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As COVID-19 is an officially declared pandemic, nowhere is immune. Our hearts go out for those that are suffering the worst, the people and the countries. At times like these, despair and resignation are understandable and normal human responses. Is it possible that, even out of something this bad, there could still be an opportunity in adversity?

In our view, there is always opportunity in adversity, it is all about the response. Our advice is that there are ways that you can actually wrestle this situation into some positives:

1. Win back the business you are going to lose
2. Gain more credibility in the market
3. Build a more united supplier community
4. Improve your market intelligence
5. Add to your sales pipeline through increased research
6. Engineer more efficient processes
7. Strengthen your esprit de corps
8. Achieve faster business growth in the future
9. Generate more local community understanding and support
10. Bring your government on board like never before

Time to Communicate – Really Well

At times like these, it’s important to remember that you have multiple audiences and that they are all important. Your staff, board, business partners, local industry, government and the broader community, as well as your customers, need to be engaged. When it comes to the local stakeholders, they will all want to feel consulted and listened to, kept up-to-date and to be able to contribute to solutions moving forward. If you become communications central and the epicentre of the response planning then you are in a position to lead your team and your community towards achievement of the outcomes listed above.

The key drive for your communications right now should be about building credibility. No amount of destination promotion is going to calm the fear. Saying that any destination is safe just isn’t credible. The assumption is the whole world is exposed and that the pandemic could spring up anywhere and everywhere. So, if your destination is currently safe, the real question on peoples’ minds will be, “for how long?” Our advice is that there’s only one kind of communication right now that can really bring you value – communication designed to build your credibility among potential customers. Credibility is power. Use this time to build credibility more than trying to build interest in your destination. Then when the situation improves, you can leverage the credibility you’ve built and use it to immediate effect. Customers will be more predisposed to you because you’ve built more trust with them.

What is credible communication? Short, radically transparent, spin-free and to the point, such as:

§ What’s the COVID 19 situation in your destination and country?
§ What groups are cancelling?
§ What’s happening to visitor numbers and hotel occupancy rates?
§ How are flights being affected?
§ How is your government responding?

If the situation is bad, don’t attempt to hide or spin the facts. Share the facts. As a destination promoter, you’ll gain credibility when you do. And, in the current environment there’s really not much you can lose. Then when things start improving give the same type of information. Groups are booking, visitor numbers and occupancies are going up, flights are returning. Because you were transparent, your customers will trust your information. Again, the trust you can build could be one of the most positive things you can derive from this whole situation.

Your Greatest Strategic Focus should be on Recovery

There are two fundamental principles of crisis management, mitigation and recovery.

Mitigation

Mitigation is what you do during the crisis to make things better. This should be thoroughly explored, but in the current reality, there are limits to what you can do. For example, if groups are cancelling dates you won’t be able to convince them otherwise. The focus should be on getting them to reschedule. Turn a cancellation into a postponement or a rebooking when you can. You should be working with your industry to develop a city-wide response to clients wanting to cancel or postpone their events. It’s in your destination’s interests to minimise the pain and to keep clients on the side and more favourably disposed of when in recovery mode. Your industry can also provide you with data on business lost or affected. This will help you communicate effectively and also to develop a strong business case to the government for crisis support. While the mitigation phase is not likely to afford any short-term selling opportunities, it is a time when you can focus on building stronger client relationships for the future. Think of ways that you and your team can connect with current and potential clients in a way that is more personal and less business orientated. Resist any pressure to make staff reductions, your team is your backbone. You are going to need all of them to help you manage your communications and stakeholder engagement efforts and to effectively plan for and then implement the recovery phase.

Rebound Strategy

Rebound is what you do once the crisis is over to recover what you’ve lost as quickly as possible. Your rebound strategy should be developed around restoring your business levels and recouping your losses. Here’s the calculation:

1. What was our business trend line before the crisis?
2. How has the crisis impacted that trend line and how much business did we lose?
3. How much business will we need to secure to both restore our trend line and recover what we lost?

Engage your local stakeholders

When everyone else is panicking, true leaders emerge. If you are leading your destination, you need to get your stakeholders in a room and help them to work with you to find solutions. They should be part of your brainstorming on your communications, mitigation and rebound strategies. A crisis is probably the most opportune time to get your stakeholders working more cooperatively. Leverage that sense of common purpose to build an even stronger and more united supplier community – another lasting positive outcome that you can take from this crisis. Refocus your team’s energies to best effect You and your team will likely be spending less time servicing and selling these days. As an example, we all recently lost the opportunity to promote our destinations at IMEX. So, what do we do instead? Think about it, just travelling and participating in a show like IMEX is effectively a week of time, or more. How many people did you have to go and how many people-weeks can you now reinvest?

During the depths of this disruption, you may find that customers are less interested in talking, even if you are focusing on events that are years or more into the future. So, what can salespeople do when they aren’t selling? They can be preparing themselves better to sell more efficiently when things improve. Now is a good time to strengthen and build your client database. Research and prioritise accounts. You could also take a pause and have your team get creative in engineering a better future. When the time comes and markets start to move again, have a plan and new creative approaches for how your team is going to do things faster, better and more successfully.

Address your resource needs

COVID 19 is a wake-up call for policy makers. They too are human, and they take things for granted until times get tough. Most destinations are losing business, and that becomes news the policy makers notice. Our industry is front of mind right now and they are feeling our pain. Your rebound strategy should be developed into a business case for one-off “recovery funds” that you request. Governments typically shun requests for new recurring funding, but are often more open to requests for special, non-recurring funding. They are looking to provide funding that tells the story of them addressing the business loss from this crisis. Their pocketbooks will be open and you need to give them a plan soon with numbers and an ROI analysis. Hopefully, the world will get past this soon. In the meantime, you can use this difficult time to focus on getting stronger, a focus which will pay dividends far into the future.