As governments across the world take cautious steps to reopen, the big question for business owners is: How?
A key first step is to follow the advice of your local government agencies before getting started. Each location may have been impacted differently hence a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply.
A changed customer perception
The way that people think has fundamentally changed during this pandemic and it’s too soon to say which initial effects are here to stay.
Health and safety, as well as social distancing, are certain to be emblazoned in the psyche of travelers for the mid-term. Failing to recognise this, then putting plans in place to acknowledge these concerns properly, could result in a business being left behind.
Facing into this new normal could be your competitive edge.
Start with a COVID-19 reopening plan
This will take a bit of time, but you want to get it right. There are a few key elements that will be different for each business type. Generally, you can break this down into two key areas.
Your strategic plan: Reconsider your product, promotions, marketing plan, and distribution ecosystem. The following steps should be thought through carefully:
- Check your local government advice: We can’t stress this enough. Before you get started, understand your capacity constraints. What markets will be able to travel to your destination? And if you will be able to open at all at this time. Guidance will vary from nation to nation, and in some cases by local districts or counties. It’s important for your business’s reputation and the safety of your staff and customers to get this right from the start. Demonstrating this actively as part of your plan will reassure staff, customers, and your local authorities.
- Plan your sessions: In the medium term, your business is likely going to need a gap between sessions. Back to back is unlikely to be an option. If your business has the equipment, future guests will expect that these are cleaned before they use it. Read this support article if you use Rezdy and need a refresher. You’ll also want to reconsider your product offering for a local audience. It’s possible local markets have experienced your destination or product. What can you offer that’s unique to them? If you’re a walking tour, perhaps a short format ‘hidden gems’ experience rather than the main attractions. Or, on a boat tour, consider showing locals a specific cove or bay they may not be aware of. You may also want to consider ‘locals pricing’.
- Rethink your capacity: Your sessions won’t look like they used to for a while. Reconsider the number of guests your tour or activity can reasonably host in the lens of COVID-19 and follow your government guidelines. If your boat or bus is crowded, you may shock your guests and receive negative feedback. Or worse, your business could find itself amidst a damaging COVID-19 outbreak cluster. Very challenging for any brand.
- Prepare your marketing, ticketing emails, and on-premise COVID-19 collateral: Proudly display what you’re doing in terms of both health and safety and social distancing. Start online first so guests feel reassured. Have a link to your landing page in your follow up emails. Make sure this is prominent in any of your customer-facing marketing materials and is simple to digest.
- Use your marketing budget wisely: Many operators will historically be reliant on inbound travellers from overseas, or other states or provinces. In this period, you’ll need to activate your domestic market. Specifically, your immediate region(s). That will involve changing your advertising and communication targeting. You’ll want to reconsider the way you talk about your experience too to appeal to a more local audience. Many local tourism bodies are working toward campaigns of that nature. If you haven’t connected with them yet, take the time to. You may find some of the work has been done for you. You might be able to tap into their campaigns and reduce your costs. The ‘Love NSW from Home’ and Tourism New Zealand’s ‘Back Your Backyard’ campaigns are good examples.
- Look at resellers that focus on domestic and last-minute audiences: This is also a time of opportunity. If there are local or domestic online travel agents and resellers that you’ve been meaning to connect with, take the time to prioritise that connection. It may be some time before we see international travel again. Another group of resellers you’ll want to look into are last-minute resellers like Groupon. Resellers of this nature generally have an audience in your area ready to purchase and travel quickly when it’s possible to do so. You should also connect with experienced operators in your region and build a referral network with them. One of the benefits of Rezdy is you can invite operators to become resellers of your product and do so in kind. It’s a good way to build strong relationships and help your local economy by working together during the recovery process.
Your operational plan: As you prepare for a reopening date, plan your team training, onsite messaging, logistics, auxiliary product offerings, and the way you collect payments.
- Train your staff: If you have a team large or small, train them on your plan. Explain what needs to be cleaned and how. Prepare a small health and safety script that they can explain to guests as they check-in. Tell them to wave, or ‘thumbs-up’ guests, rather than a handshake. Your team plays a massive role in demonstrating your operations level of hygiene at this time. They’re also a resource that will build customer confidence during your tour, activity or experience. Not only will this reassure your customers, but it will also reassure your staff too. It’s an opportunity to get positive word of mouth in your local community and help drive referrals to your business as a result.
- Prominently display when you plan to open: Managing your potential customer’s expectations is important at this time. Clearly display on your website when you plan to reopen, with a caveat that this may change if the local government advice changes. Prepare a ‘We’re Open’ email campaign and social post for your database. It’s an opportunity to tell that your audience that ready to welcome guests, as well as advise guests what your health and safety measures are during this period. You may have seen some hospitality operators do something similar. Here’s an example of a communication sent by a venue in Australia that you may find helpful as a reference.
- Prepare your on-site collateral: If guests have to wait in a location to check-in, physically display your health and safety plan prominently in that area. If there are multiple seats on your tour or activity (like on a boat or a bus), or simply at your waiting area, have ‘do not sit’ signage with a social distancing messaging. Laminate these if you can so you can use them multiple times and can easily clean them between sessions. Skift recently created a resource with a collection of guides from the hotel sector that you may want to reference. The Australian Government has COVID-19 templates you may be able to use or adapt.
- Change the way you provide auxiliary services: Does your business offer lunch packs or similar? Customers want to feel comfortable with the health and safety of all of your products and services. You might want to withdraw that offering in your product in the interim. But, be sure to communicate that clearly on your website, and in your confirmation email communications so that the customer’s expectations are managed. Another option could be to team up with a local cafe, restaurant, or hotel to offer a meal, or beverage before or after their experience. The knock-on effect is building a referral network. Those businesses will benefit from additional traffic. And, as a gesture of goodwill, those businesses will likely in-kind refer your experience to new clients.
- Consider going contactless for payments and check-ins: If your business takes cash only, now’s the time to reconsider that. The world has been evolving rapidly in this arena already. Many are perceiving cash as unclean. Some retailers in Australia are no-longer taking cash as a result of pandemic concerns. A tap-and-go solution like Square might be a good solution to investigate for walkups. Or, invest more in driving business online. You may want to look at contactless check-in solutions like barcode or QR code scanning. For Rezdy users, read this guide to get set up.
- Order appropriate sanitisation stock: There are shortages. Now’s the time to start preparing your order for items like handwash, sanitiser, towels, and wipes. Your business likely orders these already, but you can safely assume that guest and team consumption in this period will be higher than pre-pandemic. Ensure that you have appropriate stock so you’re not on the backfoot once you reopen and try to rush in an order at the same time as other businesses are doing the same.
Building a plan to reopen will take time. You’ll naturally need to refine it once guests start returning. That’s ok. If you have the core principles in place you’ll reap the rewards. Guests will feel reassured and pay more attention to enjoying the experience on offer. Your team members will be happy knowing that their place of work cares about them, flowing on to better customer experience for your guests. And, you’ll be leaning into your community in new ways to help rebuild your local economy.
There’ll still be challenges and setbacks as we continue to navigate the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay close to guidance, do the right thing, only reopen when it’s appropriate, and when you do, be sure to have a strong plan in place.
If you found this article useful, you may want to read ‘How The Bend Motorsport Park created new protocols allowing them to stay open during this Pandemic‘.
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Written By – Ricki Hudson – Marketing Manager – Partnerships & Acquisition, Rezdy
Ricki has worked at Rezdy since 2018. Ricki has nearly 15 years of marketing experience, predominantly in the tourism sector. Ricki is passionate about helping the sector grow through strong eco-systems and networks to the betterment of the industry.