Americans are not conditioned to stay still for long. After most states have been in months-long shelter in place orders and with summer upon us, the itch to get out, explore, and enjoy ourselves is stronger than ever. However, when considering travel options, surveys show that many are concerned that traveling by air, train, bus, or ship does not offer the same social distancing precautions we now understand will be helpful for the foreseeable future. That leaves traveling by car with only your housemates (yes, the same group you have been under the same roof with for months!) as the safest option for everyone for the time being. Factor in the incredible road system that exists in America, personal vehicles that are more comfortable than ever and some of the lowest gas prices consumers have seen in the last 15 years, and the resurgence of the great American road trip looks increasingly likely.
There is so much of our country that remains undiscovered by our fellow Americans that there is literally a world of opportunities within driving distance of most US travelers. In addition to just getting out there and seeing American sites, Europeans have been coming to America and making road trip “loops” for years. So, at a time when overseas travel is limited for Americans and Europeans, now is a great time to promote these loops for ourselves. When the options just seem endless, one way travelers will plan and book loop adventures is by selecting a theme such as civil rights, food, libations, music heritage, white water adventure, hiking, biking, birding—the opportunities are virtually endless!
However, for many DMOs, putting marketing efforts towards visitors “passing through” their destination vs. making their place a visitor’s primary destination does not come naturally. How about we look at this a little differently. Let’s work together with destinations that are in 3- to 5-hour driving distances from our own destination to curate loops for Americans to discover their own country. Consider a 6-night, 7-day trip with 4 hours of driving every other day—this involves 2 nights each in 3 destinations (generating 6 total nights of hotel stays—your destination will get 2 nights):
- Day 1: Leave shelter, drive 4-ish hours to the first destination. Check in, explore, get some dinner, and rest.
- Day 2: Explore and enjoy the destination. Eat some great local food and get more rest.
- Day 3: Check out, drive 4-ish hours to the second destination. Check in, explore, get some dinner, and rest.
- Day 4: Explore and enjoy the destination. Eat some great local food and get more rest.
- Day 5: Check out, drive 4-ish hours to the third destination. Check in, explore, get some dinner, and rest.
- Day 6: Explore and enjoy the destination. Eat some great local food and get more rest.
- Day 7: Check out, drive 4-ish hours back to your designated shelter.
To this end, what can your destination offer that combines these “luxuries”? “Nature, silence, and solitude” by definition do not involve crowds, so this is a great place to start. Oh, and by the way, this is a huge opportunity for smaller, off the beaten path destinations. Interesting, authentic, undiscovered, uncrowded, affordable, charming, discoverable, accessible. These are all adjectives that can be used to describe the places that many small destinations represent.
Let’s mobilize. Put on your thinking caps and spend some time brainstorming how to curate road trip loops that make sense for your destination. As you consider travel consumers who are within a 4- to 8-hour driving radius, also consider what travel consumers are going to be looking for over the next year:
- What do these “loops” look like for families, young couples, senior adults, multi-generational travelers, etc.?
- What are you on the way to that can be packaged to make it interesting? What themed trips match up with your product?
- What are popular destinations within driving distance of your destination where you can be “on the way”? This will help you strategize about who you can partner up with to create these loops. And then who geographically you will want to market these trips to. Many of you already have groups of DMOs organized in such a way that ideas like this can be pursued very efficiently. And to be honest, many organizations have already done much of this work. So, how can you get involved?
Social distancing and a universal sense of trying to stay safe won’t be going away just because travel limitations are easing and businesses are opening back up. While the opening rate and comfort level varies on a state-by-state and person-by-person basis, road trips will likely be the first trip taken by most and can aid in the tourism industry’s recovery. Developing road trips planned around a theme, and not in a traditional there-and-back itinerary has the potential to give future visitors a safe and exciting way to travel. No matter where you are in the “product development” life cycle, now may be the perfect time to turn on the road trip “loop” marketing spigot for your destination.