March 25 2020: As the coronavirus shuts down our lives, international and local mobility, and our shared social life, tourism boards and DMOs are remessaging and repurposing in response 

The coronavirus is restricting travel and shutting down borders, and the tourism industry is effectively pausing “business as usual” with no visitors and close to zero demand. As a consequence, more and more destinations and tourism boards (DMOs) have stopped their regular marketing activities, and instead offered their own marketing channels to inform and appeal to visitors to adhere to local health authorities’ guidelines. Or, in some cases, actively using their channels to ask visitors to refrain from coming or as in Estonia, asking them to #staythefuckhome and visit later

Now, most visitors have already left, cancelled or postponed their trips, yet pausing regular destination marketing activities does not necessarily equal a DMO standstill. In fact, the current emergency is impelling the most agile and innovative adopters among DMOs to remessage, refocus, and demonstrate themselves as the local community asset, they have been aspiring to for years. There is no common playbook for the DMOs. It’s all about reimagining their destinations to match the current modus experientia.

Need for fast adapter and close followers

We are currently in untrodden territory and we give the highest of fives and kudos to the many DMOs out there, giving it their very best in trying to adapt to this surreal new reality, we’ve all woken up to.

We’ve tried to organize the different approaches to DMO remessaging that we’ve observed along the same dual dimensions that we shared in our very first #NAOWHAT article. This is not to evaluate the quality of responses – which in many cases is far too early to say and also locally and contextually defined. It is just to share what we observe, think out loud and find inspiration from each other as we try to reinstitute our ability to navigate the new normal in travel and tourism.

Inspiration for when you come back later

It is the modus operandi of tourism boards and DMOs to share inspirational destination content with potential travellers to motivate future travel decisions. Discover Greece was quick to adapt their message to the current situation, sharing Greek landscape pictures the simple message of “When the time is right, we’ll be there for you. Till then #staysafe”.

Meanwhile, DMOs are not simply waiting for better times ahead. As crisis numbs societies, it also urges a new wave of creativity and alternative thinking and DMOs are reimagining their destination experience to the current limitations and opportunities. Like Helsinki Marketing, who recently published different ways to experience the city’s cultural life through digital offerings and live streams. VisitBerlin, who shared livestreaming club vibes for your living room, VisitVienna sharing “music for home” and virtual city experiences, while Toronto tourism board has shared a list of 15 movies and TV series all filmed in the city and VisitOslo launched an alternative city guide “in corona times”, reimagining ways of using and experiencing the destinations, while we wait for a better later.

Reinstating hope and a sense of unity

Encouraging continued traveller dreams does institute a sense of hope in most of us. Yet, Visit Portugal’s short video of #CantSkipHope inspires a sense of togetherness that goes far beyond the world of tourism and travel. It encourages us all to stop, to think of everyone and meet no one. The core message is that we are stronger together and united in our separation.

And though outside the travel and tourism  industry, the initiative of the Estonian startup community  #HacktheCrisis inspires an not unsimilar sense of unity and togetherness. Launched as an online hackathon from March 13 – 15, tech and startup communities all over the world have since started creating their own crisis-hacking events. Best of all: The Estonian organisers are sharing all their experiences, tips and tricks openly and candidly via a growing global slack community. Because in the end, we either all win or we all lose #weareone.

Localhood Revisited

For years, we have been discussing a new role for tourism boards and DMOs, trying to build credibility and relevance as a proponent and protector of local community life – or localhood. This refocused role has in part been motivated the need to advocate on behalf of a tourism sector associated with overtourism and negative community impact, in part motivated by a desire to engage locals in shaping the future of tourism.

Now, we have gone from overtourism to no tourism overnight, and the local communities are in a deep crisis that may well turn into apocalypse for local retail, services, restaurants, bars, hotels and hangouts. And DMOs are started to remessage and reposition themselves not solely as tourism and destination managers, but as community resources, supporters and leaders.

Travel Mindset has listed five inspirational examples of US destinations stepping forward in serving their communities and taking on responsibility in these difficult times. This includes Portland Oregon asking local business owners to let them know, how they can be of help. Phoenix Arizona sharing actionable tips for consumers on how to support local businesses and Jacksonville Florida hosting gift card giveaways to drive sales at local businesses.

Meanwhile, Malmö Turism is promoting the initiative Your Local Hero, a simple 4 step platform, where users can buy gift cards to their favorite local restaurant or café, and thereby become a #coronahjälte (translated: #coronahero). Göteborg & Co has launched a campaign entitled “För dit Göteborg” (translated: For Your Gothenburg) with tips and tricks for supporting local businesses as well as sharing good examples of solidarity and kindness. And VisitBerlin is sharing links to neighborhood assistance groups and guide on how Berliners can help each other.

Supporting the Industry

The classic stakeholders and partners of tourism boards and DMOs are taking a terrible blow from the crisis; hotels, attractions, tour providers and operators and many more. While closing down, appealing to visitors to stay away, has been broadly supported by governments and health authorities, many DMOs have also shifted to remessage their stakeholder communication. Surveys and updated numbers are shared behind the scenes, but VisitNorway was quick to openly announce their own shift in marketing strategy (in Norwegian) to also help partners better understand and align their own marketing planning, then publishing a guide to the Norwegian travel community of destinations and tourism businesses on how to approach marketing activities during the pandemic emergency (also in Norwegian).

Finally, VisitGreenland is strengthening and remessaging in support of local tourism stakeholders with their instagram campaign #FacesofGreenlandTourism, highlighting the importance of tourism to local businesses, asking travellers to #DontCancelPostpone.

Let’s Explore this Together!

Have you come across other good examples of DMO remessaging in the current situation, please share! #NAOWhat series is our way of staying sane in these times of uncertainty and isolation. It is an expression of our determination to keep looking ahead, continue to ask questions and with #imaginativepower reshape and rebuild a future of openness, creativity and curiosity.

We are not doing so alone, but together with friends, partners, collaborators and clients within and outside the industry. Among others, we are actively contributing to the newly launched resilientdestinations.com, with loads of examples and shared pratices.

Stay tuned! /P+S