Destination Marketing: ROI-Driven Strategies During a Pandemic

This month, our Account Executive shares a glimpse of what it means to navigate travel clients through a pandemic. Keep reading to get an insider’s perspective on the marketing madness and how we quickly shifted our strategies to overcome the obstacles of COVID-19, as well as what we’re doing now to help drive visitation.

Are we tired of saying 2020 was an insane year, yet? Have we decided to completely remove the word “unprecedented” from our vocabulary? Well, if you work in travel and tourism, that’s not exactly an option. Maybe more than almost any other industry, travel and tourism took the biggest hit from COVID-19. The travel industry was nearly at a standstill in 2020, and it wasn’t until recently that it has made its way toward recovery with the rollout of vaccines. You might think that someone who works with destination clients would take the backseat during this time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m Allison Braunstein, account executive at evok advertising and travel and tourism category captain. I specialize in servicing our travel and tourism clients, helping them reach their business goals and drive visitation. 

Here at evok, we specialize in ecotourism marketing, and our clients reflect that specialty. Whether you’re running away to an island waterfall or hiking through wooded trails, ecotourism is a huge market in the current industry–especially due to COVID-19. Now more than ever, travelers are searching for wide-open spaces and fresh air to escape to. Our research shows that destinations most expected to quickly recover are those that offer just that, in a drivable distance for visitors. 

Last year, when the earth stood still, we all collectively took a minute to catch our breath; but then we got right to work. Almost immediately, our team began strategizing how we could help our destinations recover from this huge loss in tourism. We knew it wouldn’t be fast, but we did know one thing for sure: the pent-up demand would bring tourism back. 

How do you drive visitation when visitors can’t or don’t feel comfortable traveling? Well, you help them dream, plan, learn and experience a taste of your destination, so that you’re on their list when it’s time to travel. 

For one local client, our dreaming tactic came in the form of a heavy social media push. We developed an influencer marketing campaign with multiple local influencers. These influencers were segmented into three groups: foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, and lifestyle gurus, to target the best things that the county has to offer. These influencers also represented lots of different demographics. We had families, moms, Millennials, Gen Zers, yogis and foodies, because we wanted social users to be able to see themselves reflected in the content.

For another county client, recovery efforts were focused more on future event planning, with the primary goal of encouraging visitation while reassuring travelers of the area’s health and safety measures. We worked to promote “staycations” within the area, invite visitors and residents to shop from local businesses, market event opportunities in the drive market, and finally, encourage small groups and businesses to keep events local. 

Our team created an event planning guide that listed venue amenities and featured sections that included the venue’s COVID precautions. Potential visitors and planners could download this guide on an informational landing page, which also housed listings of Certified Safe businesses, in other words, those that are committed to honoring certain guidelines. 

To gauge if our marketing efforts are making an impact, we keep a close eye on our client’s Smith Travel Research (STR) reports monthly. Though 2020-2021 numbers have other impacting factors, we want to be sure that our marketing efforts are contributing to the growth of ADR, revPAR and occupancy rates as we begin to recover. We know from STR that our recovery will be a long one, with forecasts predicting that it will take until 2023 to begin seeing 2019 metrics again. However, as we see steady growth back, we hope that we can attribute that success to our hyper targeted marketing efforts.

As we all know, travel is not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 variants and the speed of international vaccine rollouts will continue to impact the industry. However, those who dare to help travelers dream with enticing ads and unique offerings tailored to the times we are in will be the ones that come out on top. Here at evok, we’re committed to being a part of that climb with our clients. So, what’s next for your destination?