News & Views

Listening to Local Sentiment This Holiday

With the election behind us, Americans are now looking towards the holiday season, wondering how holiday travel will – if at all – figure into their plans, and understanding local sentiment is a key way to address these concerns. For destinations wondering what Thanksgiving and the winter vacation will hold, know that the pandemic has not rounded any corner, and consumers are still split between traveling and staying home.

What this has produced, however, is an opportunity. We’ve seen it bubble up already, and as the U.S. likely follows Europe to another wave of shutdowns, local businesses don’t have to shutter as fully as before if we take advantage of the fact that local consumers could help keep us all afloat.

Understanding local sentiment is crucial. Destinations intelligence group Longwoods has been taking the temperature of consumer sentiment, and the trends haven’t been changing. The message? Locals aren’t unanimously enthused about opening up, and people are increasingly looking to stay locally. In these numbers, however, we see opportunity.

Data speaks

The data from Longwoods has been trending up from the beginning of the summer. A consistent number of respondents (47%) say COVID will affect travel plans for the next six months. Little surprise there. More and more people are changing their trips from flying to driving, while international trips are increasingly moving to domestic ones. None of this is likely to change for quite some time. As an industry, we need to embrace this as part of the new normal and start rethinking our lemonade recipe.

More importantly. Only 40-50% of respondents want to open their communities up, feel safe dining in their local communities, or want to travel outside their communities. Sure, that means that half of the community feels comfortable doing these things, but a destination must find ways to engage that other half of the spectrum as well to create a more sustainable road to recovery. After all, it’s useless to promote a destination if all the local businesspeople don’t reopen their businesses in the first place.

In summary, many people want to stay locally, they want to drive, they don’t want to be around too many people from beyond their state or region. It makes sense. But it doesn’t mean they just want to stay at home forever. Again, it’s all about identifying the opportunities in this situation.

Engaging local businesses

We’ve discussed it before, but an ever-increasing number of staycation options offered by hotels are just one solid way to engage local communities in cities, state and regions, to raise the local sentiment. By offering packages designed for locals, it helps feed into the tourism industry, if even just a bit. WFH doesn’t need to mean work from home, but rather “work from hotels,” and the trend is catching on across the country. Discounts on weekends for locals help give hotels a boost while international travel – and much air travel – is keeping business slow.

Offering staycation packages doesn’t mean ignoring travelers who are coming from further afield. The drive market is vast and people are willing to make the trek by car, so it just means that you need to reinterpret “local” a bit more. There’s a reason that the world’s largest hotel chain has even gotten in on the action. If Marriot is jumping on the trend, then destinations need to pay attention.

Face it. Canadian borders are shut. Europe is locked down. Few people can afford the money or time to quarantine before or after travel. A weekend in a nice hotel in a neighboring community? It will appeal way more to those who are still mired by fear. And as we approach the holidays, these sorts of deals may be even more appealing.

Holiday deals

These “work from hotel” packages will easily translate into holiday deals. For many – college students, out of state workers, first responders – going home for the holidays simply won’t be an option. Some fear bringing the virus home. Others fear getting it. Some states like New York require quarantine and multiple COVID tests for those headed outside the state that just aren’t worth the drumstick.

Instead, many will be staying put, and local hotels and businesses can partner to cater to these locals with special holiday promotions. Turkey dinners, pumpkin pies for one, cranberry cocktails with every stay – get creative.

Many Americans aren’t prepared for staying put for the holidays, or remaining with roommates and friends in the social bubbles they formed. This holiday is an opportunity for hospitality businesses to create new products and ideas to entice a clientele that, for the most part, didn’t exist before. No one thought we’d be buying hand sanitizer from local distilleries before March, but it worked. This holiday, we need that same ingenuity to give a boost to local economies.

Gift giving?

Yet another win for local communities this year will be the – pardon our pun – black hole left by the relative calm of Black Friday. Sure, online deals will be through the roof, but the lines and crowds at stores will be mitigated, as should be expected. For destinations nationwide, however, this is an opportunity to promote local businesses more than ever, as we did during the beginning of the pandemic, to drum up support for their goods and services.

Every destination should be conceiving of a shop local campaign now – whether it’s for glassware and coffee beans in Seattle or for a bourbon home delivery from Louisville – creating awareness this holiday season will just be another way to help shore up local spirit during these difficult times.

Don’t give up on the potential of your local communities. As the pandemic continues, and possibly escalates, they may be the best bet for keeping many hospitality businesses afloat through this holiday season.

The holidays will be hard this year, especially on those who will not be able to spend them with family. But travel is a remedy – even if it’s locally! DCI has 60 years of experience designing creative campaigns for unique moments in time, and this pandemic holiday is no different. Get in touch with Kayla Leska at [email protected] to learn more about preparing to address local sentiment, allowing your community to thrive through the rest of 2020.

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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