March 24: Covid-19 Update

Bannikin | March 24, 2020

We’re here to help

With so much changing so quickly in the news and within our industry, we at Bannikin want to do what we can to support you in communications and media relations. We’ve compiled a broad-strokes review of travel-related news from the last week below, so you can see how much has changed, get a sense of the travel media landscape, and access some expert insight into making your next steps.

Take a look at the resources below, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything. We’re here to help.

The week at a glance

Monday, March 16:

  • The U.S. government announces new novel coronavirus recommendations, including keeping group gatherings limited to 10 people.
  • Canadian government announces they are closing borders to non-citizens and permanent residents, with some designated exceptions, including for air crews, diplomats, immediate family members of Canadian citizens and U.S. citizens. Announces daily update at 12pm ET from government officials.

Tuesday, March 17:

  • European leaders agreed to close the European Union’s (EU) external borders for 30 days.  The new rules will apply to 26 members of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Ireland has not yet decided whether to implement the restrictions.

Wednesday, March 18:

  • U.S. and Canadian governments reach agreement to close mutual border to non-essential travel for 30 days.
  • The U.S. Travel Association projects that decreased travel due to coronavirus will inflict an $809 billion total hit on the U.S. economy and eliminate 4.6 million travel-related American jobs this year.

Thursday, March 19: 

  • U.S. government issues a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.

Sunday, March 22: 

Monday, March 23: 

  • More and more countries are adopting measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 by way of travel restrictions and border closures.

Tuesday, March 24:

  • International Olympics Committee announces Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics will be postponed to 2021.


What the travel media are saying…

Skift – Travel Brands, Remember Who You Really Serve — The Traveling Public
Snippet: With the travel industry and global economy buckling under the uncertainty of the coronavirus, it has become clear that leaders across travel failed in not only mitigating the scale of the crisis but have no idea how to engage effectively with their customers…

It’s time for travel to adapt to the reality of this moment: the good times are over and it will probably be years before things return to normal, if they ever do. In an existential crisis, travel brands would be wise to remember who they really serve: the traveling public.

Condé Nast Traveler – 101 Ways to Travel Without Leaving Your House
Snippet: Like many people, we’ve had to hit pause on our travel plans for the time being, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still thinking about all the places we’ve been—and all the places we hope to get to sometime soon.

USA Today – Coronavirus cancellations bring out the best and worst in the travel industry
Snippet: The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for the travel industry to show how much it cares about you, their customer. But talk to travelers with a coronavirus cancellation and they’ll tell you it’s an opportunity the travel industry has missed, at least so far.

What experts are saying…

LinkedIn – Disaster is just an opportunity in hiding
TL;DR: As an operator in this global crisis:

  • Assume things are going to get worse
  • Double down on anything that is currently generating cash and bank it
  • Put honesty first
  • Communicate with a single voice from your company and provide updates on a regular basis
  • Do not stop marketing, but change how you do it
  • Look for new opportunities that may exist

Strategy – Dealing with disrupted insights
TL;DR: How can brands keep up with consumer changes when all the typical touchpoints have been disrupted?

  • Use data from point-of-purchase to provide an accurate reflection of day-to-day behaviour
  • Act more nimbly in response to market conditions by shortening the chain of command
  • Turn to social channels for real-time insight into customer expectations
  • Use surveys and insight tools to engage directly with customers in a proactive way

Keep in mind for the week ahead
A week ago, the travel industry at large was focused on transfer requests; less than a week ago, suspended operations became the order of the day. In less than a month, brands both big and small are feeling the blow of a COVID-19-influenced economy. Currently, even clients who still want to travel aren’t able to in the face of this pandemic.

At this time, it’s key to relate to your customers as people who are dealing with the same pressing issues they are today–worried about the health of their elderly parents, concerned about the state of the economy, and anxious about what is happening to society as they know it.

Instead of focusing your marketing on future travel plans…

  • Talk about what your team is up to, posting photos and anecdotes as you adjust to WFH (work from home).
  • Share facts and profiles from the local communities you work with.
  • Remind your clients that you are real people behind your brand, and that we’re all in this together.
  • Send a message thanking clients for their support in this time.
  • Share supportive feedback you receive from your clients and community.
  • Consider offering a portion of your product for free (a lecture from an in-house guide, videos you may not have posted yet, etc.) or point to other “virtual experiences” you’re enjoying on the Internet (live-streams of the Northern Lights, virtual walk through of museums/art galleries, etc.).
  • Highlight reading lists featuring classic or popular works that take place in your destination/feature a destination you travel to.

General communications in the face of COVID-19
As the narrative of this disconcerting situation changes daily, travel brands have had to pivot away from encouraging “informed travel” in favour of taking responsibility as global citizens to support the end of a pandemic crisis.

For now, we recommend the following approach:

  • In messaging, it’s important to meet your clients on their level: treat the current crisis (and the fears/immobility of its travelers) seriously, compassionately, and as a matter of public health and safety, first and foremost
  • Continue to update your cancellation and refund policies to address the current situation. Try to be as flexible as possible, as this will go a long way to building your clients’ trust in good times and in bad, and will help you maintain a good brand reputation when we come out the other side of this.
  • Continue to communicate with your clients via newsletters and social media, but instead of encouraging travel, focus on sharing messages of support, of safety, gratitude for their support and of reassurance that on the other side of this, you will be ready to have them travel with you again.

Partner communications in the face of COVID-19
Good communications isn’t always about being public-facing. It goes without saying that your travel agent and tour operator partners are experiencing the same challenges, including financial disruption and an overwhelm of client inquiries, as you and your team are facing. As with our recommended consumer-direct approach, we suggest open, honest and regular communication with the following best practices in mind:

  • Work with your on-the-ground supplies (for example, hoteliers) to negotiate agreements that you can pass on to partners, such as locking in 2020 rates for 2021. These practices will help to mitigate long-term impact on you, your suppliers, and your partners.
  • Share updates to your cancellation and transfer policies as often as needed; be as flexible as possible in the interest of demonstrating solidarity in these difficult times and to maintain good standing.
  • If commissions are being impacted, be honest, upfront and proactive – offer your assistance in working together to communicate effectively with clients in an effort to maintain business for 2021, with the intention of providing related commissions at that time.
  • Keep partners informed about your realistic timeline in being able to respond to requests. Have sales managers and those with direct lines to partners set-up an auto-resonder, if response time is likely to be + 12 hours. Still, prioritize these requests.
  • Communicate government updates from your destination, including lockdowns, changes in incoming or outgoing flights, national emergency, etc. only if they will directly impact your ability to service clients and partners
  • Assume good intentions in the face of blunt or seemingly-frantic communications. Maintain professionalism and emphasize your mission to support your partners in any way possible, further reinforcing your value.
  • Be mindful of the current state of affairs so when the timing is appropriate – when current needs are being met and the urgency dissipates – you can work with your partners to determine ways in which you can collaborate in joint recovery efforts.