As the coronavirus pandemic threatens health and economies around the world, CVBs find themselves in an agonizing position. With government mandates against travel and group gatherings, the demand for destinations falls to near zero. Forecasts suggest it could be months before that reality changes. So, what can, and should, convention and tourism bureaus do to manage messaging as the crisis unfolds?
CVBs and CVAs around the country say their first goal and responsibility must be accuracy. “We are very proactive in our messaging efforts and they are centered completely around providing accurate facts to all of our audiences,” says Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Senior VP of Communication and Government Affairs Lori Nelson-Kraft.
Destination DC President and CEO Elliott L. Ferguson echoes the sentiment: “As fears of coronavirus have spread, Washington, D.C., is aligned in sharing proactive, timely and accurate information to help inform visitors and allay concerns.”
For NYC & Company, the focus of the messaging takes a softer approach. “Our focus is really on empathy and compassion and also inspirational messaging,” says the group’s Executive Vice President of global communications Chris Heywood. “We aren’t communicating what to do right now as we are in a crisis mode.”
Instead, the bureau is thinking digitally. “We will be messaging some virtual NYC experiences, like our digital galleries and streaming by performing arts like Met Opera and 92nd St. Y,” he notes.
Rather than opting to go quiet during a travel-free time, Destination DC is being proactive with its messaging, sharing email updates with its 1,000-plus members three times weekly. “We are constantly communicating with customers in the meetings and events market to help mitigate any concerns for future meetings being hosted in D.C.,” Ferguson says.
He says that the group is “in the midst of creating more content to support our industry partners.”
Recovery will take significant time—just how much remains unknown, given the U.S. has not yet even reached its peak for confirmed coronavirus cases. But CVBs are standing by for the time to welcome meetings, events and tourists back to their destinations.
“The team is working closely with its international representation around the world including D.C.’s top overseas market, China, to be poised for recovery once travel resumes as normal,” DC’s Ferguson said.
Los Angeles has a similar plan and hopeful sentiment. “This is a time for planning and preparing, not panic,” says Shant Apelian, director of corporate communications for the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. “We are working closely with our friends at Visit California, Brand USA and the U.S. Travel Association to develop recovery plans that will put L.A. in a prime position to capitalize on pent-up demand and the rapid industry recovery that economists predict.”