Open for Business: 10 Tips on How to Market Resiliency

Laura Knudson & Hilary Lewkowitz | March 23, 2018

We’ve all seen it, a destination experiences a tragedy - natural disasters, war, economic problems... Then, global media outlets start to spread the word, bookings decrease and tourism drops dramatically. Negative and/or inaccurate press about the state of tourism economy in a destination can be a challenging uphill battle. However, marketing can very quickly provide solutions to change global traveler perceptions and help market that a destination is "open for business".


Several regions around the world have dealt with misperceptions of tourism readiness. In September 2017, the Caribbean was hit by a series of deadly and destructive hurricanes. A small number of islands were hit especially hard - St. Maartens, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica and St. Barts. While the other 70% of the Caribbean less affected by the hurricane is back to normal business, these islands are still suffering from lack of tourism and the challenge of rebuilding. Many of these islands have restored major infrastructure, and the one thing they need most is visitors. Admittedly, this is a tough situation because in the Caribbean for instance, not everything is back to normal. In these tourism dependent economies, it may not be a seamless travel experience, but it’s exactly what the destination needs to move towards recovery.    

For many small island states, tourism is the dominant sector of the economy and key source for economic growth. When a natural disaster hits, this economic bloodline is cut off and that has a ripple effect on all aspects of society, such as employment, government resources, investments in infrastructure and nature and perceived safety. Hence, getting visitors back as soon as possible is essential. But it is a chicken and egg dilemma - with limited tourism offerings, fewer visitors will come, and when fewer visitors come, there is little incentive for tourism offerings.
— Arno Boersma, UNDP Centre of Excellence for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States

We’re Open for Business!

So, how can you quickly and effectively get the message out to the global travel community that a destination is still “open for business” even if it is still a state of recovery? The key to changing perceptions is a strategic distribution plan driven by story-driven content marketing.


Character-Driven Storytelling 

When looking to share a message of strength and resiliency in the aftermath of disaster, the best place to start is with the communities and people impacted. These emotionally-charged stories of real people will not only tell an anecdote of resiliency, but they create deep connections with your audience. Emotionally engaging content is the best way to stand out, pull your audience in, and connect them with your product. The ultimate goal being to drive business back to the destination.  It is important to note that your stories need to be truthful and authentic. You can’t paint a pretty picture and make it appear that things are ready for business if they are not. People will quickly see through the curtain if the destination doesn’t meet expectations when visitors arrive. So, be sure that your stories of strength and resiliency are authentic, even if it takes a little longer to let a story fully develop and ensure the destination is truly ready for travelers.


Here are some tips to tell your best stories of resilience in the face of disaster recovery:  

  1. Authenticity - Whatever story you tell, be authentic. That means telling both the good and the bad. Your audience will appreciate honesty, and faking it will only hurt your business in the long run.

  2. Purpose - Before choosing your stories, identify your why behind telling the story. Are you hoping to inspire travel to your destination? Do you need to ask for help or support from companies, partners, donors, or volunteers? Or do you need to inform your audience of safety or other issues actually happening on the ground in your communities? Start by identifying the why, or the purpose, behind telling this story.

  3. Conflict or Challenge - What will your story be about? This ties in closely to your purpose, but adds a problem or plot that will engage your audience. What is at stake if this story doesn’t get told? What is the challenge or problem that your story will try to solve? And why should your audience care about it? For example, in a story on sea turtle conservation impacted by the hurricanes in the caribbean the conflict would be that critically endangered sea turtle species have lost critical habitat for nesting and without intervention populations could plummet. While your story should show the truth (good and bad), it should also guide us to a solution. So perhaps the story is about how your destination or resort is joining the restoration efforts for sea turtle nesting habitats, or perhaps you are simply inviting volunteer tourists to join in the effort or donate to a cause. Learn more about how the 2017 hurricanes affect sea turtles in the caribbean here.

  4. People - Perhaps the most important piece of your story will be the characters or people in it. Ideally you should work with local people and communities as the characters in your story since they’ll provide the most authentic voice to guide your audience. In some situations, it can be beneficial to use external characters when they can offer a unique lens for the story, for example a volunteer from abroad or a celebrity. You may also consider characters from local businesses or partnerships that are using creativity and innovation in recovery efforts.

  5. Locations - You will also need to determine the locations for your story. Which communities, businesses, or other locations will provide the best setting to tell your story? The locations should make sense for the context of the story and provide engaging visuals. Again, it’s important to be authentic here. Don’t show just 20 feet of pristine beach if the rest of the property is still rebuilding and not ready for visitors.

  6. Structure - Organize the story into a real plot with a start, middle and end. Start off by introducing the conflict or challenge, such as a natural disaster like the Caribbean hurricanes. Leverage your character()s and his or her authentic voice as a lens to tell the story. Be sure to tell the story of resiliency - unique opportunities, inventive solutions or creative partnerships. Finally, end the story with solutions or what was learned and how your character or community plans to move forward and thrive.

  7. Medium - Ideally, your story will come to life best in the form of a short film. Video is the best way to capture and emotionally engage your audience. However, if you’re managing a tight budget, the story can take the form of an article with supplementary photography or video.


Distribution of Your Story with Earned Media


Once you have produced your story content, you need to make sure your intended audience sees it.  The most cost-effective type of distribution is earned media. Earned media is coverage or placement on third party websites that is organic and not paid for, and therefore generally more trusted by your audience.  Earned media may sometimes be synonymous with editorial content, meaning the article is written from the perspective of a journalist or trusted media outlet, and is not a sponsored article or advertisement. Earned media placements help you build trust with your audience and provide tremendous value for awareness of your brand.  Securing earned media relationships requires a thoughtful and strategic approach that takes time, but is free, can lead to a broader reach, and introduce your brand to new audiences.

So, how do you get your story out there?

  1. Know your target audience - It is important to narrow down your target audience. Don’t look at the entire global travel market. Instead, focus on the niche of travelers that best align with the products of your destination.

  2. Develop a hit list - Create a list of media outlets that line up with your target audience. Take the time to build relationships with editors and media contacts, so that it’s easier to pitch ideas, or work with an experienced content marketing agency that can help you develop and manage a media strategy.

  3. Perfect your pitch - The pitch is your unique and authentic story, and not a sales pitch. Media outlets are interested in content that engages their audience. Put yourself in the editor’s shoes and ask, why does this story need to be told? And why now? Note that media outlets want stories that are timely, newsworthy, and unique. So tailor your pitch.


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