Ohio Travel Association's Focus on the Travel Industry
What we've been doing. Where we are focused.
The Ohio Travel Association (OTA) is not a state agency, but is governed by businesses in the travel economy. Our members elect 24 board leaders to guide our efforts and to make sure the organization is addressing the needs of the industry, for a strong travel economy is good for all.
Throughout the pandemic, OTA board and staff have been shifting priorities as these needs twist and turn. Currently, our focus is on reopening businesses safely, understanding travel market opportunities and advocating for relief. Here's a quick summary:
REOPENING BUSINESSES SAFELY
Our work with reopening businesses safely involves clarification of Governor's orders, seeking additional reopenings based on current openings and instilling trust that our businesses can operate safely and deserve the same opportunities, and helping businesses understand and implement guidelines.
We are still awaiting public orders which may cover 'entertainment' businesses. We are also seeking clarification on what is required for events to proceed. Several business categories remain closed, including performance theatres. We are advocating that small theatres should be permitted to open soon. We are also advocating that large event spaces should have the opportunity to host multiple meetings of up to 300 persons if social distancing can be maintained. Conversations are held with the Governor's office on almost a daily basis as we all work toward restoring the economy and protecting Ohioans and our guests.
In addition to communicating updates daily, OTA has hosted 10 webinars to help more than 800 businesses navigate the guidelines, including several for DMOs to invite their partners. We've been researching best practices for implementing guidelines and sharing them. Dozens of businesses have also reached out to us individually for assistance.
As we've evolved our messaging throughout this pandemic, we are also encouraging businesses to remember their core missions and to be creative in how they provide new experiences, even with these safety protocols in place. As an example, reduced capacity provides the opportunity for more intimate experiences and VIP treatment.
Developing plans to protect your employees, guests and suppliers should be your focus. If you do that, you will likely exceed guidelines issued by the state, as each customer experience is unique.
UNDERSTANDING TRAVEL MARKET OPPORTUNITIES
Understanding travel market opportunities means keeping track of ever-changing behaviors and sentiments. Our travel marketing webinars have brought much-needed clarification of who is traveling and why, as well as what future travel (and effective travel marketing) might look like.
Research is indicating that travel is starting to occur and the intention to travel yet this summer remains at approximately 70%. Driving trips, outdoor recreation, spaces with fewer crowds, agritourism, and heritage are among experiences most sought-after right now. Forty-percent (40%) of American travelers are looking to go back to a destination they've visited before.
Businesses must not only comply with safety regulations, but they should be sure their guests are aware of what they are doing. Twenty-six percent (26%) say they won't feel comfortable going to a place that is slow to social distance and 44% say sanitation issues will keep them away.
As the booking window has shortened, so too must cancellation policies. There is also increased interest in curated travel, so creating individual and group itineraries are strategies one might consider. Group tour operators are experiencing increased bookings and several have already taken pre-scheduled trips. Some really clever operators and suppliers are putting technology to good use, including Zoom calls where booked guests can experience 'inside' information about a destination while waiting for their trip.
Seeing other people traveling is fast-becoming the impetus for people to head out on a trip, so a thoughtful and strategic earned media strategy and social media campaign can help build trust. Previous guests, as well as loyal guests (members, season pass holders) provide the greatest potential.
Developing a long-term marketing strategy is key, as consumer behaviors will shift as the summer continues. Don't just plan for today and tomorrow; think about what you will need to do as restrictions ease and/or people become more accustomed to protocols.
ADVOCATING FOR RELIEF, PROTECTION AND STIMULUS
Advocating for economic relief falls into three categories - relief, protection and stimulus. Following an Action Plan developed by the OTA board (with input from travel leaders throughout the state), we have continued to raise the awareness of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the travel economy through the media and conversations with federal, state and local elected officials.
Just last week, OTA met with staffs representing Senators Portman and Brown, and we met with Congressman Warren Davidson regarding US Travel's legislative priorities. We also spoke about the importance to protect the J-1 Summer Work Travel program which provides more than 3,400 workers to Ohio businesses each year. Unfortunately, this program was put on hold by President Trump just a few days ago through a new immigration policy. Throughout this time, we've launched multiple action alerts to industry members, as hearing from constituents is key to creating change, and we appreciate so many of you acting on these.
Current requests for relief measures include expanding the eligibility of the PPP program to 501(c)(6) organizations, including convention and visitors bureaus which have been unable to get help. As these organizations are essential for marketing our communities, they will need protection in order to help our state rebound. Also neglected from relief as associations - who bring conferences and meetings to communities throughout the state. Protection measures include targeted liability to protected businesses with safety plans in place from frivolous lawsuits. Among the stimulus measures proposed include $10 billion for travel promotion and communicating safety measures, as well as travel tax credits.
Just yesterday it was announced that state and local governments can use Coronavirus Relief Funds to fund destination marketing activities, which will be essential for communicating traveler safety and opportunities.
Questions? Thoughts? Please reach out OTA Executive Director Melinda Huntley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those of you wishing to learn more should read through our Daily Updates, as this is where we share everything we have learned with you, members of the Ohio travel economy.