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Extension is expanding its online education and resources to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

Next steps for travel and tourism — COVID-19’s hardest hit industry

May 28, 2020
Farmers market shopper wearing a mask

The U.S. economy is in a recession due to the pandemic, but the travel and tourism industry is already in a depression (U.S. Travel Association). To help the industry respond to and recover from the economic hit, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has offered four, half-hour weekly webinars that synthesized findings from national research and provided insights from industry leaders.

Convening local leaders

The four weekly webinars hosted 245 industry and community leaders from across the Midwest and beyond, with many registering for two or more webinars. Participants came from all sectors of the travel and tourism industry — destination marketing organizations, chambers of commerce, state tourism agencies, lodging properties, restaurants, attractions, creative agencies, festivals and events.

The webinars examined the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry, explored recovery strategies, discussed ways to retain tourism businesses, and introduced basic market research methods to understand guests post-pandemic. You can find recordings of the webinars on our website.

Insights from national research and the industry

As the travel and tourism industry continues to face the current crisis, and as it slowly recovers, the Tourism Center is encouraging businesses and destination marketing organizations to keep a few key points in mind.

Develop and implement a hygiene protocol

Health and safety are consumers’ biggest concern. It is critical that you work with public health officials and consult industry and sector-specific guidelines to develop and implement a hygiene protocol that works.

The goal is not only to take care of your guests but also employees and residents. Do not just use standard boilerplate language. Instead, clearly lay out the specific hygiene measures you are taking — what they are, how they are being implemented, and how frequently. The goal is to give travelers peace of mind.

Implementing these measures will also boost employees’ confidence in returning to work. And communicating hygiene protocols to local residents will increase their willingness to welcome travelers back to their communities.

“Drivable markets” and non-team outdoor recreation will be the first to recover

Multiple national research sources predict that travelers are most likely to first visit places that they can drive to within a few hours. Those who had originally planned (but subsequently had to cancel) a long-haul trip are likely to change that travel to a regional drivable trip. The good news is that destination marketing organizations and travel businesses have pivoted their marketing efforts to become “hyper-local.”

Additionally, the need to maintain distance, coupled with the desire to get outside points to opportunities for non-team outdoor recreation. Compared with other travel and tourism activities, those are positioned to be the first to recover. This is good news for many Minnesota tourism destinations, given outdoor-based activities have long been their tourism assets.

The destination community should be at the center of tourism marketing

It is more important than ever to put the community at the center of tourism marketing, according to the Travel and Tourism Research Association. Show the personality of your community, while continuing to highlight specific attractions, activities, or amenities.

Equally important, invite the community to market itself — local residents must love the community as much as your travelers in order for you to have sustained success. This “reset” time is the perfect opportunity for the community to come together to attract visitors and help the local economy recover.

Zip code is one quick piece of information you can gather about guests

Businesses and communities have been stressed, yet their marketing efforts need to be more effective than ever. How can they prioritize their market research efforts to generate invaluable intelligence? “Every tourism business and destination marketing organization should collect their guests’ zip codes,” says the Tourism Center’s Lisa Qian, to inform where to invest limited marketing dollars.

Asking guests for zip codes — but not their address — ensures anonymity. Aggregating zip codes collected by various businesses for analysis will not cause any business to lose clients. Meanwhile, zip code analysis will reveal the primary markets of a destination; e.g., the top five zip codes that generate a large swath of your guests.

Additionally, a number of commercial entities have developed market segmentation systems based on zip codes. If you search for a specific zip code, a few of these entities would provide — some for free — a basic demographic and socioeconomic profile of the neighborhood in the zip code.

The University of Minnesota Tourism Center is here to help the industry, hosting webinars to discuss research highlights and industry trends, offering new services, and adapting existing programs to meet the industry’s needs both short term and long term. We are eager to hear from community and business leaders as we adapt our education and services to your needs. To contact the Tourism Center, call Lisa Qian at 612-625-5668 or email her at qianx@umn.edu.


Lisa Qian, Tourism specialist and Extension educator

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