Co-Founder of The Abbi Agency, a digital engagement firm providing outreach strategies to travel destinations, tech companies and B2B brands.
Right now is a dangerous time for destination marketers. Many outdoors-oriented destinations have experienced a remarkably busy summer — especially remarkable, given all the concern about Covid-19 — and it’s tempting to think that the momentum will carry over into the autumn months as well. That’s dangerous thinking, and it could put the long-term financial health of destinations and individual properties at risk.
Two factors are at play: First, the autumn shoulder season is typically tough for many outdoors-oriented destinations, whether they’re in the mountains, along the seashore or nestled in some other attractive spot. Summer vacations are over, kids are back in school and the weather sometimes can be unpredictable for outdoor activities.
The second factor is that this fall season could be particularly challenging. Nearly one in five Americans has experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic, and the continued spread of the virus will likely further dampen consumers’ interest in travel. And one way or another, students will be returning to their schoolwork.
This year’s fall shoulder season will likely be particularly critical for many travel destinations that still find themselves digging out of the financial hole that was created in the spring by the Covid crisis. Anything less than a very solid shoulder season raises the specter of showing a loss for the year.
Here are five important steps that every destination marketer can take to ensure that 2020 ends as well as possible:
1. Get to work on the creative, content and social media elements of your shoulder season marketing now, or as soon as possible.
Many destinations are still busy as summer starts to wind down. It’s easy to get lulled to sleep. But soon it will be fall, and marketing programs for the shoulder season ideally should be well on track by mid-to-late September. If you don’t have your plans in place today, schedule a meeting tomorrow morning to get started.
2. Find ways to use the work-from-home model to increase the length of visitors’ stays.
According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, 42% of American workers are working full time at home. But that doesn’t mean they literally need to be in their own homes. A growing number of folks have discovered that they can work remotely from a hotel room at a tourism destination, getting their jobs done during the day and savoring the area’s offerings at night. There’s a good opportunity here for hotels that offer flexible rates to remote workers who book a longer stay. And how about a special remote-worker evening rate at a nearby golf course?
3. Approach neighboring markets as your friends, not your rivals.
Work with nearby towns to create co-op marketing programs. Your combined budgets will allow you to make a bigger splash and promote the entire region. Many visitors initially are drawn to a large region — the Central Coast of California, for instance, or the Blue Ridge Mountains that run from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Only later in their decision-making process do they focus on a specific location. Combine forces to get visitors into the region, and every town will get its share.
4. Prepare to talk to your loyalists and invite them back when the crowds are gone.
They already are in love with your destination. Now is your opportunity to invite them back during the shoulder season, when it may not be as crowded and the pace is more relaxed.
5. Show value, and then repeat the value message over and over.
To be sure, health and safety are primary concerns for many travelers right now, but a large number are concerned about the effects that a Covid-weakened economy will continue to have on their pocketbooks. Most people still have a strong desire to get out of the house — especially to outdoor destinations that they consider to be safer — but they want to be financially prudent. Shoulder season often provides value that simply isn’t available during peak season, and travelers need to hear this message straightforwardly. Remember, too, that shoulder-season values can provide a relatively low-risk introduction to your destination for the curious travelers who have the potential to become loyalists.
This is a year when every visitor and every dollar will be important to the continued well-being of every destination and property. Destination marketers carry a big responsibility to ensure that the shoulder season yields every bit of business that can be squeezed out.
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