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Talia Salem

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Between looming travel bans, terrorist attacks and passengers forcibly being removed from planes, destination marketing has become increasingly difficult. “There is a fear factor of travelling,” says Peter Greenberg, CBS News Travel Editor. Travellers are more anxious than ever before to travel. What does this mean for the industry? How do you as a DMO reach and engage with your target audience in a climate of fear or after a crisis? A panel of travel experts tackled these issues and more in a recent panel at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. A few insights for DMOs bubbled up to the top.

Get Ready

What is actually going in the marketplace? How will it affect you? Is your destination experiencing a crisis or is just a general feeling? Take stock of the situation and engage with your customers. It is a best practice to conduct a risk assessment on how to deal with a PR or real crisis. “Your destination should always be prepared for a crisis,” Milton Segarra, CDME, President and CEO, Meet Puerto Rico says. “Be open and transparent about what you can and can’t do.” If you don’t have one already, create a crisis communication plan that integrates social media. (Seriously you NEED one!) You don’t want to be making a crisis comms plan (and getting the necessary approvals) while you are getting rapid fire tweets from consumers. It only takes one false or off-message post to start a PR crisis. Your organisation needs to have a plan in place to activate on its digital channels, and it is best formulated in pre-crisis mode when you are calm.

Get Real

“Perception is reality,” Don Welsh, President and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) adeptly points out. If people think there is a problem (even if there isn’t), it is going to have an impact on your business. Welsh advises destinations to have conversations about the facts, especially with the media. Set the story straight. You cannot hide the truth and you just have to be honest with your audience. When dealing with the Zika crisis in Segarra and the Meet Puerto Rico team made a point to present the facts as they were to correct misconceptions about the spread of the virus.

Get Social

“Engage with your audience, deliver the brand experience and authentic story,” advises Tammy Blount, FCDME, President and CEO, Monterey County Convention & Visitors and incoming chairwoman of DMAI, during times of crisis. “Engage in the conversations that consumers want to have.” In fact, Blount and her team in Monterey have shifted their marketing strategy from a largely traditional one to a strategy largely built on content marketing allowing for a deeper engagement with consumers.

Get Partners

Let someone else tell your story. Consumers know DMOs are paid to make their destination look and sound good. “In troubled times the last person you want to hear from is the head of the CVB,” Greenburg asserts. “Consumers want to hear from trusted sources talking about real experiences.” Influencers and media are a natural choice here. Tammy Blount and her team work with millennials to get the word out. “Millennials are evangelists and will talk about their experience on social…they are really creative especially when given a platform,” she comments.

Segarra’s team partnered with the media and shared third party sources of information. They also created roughly a dozen testimonials about customers’ experiences in Puerto Rico that the DMO used in its messaging.

Travel can be tenuous and depends on so many external factors. So I will leave you with this thought from Tammy Blount: “This is not the first time we have encountered these problems and it will not be the last. What will we all do as we face these challenges? How are we going to overcome them?” Hopefully, these tips will prepare you.

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