The growing fears and concerns over coronavirus could wreak havoc on one of Cayman’s number one economic drivers, tourism.
Americans who were busy making plans for spring and summer trips are thinking twice. A survey of 1,200 adults conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in eight have already changed their travel plans due to concerns about the virus.
As a tourism destination, we may have a low probability of the virus itself coming to the Cayman Islands, but it is the overall perception of its-dangerous-to-travel-anywhere that could change the mind of future visitors.
According to a World Bank estimate, 90 percent of economic losses during any outbreaks arise from the uncoordinated and irrational efforts of the public to avoid infection.
As individuals we’ve been educated how to care for ourselves and families during the spread of the virus, but as tourism-related businesses, we should also have plans in place to take care of our businesses should we need them.
MONTHS FROM CRISIS START TO RECOVERY
In recent case studies, destinations with disease cases such as MERS, Zika, and Ebola had average (economic) recovery times of 19.4 months, with a range between 10 and 34.9 months. Natural disasters have the greatest range of (economic) recovery time, from just one month to 93 months depending of the severity of the disaster.
To try to get in front of cancellations or recover from any loss business, a plan of action for your tourism-related business is something to think about and could look like this.
RESPONSIVENESS TO ENSURE A SPEEDY RECOVERY
1. Invite the world to the destination / business
As destinations work diligently to maintain the confidence of travelers, local businesses also must do the same. This requires transparency and ownership of the health crisis; with a clear and honest articulation of what’s happening, what has been done in your business in the wake of the crisis and the promise of what the business will do in the future to keep health risks at bay.
Effective communication and marketing will also motivate travelers. In today’s hyper-visual era, pictures and videos to show that a destination or business is open and eager to welcome tourists can play an important role in illustrating that it’s business as usual in the Cayman Islands.
2. Entice travelers to book future reservations
Beyond communications, if needed, governments can put in place a variety of policies, ranging from travel facilitation to travel insurance, so as to persuade travelers to come back to destinations. Destinations and businesses can sometimes shorten the road to recovery by providing incentives that can overcome hesitations.
3. Know your travel segments
Following a health crisis, destinations should develop a strategic marketing plan based on the new market situation. Look for opportunities to diversify your market segments. For instance, with the recent challenges the cruise market has faced, it’s a sensitive market segment at the moment, so some businesses may need to put a new focus on other segments of their business such as locals and stayover visitors until the cruise business rebounds.
Individuals, not just destinations, can communicate and share information on the state of a destination with the rest of the world. In fact, in some cases, the testimonials of travelers are likely to resonate more than official marketing campaigns. Let’s give them something good to talk about! Businesses should also keep track of the total number of cancellations, which represent concerns and fears, and look at new bookings, which highlights new-found confidence and relief. Constant monitoring of data will enable businesses to track the turn of tides, namely, when new bookings overtake cancellations.
Industry experts say the overall impact of an outbreak depends on how long the outbreak continues. Past health crises, such as SARS epidemic, indicate people will be willing to start traveling as normal again soon after there is a sense that is safe to do so. It’s important to keep conversations to the facts to avoid growing fears.
Brooke Meyer is the managing partner of Caymera International, a Caymanian-owned hospitality and tourism consulting and advisory firm. Visit Caymera at www.caymeragroup.com or email email@example.com for more information.