By Jack Johnson, Chief Advocacy Officer at Destinations International
A while back CBS News in the United States reported results from a new poll they conducted. According to the results “most Americans (57%) say the nation’s efforts to combat the coronavirus are going bad right now, most call it a crisis and see a months-long process before it is contained.” A few things to take away:
The public is pinning its hopes heavily on the nation’s scientists, with eight in 10 optimistic about their ability to eventually find a cure or vaccine, and most are also optimistic that Americans themselves can take steps to slow the spread.
This last point reminds us that based on Destinations International Foundation research, destination organizations are seen as trusted sources for information by travelers and meeting planners. This crisis is an opportunity to underscore that and be seen as experts not only those two groups but the residents of your community. Posting accurate and nonpartisan information about the status of the virus in your destination or state/province as well as information from state and local authorities concerning limits on stay at home orders, closure of non-essential retail and businesses, limits on meeting sizes, hotels closures, etc. will help position you in the long run as a community asset. But equally important is the role of the destination organization in the community it serves.
Remember, a destination organization is a community asset responsible for programs promoting a community as an attractive travel destination and enhancing its public image as a dynamic place to live and work. Through destination stewardship and brand importance, we strengthen the community’s economic position and vitality which provides opportunity for all the people in the destination. That means when it comes to anything related to the community as a destination or the community’s brand, you need to be seen as the expert and a partner who works on behalf of the community.
Every year, the Visit Champaign County (in Illinois, USA) destination organization hosts Toast to Tourism, celebrating people in the hospitality industry who make their community so outside of ordinary. Due to COVID-19, this year’s event has been cancelled. In lieu of the expenses associated with this annual celebration, the Visit Champaign County, in conjunction with the Visit Champaign County government, have created a Hospitality Relief Fund to provide direct financial support for individuals who have immediately formerly worked in the greater Champaign County area as housekeepers, caterers, cooks, front desk staff or anywhere in the hotel partner operations.
Nourish Lexington is an initiative of the destination organization located in Kentucky, USA to utilize the skills and talents of hospitality workers recently unemployed due to the COVID-19 closings to provide prepared meals to those who need immediate access to food. In exchange for preparing and delivering meals, food service workers will receive a $60 payment for a four-hour shift. Meals will be distributed to hospitality industry families, other families in need, seniors in affordable housing apartment complexes and children and their families through family resource coordinators. Nourish Lexington is powered by destination organization working with the local philanthropic community.
There are hundreds of examples ranging from Bermuda declaring a national take-out food day to something as simple as Scottsdale in Arizona, USA doing a guest column in the local newspaper and other media sources to the amazing website and video using local residents on the Visit Norfolk, Virginia, USA site.
Visit Norfolk is a good example as are others about blending community support initiatives with finding new ways to keep your organization and destination brand out there – like the virtual tourism sites including a virtual tourism shopping site benefiting community retail stores that are popping up on sites across North America. There is a lot of good stuff going on out there in destination organizations who are doing things to get through the next several weeks and months. And I believe it is those destination organizations that will come out of the worst of the crisis best positioned in their communities to succeed.