|Lou Rena Hammond|
Partners make the difference in marketing any destination. Their offerings—stores, restaurants, accommodations, institutions and attractions—that make up the fabric of a locale are essential in attracting visitors. We at LHG, representing some 20 destinations from cities to counties to states and islands, understand their important role. We believe partner involvement is essential in creating an ambience that leads to a destination’s success. Over the years, we’ve established specific programs to encourage their participation. This outreach has created enthusiastic stakeholders that understand working together makes the difference for now and into the future.
This partnership has become an integral part of successfully promoting a destination. However, with the new environment of the pandemic and social change, a stepped-up program was needed immediately. Working closely with our clients, we forged activities that kept partners involved, knowledgeable and prepared to meet challenges never experienced in the past.
Perhaps one of the biggest trials was no more meetings, trade shows and friendly get-togethers; now it was a virtual world. To the rescue, a pro-active agenda for partner involvement that was met with excitement and appreciation. Some tactics we employed include: We immediately reenacted a communiqué as a call to action. This weekly communication, originally debuted during Desert Storm followed by 9/11, launched February 7 in response to COVID-19 as a valuable client resource during extraordinary times. The communiqué provided an overview of the situation throughout the pandemic with current statistics, industry reports, travel news, facts, suggested talking points and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, AHLA, the U.S. Travel Association and more. Destination clients were able to quickly share this content with travel partners who expressed resounding appreciation of the support, which was an overarching success.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '20 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine.|
Shifting outreach to media during this time proved to be paramount and worthwhile. Just because people weren’t traveling didn’t translate to ceasing pitching efforts on behalf of our destination clients. Our team was particularly sensitive to the news and shifted strategy to meet the need of editors and journalists seeking content amidst the pandemic. Our relationships with the media were crucial in understanding their approach and supporting their evolving needs for readers. We implemented a partner dedicated hot tip program to share timely media requests and story leads, which resulted in national placements including Business Insider, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, Washington Post, Bloomberg and many more along with key local and regional outlets. Being proactive for our clients was imperative throughout the process. Examples of take-charge support included:
- Assisted with messaging, talking points, and content development for an array of communications channels including website copy, email content, newsletters, social media content themes, collateral and more.
- Created destination marketing toolkits that included visitor guidelines, safety protocols, messaging for community partners, commentary on the treatment of visitors and internal messaging adapted for multiple platforms.
- Provided thought leadership for evolving content opportunities. LHG brainstormed and joined forces with destinations to gather virtual partner offerings for pitching and integration into social media platforms. Sampling includes cooking classes, bartending tutorials, children’s book readings, illustration workshops, guided meditations, street art tours and festival performances. One example of supporting a specific partner within a client destination was showcasing the American Quilters Society as a leader in mask making, which led to a U.S. News & World Report story on “How to Make an Effective Face Mask.”
- Offered destination marketing organization advocacy through grant programs offering hotels for frontline medical workers, branded destination small business relief programs and phased re-opening measures that educated local communities on integral safety implementations as travel began to resume.
Our team, in tandem with our clients, devoted tremendous focus and effort into recovery webinars. We helped plan, organize and host webinars for destinations’ industry partners. They showcased messaging tactics, public relations and marketing strategies, the hot tip program, partner tool kits and available resources. With webinars hosting more than 600+ participants, this tactic proved invaluable and a success for destination marketing organizations. As one CEO remarked, “thank you for pulling off the Zoom call today. I am hearing from our partners that the information was so helpful. It takes a great team to make it happen.”
Throughout this entire period, beyond navigating the important day-to-day efforts, we continued to look to the future. By creating a phased recovery plan for each destination and remaining agile, we met the challenges as they unfolded. Plans outlined a strategic approach including a series of tactics that we could immediately implement in every locale as well as initiatives/projects to be rolled out when travel restrictions are lifted. Thankfully, as we saw travel and tourism in the rebounding phase, we delivered our final communiqué on June 12.
It has been an unprecedented time but we firmly believe this is just the beginning as we go forward with destinations and their partners. We’re in a new world, much learned and much more to be achieved. Yes, we came together as a family and that experience makes us stronger with renewed strength to face the future. We know travel is an essential part of American life and I personally say, we have a bright future together! As one client noted, “your insight and support was so appreciated throughout COVID, you are a valuable part of our team.”
Lou Rena Hammond is Founder of Lou Hammond Group (LHG).