A lot of this is going to read more like an economics article than tips for tourism marketing in a recession, but bear with me. This will all make sense.
For those that have successfully avoided the headlines, here’s a summary of what’s going on: all that “free money” that went out to people and businesses two years ago has flooded the economy, causing supply to drop and prices to rise (otherwise known as “inflation”). Now, the government needs to course-correct by raising interest rates – by a lot – which could likely drive us into a recession.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the tourism industry since the stress from the downturn during the pandemic is still fresh. However, the industry had government stimulus to help ease the pain – a benefit I doubt we’ll see this time around as the Fed is trying to discourage consumer spending.
So, how does destination marketing in a recession look this time around? I think it’s important to look at the causes of this recession, and differences from past recessions, for the answers.
This recession will be very different from 2008.
The causes of the Great Recession came from insufficient federal regulation and ghastly subprime loans in the housing industry. Hordes of homeowners found themselves upside-down or in foreclosure. The new construction industry tanked, leaving workers – as well as their supporting industries – to suffer. As the dominoes fell, the rest of the world began to feel the pain.
This time around, the cause is too much money in the economy and aggressive consumer spending. This effectively provided too much demand, resulting in too little supply. Prices go up, making many everyday items unaffordable. This isn’t an industry collapse; instead, it’s a tightening of general spending to bring prices back into a sane territory.
To the tourism industry, this still isn’t good news. It means less travel due to higher travel costs and gas prices, and less discretionary spending. Trips will be fewer but they will still be taken and with the flexibility in where people can work, the trips may still be a bit longer than in the past – people will just be thriftier on their lodging, dining, and shopping purchases. Therefore, a sensitivity to cost should be worked into your content strategy.
Below are some tried-and-true tips that we’ve learned from economic downturns over the past 20 years:
Tip 1: Tighten up your budget. If you already have a website and it performs well but you’re considering a re-design simply because you’re tired of looking at it, don’t. Most websites nowadays can undergo small changes – many of them done in-house or at a much lower cost – that can provide the improvements you’re looking for. If the signage and materials you have are in good shape, hold off on incurring production costs for the time being.
Tip 2: Audit your tech stack. Check your website analytics and regroup with your agencies to find your strongest channels (social, earned, paid, etc.). Run a cost-benefit analysis to see where your existing budget is best spent. It may also make sense to request bi-weekly meetings with your agencies to stay on top of the numbers if you don’t meet that often already.
Take another look at the technology available to you for reviewing visitation and improving the visitor experience (Traipse is an interesting tool to provide guided tours and scavenger hunts – a great way to engage first-time visitors). And take a special look at your OTA budget; if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that OTAs are great when times are good but terrible when things get tough.
Tip 3: Strengthen your partnerships. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”. Team up with your local businesses, neighboring communities, and regional partners to provide collaborative, shared promotions. Cooperative advertising opportunities at the state level can vary in value based on the state, but you should still remain aware of what’s available.
One thing that may help is our Small Business Training on Social Media – an on-demand video class designed for small business owners that have little time to promote their businesses well. Send us a message to learn more about it.
Tip 4: Beef up your earned media. The internet is far better for earned media today than it was in 2008. To those who aren’t familiar with the term, earned media consists of website articles, social media posts, press coverage, etc. that help you promote your destination without spending any money. There are a few different channels you should check out:
- User-generated content. This consists of blog posts from travel writers, social media posts, and reviews from past visits. Paying attention to your social media notifications and using a brand monitoring tool like the one available in SEMRush can give you an idea about how often this content is published, and provide you with third-party validation to use in future content.
- Press releases. Yes, the good ol’ press release. If done right (send them in Word, not PDF) and sent on a regular basis (to promote events, community alerts, and other quality news), you can quickly develop a relationship with the media. That familiarity will reward you over time as you notice that more and more of your releases actually get published.
- Content submissions. More and more people are using those “Top 10” articles to find the destination for their next (albeit shorter due to gas prices) road trip. For many of those websites, you can easily submit your own content for consideration. The more quality information you send them, the more lists you can find yourself on. Many sites charge for placement but you can find plenty of sites that don’t.
Tip 5: Don’t let fear get to you. Remember that the one thing throughout modern history that has made a bad economy worse is fear: fear to invest and fear to grow. In the business world, I’ve constantly seen that the businesses that contract and put their heads in the sand are the first to close up completely. You’ll need to be more creative than usual with your resources, but there is prosperity to be found even in the worst of times.