News & Views

Preserving Positive Changes Post-COVID-19

It often takes a dark moment to see the light that’s all around us. During the COVID-19 crisis, news stories about human ingenuity and adaptation have headlined publications nationwide, highlighting one major theme: human nature is inherently good. Positive changes are possible.

After other crisis events – September 11th, the Paris Attacks, the Australian bush fires – we opened our hearts, doors, and wallets to those affected. Our species is strong like that. It seems, however, that once the events pass and life returns to normal, our hearts, doors, and wallets close up again, until the next time.

COVID-19 is different. We’re living in this event for the rest of our lives, and the world will be changed – but, if we tap into human nature, it can all be for the better.

Sure, the tourism industry is already talking about a future where there will be no middle seats on planes, where business events will prohibit hand shaking and restaurants will space out tables to create more distance. Some of these positive changes could be great. Who wants the middle seat anyway? But others could create more distance in a world where masked travelers visit museums in single file like some post-apocalyptic film.

I hope that’s an exaggeration, but in the meantime, there are other positive stories emerging from COVID-19 that, I believe, will set new standards for the hospitality industry. When we do return to business as usual, there will be nothing usual about it. There are practices, however, that should carry over from crisis times to non-crisis times, to help the tourism industry become a more impactful force in the world for everyone.

Local businesses pivot for the greater good

One example of a solid lesson learned is the ability of small businesses to pivot quickly. By providing services that may have originally been off their menus, many local companies have maintained their payroll while also providing useful services during the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve seen it across the nation. Distilleries in Louisville, for example, started cranking out hand sanitizer instead of bourbon, and many other businesses followed suit. Around the world, spirits providers have flipped a switch and began creating the cleaning product that so many health workers needed.

This ingenuity and innovation should become a hallmark of the tourism industry, creating a versatility that will help prevent future crises situations from grinding business to a halt.

Rest for the weary

When Scotland opened up hotel rooms to NHS workers, it set a new standard for giving back to the community. Hotels and the hospitality service need to be prepared to offer services in emergencies, especially when they have resources that would otherwise not be used.

Going forward, even after the pandemic has passed, these sorts of standards should remain in place. There should be systems and programs in place among hotels to give back when necessary – opening their doors when needed. What will this look like? Should hotels allot beds for anyone who might be in need, or preferential rates for a visiting doctor, medical researcher, emergency responder, etc. who is in town to help out with any problem facing the local community?

I can’t prescribe a format, but I believe that we need to keep the idea on the table for a post-COVID-19 world.

Food on the front lines

In the same spirit, this crisis has proved that humans have the quantities needed to feed our communities. More importantly, equitable food distribution is possible. Look at restaurants giving back and innovating in ways that, hopefully, won’t be just a distant memory. In New York City, alone, a litany of restaurants are providing meals and services to healthcare workers on the front lines.

And no donation is too small. Lulu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood in Charlotte offered bagged lunches to students, showing that we need to be thinking about the larger community during this crisis.

The hope is, that once the crisis subsides, restaurants will continue to keep an eye on those in need and provide services – albeit on a smaller scale – to local communities and individuals who may need it from time to time.

Give Nature her space

Huntington Beach is seeing animals released into the wild more easily, while air pollution in major cities is down significantly. And did you read about the pandas who finally mated now that the zoo was empty?

We’re rough on Mother Nature, sometimes, but she’s finally getting a break from us.

Nature and its creatures need space and the tourism industry needs to think more how we can provide that. Are there advantages to shutting down from time to time, to let national parks, wildlife preserves, zoos, aquariums, and other nature-related attractions breathe a little? We are seeing the positive changes of doing so, so what will we learn from this?

Flexibility in bookings

For consumers, the COVID-19 crisis has created an environment where refunds have never been easier to come by for canceled travel. Flights granted more flexible booking policies. Broadway offered vouchers for canceled shows with added value for future bookings. Hotels waived cancelation fees. Financially, it seems like a bad idea, but from a consumer perspective, it actually creates some loyalty and brand awareness that could, in the long run, be beneficial.

Should travel companies go back to the same system as before to generate business? With traveler faith difficult to restore, clearly the answer is no. We’re all playing the long game here, and we’ll need to ease back into it. Part of that is understanding that travelers – especially with less buying power than before – are going to scrutinize spending decisions. Having a bit of flexibility built into their choices will make it easier to get on board with booking a flight, knowing that they cancel or reschedule for a smaller fee than before.

Again, there is no prescription for how each company should move forward to promote positive changes, but keeping in mind the power of flexibility in the travel consumer experience will be key to successful recovery, and to maintaining brand loyalty well after COVID-19 becomes the distant memory that we all want it to be.

Curious about how your destination marketing efforts could be better prepared for post-COVID-19 recovery? Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn how DCI’s 60 years of marketing experience might be useful during these difficult times.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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