Marketing During A Crisis: What Should I Do?

 Yes, we have heard it all now, “These are unprecedented times.” We can make comparisons to the SARS and H1N1 outbreak or the 2008 recession, but still these events don’t compare because every single market and every traveler on earth is experiencing this crisis. There is no rule book, all we have right now is uncertainty. Imagine if you knew the quarantine would be over in a month and the travel industry would be back to ‘normal?’ Well, we don’t have that luxury– this is all brand new. You can imagine that the top two questions every tourism business owner is asking are:  SHOULD I still be marketing during a crisis?  and HOW should I be marketing in times of crisis like this?  Here’s my recommendations: 

1. Should I still be marketing my tourism business now given the global situation?

Well, the answer is you have to define what you mean by marketing, there are so many facets to marketing, often, paid advertising is defined as marketing in general, which is only part of it. Marketing includes several other aspects that help to find and persuade customers including: content, social media, target market analysis, market analysis, email marketing, planning, strategy, pricing. Just to name a few. It’s not just about ads. 

2. What should I be marketing during a crisis?

This is the second  most common question. And it really depends on the situation. Today, when we are locked up in quarantine or in social distancing measures, and the entire travel industry is grounded, here is a road map recommendation for you.

A. Discontinue paid advertising  (at least until there are signs that tourism is back in your market) 

Yes. I am a marketer telling you not to spend money that you don’t have. When there are no travelers who have complete uncertainty as to when and how they can travel, it doesn’t make sense to spend money that you don’t have.  Can your cashflow be used toward something more important right now? (like paying your staff to work on projects) 

  • Paid advertising are Ads like Google ads, Facebook ads. My view this would be wasted spend right now, who has the cashflow? Many of you are trying to figure out how to keep your staff, feed your families for an uncertain # of months. Why promote to an audience who cannot travel at all right now?  And think about your customers mind state  – They are in panic, uncertainty, worries about money, health, and safety right now- right now is far too raw for them, and I believe that if you are not careful, some brands advertising will come across with negative sentimentAnd of course every country is going through different waves and different levels of this crisis.
  • Here is where paid ads could come across negatively:  I just saw an ad on Facebook from Get your Guide- it was for a tour in Colombia (which is where I am) and there are NO flights in and out of this country and the nation is in total lockdown.   They made no change to their copy at all – as if nothing is happening in the world – and I thought – “how insensitive to the people that would love to travel!” – not to mention the cash they are burning with no traffic.
  • Some brands however choose to advertise right now – Some large brands that want to make a big statement about the situation, and also have cashflow and big marketing budgets vs.entrepreneurs like you.   The tourism board of Portugal created this outstanding ad #can’t stop hope.   This creates a big statement on the state of the world and invite travelers to come later. This will definitely create a positive sentiment to travelers, yet again, they are a large brand that have different goals which will help their tourism industry in the future (a multi-million dollar business) and they have very different budgets. Check out Nike’s ad campaign as well. 
  • Important point: **Watch what is happening with the reopening of different countries over time. Travel will start opening up in waves, depending on the situation in each market. China and South Korea for example, are relaxing their restrictions, residents are able to go out, domestic travel is starting to open slowly , and Google traffic searches for travel are growing. Every travel prediction say that local travel will improve faster than international travel, and guests will want to control their environment such as taking road trips in their own car. The more you stay in touch with the constant changes, the more an opportunity to start promoting your business again with paid ads, and  most likely to a new audience. (we touch on this topic below) 
  • Paid ads is the right thing to do for businesses that are attracting new clients now, or tour businesses that are running virtual online tours right now, because there is a captive audience ready to buy.

B. Do ‘Other Marketing’ Right Now 

There are so many facets of marketing that make sense right now, because they can help you with important goals for the future of your business. 

1. Email Marketing: 

Is a great way to maintain a relationship with your past guests, update them with what is happening with you, your business, your market area, and what you are doing in the midst of the quarantine. Although there are many unknowns in terms of future travel restrictions and access, don’t neglect the possible opportunity that they may buy your products again, and they can certainly recommend your business to others in the future. For example: I just received an email from a tour company – We Hate Tourism Tours, I bought a tour in Portugal in February – I was happy to hear from them, they made a point that they would be back, but for now they communicated (see website) on how they are focusing on delivering goods to their neighbors in need because they have the vans, suppliers and they know the streets. They asked me for a review – which I was more than happy to do again– on another review platform  because they asked and mentioned it would help them. Please use this time to ask your past guests for reviews! Here are some review tips. As travel restrictions change – updating your subscribers on what is happening to you and your business. What is changing and what you are working on.  Looking to start an email list? Here are some tips.

2. Social Media and Content Marketing: 

These two marketing levers can help you with a number of goals – Maintain awareness of your business, and help travelers through the dreaming phase – no doubt they are starting to dream about their next trip or remember their great travel memories. You can do this in a creative and useful way without spending alot of money. You can also share what is happening in your market, what you are doing now, and how you are planning your comeback in the future. Don’t just post – Engage with your audience – ask them how they are doing, ask them to share their positive memories. Check out brands like  Devour Tours – they are doing a lot of quality IG posts,stories and video content– they share the new ideas they are developing, the new recipes they are creating – including videos from their guides quarantine in their homes. They share  inspiring stories of what is happening in their communities and how people are helping each other out.  Content marketing is the road map of topics, articles and posts you are planning for your business. Remember those 1000’s of photos, video clips and ideas for content you put on the backburner when you were too busy to think about them? Now is a great time to organize your content like planning a calendar of topics, starting  a blog or develop new articles and edit previously shot videos and photos.   Looking for tips to build your content marketing topic list? Start here.

3. Marketing Analysis and Getting Comfortable with Your Technology:  

There is no better time (because you have more time right now)  to understand your data and past business trends and the resources you have at your disposal to analyze your business results. Even if your target audience and your tourism offerings change after the covid-19 outbreak, it’s helpful to establish what your baseline was, and learn how to understand and evaluate your data. This can include both your quantitative data: real numbers, and your Qualitative data: reviews, comments, questions.

Here are some suggestions on where to analyze your business: 

a. Google Analytics- The top information to review and assess on this platform is: 1. Overall performance – new and returning visitors, where they were coming from and key time periods. 2. Acquisition – find out where travelers were finding you – direct (from your website) , from another website(referral) and social.  This platform also helps you understand which products and pages are generating the most revenue for you. If you do get some local and domestic traffic, where do they come from? This will help you decide how to target them on Facebook for example. 3. Behavior: This section allows you to see where viewers are looking and clicking on your site, and which pages they stay on longer; hence the pages that have better engagement. 4. Slow loading pages – This is a big opportunity to review and improve – site speed plays a big role in your bounce rate;the speed at which readers leave your site, that has an impact on your SEO and ranking on Google.

b. Google Search Console -This tool shows how you are performing on Google search results and which key words and pages are ranking on Google. Specifically you can use it to:  1. Find what keywords your website is ranking for 2. Find URLS that are linking to your site both internal and external  (which is a main factor in good SEO) 3. How to reindex your site on Google when you add new content  4. Ensure that mobile usability is working well on your website. I recommend you get to know Google search console, this is one of the most neglected tools. 

c. Sales Results: Your website booking platform is the best place to review your data, even if your market changes in the future, start with understanding your sales trends, key periods and those top customers will be worth contacting and staying in touch via email marketing when your travel business is open again.

4. Improve your Website – copy, design, hierarchy, sales and marketing strategies 

There is no better time to make changes and updates to your website even if the future is uncertain  Now more than ever, your purpose and values will play a role in your business and your life. Look at your website from a new perspective – how well do you tell your story? how well are you communicating what is important to you? Also how well are you leading the visitor from persuasion to conversion (the marketing funnel ) on your website?

Here are a few resources that can help you accomplish these goals: 

-Free mini training video to persuade and convert guests 

– Your secret weapon – Your About Us Page

– The amazing results of Purpose Marketing 

5. Crisis can be the mother of invention – can your tourism business go online now?

Travelers are yearning for an experience while they are home in quarantine now.  Is there an experience, education, lesson that you can develop online and earn some income now?  Respectfully, not every tourism business can do this, and not everyone can develop an experience with just the tools they have at home. The point here is, is there an opportunity to make some income and have some fun while we you are in quarantine?  Can you demonstrate how to make a dish from your country? Show viewers how to play a game or learn a dance from your region? Teach them how to do a new and valuable skill?  Perhaps a guide can do a virtual tour or tell stories about your business or area? Airbnb just launched their online experiences. Perhaps there are ideas here (or an opportunity to join) to build an online experience. Also the Online Tourism Academy is offering a Virtual tour course to help tourism professionals develop a product, and take them through all the steps to create a virtual tour. Here is an example by TakeWalks – home edition. This idea won’t  generate the same income you had before, but it could be a fun, useful, and valuable experience to a captive audience online. If you do participate in online experiences, a small investment in paid ads makes sense (after you connect with your email and social audience). This is because you have an opportunity to make revenue now, with a captive audience ready to buy.

6. Your marketing strategy for the future – create a new and evolving plan knowing your business will never go back to “normal” 

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but business is going to change as a result of this pandemic. As to the exact changes, no one knows but now is the time to make some assumptions, and hypotheses. Here are a number of questions to ask yourself as this crisis continues, and evolves to help you redesign your marketing plans moving forward. Today, it’s too soon to anticipate how your business will change. However, it will be very important to think about and develop a new guest persona in the coming months.

Here are some important questions to ask:

a.How will the needs of your target guest change after the crisis? What will they be worried about, and want their needs and fears to be alleviated?

e.g. Safety will be key – you will need to show them that you take hygiene and cleanliness very seriously. Value will be very important so in the initial stages of opening you will want to show that they are getting a deal – because they likely have dealt with money problems and periods out of work. 

b. What kind of activities, amenities, rooms, tours, will be of interest to your target guest? and how their interests change when travel is back? And how will it evolve over time?

c. Will your target guest change to a different target after the crisis? ie. domestic traveler vs. the international traveler may be the only opportunity for you in the short term, as travel regulations open up.

d. How will your business change before there is a vaccine and after a vaccine? How will regulations impact and change your business and how will they evolve?

e. How will pricing change when tourism comes back?  Since supply and demand of travel services, and transport will change. 

– It’s too early to know for sure, however with the early opening up of Chinese markets there are low price offers in the airline industry. You need to think  through scenarios, and assumptions will help you generate a picture of your guest, understand their needs, in order to best market too them. 

7. Improve your marketing skills – because you’ll need them when this is over too.

There is no better time than now, to up your marketing skills. It seems like every business is online developing all kinds of great information, courses and skills. Here’s a few resources to help:

– Free video course: How to persuade and convert your travelers into guests 

4 Steps to better reviews and referrals to get more bookings

Weekly marketing tips

 The Corona Virus battle plan

13 ways for brands to use SEO and marketing now

-The tour business virtual summit

Now, let’s hear from you, what are you doing with your marketing during the crisis and how are you improving your skills? Let us know.

undertainty in marketing during a crisis what should you do?

About the Author

Dorene Wharton is a tourism strategist, marketer, coach, copywriter and full-time traveler with a 25-year career working in all areas of marketing and sales. She left her corporate job with Fortune 500 hospitality brands to start Travel Life Media to help hotels, tour, attractions and event companies improve their marketing, and live their brand with purpose.
Dorene Wharton