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USTOA releases destination recovery research from associate members

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While uncertainty persists, many DMO members hope to re-enter US marketing in second and third quarters of 2020.

NEW YORK – The United States Tour Operators Association released findings from a survey of its destination management Associate Members about their post-COVID 19 recovery marketing plans. A quarter (24%) of the respondents will restart marketing efforts during the second or third quarter of this year, while 11% said campaigns will start in the fourth quarter. Roughly half (56%) do not know when they will restart.

The recent research is part of USTOA’s ongoing efforts to support and inform its members throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“Our DMO members are a highly engaged group that is eager to learn and share as much information as possible to help restart the global travel industry, especially in partnership with our tour operator members,” said Terry Dale, USTOA president and CEO. “In this time of uncertainty, the survey is revealing in that most DMOs expect to continue recovery messaging in the second and third quarters, with a hope to ‘return to normal’ messaging by the fourth quarter of this year.”

Additional key findings of the survey include:

  • About half (44%) of the DMO respondents expect their marketing budgets to increase or stay the same, while a nearly equal number (48%) expect budgets to decrease.
  • Half the respondents (49%) do not expect to see lay-offs, while just 12% do expect lay-offs. The remaining 39% are “not sure.”
  • Regarding marketing messaging, about two thirds (61%) of DMOs will change their marketing message while 39% will keep the same message.

Recovery or short-term strategies most frequently mentioned in an open-ended question focus on:

  • Postpone, don’t cancel
  • Inspirational social media messages to make virtual connections…”see (or) dream now, travel later” through images, virtual tours, cultural content, and nature exploration
  • Education and training for trade and travel advisors
  • Education of consumers through tactics like PR to reach media
  • Avoidance of tactical and overly-promotional messages in the short-term

While acknowledging the present uncertainty and need to assess the situation as the recovery unfolds, roughly two-thirds (61%) of DMOs expect to change their current marketing messages. Some commonalities include:

  • The need to stay nimble to respond to shifts in news, consumer behavior
  • Attention paid to tone, for example, how to describe “safety”
  • Promote natural assets: the great outdoors, wildlife, national parks, wide open spaces
  • Emphasize distinctive cultural, gastronomic “only in…” experiences
  • Start to shift to tactical marketing when the time is right, working with tour operator and travel advisor partners

Said Dale, “We appreciate that so many of our DMO members are planning to continue to work in partnership with our tour operator Active Members when the time is right to help get Americans traveling again. These are the people who truly make travel happen.”

The survey was completed on April 6, with a 44% response rate of US DMO Associate Members.

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