March 17, 2020
Dear Industry Partners,
Things continue to change daily, if not hourly, as the world, our nation, and our state come to grips with the COVID-19 virus. In just a matter of days, it feels like things have turned even more upside down than when I last emailed.
So what does this pandemic mean for tourism in our state? In short, it’s hitting our industry hard. Very hard. Our country and this industry are made up of millions of small businesses that are facing an unprecedented crisis. Many health and economic experts are telling us that things are going to get worse before they get better. In South Dakota, we are seeing massive cancellations of events, concerts, hotel accommodations, vacations, social gatherings, reservations of all types, and many other plans.
With that said, how should we be responding? What do we tell our industry partners and visitors?
IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL STEPS
- First, don’t forget that we are all in this together. Every city, every town, every state, and every country in the world is facing the same challenges we are right here in South Dakota.
- Don’t panic. It’s easier to say than do, but panicking solves nothing. We must base immediate and future marketing decisions upon data and consumer sentiment while keeping a long-term view of things.
- The federal government will soon be releasing more details on programs to assist small businesses and employees during this crisis. The Department of Tourism is working very closely with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to ensure South Dakota is eligible for disaster relief money though the Small Business Administration. We have spent the last two days reaching out to small businesses to understand the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on their bottom lines. As soon as we get specifics, we will share these with you via email and at SDvisit.com.
- At this time, we are monitoring our marketing channels closely and being very careful with our message. Based upon the advice and counsel of our marketing agencies, the Department of Tourism is making strategic shifts regarding when our marketing runs, optimizing what are proving to be the best marketing channels for us to keep active, and determining what messages are best resonating with potential visitors still planning future travel. Here is what we are doing:
- We are focusing on those audiences we know have a strong intent to travel to our state. We want to be seen by those who are still looking and interested in South Dakota.
- We are not hard-selling our state. Instead, we are simply promoting a loftier, inspirational message.
- We are being careful that our marketing doesn’t appear near any articles or content related to COVID-19.
- We are being nimble and, if we have to, making changes on a dime with tactics and messaging.
- If consumers begin tuning us out because of any new developments with the virus, we’ll adjust our marketing. Our web traffic has dropped about 30%, but our goal conversion rate is up because people coming to the website are serious about planning.
- We are confident that visitors will be eager to travel once recovery begins.
- If you have resources for marketing, we’d encourage you to work with your marketing agency to map out your marketing plans.
- If you need advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. I can be reached at [email protected]. Our team is ready to assist.
- If you can, stay in touch with those visitors who may have cancelled their reservations or have been your guests in the past. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Show them you care. Send them our best wishes from South Dakota, but don’t hit them with any hard-sell messages about a future vacation or stay.
- We continue to shift the messaging on our social media platforms to showcase inspirational pictures and comments about our state, especially our beautiful, clean, and pristine great outdoors. Again, these posts feature our outdoor beauty, but have limited calls to action. We are not asking visitors to book now, etc. We can encourage them, however, to get inspired by requesting a vacation guide.
WHEN THINGS GET BETTER
- History shows us very clearly that just like when we overcame similar pandemics like the swine flu (H1N1), there was pent-up demand for travel once we got through the crisis. Visitors started booking in big numbers and hitting the road. We believe that will happen again.
- Be ready to offer great incentives to visitors! They will be looking for them. Discounts and deals will be important.
- This will also be another good time to get in touch with visitors who may have canceled their reservations or were your past guests. Encourage them to visit. When the time is right, EVERYONE in our industry must get engaged in reaching out to our visitors.
- Current research indicates that road trips will be popular once we get out of this crisis. GREAT! This is perfect for our state.
- When you are messaging to visitors, don’t forget to emphasize our pristine outdoors, clean air, affordability and, of course, our outstanding state and national parks. Old West, pioneer, and Native American heritage and culture, our burgeoning arts and culture scene, and our culinary, brewery, and winery offerings are also great selling points.
SOME GOOD READS
How Corona Affects Travel, the Traveler Mindset and the Post-Crisis Landscape
Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”
Get Your Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events Ready – Interim Guidance for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
SOME GOOD RESOURCES ABOUT COVID-19
- South Dakota Department of Health coronavirus updates
- CDC Overall summary of COVID-19
- Communication Resources for Travelers
- FAQ for travelers
- Good information for communities
- CDC COVID-19 website
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
I won’t sugarcoat things. As stated above, things are probably going to get even tougher before they get better. We may be talking months of a new “normal” that will feel surreal. I am concerned about our small & large tourism businesses and about the tens of thousands of workers who are the backbone of tourism in our state. I am concerned about our department’s budget and the budgets of our CVBs, chambers, and other partners. We are being proactive in cutting our spending where we can and where it makes sense while planning for longer-term hits to our funding. It’s the wise and prudent thing to do.
But with that, I will close by sharing what I relayed in our last message. THINGS WILL GET BETTER and WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS.
As Pastor Robert Schuller was so fond of saying, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” We South Dakotans are tough. We are a resilient country, a resilient state, and a resilient industry. In time—hopefully sooner rather than later—our day-to-day lives will return to normal patterns, and visitors will start crossing our borders in large numbers to experience our Great Faces and Great Places. We’ll be planning for them and ready for them. You should be too! Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be of any help whatsoever.
All our best,
Jim and Team
Secretary of Tourism