The toll Covid-19 has taken on the global tourism industry is immense and will be felt for years to come.
But what's gratifying and encouraging is how this virus crisis has spawned creativity, ideas and new ways to set (and meet) traveler expectations for many in the travel industry.
The topic of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's webinar late last month was Marketing in the New Normal, and the advice and initiatives highlighted in the webinar included methods used by a destination, a hotel and a communications firm to keep their message alive to consumers and travel advisors during the shutdown.
All three panelists stressed the importance of frequent communication.
Jody Diamond, founder of Diamond Public Relations, emphasized that normal rules no longer apply in these times.
"Successful marketing techniques mean it's time for new rules," she said. "Show your soul, reinvent yourself and snuggle up to social."
"Leverage social media. Get creative and ahead of the curve. Zoom it out," she advised. "Make some noise so the consumer doesn't forget who you are and where you are."
At Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba, the "new realities" required a "transformation" in its marketing approach, said Susan Logan, the resort's director of sales and marketing.
"My adults-only resort totals 104 rooms and suites on an island with a lot of big chain properties," she said. "Our niche is romantic getaways, which we capitalize on. But with this virus, we launched our Covid response immediately, knowing there was so much fear and doubt among travelers and our repeat guests."
Credit: Jennifer Martins
A map and article provide some indications on when Caribbean islands might reopen to tourism, and what health and safety protocol for incoming visitors might be like.
Communicating Bucuti's program of health and safety was key, along with robust social media postings, the launch of a new website for the resort and online presentations in conjunction with the Aruba Tourist Authority and sales teams.
"Our amount of engagement was huge," Logan said. "We were building trust, informing our guests and travel advisors and getting our health and safety policies out there early."
Bucuti never closed. Guestrooms were used by occasional flight crews and front-line responders, as well as several guests stranded there for three months. The quiet time was used for resort renovations.
"Play on the strengths of a destination or a property," Logan advised. "There's an overload of Covid news. Your messages don't have to repeat all the health and safety protocols in place. Put them out there, but don't harp on it in every message."
At Puerto Rico's tourism promotion arm, Discover Puerto Rico, Ed Carey, chief sales officer, said that its goal "was to keep Puerto Rico top of mind for our travel advisors and consumers."
"We partnered with local talent to produce virtual vacations that showcased the island, we hosted live guided tours with Google Earth, we held virtual yoga sessions for meeting planners and sent Coffee Care packages to our travel advisors, telling them that we knew they needed a break and to enjoy a cup of Puerto Rican coffee."
Discover Puerto Rico hosted 60 webinars and reactivated its travel expert program, and it graduated 490 graduates in a four-month period (perhaps also a testament to the trend of travel advisors taking downtime to re-up on education and training).
Carey said that Puerto Rico has asked all hotels and resorts to submit their health and safety measures and protocols "so that we can compile all the information in one document rather than piecemeal."
Logan reminded viewers that guests come to a Caribbean resort for rest, rejuvenation and pampering. "They don't want to walk into a clinical environment," she said. "We can all have our protocols and sanitizing measures in place without sacrificing the feeling of being in a special place in the Caribbean."