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From crisis response to preparing for recovery

With most communications’ activity over the past few months across the travel, tourism and business events sectors being built around an immediate response to the pandemic, and mitigation efforts being used to protect visitors and employees, focus is now turning to the long process of recovery.

While many communications plans and budgets have been paused or reduced, its vital to maintain a strong voice if brands wish to remain connected with their audience and to keep up to date with rapidly changing consumer needs and expectations.

Leading with a clear voice will show your audience that you are committed to recovery, with an opportunity to position your business and your senior team as leaders, creating an emotional connection which engenders brand loyalty and value.

Pre-pandemic, marketing and communications plans could take several months to develop and deploy, but today, in a much faster moving environment, communications need to be far more agile and flexible.

Robert Wright, CEO at davies tanner, a PR and brand communications agency working within the travel, tourism and business events sectors, has developed a five step guide to revival, which provides a framework for you to create and deliver the type of content and messages designed to keep conversations going and to build confidence in your business as we look to shape all our futures.

Step one: open for business

This might seem a very obvious first step, but in the immediate aftermath of any crisis, it’s important to portray a clear message that you are open, at least in the context of what is safe, as that is what both consumer and business audiences are looking for.

You need to be saying very clearly that you are ready to do business. That when they arrive at your hotel, venue, attraction or destination, that they are going to feel comfortable, safe and secure, which provides you with another reason to talk about what they can expect in terms of any new safety protocols or procedures.

From a sales perspective, it also provides an opportunity to talk about any new products and services and also to introduce any special offers or incentives. Using imagery and video content to show you are operating normally, albeit within agreed guidelines, is a simple way of showing that they are welcome.

Step two: unity messaging

Emotions, not surprisingly, come very much into focus during, and immediately after, a crisis. As a result, emotional communication has a vital role to play in any recovery, as it impacts peoples buying decisions far more than practical ones would normally do.

It is therefore important that you show mutual understanding of any situation through what we refer to as unity messaging. Showing that you as a business recognise the situation, and fully understand what your audience is facing, shows empathy, humanises your brand and provides the much-needed reassurance that you are ready to welcome them back when they are ready to do so.

Understanding has long been considered an important part of how consumers view a brand, with regular surveys highlighting empathy as a significant driver of brand equity, trust and performance. In the case of travel, recent research has shown that consumers in particular will avoid brands who clearly did not show demonstrable empathy during the
pandemic.

Step three: collective readiness

The pandemic has shown us that we make greater progress when we work
together, and that a show of strength can send a powerful message to those
that we need to support us as we work through the period of recovery into one of revival.

The message of collective readiness also relates to a City’s eco-system. This could include airports, restaurants, hotels, venues, caterers and taxi drivers, along with the wider community at large. It says that they are all there for you. That they are clearly motivated by the desire to work as a team to overcome any difficulty, achieve any goal and simply wants to welcome you to their community.

Developing a collective team message, whatever business or place you are in, can support an overall recovery, and can contribute to a formidable narrative that can be used on a variety of channels, especially across video or any image led campaign.

Step four: product reinforcement

A very important lesson in crisis communication, is never to assume. It may seem obvious that your clients and customers know what it is you do, and what you provide, but given the disruption and uncertainty that any crisis will cause, it’s likely that they will need some element of reassurance, and in many cases, a reintroduction to the services and/or products you provide, as this may have changed.

Enabling some product reinforcement within your revival plan, also provides you with a further chance to re-engage with your existing audience and connect with those that may not have you on their radar, building a stronger customer base for the future.

It’s also an opportunity for you to tell people about any new products or services, such as on-site studios or new technology. Most importantly, it provides you the perfect place from which to reinforce your brand values and vision, which may well have changed or evolved over the past few months.

Step five: demonstrate confidence

Following any crisis or disaster, it’s natural that confidence to travel and return to any kind of normality, will be severely tested. With the current situation, safety is top of mind for everyone as we all begin to look beyond the current situation and into a period of recovery. At this point in the recovery cycle, it's vital that we provide the confidence to enable our clients and guests to do just that, and to consider what level of assurances they need to take that next step to recovery.

In a time of uncertainty, we all tend to put our faith in those brands that we trust. Assuming you have a solid or recognisable brand, trust in that brand should be highly valuable, as it is likely that brand trust will extend to safety, health and hygiene.

It is also important that we remain engaged with our audiences and provide as much information as possible. Several recent surveys suggest that future travel buying decisions will be based on the level and quality of communications they receive from a hotel, venue, airline or destination.

With business events, conferences and event centres being given the go ahead to reopen on 1 October adhering to social distancing and provided the levels of infection remain at current rates, now is the time to switch your mindset from crisis response to revival. These five steps mark the beginning of recovery and we look forward to seeing our industry thrive once more.

Read the full guide here.