How Destinations Are Preparing for An Imminent Return to Travel

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A yellow camper van on a highway drives toward the grand canyon, in a retro vibe photo.

Last week, we hosted a webinar with some of the top leaders in the tourism industry, discussing how they are preparing for a return to travel, and how they have adapted their marketing and consumer strategies due to COVID-19. We discussed research, shared ideas, and discussed the future of travel.

Our expert panelists included Scott Gatz (CEO, Q.Digital), Rachel Ferguson (Chief Innovation & Global Diversity Officer, Visit Philadelphia), Joe D’Alessandro (President and CEO, San Francisco Travel Association), Fred Dixon (President and CEO, NYC & Company) and David Paisley (Senior Research Director, Community Marketing and Insights).

You can watch the full webinar recording at the bottom of this article, but here’s a recap.

LGBTQ Americans Will More Quickly Return to Travel

As of May 2020, Harris poll data showed that…

• 64% of LGBTQ Americans felt comfortable traveling to a US destination vs. 58% of non-LGBTQ.

• 59% of LGBTQ Americans felt comfortable staying in a hotel vs. 50% of non-LGBTQ.

• 43% of LGBTQ Americans felt comfortable staying in an Airbnb (or similar accommodation) vs. 35% of non-LGBTQ.

• 43% of LGBTQ Americans felt comfortable flying in a commercial aircraft vs. 35% of non-LGBTQ.

• 48% of LGBTQ Americans would travel for leisure based on a desire to support a destination or local economy vs. 33% of non-LGBTQ.

Community Marketing and Insights research from May also showed that 68% of LGBTQ travelers still planned to take an overnight vacation in 2020.

Regarding this data, David Paisley remarked, “I think what’s important here is that when we looked at other times where the travel industry was hurting, like maybe after 9/11 or some of the economic crisis, we saw that the LGBTQ community was often the first back to travel. Now, of course, this particular situation with COVID is very different, but we’re also seeing from the Harris Poll data that we’ll probably be first back to travel – which is one of the reasons that the LGBTQ community is so strong for the tourism industry.”

Safely Supporting Businesses and Reopening Economies

At the forefront of all of our panelists’ minds was the safety of both travelers and locals.

Fred Dixon said, “None of us want to go backward, and so if we are going to restore the integrity of the travel industry going forward, we have to get this right. We have to make sure we can ensure the safety of folks who come here, and the safety of our residents.”

Rachel Ferguson echoed that sentiment, highlighting how Visit Philadelphia has been a safety resource for locals and travelers, “We’re finding that people feel confused, they don’t always know where to go to find out guidelines. So for Visit Philadelphia, on our website, we constantly had those FAQs and continue to do so as things continue to take different pivots and turns, and making sure that locals recognize that, you know what, as you go to different attractions as they continue to open, sometimes you do need to do a little homework, and make sure you know their hours of operation, or if you have time, tickets. We definitely encourage doing all of that responsibly.”

The Current Trends We’re Seeing in Travel Due to COVID-19

At the beginning of the conversation about the current state of travel, Scott Gatz remarked, “As I’ve been talking to folks, I almost see travel as opening in concentric circles. We’re first seeing locals get out into their community, and then the region beginning to come in, drive markets, short-haul flights, and then long-haul flights.”

This idea of concentric circles resonated across the board, with many noting that they are currently focused on working with and attracting locals and those from their region.

According to Joe D’Alessandro of San Francisco, which was the first city to enforce a full lockdown, “What our efforts are focused on right now is people that know us the best. People that live in the regional area….and the next phase is sort of the statewide look. And then nationally, and finally, internationally, but it’s going to take a long time to kind of get back to where we were at one point. But the key is, I think, that people want to travel places right now that they’re comfortable. That they know the protocol, that they can go back to their favorite neighborhoods – just a sense of comfort. We’re finding from a lot of people that they don’t necessarily, right now, want to explore new places.”

David Paisely provided insight on these local trips, saying that “if you’re not taking a flight, you have more money to spend on the ground on a drive vacation, which can affect consumer behaviors.” This will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

The panel noted the need to keep a close eye on constantly changing developments. The day before the webinar, for example, there were several states that were taken off, or put on, New York’s quarantine list. The week before, also, was the first in which New York City saw days with no COVID-related deaths.

All panelists also emphasized the current need to highlight outdoor activities and attractions in marketing, especially for urban destinations that many people don’t associate with the outdoors.

Throughout all of this, however, one theme remains most important: safety. Fred Dixon noted that “all campaigns are really open restoring confidence in safety.”

2020 has brought change not only with COVID, but with a national awakening around historically under-served communities

Rachel Ferguson spoke fervently about the importance of diverse marketing during this time.

“Our mission has not changed…And while we have always spoken about restaurants that are LGBTQ-owned or, you know, black and brown-owned restaurants and businesses, we make sure that that’s now further amplified…and making sure we’re telling their stories through the pandemic, because we know that people are really paying attention to where their dollars go.”

For us, we know our diverse markets are a growth strategy. We know that a lot of times within the tourism industry, and leisure travel, it’s been white gay males as the primary focus, but we’re saying, just like so many other things, and we’ve said this early on, we have to dive deeper. We need to make sure we’re really paying attention to people of color, and black lesbians, and everyone that sometimes, you know, people have missed the mark or just haven’t included.”

What’s Next for Travel?

First, the emphasis on safety and restoring confidence in traveling will remain front and center over the coming months, at the very least.

Next, we know that the new few months will bring different challenges for each destination. For example, San Francisco has a temperate climate year-round, which allows for outdoor dining to continue beyond the summer months. However, Philadelphia and New York City obviously don’t share the same climate, and will be wrestling with how to support restaurants and businesses in the colder months. While Fred Dixon and others shared that they don’t have all of the answers on how to do this yet, they are hard at work in thinking through creative solutions, and fortunately, there is a strong movement of collaboration in the industry.

Joe D’Alessandro says that “all of these destinations are collaborating and sharing best practices” during this time, which Rachel Ferguson echoed with a quote from the CEO of Visit Philadelphia, “Momentum through collaboration.”

Rachel also mentioned a focus on restoring power to travelers, and emphasizing what can be done during this time, “…There are so many things that have been taken away from travelers and locals, and we want to make sure that we emphasize, through the change of travel and seasons, that there are still celebrations to take place, there are still memories to be made, there are still milestones to acknowledge. So, if there are anniversaries or birthdays, or just reconnecting with family, you know, you can still go into a hotel, you can still go to a museum attraction – there’s a lot of new exhibits that are opening or currently open in our region. You can still experience that.”

Joe D’Alessandro highlighted a silver lining to some of the changes, “…The culinary scene is still very much alive and well in San Francisco, it’s just different than it was a year ago. It’s no worse. In fact, I love this outdoor scene, because when you’re walking in some of these neighborhoods it seems so much more vibrant, it feels so much more lively…I think it’s very exciting. I hope it becomes a permanent part of the landscape.”

And on that note, we ended optimistically with Fred Dixon saying that “We know that this is an incredibly difficult moment, but it is a moment. And we know that this is going to end. The travel industry is incredibly resilient…But it’s going to take some time.”

There are many more insights and essential points in the full webinar, which you can watch below:

For travel professionals who would like more information, please reach out to Scott Furman.

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