis. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Be online

While the internet can be a crowded place, it can be a very helpful place in times of crisis. Nearly half of the world’s population has access to Internet, and are likely to turn to online resources for real-time information and updates during a variety of crisis scenarios. Communicating with travelers and partners can be done with ease to reach residents and travelers when needed. Leverage channels like e-mail, social media, your website, etc., to engage and communicate key information during a crisis. In February during heavy rainfall in California, the Oroville Dam, located outside Sacramento, was at risk of flooding local communities. Visit Sacramento used social media to share information for residents. Gatlinburg, Tenn. experienced dangerous wildfires that threated homes and destroyed the land, and used Twitter for updates to reach residents and travelers.

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Plan ahead

Most crisis situations happen with little to no warning, but in some cases, a DMO may be able to secure a plan in place well ahead of time should something occur. For example, a region prone to tornados will likely have a plan in place to handle response and strategy if and when a tornado hits. In those cases, planning ahead can help lessen the economic strain for the travel industry. DMAI has suggested that crisis communication planning may be one of the best investments you ever make, and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) even created a crisis communication checklist and toolbox for a DMOs.

Lean on partnerships

Depending on the size and scale of a crisis situation, a DMO may need to rely on help from others to minimize the impact to travel and tourism, whether it is working closely with the local government to share information with residents, or an online travel agency (OTA) to help reach travelers in the area. When Hurricane Matthew hit Florida last fall, it was predicted to cause damage to the affected areas including displacing thousands of residents, and travelers, throughout the state. Visit Florida was eager to ensure that visitors and evacuated residents knew where they could go, and they reached out to Expedia Media Solutions to help. We created a digital experience to help displaced travelers and residents find open accommodations. In less than 24 hours, we were able to build a travel page where we highlighted accommodations available for evacuees. We enlisted the help of our market management team who worked closely with our hotel partners in the affected region and surrounding areas to identify inventory, in addition to what areas were deemed safe from the storm. Through our first-party proprietary data, we are able provide data in real time to see how travel was impacted in the affected area, and use that information to optimize our strategy accordingly.  We also were able to update the page throughout the crisis with available hotels from our market management team and storm information from Visit Florida and the local government offices.

Reinvigorate travel

It is not uncommon for traveler’s perceptions to change after a crisis, and for those perceptions to impact the number of visitors to the destination. Should this occur, a DMO can help change perception and revive tourism. The New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) is a good example. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast oil spill, New Orleans tourism was severely impacted and the destination had slipped to a lower position in travelers’ consideration set of travel destinations. To overcome this, the New Orleans CVB wanted to highlight the exciting cultural, social and epicurean features of the city to attract visitors and help New Orleans shine once again as a top destination for travelers.  They partnered with Expedia Media Solutions on a robust one-month campaign to showcase their destinations’ offerings and broadcast that they were again “open to business.” Through this campaign, New Orleans was able to increase the likelihood of online consumers to put New Orleans in the consideration set for their next trip and successfully increased brand awareness while overcoming the adversities facing the region. For more information on this campaign, you can read the full case study here.

Partners can help make or break a crisis response and recovery, and given we are all in this together to help travelers experience the best destinations have to offer all over the world, be sure to lean into strategic partnerships as part of your plan. 

Topics: Best Practices, Success Stories, Destination Marketing

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