COVID-19 Immediate Response Action Plan for Destinations

COVID-19 Immediate Response Action Plan for Destinations

By Paige Rowett
Published on March 19, 2020

COVID-19 is the most significant economic crisis of our lifetime.

As service providers to our beloved tourism industry, day by day, we are increasingly shattered and shocked at how this crisis is impacting our friends and colleagues, and we are truly empathising for you all.

We've decided that the best thing we can do to help our industry, is to try and pull together some strategies and actions for Destinations (this article), Visitor Centres and Operators to consider as you all work your way through these unchartered waters, in a hope that maybe some of our ideas help to keep you and your teams focussed and united in your approach to fighting this invisible war.

If you are a destination, visitor centre or operator, we encourage you to share your ideas and your actions with us, so we can all work through this together. Similarly, if you are a consultant reading this, we encourage you to share with us more ideas that we can add to this list too!


Immediate/Ongoing Actions

In times of crisis, the businesses in your destination have their ear to the ground waiting for updates from industry leaders in their State Tourism Organisation and their State Tourism Industry Council. But what they really need and crave is for someone to distill all of the 'high level' information into something that is practical and relevant so they can make sense of it all, and start planning their response to the new economic situation in which they are operating.

Whilst destinations think they could potentially be adding to the 'noise' online, it is critical at this time that regional organisations don't leave their tourism operators hanging. There has never been a more important time to be the leader for the tourism industry in your destination.

Below are a few examples of what destinations or regional organisations can implement (some already are) to support their industry throughout this turbulent time.


1. Industry Communication Plan

If you don't already have a clear industry communication and engagement strategy, now is the time to develop one. Below are some of the key actions that could form part of your immediate response for industry communications.

Understand the impact on Industry

  • Call your industry
    • When possible, take time to make phone contact with operators in your destination. This could make the world of difference for operators.
    • IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember, this will take a toll on your staff's mental health as well, so be prepared with your own Mental Health support strategy (see below).
  • Sentiment / Survival Survey
  • Event Sentiment
    • We know regions rely on the events to drive demand and prop up our local visitor economies. It would be advantageous to get a clear understanding of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the restriction of events in your region, specifically, derive an approximate dollar figure. This will help when it comes to being able to secure funding support in the future to counteract this restriction.
    • COMPLETE: Tilma Group have an Event Impact Survey that is currently available to complete. Please pass this on to your event committees in your destination to complete. Insights at a regional level may be able to be available through the survey owner, Linda Tillman from Tilma Group.


Publish a 'One Stop Shop' Information Hub on your Industry Website

  • Frequency
    • Update as new/additional information comes to hand
  • What to share
  • Where to share
    • Publish this webpage link on your Facebook Page and any managed groups, and pin as an 'Announcement'
    • Publish this webpage link on your Linked In Account, and update all of your staff and organisation profiles 'About' section
    • Share this webpage on all the Council websites and any other council comms (enewsletters, social media)


Publish a Industry Enewsletter

  • Frequency
    • Weekly
  • What to share
    • Update on what your organisation is doing to assist the industry (new updates)
    • Sharing relevant insights regarding grants/funding/stimulus packages and ideas on how to implement these for the various sectors
    • Share examples of how businesses are adapting in current crisis (read our article on COVID-19 Immediate Response Action Plan for Tourism Operators)
  • Where to share
    • Publish the signup form to your Enewsletter on your industry facing social accounts (Facebook and Linked In) and Council/RDA websites and social media accounts
    • Publish your Enewsletters on your Industry Facing Social Media accounts


Set up/actively manage a Facebook Page/Group for your Industry

  • Frequency
    • Post updates as available
  • What to share
    • Pin the following as announcements:
      • Dedicated webpage on your site for Industry Resources
      • Signup form for your Enewsletter
    • Updates to your Industry Resources Page
    • Publish your Enewsletter on this page
    • Good news stories from local businesses who are pivoting/adapting to provide hope and inspiration for other tourism businesses
    • Any/all updates that are relevant as time moves on (all the content that you provide on your webpage and enewsletter)
  • Where to share
    • Ensure you have links to your Page/group on your Industry Webpage and Enewsletter (above)
    • Invite councils and other regional organisations to share the link to your Page/Group in their comms


2. Local Advocacy Campaign

With the key government directive for COVID-19 instructing society to socially distant and avoid group gatherings, people are going to need to localise themselves and their families until such a time that the Government restrictions are lifted. This presents an opportunity for destinations to develop a Local Advocacy campaign to help their local businesses stay in business.


3. Connect with other Regional Tourism Colleagues

From my own past experience working in regional tourism, it's easy to sit in your silo and try and figure things out by yourself. This is not the time for that.

I strongly urge you to set up a Zoom meeting/online meeting with a group of your closest tourism colleagues who work in similar roles to yourself to share ideas/support each other through this crisis. 

Rebecca and I have facilitated and booked calls with some of our clients to have brain storm sessions, and will be doing more of this in the coming days/weeks... and it seems to help, even if it is just to download what is happening at the grassroots and get emotional support.

Be kind to each other, and reach out - we can only imagine what you are going through.


4. Mental Health Strategy

  • This time of crisis is going to be very taxing on your team's mental health, as you will no doubt be feeling the stress and anxiety the more time goes on and the conversations within that time. So take the time to develop a simple, yet effective mental health strategies (transparency, mindfulness etc) for you and your staff through this time.
  • Also ensure that you provide all of the relevant information for your industry, as it relates to supporting them through this tough time.
  • RESOURCE: Beyond Blue has some great information and resources available as does Lifeline. 


5. Inspire Yourself for the Recovery Phase

In times like this it's really hard to comprehend what is happening, and not get too overwhelmed by the task at hand.

I watched Anna Pollock's (from Concious.Travel) presentation from Bay of Plenty's (NZ) recent Tourism Conference, and it has COMPLETELY opened my eyes to how our industry should operate for success post COVID-19.

I highly recommend you take time as soon as possible to watch her presentation too.


Short Term Actions

1. Digital Capability Training

There is no telling the impact that the crisis will have on the sustainability of our nation's tourism businesses. However, what we do know, is that those that do survive will need all the support they can get to rebound effectively and efficiently once travel is reinstated.

  • Tourism Operators
    • We know from our own experience in mentoring tourism operators nationally, that there were large gaps in digital marketing capability and aligning experiences with relevant visitor personas to drive demand, prior to the crisis.
    • Therefore, every destination needs to start planning ways in which they can support their industry in this space, to ensure they are front of mind when people are travelling again.
    • Integrating some questions in your sentiment survey (above) about what their current needs are with regard to skill development, will help you guage where the gaps are in your destination and help your planning.
    • We've been offering bespoke Marketing Mentoring Programs (delivered online) for Destinations since 2016, and we are currently compiling our ideas and strategies on how we can support operators through this unique time with crisis/recovery strategies and tactics. So, whether you chat with us, or another training provider who can also assist with capacity building, we encourage you to look into the options for up skilling your industry so they are ready to pounce when travel restrictions are lifted.
  • Visitor Servicing


2. Consumer Direct Marketing + Communications

In the immediate and short term, while travel restrictions and draconian social distancing measures are in place, and while the economy and people's livelihoods are in turmoil, there is no point focussing too many efforts on consumer direct marketing. However, there are a couple of actions that you can do in the short term to ensure you are prepared for when travel restrictions are lifted, and demand resumes.

  • Maintain Brand Presence
    • Activate a positive, yet empathetic approach to your always on digital content to remain top of mind with your visitor personas, niche markets and segments.
    • Plan a 6 month content calendar that supports this approach
  • Projects
  • State Tourism Organisation Marketing
    • Leverage/advocate your Region’s share of your state tourism organisation's marketing dollars which may have been diverted to an intrastate focus.
    • Leverage the content that your STO invests in your region on your own digital platforms


Recovery Phase

It's hard for us to be able to advise on specific recovery strategies at this stage (as at March 25th), given that we are unsure of where this crisis will land and what the overarching impact will be. However, there are a couple of broad Recovery strategies that destinations can be thinking about in the immediate term.

1. Stimulus Funding Activation

Over the course of the crisis and moving through to recovery, in addition to the current stimulus packages, Governments of all levels may look to provide additional stimulus packages. So, to prepare for this potential opportunity, we suggest that your team:

  • Identify some of the key visitor infrastructure gaps within your destination, and prepare 'shovel ready projects' so the opportunities can be acted on as immediately as possible when/if support is granted, or if funding grants open up
  • Identify the experience gaps within the region (that are relevant to your region's experience strengths/differentiation and key visitor personas/niche segments/markets), and advocate for the development of these experiences (when timing/conditions are right)

2. Experience Development

  • Identify operators within the region that are in a position to develop their businesses, and advocate for funding/support where relevant
  • Work with Industry on an ongoing basis to think about how they can plan and implement their risk/crisis management plans

3. Industry Communication Plans

  • Consolidate your Industry Communication and Engagement plan for your region (as per the above) and re-pivot the information to Recovery content when the time is right.
  • Schedule and implement in-person networking events - use this time of regional solidarity to bring people together at the earliest time practical/possible. A focus for these events should be on regeneration and flourishing in times of recovery (think inspirational speakers, digital capability etc)

4. Consumer Direct Marketing + Communication Plan

  • Share 'Safe' Itineraries
    • As at March 25, people in Australia are advised to stay home. Once this restriction is lifted then you may like to start sharing Itineraries that support the current social distancing measures.
    • So, identify and promote businesses and itineraries in your destination that are 'open for business' and taking precautions with regard to the social distancing/hygiene restrictions and recommendations in place. We love this blog put out recently by
    • Continue to use your regional hashtag, and encourage / educate tourism operators on how to implement the regional hashtag too
    • Share your itineraries with your STO to give them content to share on their digital platforms


***This article was last updated on Wednesday 25th March 2020 at 7:40pm.



Want us to come on your Recovery Journey?

We've opened registrations of interest for our adapted Visitor Servicing + Destination Marketing Bootcamp - which is due to start August 2020!

Check out our Bootcamp webpage for all of the details >



Paige Rowett

Paige is a tourism marketing specialist and co-director of Tourism eSchool. After growing up on a farm on Eyre Peninsula, and now managing a mixed farming enterprise with her family in the Clare Valley in South Australia, Paige has a genuine love and drive for developing thriving local communities. She is passionate about educating stakeholders in the value of the Visitor Economy and supporting tourism businesses to build sustainable businesses they love.