9 Examples of Candid Destination Marketing Campaigns in the Age of COVID-19

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A sky eye view of NYC's Statue of Liberty, taken from the perspective of a man with the bottom of his legs in the foreground.

It’s a huge challenge to market a destination right now in a way that illustrates empathy, and drives a business value other than direct KPIs like flights or hotels booked.

That’s why here at Q.Digital we’re running COVID-specific video advertising for many destination partners free through May. After all, Q.Digital was founded with the launch of GayCities, the most popular travel guide in our market, and travel remains a core part of our passion and identity.

In the beginning of the pandemic, many marketers didn’t know whether to address the specific situation, continue general messaging, or pause messaging altogether.

Over the past few months, it’s become clearer that it’s not a question of if you should talk about what’s happening, it’s a question of how.

In that vein, here are 9 unique campaigns that destination marketers can learn from.


San Francisco PRIDE is a State of Mind

This video showcases the extent to which San Francisco is in touch with all things LGBTQ – and the concerns, desires, and hopes of LGBTQ travelers. The end of it – a scene involving the great marriage champion Phyllis Lyon who died recently – gave me chills.

The video shows that travel is so much more than physically traveling. Travel is about creating connections; finding inspiration in the lives of others, building and growing our own communities. This video really nails that point.

In lieu of June’s San Francisco Pride, which has been canceled, San Francisco invites us to remember heroes that have made us proud, people like the late, great Harvey Milk. They encourage us to remember our history, which can be done from home, and in the process, we remember where many of those heroes got their start – San Francisco. The video encourages potential travelers to make that connection, and perhaps want to go to San Francisco, when the time is right, to see why so many heroes made their mark in one magnificent city.

The video also shows off the vibrant and colorful history of Pride, without shying away from its raw elements. It shows a woman wearing an I’m an authorized dyke T-shirt, and two men in leather kissing. These images telegraph that the city really understands the authentic personal experience of Pride.

Lastly, the video shows a Special Thanks card at the end, with an ode to various community organizations. In helping to amplify the names and the work of others, in a time when many organizations need support, it helps the video end with a positive vibe.


Only You

The only thing that matters to us is…YOU. That’s a powerful message. Any consumer is a person first, and this video acknowledges that. In Only You, we see Las Vegas gently remind viewers of the treasures that make the city so great, but without a hard sell that would raise premature anxieties about travel.

Research shows that even when we’re given the okay to travel and reopen businesses, many people won’t feel comfortable resuming their normal activities, like traveling, for weeks or months after. That idea is important for destination marketers to keep in mind. It’s not just about when destinations are ready to reopen and welcome travelers back; it’s also about when travelers feel ready to come back. Lots of great places will be open for business before the crowds return. So, their language of, “When You’re ready, we’ll be ready” is especially encouraging and in touch with current research.


The time for adventure will come again

This beautiful Canadian destination put out a message of community and hope. In these times when we’re just worried about getting by on a day-to-day basis, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But this destination makes sure we don’t forget. The Time for adventure will come again. Saskatchewan provides ideas for preparing for a return to the future of travel: “Take this time to learn about new experiences and places, while treasuring people you want to bring along.”

For me at least, this moment in the video made me start jotting down my own travel bucket list for when this is all over. Now when I pull out my list when the time comes, Saskatchewan will definitely be on my mind.

Lastly, the campaign does not shy away from saying the word COVID-19, and being blunt about its impact: Now is not the time to travel. They are one of the only destinations I’ve seen to explicitly say this. To me, this truth makes the message come across even more authentically.


Right now, it’s time for patience…

At just 15 seconds, this video is the definition of short and sweet. It creates a connation between Puerto Rico and paradise by focusing solely on the sight and sounds of a beautiful waterfall. In a way, it positions Puerto Rico as the light at the end of the tunnel, without actually having to brag about it as such.

The waterfall-soaked visuals and audio combine to create an alluring spirit of mindfulness and abundance – two phrases and interests that are definitely in the zeitgeist right now. This shows that Puerto Rice really knows what it has to offer, and what travelers will want after this difficult time.


We’re Your Neighbors

After this is all over, people are not going to want to just get back to normal. They will want their travel to be bigger and better than ever, in part because they have felt deprived for so long now. The Big Easy knows that having an over-the-top experience is a staple of why people visit, and here, they keep that lively tone while maintaining a high level of empathy, as well.

Marketing right now doesn’t necessarily have to strike a serious tone. Somber and empathetic are not the same thing. Destinations do not have to fundamentally change the association that travelers have with their cities right now, so long as they are understanding about what those travelers are experiencing.

In fact, seeing lively messaging can actually be cathartic given the saturation of rough news all around us. It’s great to be reminded that things will be normal again, or hopefully even better than normal.


Dream of Later

Watching this video is almost like listening to a short episode of Headspace. It’s calming and gentle – mimicking the natural wonders that British Columbia hopes people come to see. All the messaging and imagery are in sync.

In this message, we like their use of the word pause. Not wait, or stop. Just, pause. That word encourages us to acknowledge that the situation we’re in won’t last forever, and there’s something else, something beautiful in the case of British Columbia, on the other side. It encourages us to think positively about what life will be like after this moment in time, and where we can go.

Although we may do less during this time of quarantine and social distancing, studies show that we’re actually more exhausted because of it. We’re more tired, more agitated, and we feel more of a need to escape. This message positions British Columbia as a place to go once this is all over; a place to relax and rejuvenate, similar to Puerto Rico’s message.

A message to other marketers? React to where travelers are at now, and prepare for where they’ll want to be in the (hopefully) near future. In order to do this, it’s vital to keep an eye on current data, because what travelers wanted a year ago could very well be different than what the same travelers want now.


Viajá desde tu casa (Travel from your home)

First off, the imagery in this video is just unreal. I’ve never been to Argentina, but after watching this, I added it to my post-quarantine travel bucket list.

But imagery isn’t the only powerful thing here. The message is both unique in general, and to Argentina. Any traveler knows that traveling isn’t just an action – it really is a state of mind. Sometimes we forget that. Here, Argentina encourages us to get in touch with that spirit of travel, the why before the where, and that creates a powerful and genuine message.

Argentina also showcases many shots of individuals traveling alone, and those visuals of someone being able to embrace adventure and beauty by themselves is an especially powerful message right now.


Together, We Rise

This video is distinct from the others, because it doesn’t just speak to individual travelers, but to business travelers and groups, as well.

Next, they put a lot of information in a short video, as opposed to some of the other videos we’ve seen. That said, the intentionality here makes it flow seamlessly, without feeling overwhelmed or bombarded by brand messaging.

Next, we loved the symbolism of the video starting with moonlit mountains, followed by the sun rising to illuminate the city and its surroundings. It’s hard to miss the message, conveyed beautifully, that the sun will rise again, and you’ll be able to enjoy it in Phoenix.

And last but not least…


Stronger. Brighter. Together. New York City.

This video places a focus on essential workers and healthcare professionals, mirroring the nationwide applause for these heroes. Here, NYC shows that it’s in touch with the front lines, the Americans that everyone is rooting for. The on-the-ground imagery, rather than only professional shots, also compliments this message.

Lastly, the end of the video is powerful. Stronger together, brighter than before. As we live in this new world, there are an increasing number of voices calling not for a return to what was, but for a progression towards something better. NYC has always been a leader in innovation and trends of all sorts, and after watching this, I left believing that the end of the pandemic will be no exception.

The video shows that something better is coming, and that New York will be there on the front lines to bring it to us. It’s a message of hope.

If you want to learn more about the work we’re doing with DMOs and other brands this summer, please feel free to reach out. We would love to chat.

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LGBTQ consumers are highly loyal to supportive brands. Navigating this dynamic space takes expertise, and we’re here to help. Using both our heads and our hearts, we create meaningful touchpoints and a true relationship between you and the LGBTQ community.