Today we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic affecting global health and economies as illness has spread across borders, and industries have come to a standstill. Never has the value of travel and tourism been so visible, as hotels sit dark, restaurants with empty seats and attractions shuttered. Several truths have become evident since the start of the pandemic: travel will come back, it will look different, and tourism marketers have an opportunity to be stronger stewards of their community.
The disruption of the tourism industry presents tourism marketers with a unique challenge and opportunity. More than two thirds of Americans plan to travel in the next six months, according to the July 15 National Travel Sentiment Study. However, we see only 42% feel safe dining in local restaurants and shopping in stores and an even smaller percentage -- 36% -- support opening their communities to visitors. Our residents must first feel comfortable being out in our own communities before they will once more venture beyond them, and subsequently feel comfortable welcoming others. The gap that exists is one that is unique to each destination, given that different parts of the country are in various stages of the pandemic and reopening and have vastly different community sentiment toward these policies and restrictions.
Resident sentiment is an essential metric for destination marketers to keep a pulse on their communities in order to create meaningful programs and partnerships that relevantly address community needs of health and safety. Tourism brings benefits to numerous sectors of local economies, and by understanding the needs and sentiment of those sectors, a DMO can create a partnership in these times and generate support for travel promotion to reinvigorate the local economy.
Further, with roughly more than a quarter of Americans changing their travel plans to a drive destination and a quarter planning a first trip that is within 200 miles of their home, tourism in the pandemic will start at home. Focusing on resident engagement with their local community is the initial step in opening for tourism. Historically, destination marketers have not focused on local residents. However today this dynamic has shifted and, while the community has always been at the core of tourism, the resident is now your first visitor.
For the tourism industry, pent up demand to travel is running up against a wall of fear, fueled by concerns around health and safety both in and outside their communities. Destination marketing organizations must understand their residents' sentiment toward their organizations, as well as their comfort with getting out into the community and being the spark for the local travel economy. Sentiment is an essential KPI with the evolving travel climate as we move through and beyond the pandemic. By keeping a pulse on resident sentiment, destination marketers can create community partnerships and generate positive support for the industry that leads to long-term community alignment and stewardship.