Brian Ross is President and CEO of Experience Columbus. The Ohio CVB was among the first U.S. destinations to pursue a citywide GBAC STAR accreditation and launch a Live Forward pledge program to streamline partner sanitation efforts.
Top Trends DMOs Should Consider in 2021
The travel world has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing destination marketing organizations to pivot the way they operate in lieu of steady in-person leisure and business travel. While there is certainly hope in 2021, with approved vaccines making the rounds, the tourism industry will no doubt be in recovery mode for some time.
That being said, there are trends that will dictate the way destinations navigate – and react to – a new phase of the pandemic. Here are some hot-button issues that all industry professionals should consider as their destinations eye recovery:
Technology will be more important than ever as DMOs continue to try to engage consumers (and business travelers) who may not yet feel comfortable traveling.
This will force the continual evolution of DMO online presences to optimize the consumer experience virtually, including artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, inspirational podcasts and more. Consumers, in general, have become more accustomed to instant access to information and options during the pandemic (think about grocery and meal delivery services, which have skyrocketed in the past year) and now expect this level of service. Enhanced online experiences are now the rule, not the exception.
Online information and booking tools will be a priority for meeting planners and business travelers, who are even less willing to dig for information or make a phone call in this “new normal.” Developing virtual tours of meeting facilities, offering to engage with prospective clients remotely, and ramping up overall website presence should be top-of-mind for every destination right now.
Destinations with strong drive-in market visitation, and a commitment to health and safety, will recover first.
Understandably, people will be willing to drive rather than fly coming out of the pandemic. That means spots within a reasonable drive of most of the U.S. population – and within close range to metro areas – will be especially attractive. We expect meetings and conventions to comfortability to increase gradually, but pent-up demand for groups to physically convene after being separated for a year (or more) is a consideration.
Additionally, destinations with proven sanitation efforts will rise to the top. The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR facility accreditation program, which requires compliance across 20 standards related to cleaning and infectious disease prevention, is becoming more and more common at lodging properties, convention centers and even throughout entire destinations. It is a gold standard that meeting planners will likely look for when considering future event locations.
Second-tier cities will be a priority for the meetings and conventions space.
Meetings interest will be flipped, at least for a while, with attendees preferring smaller markets to which they can drive (or eventually, fly direct) rather than larger urban areas that might have been top of mind pre-COVID-19, such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Destinations that fit into this category come with an abundance of off-site and activity options, walkability and outdoor spaces, but without the high-density populations perceived as riskier for travel right now. We expect to see a resurgence of sometimes overlooked locales in 2021 and beyond, as meeting planners shift the way they evaluate destinations following the pandemic.