Key Takeaways from Destinations International’s 4/22 Weekly COVID Webinar

By Gabriel Seder, Senior Director of Advocacy Policy and Program Development

On Wednesday, Destinations International presented our weekly COVID-19 Industry Update webinar. The webinar presented timely information on how leisure marketing efforts are being impacted by COVID-19. The webinar featured executives from Visit Lake Charles and Visit Chattanooga, who shared details on how their CVB marketing and communication teams are working to address this challenge and to identify best practices and tactics to plan for future recovery.  We were joined by these panelists:

  • Kyle Edmiston, CEO, Visit Lake Charles
  • Barry White, CEO, Visit Chattanooga
  • Dave Santucci, CMO, Visit Chattanooga

Kyle Edmiston, CEO, Visit Lake Charles

A Three-Phased Approach

Visit Lake Charles, Louisiana is accustomed to addressing crises. They have a robust crisis plan which calls for a three-phase approach to addressing this and other crises:

  1. Support—During this phase, the organization focuses on sharing resources with residents and partners. They paused all paid media and turned marketing channels into communications tools for supporting local businesses and limited recreation opportunities like outdoor activities. They are still in this phase.
  2. Recover—This phase is focused on recapturing lost business and developing strategic plans for growth and recovery.
  3. Advance—With the crisis behind them, the organization focuses on overcoming the effects of the crisis, prioritizes action, and moves to capture new visitation

Focus on the Five M’s

With ordinary operations disrupted for the foreseeable future, the organization pivots to prioritize the following actions:

  • Monitor: The organization tracks industry resources provided by partners like US Travel and Destination Organization, as well as health and travel guidance from State Department, CDC and other authorities. It makes this information to its partners and stakeholders in a timely manner as possible.
  • Measure: The organization identifies a new set of metrics to track related to both its own communication, as well as visitor/traveler/resident sentiment. The focus is on aggregating and analyzing data to understand the situation and using that intelligence to initiate action.
  • Message: With paid media suspended and traditional destination marketing on pause, the organization focuses on empathy and meaningful support. They prioritize strategic collaboration with local partners and residents, to “mobilize locals and keep future travelers engaged while straying true to the Visit Lake Charles brand and values.” There is no one-size fits all message for all destination organizations; adjust your tone of voice based on the local context.
  • Manage: The organization must be at the table and helping lead efforts to support the community both through the crisis and as they begin planning to reopen. They are helping to organize the industry to address challenges that arise and managing communications between key stakeholders including local government, residents, and partners.
  • Market: Beginning on May 1st, based on guidance from Governor, the state will begin to reopen. The organization will begin quietly, putting out messaging starting with owned channels. Initial marketing priorities will be supporting local partners, especially restaurants and other businesses open through the crisis. When the time is right, there is a plan to expand into paid placements and digital ad buys. They will begin by targeting the local drive market, followed by domestic flight market. It will take a long time to ramp up marketing, but they are planning an increase of marketing and promotion plan in 2021 to try to make up ground lost this year.

Barry White, CEO, Chattanooga Tourism Company

We Are Not All in the Same Boat, But We Are in the Storm

The crisis is affecting all destination organizations, but it is not affecting them all the same way. Some are in better positions to weather the storm; others are struggling every day. This is an opportunity for the industry to come together and to learn from one another. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn from your peers and industry groups.

A Rallying Cry for the Community  

The situation in Chattanooga is made even worse by tornadoes that touched down last week, killing three people and causing significant damage to more than 1,000 buildings. In light of this and the continuing COVID-19 crisis, the destination organization is leading with a message of strength and resilience for the community. They communicate calls to action for residents to donate and volunteer. They support their partners through inspirational content like daily videos that go out on social media, and they have organized an online auction to raise money for local businesses. As the situation eases, they will promote messaging around coming to visit friends and relatives or to visit outdoor areas where it is easier to practice social distancing. For now, they are putting out a rallying cry for the community to come together to weather the storm.

About the Author

Gabe Seder
Senior Director of Advocacy Policy & Program Development
Destinations International Foundation
Gabe is a tourism marketing and destination development professional with more than 10 years of experience consulting for emerging and established destinations and tourism businesses around the world. He has supported city, regional, and national destination organizations to create and implement tourism strategies and master plans, develop and roll out national tourism brands, and implement international multi-channel marketing campaigns.

A native of coastal Maine, Gabriel lives in Washington DC. He has a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the George Washington University.