Destination Marketing: Which Pitfalls to Avoid When Promoting Tourism During the Pandemic

As destinations scramble to kickstart tourism and to recover lost income, what should destination managers and marketers avoid or be careful about, in their rush to restart tourism?

Below the answers of our panel of place brand specialists (in alphabetical order –  highlighted respondents are available for consulting, research, or as speakers).

In partnership with the Sustainability Leaders Project: sharing and celebrating success stories of sustainable tourism leadership since 2012.

Our key takeaways:

  • Let the host community decide if they want tourists back and to what degree.
  • Listen to all stakeholders, especially also private businesses, before restarting tourism.
  • Inform locals about the importance of economic recovery through tourism post-pandemic and ensure tourists are not subjected to tourismophobia.
  • Find the opportunities – for example, try to involve skilled workers currently out of job in destination development.
  • Set up the necessary infrastructure to guarantee physical distancing and health protocols at airports, stations, theme parks, cafes, and restaurants: be prepared.
  • Regions desperate to kickstart their visitor economy should not get lured into promoting discount holidays. Instead, focus on advocating for longer vacation and on domestic visitors, for high-quality tourism.
  • Now is the right time to change KPIs for DMOs from chasing numbers (overnight stays) to something more valuable, like measuring visitor expenditure, or employment benefits.

Those key points are just a few picks we took from the very intriguing and insightful answers from specialists around the world, which you find in full length below.

Andrew Hoyne

Andrew Hoyne

Hoyne Design / Speaker

Avoid chasing discount visitation. Promoting low-cost will have long term negative impacts on the value and economic viability of a place.

Gunter Soydanbay

Günter Soydanbay

Soydanbay Consulting / Speaker

People will eventually travel internationally once the anxiety levels go down. We already addressed tactics to boost their comfort levels in the first question. But there is the elephant in the room.

Long before COVID-19, when asked about overtourism, I speculated that given the political landscape around the world, tourismophobia – which is rooted in xenophobia – will strengthen. The border walls – both literal and psychic – will most likely get higher, making xenophobia a nastier problem. Things will probably take a turn for the worse over the next decade before getting better.

If I were a destination manager who is desperate to get the tourist to come back, I would shift my focus from the tourist to the locals. I would try to increase their levels of empathy towards foreign visitors, especially from the Asia Pacific.

Heather Skinner

Heather Skinner

Researcher profile

We have gone almost overnight from being concerned about overtourism to be concerned about the real prospect of significantly reduced tourism or, in some destinations, no tourism at all.

Not everybody has eased lockdowns or border restrictions. While Australia considers restricting all international travel for the remainder of this year, European destinations are still, at the time of writing, trying to get agreements between different countries to allow tourists to enter, albeit safely and with continued social distancing that may last this entire season, if not longer.

Hjörtur Smárason

Hjörtur Smárason

Speaker profile

Do your research. You need to understand how the behaviour of your previous target groups has changed to be able to accommodate that, as well as search for new opportunities and target groups created by that behavioural change.

Joao Freire

Joao Freire

Researcher profile

There are a number of places where full capacity will not be met for a while. Therefore, there will be extra capacity at some destinations that will need to adapt to cater to other segments. Restarting tourism and returning to 2019 levels will be a tough endeavour.

In the meantime, there will be job losses and companies that cater to tourism will close. The capacity will have to adapt to the new reality. In this case, destinations will have an opportunity to transfer some of the capacity developed for tourism and channel it to local communities, organisations, and companies.

This will be an opportunity to avoid overtourism in the future and will lead to increased costs for tourists visiting some destinations. It will also be important for destinations to not discriminate against other activities by providing a fiscal stimulus to the tourism industry.

Juan Carlos Belloso panel

Juan Carlos Belloso

Speaker profile

Yes, the pressure to come back as normal will be huge, for economic reasons but I would make sure a more high quality and sustainable model is developed and supported, helping and supporting those tourism stakeholders to transform their business into a more sustainable model.

Malcolm Allan

Malcolm Allan

Bloom Consulting

Avoid being in a rush. Be measured, be paced, don’t pretend things are back to the previous normal. Honestly, share in an honest way what the new and changed, here for some time ‘new normal’ is, the limits on its accessibility and its changing nature.

Communicate what these plans may or will mean for visitors, potentially including booking timed entry in advance, fewer tables for sitting in cafes, pubs, and restaurants, temperature scanners at entry points for public transport, proof of negative coronavirus tests undertaken and confirmed 3 days prior to flight departures.

Martin Boisen panel

Martin Boisen

For the love of place / Researcher profile

Just to be 100% clear: I’m answering this from the perspective of advising the local/regional/national authorities. Not the entrepreneurs.

First, the big challenge. If at all possible, avoid the pressure for getting back to ‘business as usual’, ‘as fast as possible’. The saying ‘never waste a good crisis’ implies that one should use the momentum of a crisis recovery to instigate the changes that seemed impossible before the crisis hit. This obviously differs from place to place. During the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve witnessed a lot of visionary ideas gaining traction. At the same time, unfortunately, I’ve also seen a lot of policy proposals that aim for bringing the visitor economy back to 2018 as fast as possible, and not forwards to 2040 and beyond.

Then a pitfall that we’ve already seen some places voluntarily jump into, avoid competing on price! If you’re successful, tourists will contribute (even) less to the local economy. If you’re not successful, it’ll be difficult to adjust the strategy.

Robert Govers panel

Robert Govers

Independent advisor / Speaker / Researcher

They should avoid price-competition at all costs; it is not the solution. Promotions and price cuts are easy to implement, generate an immediate response, and are therefore very tempting, but in the end, everyone loses. There are other ways to bring people back, but it requires more effort and a little bit of patience.

Sebastian Zenker panel

Sebastian Zenker

Researcher profile

We have to make sure that the people understand that we do not want tourism at all costs – but that we need to use this crisis also for the good: a careful reflection of what kind of tourism we want.

Todd Babiak, place branding panel

Todd Babiak

Speaker profile

There is always a lot of pressure on destination marketers. Their success and failure are nearly always determined by numbers. If that continues to be the most important aspect of the job of a destination marketer, there’s no chance for sustainability. They’re doomed to booms, busts, hurt feelings, and broken places.

I think we can look at other measures of success, and tie tourism to other elements of place branding like trade, investment, and workforce attraction, student attraction and, most importantly, community ambition. That gives us a more powerful lens than simply trying to go back to the way it was.

Tom Buncle

Tom Buncle

Yellow Railroad Consulting / Speaker profile

Avoid being a slave to volume – It’s hard, because politicians, whose governments at both national and local levels are often major funders of destination marketing, are addicted to positive media coverage. And, unfortunately, visitor numbers make for more comprehensible soundbites than visitor expenditure.

But, given how COVID-19 has challenged the very basis of previously accepted wisdom, we have an opportunity to ditch the headcount scramble in favour of earnings from tourism (and consequently employment, etc.) as the main objective. Value not volume, as a definitive measure of success.

Don’t ignore the community – Ensure the type of tourism you are trying to attract is what the host community wants.

Don’t be uncritical – It’s no longer a numbers game. Will the type of tourism you aim to develop contribute to the destination’s wellbeing and long-term sustainability? If it won’t, revisit your marketing strategy.

Andrea Lucarelli

Do not get back to the ‘business as usual’, as it never happens. There might be places that will be able to reuse the same formula than others.

Bill Geist

Smart destination marketers will simply not hit the reset button and restart last year’s campaign or message. The message must be about care, safety, and compassion.

Cecilia Cassinger

Over the past couple of years, overtourism emerged as a major problem in many cities. This particular moment in time could be an opportunity to reorganise destinations to avoid overcrowding and overuse of common goods and resources.

One way of doing this is to diversify activities and make locations less “Instagrammable.”

It may be that the main target audience will not primarily be international but domestic visitors because they feel safer to travel within the country than outside of it.

Hila Oren

This is something I always say in the context of smart cities – you have to listen to market forces, see the request versus supply and demand. As government agencies, we try to create a process of leadership, sometimes too determinedly.

I think we should let private entrepreneurs lead the way. We need to practice sensitivity, listening to market forces, then act as policymakers. Remove the ‘red tapes’ and find the balance to put red carpets.

Inga Hlin Pálsdóttir

It will be tempting for many to restart tourism by making cheap offers and underselling destinations. This is something I would highly avoid and try to get your stakeholders on board with that.

If the destination is clear on its focus and has close engagement with its stakeholders in reassessing the strategies with sustainability in mind – objectives, target audience, and target markets – this should not be a problem.

Irina Shafranskaya

Russia is still in lockdown, but domestic airlines started summer sales with minimum prices. In order to attract tourists, some destinations will offer cheap variants without taking into account the outcomes of such tourism in the long run. I think that the whole service process in tourism should be redesigned and the elements of sustainable development need to be included.

Jaume Marín

Destination marketers should start focusing on which tourists they want and need, and not on the number of tourists. Hence, much better targeting and hyper-segmentation would be needed.

José Pablo Arango

What destination marketers and managers should avoid the most is to believe that nothing has happened and that things can stay the same.

Marta Hereźniak

Avoid selling yourself cheaply, as destination. Rather, specific solutions should be implemented and communicated to reassure travellers that a particular destination is prepared to host them again, sometimes as a justification for higher prices.

Destinations (hospitality industry) should avoid low quality – high margin tactics. For example, cooperating with suppliers offering lower quality products (especially non-local) at low prices may seem like a solution, but in the long run it is most likely going to damage the destination’s reputation.

Sustainability Leaders ProjectPrevious questions answered by the panel here.

Curious about what sustainable tourism experts answered to the same question? Here’s what the Sustainability Leaders Project panel of responsible travel specialists shared on sustainable destination marketing in times of the pandemic.

Enjoyed this snapshot of expert views on pitfalls destination marketers should avoid as they strive to kickstart tourism post Covid-19? Thanks for sharing!


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