7 top tips for destination marketing and investment promotion during the COVID-19 pandemic

We are living in unprecedented times.

And in the midst of it all, destination marketing and investment promotion organisations are taking stock and rapidly evolving their role. In the face of a global crisis, what can DMOs and IPOs constructively do to mitigate the damage?

Key lessons from place branders on COVID-19, crisis management and recovery planning

Yesterday, City Nation Place hosted our first webinar [even we’re having to innovate!], exploring how the tourism industry could begin to look forward beyond the COVID-19 epidemic. And despite the clear challenges, there were some clear actionable takeaways from the session.

Leah Chandler, Chief Marketing Officer at Discover Puerto Rico, laid it out most clearly perhaps, stating that “it seems simple, but don’t panic. We’ve learned through multiple crises here in Puerto Rico over recent years that our industry stakeholders are so dependent on DMOs to be a steady hand[…] They’re really struggling right now with this new reality. We need to be consistent. We need continuity with our messaging. We need to be a source of information that they can count on and depend on. It’s an opportunity for us to stand up, to be leaders, and to really push the recovery forwards when the time comes.”

Will Seccombe, President at Connect Travel, called for place branders to become amplifiers for the good in your community. “Look for creative ways to actively promote the good and the people that make up your community and encourage your community to do that and to share great things,” he explained, highlighting the video of the Chicago penguins roaming freely in their aquarium as an excellent example of maintaining a brand presence in people’s homes.

Keith Tan, CEO at the Singapore Tourism Board, highlighted that we need to “build on the positive social capital that tourism has with our people”.  There’s enormous enthusiasm for travel, particularly in younger generations. People may be cautious right now but nurturing that pent-up wanderlust will have huge return over the coming years. “The moment they get a green light, [younger generations] are going to be back out there, but how we harness that enthusiasm for travel in appropriate and productive ways will be critical for all of us,” explained Chris Chiames, President at Carnival Cruise Lines.

Top tips from destination marketing, investment promotion and place branding experts

We reached out to our panel of experts to discover what their top tips were for destination marketing and investment promotion organisations to alleviate the impact of coronavirus on their destination and to begin preparing for the recovery process.

1. Support local business

Focus on your local businesses - during and after. During closures encourage your audiences to spend time leaving positive reviews for local businesses and buy gift cards from them online. Once things start to open back up, stress getting out there and shopping local.

Ryan Short, CEO, CivicBrand

2. Innovate: your brand can still be experienced

Far from obstacle or paralysis, COVID-19 should be a call-out to creative and inventive minds to release their imaginations and ingenuity on new and timely solutions. A place brand does not cease to be a place brand simply because it can’t (currently) be visited. It just needs to be experienced differently. Whilst visitors are unable to travel to you, you may need to travel to them, and bring the virtues of your destination to life through a combination of technology and creativity. For example, immersive and virtual technologies that surround us with the layers and textures of your experience, may not only constitute timely brand marketing for your place brand but perhaps necessary marketing, inviting us all to relish the much needed escape from our work-from-home front rooms and from the predictable views from our suburban side-returns. Now is the time for your place brands to truly ‘take us there’ so that when we (eventually) can… we will.

Andrew Welch, Executive Director Global Accounts, Landor

3. Upskill your team

Look after all your team, colleagues, clients, suppliers, and the wider place branding community. Be fair and considerate as we are all in this together, adapting and adjusting to a new working environment. Now is an ideal time to embrace the digital revolution and roll out webinars, social media campaigns and engage in e-learning.

Sehr Sarwar, Communications Director, Brand Finance

4. Use digital to broadcast your values while you’re not marketing your destination

The actions that places take now will have a strong impact on their reputation when this situation is over. Cities, nations and places should think about how they can help to fight COVID-19, like providing equipment to local hospitals and helping businesses by easing on their taxes. And when doing this, don't forget to think about it strategically - trying to put your Central Idea or Identity in your actions. The best tip we can give now is: work on your digital identity, so people can follow the work that is being done by local or national authorities. Digital should be the focus now. Brands must keep engaging with their audiences. Cities, regions, nations that are fast to protect their citizens and are able to communicate it effectively through digital media will help their brand to be perceived as a secure place for future tourism and investment.

André Santos (Strategy Manager) and Márcia Pinto (Research Manager), Maps Identity

5. Rethink your strategy in the context of this new ‘normal’.

Unprecedented events require an unprecedented response. The starting point is that everything has changed. Don’t revert back to what you’ve done before, but really take stock and ask if it makes sense in this new normal. Everyone needs to evaluate and make decisions in a different way.

John Bradbury, Partner/Managing Director, Issues & Crisis, Ketchum

In today’s serious environment of virus fears, travel restrictions and economic turmoil, it’s essential to hit the right tone with all of your messaging and marketing. If you haven’t already done so, take a close look at your pre-programmed paid efforts (across digital, social, search) and your earned storytelling to ensure the tone is appropriately respectful for the current situation.

Bettina Garibaldi, Senior Vice President, Travel & Economic Development, Ketchum

6. Be the source of reliable information for your stakeholders.

Our advice for place branding organisations is to use digital intelligence data to stay abreast of the situation on a daily basis; through utilising data sources such as keyword analysis and social listening, organisations can monitor real-time impact on demand and travel perception and take swift action based on this.

Tracking key terms both for the brand and category will give an indication of changes in the market. For example, we’re currently helping one of our destination marketing clients respond to a 96% increase YoY for ‘staycation’ searches in UK end of February ‘19 to end of February ’20, with intent heavily focused around safety concerns: trends include searches such as ‘is it safe to travel to [country]’ and ‘UK travel advice’.

To avoid unnecessary delays we recommend organisations have a proactive action plan in place informing them when to take certain actions based on this data and meet with key stakeholders and data providers (such as research and digital agencies) daily to assess and react if necessary.

Tim Lawrence, Head of Strategy & Planning, iCrossing

7. Act in accordance with your place brand strategy.

A place brand strategy is not a decorative item and sometime, not convenient. Look for answers on how your country, region and city should behave in moments like these.

  • Stop all promotion initiatives – for now. They will be misunderstood and will probably hinder more than help.
  • Create a crisis committee and ensure everyone is aligned with the same strategy. The last thing you want is inconsistency.
  • Think about the future – and start developing a strategy for when this will end. The minute this ends, it’s all about recovery, so think and strategise about the future, because in the end, things will be better.
  • Raise the importance of place branding with your stakeholders. It’s in the moments like these that key stakeholders suddenly realise they ‘need’ a place brand strategy… this “momentum” is key to position your national organisation as the go-to institution.

Jose Torres, CEO, Bloom Consulting

Related reading:

Looking forward as a tourism industry amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19

Prepare for the worst: crisis management strategies for place branding organisations

Changing the narrative about your place's brand in the anniversary of a disaster

Place branding in a crisis: lessons on rebuilding after Hurricane Irma

Missed the event in person? Don't worry...

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.