How destinations can 'Live Forward' in a moment of pause

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Brian Ross
Brian Ross

How does a travel enterprise that's engineered to be proactive remain productive when travel comes to a temporary halt? Can an organization whose purpose is to promote visitation remain relevant when the messaging in the Covid-19 era is a variation of "shelter in place"?

The answer, for Experience Columbus, was to retool industry best practices for current times.

While it is tempting to remain in a holding pattern or look to others for guidance in times of uncertainty, that runs contrary to how we have always operated. We never arrive late to the party nor hesitated to make waves. Rather, we have been willing to take bold risks and take stands that are tailored for the moment, even if our pivot seems counterintuitive. 

Our governor, Mike DeWine, was one of the first to restrict large-scale events and implement stay-at-home orders -- not popular decisions initially, but it was ultimately understood that the primary concern of those policies was safety, and our vocal support for them boosted community trust in us and served as a model for other states. The dividends it paid weren't in traditional results, but they were significant, nonetheless.

Our primary mission has always been to bring in visitors, which, in turn, supported our local businesses. Doing so in the time of coronavirus required a reinterpretation of what that means. 

Our focus turned to the anticipated recovery by rallying businesses and inspiring hope. We adopted an all-hands-on-deck, hyperlocal approach that intertwined the destinies of local businesses with the greater community. Rather than tallying hotel stays and event attendance, we became a catalyst for a different sort of progress under the banner of "Live Forward." This included a pledge process for business owners to streamline communication of health and safety measures put in place. Within hours of launch, nearly 30 partners were on board.

We also realized this was the time to leverage partnerships. We've all heard stories recently about innovative businesses redirecting and repurposing their efforts, such as manufacturing facilities producing personal protective equipment or distilleries shifting operations to produce hand sanitizer. 

We are especially fortunate to have, in Columbus, a variety of partners who were willing to move quickly and collaborate. For example, the craft brewer BrewDog USA joined us in launching "Cheers for Frontline Hospitality Workers," an initiative for citizens to nominate those who have kept the tourism economy moving and providing BrewDog gift cards as rewards for selected restaurant workers, retail employees, hotel staff and others working in attractions and businesses with which visitors regularly come into contact.

We know recovery may be a very long process, but we also know the tourism industry is resilient. Longwoods International, Adara and the U.S. Travel Association have all done research that suggest that local resident champions and in-state travel will be the first steps to economic recovery. We're confident that mobilizing local communities, building trust and promoting positivity will foster consumer confidence to travel again -- when the time is right. 

Brian Ross is president and CEO of Experience Columbus, which recently launched its "Live Forward" campaign to spread hope and help rebuild the region's vital tourism economy.

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