Canada’s tourism industry is expected to dip by more than 30 per cent in GDP due to COVID-19. The almost overnight collapse in tourism signals worrying times for communities and industry players. It may take two to five years for the tourism industry to recover to pre-COVID levels.
The tourism industry faces uncertainty as the pandemic continues to evolve with no clear timeline in sight. With non-essential travel banned in Canada and the U.S. since mid-March, travellers have had to postpone or forego their plans. However, as Canada shows signs of recovery along with the arrival of summer, Canadians are beginning to think about travel again.
In a recent survey by Leger, Canadians report being most comfortable travelling locally, and unlikely to travel abroad. 42 per cent say they are comfortable with a road trip within two months of reopening but are less comfortable traveling by air or cruise.
What does this mean for Canadian tourism? The travel industry needs to quickly adapt to provincial restart phases. Communities may consider putting measures in place to receive visitors. Travellers want to stay informed, and this is where public relations and communications come into play. In the face of uncertainty, constant and creative communication between stakeholders, community members and the wider traveling public is more important than ever.
The time has come for a paradigm shift in the way we promote tourism. Communicators should now focus on local travel and community, educate and inform on health and safety, and pivot from earned media to thought-leadership.
From coast to coast, Canadians are spoiled with natural beauty, art galleries and museums, and heritage sites to name a few. Canadians only need to look at their backyard for the next adventure; it is a call for locals to explore new neighbourhoods, try a new cafe or spend a day picking blueberries in their local communities. Local travel can be both safe and exciting. Focusing storytelling on local attractions and events can help inspire travel ideas.
Public relations has always been about building relationships between stakeholders. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of community relations. Public relations practitioners are in a unique position to foster communications and build connections between travellers, local businesses, destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and public health agencies. Everyone is in this together. Multiple organizations can work hand-in-hand to promote safe and fun travels during this time.
Communications plans created pre-COVID should be revisited. Key messages must address health and safety concerns. Canadians want to travel but look for certain assurances: clean and safe environments, flexible itineraries, health and safety guidelines, and minimal contact. Using digital and social media platforms, tourism businesses are providing notices on COVID-19 procedures. These include:
- frequent updates on health and safety procedures
- social distancing practices
- guidelines for safe guest experiences
Before COVID-19, tourism communications focused primarily on promoting experiences. Today, messaging should be used to educate and inform the public on the industry’s protocols to inspire confidence in travel once again—and build upon that foundation to inspire travellers to also enjoy their adventures.
Now is the time to get creative with media strategies. We can promote tourism in ways that are sensitive to the pandemic. Pivoting from traditional earned media to owned media and thought leadership is a great way to remain in touch with audiences.
Destination BC displays thought leadership by outlining tips for safe travels during this time. Tourism Vancouver recently launched ComeBack, a campaign inviting locals and visitors to carefully and responsibly return to Vancouver’s attractions. Another Tourism Vancouver initiative, VirtuallyVancouver, brings the city’s attractions and experiences right to your living room. You can take a virtual tour of the Vancouver Art Gallery or watch a livestream of the Vancouver Aquarium. With a novel and creative digital strategy, these DMOs and tourist attractions are leading the way in promoting tourism.
The goal is simple: to inspire travel planning and keep travel within Canada top of mind. By centering messaging on health and safety, targeting local communities and demonstrating thought-leadership, we connect the traveller-at-home with a travel experience they can look forward to.