9 Ideas for Promoting Your Local Destination During Covid-19
This article originally appeared on Medium.com. Visit the link here

Hey, have you heard the news? No one is traveling. And we don’t know when they will get a green light to do so in the future. So what’s a local tourism promotion agency or chamber of commerce tasked with increasing visits and revenue to their travel partners within a specific geographic area to do? First, I would say, “don’t panic,” but you’ve tried that. Next, I would say, “stay positive,” but you’ve tried that too. So here’s a list of practical things that you can do to give you back a sense of control over the situation. Your partners are counting on you! Show them some love!

1. Remember Why You Exist in the First Place

Your organization, whether it be non-profit or for-profit was created to help OTHER people thrive — and now more than ever they need your help. Do an online survey to find out exactly what is going on with your partners so you know the best way you can assist them. Can you refer people to loans, grants or other financial aid in your community? Are you well-versed in the SBA programs available or Kiva or Kickstarter crowdfunding alternatives if asked? We recently did a farmer survey to find out who is doing online orders, take-out or curbside pickup. This info will allow us to create content for social media and e-blasts. Here’s a few survey platforms click here.

2. Inspire People Through Video

You may not have a video tour of your area or certain attractions within in it, but this is the time to create a video and photo library by sourcing from those that do. Do a YouTube keyword search for user-generated videos relevant to you (#Catskills or #Berkshires, etc.) to compile a roundup and reach out to your specific members to see if they have virtual tours or stock evergreen video you can use. Whether the videos show your quaint main street or your gorgeous waterfalls, they will keep people dreaming of the day they can visit and will prove useful in future promotion when this pandemic is over. If you have a video editor that can put a piece together, great! But if not, you can still push out snippets of original video over time if they’re still relevant. For example, here is a 2009 webisode series we produced that won us an Emmy Award for educational content, but it still has a shelf life years later with everything mentioned still in business.

3. Get People Thinking Out of the Box

Knowing people will be a little more hesitant to travel internationally when this is over can be used to your advantage. Is there a landscape, a group of businesses or even one place within your destination that transports people to a world away? Let people know about it so they can bookmark it and then re-launch the article when we have the green light to travel again. For instance, we put together a local “vacation swap” blog suggesting places that have a strong international flavor or similar landscape i.e. Craving a vacation to the Swiss Alps? Try Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Was your wine tour of Tuscany canceled? Try the Finger Lakes of New York State.”

4. DO NOT Cut Your Advertising

That’s right — you heard me! I know I’m a little biased but most experts suggest in a recession that cutting advertising to promote destinations can be counterintuitive. The positive impacts of remaining in the public eye, including gaining an economic advantage over competitors who will need to start from scratch when the recession is over, far outweigh the benefits of the cuts. This will have long-term benefits way past this moment in time. That promotion dollar will go an even longer way, both as an economic stimulus and in gratitude from your partners. Rather than cease promotion altogether, use the circumstances to “re-message” to show how you’re helpful, relevant and supportive during this emergency — both to the public and your travel partners. Here’s an example of our initial shift in re-messaging on social media. One caveat though — do not give ALL your budget to social media! “Likes” aren’t going to help anyone right now. You need results.

5. Build Your Subscriber List

Speaking of tangible results and long-term pay-off, by all accounts, email is still the best way to reach people. Why should you have to pay Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to reach your OWN followers? Besides, that will exhaust any advertising budget you have left and really quickly. Your growing in-house email list is the only thing you will actually own at the end of this. Make sure your call to action on any ads or social media is to register for your newsletter and then give an incentive to do so. That can be anything from a PDF download of coupons to local businesses to a sweepstakes i.e. what about a delivered basket of local foods and products from your area as a prize? That benefits everyone. Your subscriber list is proprietary and a tangible asset. Don’t neglect it. Here’s a low-cost email marketing provider.

6. Focus on Essential Services

Food, beverages and health — that’s all people are thinking about right now and those of course are the only businesses that are considered essential. So how can you help? Promote your farmers markets, CSA’s and farm-to-table restaurants FIRST. The grocery, big box and online grocery stores will be fine and are even hiring more workers to keep the shelves stocked. It’s the local agricultural and craft beverage industries that are most in need. Do you have a local distillery who has switched to making hand sanitizer to help in the virus containment effort? What about a local dairy farm who had to dump all their milk because it was limited to 2 per person at the market? Use your voice to tell these local stories to the press so they get visibility. Here are examples of round up blogs we did after we surveyed our partners.

7. Become More of an Advocate for Local Tourism

If you’re not familiar with legislation affecting local food and craft beverages or the positive environmental impact local food and travel has, educate yourself and start circulating stories and petitions on your Facebook page or in your newsletters to highlight issues that will affect your constituency and your specific region down the road. i.e. What do you know about the Farm Bill or the latest craft beverage legislation in your state? How can you reduce your members’ carbon footprints? Are there public transit options you can get more active in promoting or building capacity when we get the green light to travel? What about your waterways and bike lanes and roadways and their latest safety records? More and more travelers take these issues into account when selecting where to spend their local vacation dollars. Have you researched various grants that could help fund some of these projects as they relate to increasing tourism?

8. Educate The Masses

Everyone’s got a lot more time on their hands these days so why not use the time to get new skills yourself or educate others? What about a local history webinar so that you can educate your travel partners about your hometown as well as the public? This helps everyone retell the story of your destination and creates local ambassadors and long-term fans. Last year, we put together an ALL WOMEN-led on-demand 24/7 agritourism online training platform together with 7+ hours of education / 12 webinars (each 25–40 minutes long) to educate farmers, craft beverage producers and restaurateurs on different topics like legal risks, adding lodging to their site, readying themselves for group business and overnight packaging, etc. Normally $249, download an ALL-ACCESS pass and learn at your leisure. We’ve made it PAY-WHAT-YOU-WISH from $1 up to any amount through May 1st — Sign up here.

9. Breathe.

So there! I’ve offered you 9 things you can do right now that will benefit everyone and keep you sane in this uncertain time as you help others
(SEE #1). Be sure to “clap for us” and forward this along if you find anything useful.

As for me, my small business, EscapeMaker.com, promotes local travel destinations, produces large scale events and runs farm and craft beverage bus tours around the NYC metro area — all impossible to do now. We’ve been in business for 19 years and 3 months and we are not going down without a fight — we WILL make it to September 13, 2020, our 20th anniversary! That’s me being fearless. Now it’s your turn!


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