Skift Take

Those U.S. destinations that have stayed ready during the pandemic for the return of international visitors don't have to waste valuable time getting prepped. The White House's unexpected relaxation of rules, however, has tourism officials scrambling.

The recent announcement that the United States will reopen to fully vaccinated international air travelers from November has undoubtedly provided a major boost to U.S. destinations battered by the large-scale absence of visitors from lucrative markets.

But the news has also led destination marketing organizations to immediately revamp their strategy to prepare for the return of overseas visitors, said three executives from major U.S. destination marketing organizations at the Skift Global Forum on Thursday in discussion with Skift global tourism reporter Lebawit Lily Girma.

Dana Young is one executive who is wasting no time in preparing her destination to welcome international visitors. The president and CEO of Visit Florida said she’s going to London on Saturday to establish new alliances in the United Kingdom, a key market for the state.

“Not only have we not backed off, we are actually, at this point, hitting the accelerator,” Young said. “Our goal is to build our market share and all of our key markets in the next year and a half.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Beteta, the president and CEO of Visit California, is counting on the fact the DMO has been prepared for the reopening to give it a leg up in being able to welcome large numbers of visitors.

“We have a presence in 14 overseas markets, and we did not cut the cord completely,” she said. “In the U.K., for example, we were able to retain 70 percent of the overall bookings to California in the form of credits and these now are ready to be deployed with this latest announcement.”

Beteta added that the DMO’s strategy to attract visitors features another key component Over the next 30 to 60 days, Visit California is working to bring influencers from key markets such as Canada, Mexico, and the U.K. to “reintroduce the product and get people excited in those prospective countries.”

Meanwhile, the large-scale absence of overseas visitors from popular U.S. tourist destinations largely led DMOs focusing on marketing their product to local residents. Elliott Ferguson, the president and CEO of Destination DC, said the DMO used the Covid-induced pause in large-scale overseas visitation to reach out more to its local community.

“We want the local community to understand why tourism is important,” he said. “I think the pandemic has really given us the chance to understand the impact of what happens when people don’t come.”

So the DMO decided to target nearby residents, and the step the DMO took was modifying its website to make it more appealing for the region’s residents. “We want them to use that when they’ve got that family member that’s coming in for the weekend,” he said.

Visit Florida and Visit California also decided to take similar approaches. “As the pandemic reared its ugly head, we realized we needed to market to our residents first,” Young said.

She cited a survey in which 63 percent of respondents said they had a personal goal in supporting Florida businesses and helping rebuild Florida’s economy. In addition, she said that many Floridians stated, upon resuming their travels, they would visit a Florida destination first.

“They felt an obligation and responsibility to support our tourism businesses,” she said.

While Visit Florida had never seriously marketed to instate residents before, Young credited the DMOs efforts for spreading the word out about places many Floridians  were unaware of and said more marketing to Floridians would be a part of the DMO’s efforts going forward.

Finally, further west, Beteta said Visit California would continue to use the lessons it learned during the pandemic, such as involving its more communities more in the tourism product. “We embrace stewardship, which was inclusive of communities prior to Covid,” she said.

“We needed to use that stewardship to educate visitors to these first-time area on how to be a responsible traveler. [That strategy] is bringing in our residents,” Beteta said.

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Tags: reopening, reopening travel, sgf2021, skift global forum, tourism, tourism marketing, u.s. tourism

Photo Credit: Panel discussion with tourism leaders at Skift Global Forum. Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta and Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young joined remotely while Destination D.C. President and CEO Elliott Ferguson joined Skift Global Tourism Reporter Lebawit Lily Girma on stage. Matt Matieiscu / Skift

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