It is clear we are in the midst of a really scary and unprecedented time. COVID-19 has managed to shake the travel, tourism and hospitality industries to their core; all but stopping them in their tracks. Having worked in the hospitality industry for over ten years before moving into academia, many of my friends still work in the industries; in hotels, restaurants, attractions, events, airlines and other transport systems. I can see their pain and anguish not least as right now there are no answers to many questions; especially, when will all this end?
In the face of the recent order for restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs to close, many businesses, including thousands of small and medium sized enterprises, face uncertainty in the coming months. Hopefully, a little comfort came in the government’s support for businesses; the move to cover 80% of pay for workers who might otherwise lose their jobs. It is natural to be emotional, to have anger, feel crushed and defeated, but we must remember that there will be and end; we will come out the other side. So this is where we really need to try and focus, because what we do now can alter how things will look on ‘the other side’. It is going to be hard, to be really challenging, but this time being forced upon us, does represent opportunities to reflect, to galvanise and proactively prepare for better times ahead.
The tourism industry has already pulled together and released a number of resources, guides, tips for marketing, training and development, and workshops (see ‘Further help’ links below). The following offer some suggestions to stay ahead of the game and not let the panic take over; for your business to survive in the future, you need to be proactive now.
- Use and/or develop local networks: Networking and collaboration are important in tourism and hospitality as businesses within a destination do not function in isolation; rather they are often interdependent on one another to create a thriving locality worthy of visitation. Your locality may already have an established destination management organisation (DMO), but many smaller destinations do not or if they exist, are often at county level. It is important in these times that businesses come together to draw upon each other’s strengths, experiences and ideas; to develop a plan for the future. If you have a DMO for your area, get in touch with them to network and work together but also to see if they offer any online courses, training or development opportunities. If not, consider collaborating as a smaller group or forming a network in your local area. There is an opportunity here with the time we have inadvertently been given, to plan; to create a collaborative local vision for tourism and a strategy for action on how to come back fighting.
- Marketing: You may well have been forced into temporary closure, but so will your competition. To stay ahead, this is an ideal time to work on creating or reappraising your marketing strategy and re-evaluating and refreshing website content. This should include your social media strategy and considering PR opportunities, all of which can boost your search engine optimisation (SEO).
Don’t forget to continue to communicate to your customers, to engage with them via social media and share content. We will all be looking for distractions so there are opportunities to develop and share podcasts, create virtual tours, produce a blog or vlog, and consider competitions and incentives to encourage bookings for next year.
- Maintenance and upkeep: As obvious as this sounds, the nature of tourism and hospitality means that refurbishments (however small), upkeep and maintenance jobs are often put on the back burner. This is an opportunity to consider a refresh; a touch of paint, a rearrangement of furniture or soft furnishings, a deep clean and completing any DIY. Give your customers something to want to come back for and don’t forget to use these stories to generate content on your blog or vlog.
These are undoubtedly tough times, the toughest most of us will have seen. We have to believe we will recover and when we do, we need to be prepared to come back fighting.
If you would like any support in marketing, social media strategy, PR or website content, Leeds Trinity University’s Business School would like to offer their support and guidance. The following links to resources may also be of interest.
Tourism Network: https://www.tourismnetwork.co.uk/
Dr Katherine Lupton is a Lecturer in Business and Lead for International Academic Partnerships at Leeds Trinity University. Her PhD explored the role of tourism in increasing connections to nature and developing pro-environmental behaviour.
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