News & Views

Prepare for a Second Wave of COVID

As summer winds down, we’re looking to the fall and winter and wondering about the ominous potential of a second wave of COVID-19. It’s a classic will-they won’t-they scenario and no one has a clear answer. What is certain, however, is that destinations should be prepared for either scenario.

No second wave? Let’s keep promoting travel safely and responsibly. That’s the best case scenario at this point.

Numbers spike and COVID-19 returns? Well, we’ve been here before, but this time, you’ll be prepared, if you brace for the worst.

A little due diligence now will pay off later. Here are the questions you should be asking yourselves now so that you’ll have no surprises if cases of COVID-19 start ticking up and you’re hearing words like “quarantine” and “stay at home” again.

Travel bubbles?

The spikes may be more concentrated, like we saw in Texas and Florida in July. If it happens again, we don’t need to cancel traveling completely. Create regional travel bubbles now to maintain some safe movement.

It might mean coordinating with nearby – and potentially competing – DMOs to strategize, to talk with local officials, to set some boundaries. Promoting a larger region, however, means more movement, more tourism spend, and more people staying employed. Perhaps people from outside the region will require a quarantine, or perhaps they won’t be admitted at all, but by having an area where people can circulate safely will be a life raft when the tourism industry hits the iceberg. When the alternative is shutting it all down, you understand how some creative approaches will benefit your designation in the long run.

Ready to pivot again?

It was so exciting to see how tourism businesses pivoted so quickly during the outbreak of the pandemic. Distilleries were producing hand sanitizer, restaurants were offering innovative take-out options, and travel guide companies like Context Travel moved their walking tours online for engaging virtual seminars. That anyone remained employed seems like a miracle looking back at what we all went through together.

Are all the tools in place if they have to do it again? Businesses caught off guard in March, should be ready to innovate as needed to develop streams of income if the government provides no assistance. It may seem insensitive to focus so much on keeping businesses alive, but if local entities start closing for good, it will damage your destination. Travelers need places to go when they visit, and they want more than just chain restaurants and big box stores. Destinations should check in with their local businesses, to provide what’s needed, whether it’s advice, training, or other support.

Campaign content

We worked with destinations who tried to get campaigns out while also trying to juggle a thousand other balls thrown at them by COVID-19. It was a true gymnastic endeavor. This time, you know what to expect. Consider a hashtag, a video, imagery, and messaging for a potential second spike. Imagine shelter in place orders are back – what do you want your destination to signal at that moment?

It might be some new take on “stay home, visit later,” or perhaps you’ll get more creative with some sort of “déjà-vu” messaging. Whatever the case may be, don’t want until a spike in the fall – or even later in the winter – to decide how you’ll react. Plan now so that you’ll have your hands free for all of the surprises that a spike in the fall could bring. And hey, if the second wave doesn’t happen, you can always repurpose the content in different ways, so there’s no time wasted.

More than virtual?

We did the whole virtual travel thing this spring, and it managed to keep many destinations top of mind. It’s unlikely that people will crave it again. There may be no alternative for some. A museum, for example, can’t do a whole lot but offer virtual events when doors close. It may be time to think of other ways to connect with people if a second wave locks us all down again. Time to brainstorm!

For engaging travel advisors and writers, however, it’s easy to think outside the box. During the outbreak, some DMOs were getting creative sending care packages to tour operators, travel advisors and journalists. Start applying this sort of thinking, making it your own.

Look to local merchants and artisans and start thinking about what you can package now to send later. Identify the scents and flavors of your destination and find ways to package them sustainably for delivery in the coming months. It’s not a waste – these things can be used for the press if in-person trips can take place. Instead, it’s a way to keep your destination real and tangible for those who will be promoting it through a second wave.

Policy partners?

For many DMOs, this is obvious. For others, it’s newer territory. How in-step are you with policy makers? Work proactively together to design strategies and guidelines that benefit everyone mutually. If that’s not happening already, it’s time to re-evaluate these relationships now.

Pursue local subsidies to close hotels and restaurants for short periods of time without businesses suffering. Maybe policy makers can help create stricter sanitation guidelines, face-covering rules, or even quarantining measures that will benefit the tourism industry locally. Working separately can actually be detrimental to the goals of policy makers and DMOs, so it’s best to have clear communication now before things get muddled by a second wave.

There are lots of questions to get you thinking about the coming months. Are you feeling ready to face a potential second wave? DCI helped get clients through the first one, and we’re looking ahead in case we have to do it all again. Get in touch with Kayla Leska, [email protected], if you want to discuss strategies for bracing your destination against a possible resurgence of the coronavirus.

Written By

Kayla Leska

Kayla is Managing Director of DCI's Tourism Public Relations Division. She oversees communications strategy for DCI’s tourism clients and directs the firm’s tourism crisis and recovery communication efforts. Kayla leads publicity teams in the U.S. and Canada. She earned her BA in Public Relations at SUNY Oswego.

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