Tips for how group sales & services can respond & prepare

It is becoming more and more clear with the daily news of major conference cancellations, like ITB, that the COVID-19 coronavirus is starting to have a profound effect on the travel industry. As we watch the news from overseas and start to see more cases popping up in the United States, it is clear that destinations will need to have a plan in place just in case.

CVB’s group sales and services teams should have a proactive approach to reframe the fear, understand the true effects of the crisis and establish a plan for collaborative action. This will help destinations prepare as the acceleration of coronavirus cases impacts the U.S.

Keep in Mind
DMO’s group sales efforts are focused on developing new business opportunities for the destination. The group sales team needs to continue to focus on driving new group bookings as most meetings are planned for several months to several years in advance. This will ensure that future months/years do not have holes in the calendar for group business. As long as planners still have meetings to plan, the DMO still has a job to market and sell to them.

Our goal as destination marketers should be to help planners convince people it’s still okay to meet in this climate by providing factual information around the situation in your market. In addition, we should help your destination partners prepare for a potential scare/threat by providing tips for offering sanitary conditions for groups and communicating clearly throughout your community and with stakeholders.

Here are a few tips for developing a meetings & conventions-focused crisis communication plan that includes how you will communicate to planners in the sales process, in the services process and how you will support your partners throughout.

CVB Group Sales Plan
Planners still need to plan meetings and they will still need destinations to help them make the best choice so don’t stop what you’re doing to make that happen. Keep your group sales team focused on their goals, their upcoming projects and how they will manage to sell in the wake of major industry cancellations, when they occur here in the U.S. Many sales team members rely on attending shows and conferences to make key new connections with planners and develop opportunities for their destinations.

In case industry events start to see domestic cancelations, the sales team can get creative with social media marketing, email marketing, and content marketing to utilize digital connections to generate sales activity and help your team stay on track to reach its goal. Consider hosting webinars or online meetups to keep the conversations happening with key planner contacts.

Ask your sales team to keep from adding to the hype around meetings being canceled. Ask them to stay calm throughout their conversations with planners and stakeholders.

Remember to focus on what you can control: your reaction to the situation, the information you share and what your goals and responsibilities are for your community.

CVB Services Plan
For your convention services team, they are the front line between what your facilities needs are and the groups scheduled to meet. It would be beneficial to create a resource for your booked groups that your services team and stakeholders could easily utilize. You could include items like links to your area’s health department, links to your city’s emergency plans and links to key contacts in the destination in the event of a public health emergency. It may be helpful to work with your communications department to prepare these resources and create a hidden page on your website that the team and partners can utilize as needed.

Make it easy for planners to find the local contacts they may need to reach out to in the market during their conference in case a situation arises. Work with your services team, to be honest, open and resourceful regarding your current situation so planners can make the best call and know they can rely on your team for truthful information. We also suggest keeping track of the local news and what ongoing or new developments they are communicating about the situation in your market as this will be front in center to planners as they search the web.

Stakeholder Plan
CVBs can be the best resource for your stakeholders and partners in the event of an emergency situation. Being a partner that they can rely on for factual information in a timely manner is key. Over-communication is better than being criticized for no communication. Create a ‘Partners Only’ page where you can create links, resources, contacts, and information for your community partners.

Consider sending out a survey to your tourism partners to determine how much of an impact COVID-19 is having on the facilities in your destination and update the survey on a routine basis until the threat of cancellations has subsided. This could help your team determine how much of an impact COVID-19 is having on the business climate and how to refine your approach.

Conclusion
We hope that your community isn’t greatly affected by the virus and that business remains strong throughout. We have all seen the statistics on the number of deaths from other diseases, viruses, and accidents. Unfortunately, a virus-like COVID-19 is having an impact on travel like we have not seen from previous pandemics. The fear right now is more from seeing large groups being quarantined and unable to return home. Hopefully, your team will not need to develop a crisis communication plan. If you do, we hope these tips are helpful.

Digital Edge is committed to being your destination marketing partner. Reach out if we can be of assistance or you can review the following resources:

Destinations International and PCMA

 

 

Destination Marketing