The importance of 'welcome signals' as you re-invite visitors
As travel restrictions lift and businesses and communities re-invite visitors, welcome signals are a new consideration in the visitor experience. In the past, in tourism marketing, our invitation meant we were open for business and ready to welcome visitors. But COVID-19 fears have resulted in major shifts in sentiments towards tourists. The compelling advertising to visit, may not necessarily be matched by open hearts in the destination. More than ever, the alignment of welcome signals within the destination is critical to ensuring the visitors who do come feel invited, valued and safe.
Destinations are actively advertising to draw visitors back, but not all businesses are open and many citizens are reticent and communities have different levels of preparedness. Additionally, in a COVID-19 era, there are new impacts to be considered such as increased garbage and recycling collection needs due to single-use plastics, waste clean up and disposal of discarded gloves and masks, social distancing signage in popular visitor locations.
Researching dozens of destination and tourism business websites, in mid-July, revealed inconsistency and a mixture of the four types of messages needed by visitors, as part of their online welcome signals:
1. A welcome message inviting them to come, or come back
2. Opening information prominently displaying days and hours of operation
3. Operational information highlighting any limitations on services/activities, information on reservation requirements, maximum group sizes, booking and cancellation policies
4. COVID-19 protocols outlining what procedures to ensure the safety of both visitors and staff
In a recent discussion amongst tourism colleagues, the following five actions were suggested to ensure that your welcome signals deliver an experience that makes visitors feel safe, confident and welcomed:
1. Update your imagery and video to reflect the current COVID-19 reality and build a sense of confidence and trust.
2. Clearly set expectations by informing visitors before booking, upon reservation and prior to arrival so they know what to expect and what to bring. Set expectations with staff, suppliers and partners as well.
3. Bring cleaning to a ‘front of house’ activity. Cleaning used to be out of sight. It now needs to be visible and reinforced for visitors to have confidence in your business. Leverage your social channels to showcase images and videos of what's being done to keep everyone safe.
4. Train your staff to ensure they are aware of all the new protocols and procedures, but also help them understand their role in welcoming guests. Some businesses have been able to access government grants to hire extra students to help with the new protocols.
5. Align messaging across the community and the businesses. Stay apprised of current sentiments towards visitors by monitoring Destination Canada's weekly sentiment index and consider a community/regional level sentiment survey to understand how your community is feeling about welcoming visitors.