Welcoming Visitors Back with a (Masked) Smile

By Victoria Belton

Welcoming Visitors Back with a (Masked) Smile

Indications point to visitors getting ready to travel again but health and safety remain a major consideration. DMOs across the country are implementing programs that specifically address COVID-19 safety. We discuss a few ideas here that you may want to consider modeling in your destination. Read time: five minutes 

It’s no secret that, at some level, a potential traveler's requirements for visiting a place these days include health and safety considerations. And when it’s your job to promote the area, the messaging should include the level of COVID-19 precautions being implemented and followed.  But how can you assist your destination partners with following the guidelines to keep the staff and the guests safe AND share that messaging during this pandemic on a city-wide scale?

DMOs across the country are implementing programs that specifically address COVID-19 safety. Here are a few ideas that you may want to consider modeling in your destination:

Be the one source with all the information. 

It’s hard enough to keep up with your own county’s requirements and mandates as a local, so just think about visitors who don’t even know the name of the county they are planning to visit! Adjustments to safety precautions and routines, maximum capacities, hours of operation, and requirements to enter matter to potential visitors. Consider creating a landing page that houses the local face mask requirements, who’s open and when, and provides listings of businesses adhering to established safety guidelines.

A Great Example: Visit York County in South Carolina has launched the “Get Back in the Game” initiative and developed a campaign landing page featuring the guidelines set in place by attractions, sports facilities, restaurants, and hotels making it a one-stop information hub for locals and visitors. It’s promoted on their home page in a top banner and the landing page web address can be included in ads with messaging that York County is open for business WITH the health precautions to help keep visitors safe. And it gives everyone the peace of mind that if you’re ready to get out and explore, there are attractions, restaurants and hotels safely waiting for you.

Develop a certification program. 

Adding new responsibilities to the day-to-day operations of a restaurant, hotel or attraction can be challenging even in the best of times. And we are all acutely aware that virtually all tourism and travel stakeholders have certainly been hit hard since March. However, one way to help our partners, and also ensure that guests feel safe when they are visiting, is to develop a voluntary certification program that clearly identifies what safety and disinfecting guidelines must be followed for each establishment to be certified. It’s one thing to tell your partners what needs to be done. It’s another to facilitate that training so there is one more tool at their disposal to share with the staff. Having continuity in training for hospitality workers throughout your destination will help you when promoting it, build public trust and provide a consistent experience for all involved.

A Great Example: Visit Albany, GA partnered with The Levee Studios, the City of Albany and Dougherty County government to develop a certification program designating restaurants as COVID-safe through a free online training program. 

“In the months to come, our community will venture out more, and visitors will start returning to Albany. And one thing is certain, they will all want to eat out. So, it is important to the city, county and the ACVB to sponsor this program to help restauranteurs train staff on the most efficient, effective ways to sanitize and disinfect their properties. The training is a way for us to get ahead of the curve - to show we are serious about creating a safe environment for our community and visitors.” 

- Rashelle Beasley, Executive Director of Visit Albany GA 

Once a restaurant completes the online video training, the CVB will take photos of that restaurant, add the photos and restaurant name to the growing list of certified restaurants and promote those restaurants on social media. Since the online training program launched, more than 15 local restaurants have participated, and the list is growing weekly. 

Take an industry-wide pledge. 

Similar to the certification program, an industry-wide pledge can help formalize guidelines among more than one establishment. Setting the expectations and then sharing them can help ensure that safety and health remain top priorities as we all evolve to the next normal. It takes one more decision off the shoulders of the owner, which in turn helps them do what they need to do to stay open. And as people see that one restaurant is taking this extra safety precaution, they will expect it from others. Soon, most restaurants will believe that to stay competitive, and ultimately to stay open as a viable business, they must also participate in the program.

A Great Example: The South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA) has launched the Palmetto Priority, a pledge that includes a variety of guidelines and standards that a restaurant must commit to following. If a restaurant agrees to sign on, they will receive certification from SCRLA and the state of South Carolina and a window cling that indicates this certification to the public. 

To ensure that the standards are always being followed, there is a way for restaurant patrons to go online and score the establishment — to commend the places taking it seriously and to speak up if places aren't following suit (even though they say they are). The result of this initiative is that the list of restaurants has grown exponentially since the launch and now also includes school cafeterias.

Create a community-wide pledge. 

Getting local businesses to pledge that they are following the CDC health and safety guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing as well as training employees on COVID-19 safety measures helps keep the safety and health of all as a priority. This includes restaurants, hotels, attractions, and businesses, but it also asks individuals (both visitors and locals) to follow the guidelines, too. 

A Great Example: VisitColumbusGA wanted to ensure that safety was the first and foremost priority for both visitors and locals, so the DMO implemented the Columbus C.A.R.E.S. (Columbus’ Amazing Resources Ensure Safety) Pledge, “a community-wide pledge to keep safety before service.” 

“C.A.R.E.S. is our pledge, the community’s pledge, that safety comes first in the changing travel environment we're currently navigating.”

- Peter Bowden, President and CEO of VisitColumbusGA

Once the pledge is taken, businesses are given a toolkit to display at their place of business and added to the growing list of participants found on the Columbus C.A.R.E.S. website. 

The C.A.R.E.S. program also includes a component for individuals to pledge that they will wash their hands, wear a mask, social distance, stay home if not feeling well, avoid direct contact with staff and pay by credit card or debit card if possible.

We know that your job feels a lot different than it did a year ago, that there is a ton of learning-as-we-go and even more behind the scenes work than anyone in the travel and tourism industry has ever experienced. However, as you consider the ideas above, leverage the partnerships you have developed in your community to help share the responsibility and the workload. Make sure you continue to work together, continue to share what is happening, and communicate the importance of the recovery of tourism and travel to your community. Emphasize that the steps that you and your stakeholders are taking to make it a safe and healthy environment for the staff, the guests and the locals are making a difference.

We encourage you to dig into visitor intelligence for your market to evaluate your efforts to attract and retain travelers and to compare your efforts to other DMOs. You should also check out the U.S. Travel Association’s toolkit for assets to help you promote your destination. Indications point to visitors getting ready to travel again. Prepare your destination to welcome visitors back with a smile – even if they are from your masks.