Nine expert tips to prepare for recovery in cities, nations and regions

Three months and what seems like a lifetime ago, we shared some top tips for destination marketing and investment promotion organisations to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The world looks very different in June than it did in March, and most cities, nations and regions around the world have already pivoted their marketing and strategies to fit this new reality.

The question is no longer what destinations should be doing during a crisis, but how destinations should prepare for future recovery. With the summer season looming for many destinations, and business-almost-as-usual resuming, we reached out to our panel of place branding experts to understand what the next steps should be for places looking to restart their economies.

1. Be innovative

Let the crisis be an accelerator. Rather than waiting to rebuild what you had, take a new view and adapt to unlock opportunity – whether that be working with other destinations, digitising business development journeys or looking at your offer in new ways.

Mary Harris, Managing Director, M&C Saatchi Export


2. Invest in partnerships and build collaboration

There are a few items that come into play here - (1)  strengthen the collaboration between your research and marketing - there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has put the importance of data-driven marketing at the forefront. DMOs that use and promote the collaboration between their research and marketing departments will benefit in the long term from having a data-driven culture. Then (2), promote public-private initiatives - in the short term, DMO’s might have access to some recovery funds, however in the long term there are very few places that will be able to self-sustain with public funds. The long-term strategy must consider a solid Public-Private Co-op Marketing Framework that can allow DMOs to increase investments, sustain small and medium business and align on KPIs that bring benefits to the whole ecosystem.  And lastly, (3) invest in partnerships - lack of resources might not only be monetary, but can also be the lack of internal know-how and human resources. This is why it's crucial for DMOs to find partners that would deliver top notch service and also help your team to increase know-how on key areas that one simply cannot ignore in the current climate, to name a few: data-driven marketing, collaboration with private sector and SMEs, how to plan and act based on insights, place branding and personalised digital marketing, etc.

DMOs have the unique opportunity to build the destination that they always wanted to be, but they need to embrace structural changes for long-term success.

Luca Romozzi, Commercial Director Tourism, Italy, Mediterranean & East Europe, Sojern

3. Put your community at the heart of your recovery

If you don't already have one, establish an advisory committee that consists of residents, business owners (both large and small employers) and staff. This group should meet regularly to surface issues, track progress and champion collective initiatives. This group should be reflective of your community and not just be focused on a single sector.

Ryan Short, CEO, CivicBrand

4. Build confidence by becoming more agile

The most important thing as we look towards long term recovery is being agile. Things are changing rapidly in the current environment so as we keep a strong pulse on the situation, we can connect appropriately with travellers in unique ways, while still ensuring we are hitting the right tone and being responsible. In a post-COVID world, travellers are looking at how places have taken learnings and applied them to ensure their safety. It’s crucial to instil confidence, which will ultimately allow for a faster rebound.

Bettina Garibaldi, SVP Travel & Economic Development, Ketchum

5. Overhaul your digital strategy and plug any gaps in your approach

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on people, their families, and their communities, as well as on the global economy. Consumer confidence economically and emotionally has taken a hit; at the beginning of April 88% of the UK were worried about their families health and 52% were concerned about job security (Source: JL Partners for ITV) and consumer confidence dipped to its joint-lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2009 (Source: Gfk). Coronavirus has been a shock and it will take time to recover.

It’s almost become a cliché but a shift to digital is essential and destinations should expand digital channels and accelerate analytics. Digital consumption hit record levels during lockdown (Source: OFCOM) and as stores shut e-commerce sales also peaked. Travel was already a heavily purchased category online (43% make travel arrangements online, Source: ONS) and this will accelerate at a greater rate than previous years. Now is the time to ensure your digital channels are optimised and that you have the right digital marketing strategy in place.

Tim Lawrence, Head of Strategy & Planning, iCrossing


6. Prepare for the impact of more environmentally conscious travellers

A side effect of the pandemic has been the heightened concerns around sustainability as it becomes a bigger driver of consideration. This could mean the tipping point for ‘micro-trips’ (long-weekend air travel) as travellers favour one longer annual trip to make the most of their travel. Place brands should be looking to help travellers build their ultimate trips. Owning the trip from the planning phase through to their return and ensuring that every detail is taken care of could separate the winners from the losers.

Gary Bryant, Executive Director, Strategy, Landor

7. Know your audience and learn from the private sector

It has become clear that young tourists have a much lower level of anxiety about the dangers of COVID-19 than older tourists. How the post-COVID strategy is developed, depends very much on identifying which demographic the destination wishes to attract, and then developing appropriate policies. To reassure the target group that their chosen destination is safe and secure, on-the-ground policies need to match their level of concern.

A notable feature of the recent unlocking of retail has been the contrast between those retailers that have developed comprehensive operational distancing and sanitising policies, which have reassured customers, and those which have just paid lip service to such concerns. Nervous customers can see the difference and are switching to those retailers with the most credible policies. Slack retailers will ultimately lose out as customers switch. Precisely the same will happen with tourist destinations. Post-COVID tourists will be looking for an unchanged experience with maximum reassurance that they and their loved ones will return home safe.

David Haigh, CEO, Brand Finance

8. Understand that key markets will  have different concerns and requirements

Start to plan for a restart in Chinese tourism to locations that have successfully reduced the coronavirus risk. To do this:

  • Ramp up social posting on Chinese channels to promote travel inspiration and itinerary planning
  • Clearly detail your precautions against the virus and how you are keeping visitors safe, as well as quarantine procedures by country
  • Use technology solutions such as WeChat Mini Programs to provide in language digital information, pre purchase of tickets and minimize in person contact.

Renee Hartmann, Co-founder, China Luxury Advisors

9. Be an active participant in helping  shape the future

Tourism was facing structural problems that had to be addressed. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We may not have another chance to rethink and redesign the tourism industry as it should be and correct past mistakes.

  • Avoid competing over price. According to the Bloom Consulting study, only 15% of respondents chose money when asked what the main factor was for not travelling for leisure purposes.
  • Redesign and redefine your tourism offer. Tourist behaviours and preferences have changed. The product offer must be adjusted to tourist’s new expectations and needs. Tourists will be searching for new destinations where they can find less crowded places and good hygiene programs. This is an opportunity for smaller destinations to attract tourists too, creating a balance and preventing crowds gravitating towards larger ones.
  • Broaden your scope of influence and data. DMOs must monitor and measure perceptions, government actions, activities and policies. Governments and DMOs can begin assessing their Brand-Nought and measuring digital identity to prevent damage in the future, if other crises occur. The brand strategy must consider comprehensive information and data as the foundation of its ability to respond immediately.
  • Plan the crisis management structure. It is essential for DMOs to have a team or a plan in place that is ready to adapt, analyse and respond to a new normal or any arising crises. Moving forward, fear and uncertainty will be the central factors in a tourists’ decision and whether they will visit a country or not.

Jose Torres, CEO, Bloom Consulting

See our  full list of experts here

Related reading:

Hall of fame: 15 of the best place marketing and place branding campaigns

The politics of space, culture, and placemaking in post-COVID place branding

The Chinese traveller in a post-COVID-19 world

Helsinki: City of the future | Interview with Laura Aalto, CEO, Helsinki Marketing

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