As the Coronavirus pandemic disrupts life, work and travel around the world, Sunstone Director Ewan Colville suggests ten easily actionable tourism marketing tactics to consider during the business interruption phase.

It’s Wednesday 18th March, Europe’s borders are closed and governments have imposed social isolation. It’s nothing short of debilitating for the tourism industry here in the UK and other destinations. The impact of Coronavirus is suddenly stark yet also hard for tourism businesses to assess;

  • When will travel bans be lifted?
  • When will consumer confidence to book vacations and general leisure spending return?
  • Will travel restrictions remain through this summer’s peak tourism months?

At this point we just don’t know enough. It’s wait and see as events unfold.

Meantime what should tourism businesses communicate to existing and prospective customers now and, anticipating an extended shut-down through Spring and into Summer, how should they adapt marketing programs? That’s specifically what I want to address in the following 10-point checklist for tourism marketers.

For context, this list was drafted 18.3.20. Events in the following weeks may overtake this advice. It’s also far from an exhaustive list and I’d welcome contributions to expand its usefulness. Click each item for details on what we suggest:

  1. Stay on the front foot with your comms
  2. Keep your FAQs up to date and relevant
  3. Encourage people to sign up to regular information
  4. Put your leaders front and centre
  5. Make more use of video content
  6. Monitor the landscape for shifts and trends
  7. Double down on your SEO
  8. Create fresh content and use it well
  9. Think long, not short
  10. Acquire new skills and knowledge

1 – Stay on the front foot with your comms

Make sure you are taking the initiative, with relevant and regular comms to loyal, booked and prospective customers. This is obvious but needs stated. Any shift in your business posture to recognise COVID-19 will chime with customer concerns. The past few days I’ve seen excellent proactive email and social comms from travel and tourism businesses, such as:

  • Marriot International issued loyalty program customers an informative email addressing core concerns: their adherence to the highest standards of hygiene and a new cancellation policy allowing guests to change reservations with 24hrs notice
  • British Airways blogged about their in-cabin air filtration tech, which they claim treats recycled air to the same standard as air filters in hospital operating theatres
  • McKinlay Kidd, a leading UK & Ireland inbound tour operator, just posted a free date change for any bookings made in March

2 – Keep your FAQs up to date and relevant

Update a deck of Q&As addressing your customers’ most acute concerns/most frequently asked questions. This could be extensive. You might already have some or all of these questions answered within both your FAQs page and terms and conditions. Breaking down this point:

  • If not already done, create a dedicated Coronavirus FAQs or ‘special notice’ page.
  • Make it easy to find; provide a prominent link from your website home page. Maybe even create a persistent button across all pages
  • Organise the hierarchy of these FAQs to ensure the concerns most likely to trigger inbound email, call or social messaging are top of the pile; this could help reduce the burden of inbound enquiry to your customer service teams
  • Create a social post about your updated FAQs and pin to the top of your newsfeed. Be very vigilant to monitor and react quickly to comments posted.
  • If you use live chat with conditional rules to automate answers to ‘canned’ questions, ensure it’s updated to reflect your Coronavirus FAQs
  • Trip cancellation will be a primary question topic from booked customers. You’ll have cancellation policies to point at. A summarised Q&A on cancellation will answer, as conclusively as you can, customer concerns and minimise inbound email and calls on this topic. It’s also helpful to re-route customers with travel insurance to do the following:
    • Check their policies trip-cancellation terms in documentation provided by their broker and/or insurer
    • Point them at the latest advice provided by the UKs insurers and brokers association sites (more relevant if you’re a UK outbound business):
        • BIBA –
        • ABI –


3 – Encourage people to sign up to regular information

Encourage people not already registered for your business e-comms to subscribe now and/or to follow your social platforms- ‘in order to be kept updated about any changes necessary to the services we provide our customers as a result of Coronavirus’. Be sure to emphasise the utility of subscribing at this time.


4 – Put your leaders front and centre

Your core customer bulletins at this time should be signed-off by business owners or leaders. The Marriot International email referenced in (1) was signed off by CEO Arne Sorensen.

Add a photo of your leader(s) if you can. This puts leaders visibly to the fore when leadership is expected, humanises your brand’s connection with customers and assures them of your business priorities at this time, i.e. customer safety and care, business hygiene protocols, staff wellbeing and livelihoods and business sustainability.


5 – Make more use of video content

If you’re a proficient video creator, then you’ll be vlogging extensively and no wonder; video outperforms all other formats on social for engagement. Use video to amplify business comms and underpin bulletins from your leaders. A DIY approach will work just fine. Keep videos short, concise, use speech>text subtitles and try posting on multiple platforms. In a recent blog about video content marketing, I described the format as marketing cryptonite.


6 – Monitor the landscape for shifts and trends

Do you have social, competitor and topic (or content) monitoring set-up? This will help you identify current and relevant forum discussions or influencer posts and present opportunities to curate (recycle or link to) useful content and/or make timely interventions to add helpful contributions to forums. There are all sorts of free and paid tools available to act as your digital eyes and ears. Here’s links to some free tools:

    •; the basic free version lets you create up to 50 topics, for which you’ll receive daily email alerts or ‘scoops’ linking to the article
    • Google Alerts; does what it says on the browser!
    • Tweetdeck; also very simple to set-up and use
    • There’s also free versions of Hootsuite, SocialMention and Feedspot


7 – Double down on your SEO

If you’re stepping back from the cut n thrust of managing paid acquisition campaigns and promotions (they’re likely paused for now), then devote time to SEO housekeeping. This is a vast topic and I’m only skimming the surface, but here’s 5 very worthwhile activities to consider:

    • Run an SEO site audit to pinpoint deficiencies and errors you can troubleshoot. You might have a specialist paid tool like SEMrush or AHREFS, but if you don’t here’s 3 free SEO tools you can use:
    • If you have a Wordpress site (chances are you do) and you have Yoast installed, then review and update all your Yoast containers. If you don’t have Yoast, install the free version. Here’s a guide from WP Beginner on how to install Yoast.
    • Audit yours and your competitor’s backlinks (AHREFS has a free tool for that) and use the insights to develop a backlink strategy. Links are one of Google’s top-3 ranking factors for your site. SEJ have published a recent and brilliant checklist of link building tactics.
    • If you don’t already have Google Analytics connected to Google Search Console, then get it linked. Here’s Google’s guide to get that integration set up. Once connected, search console data shows up in your Google Analytics dashboard. It’s incredibly useful. Ways to use it include requesting re-indexing of new or updated content, see how often your site appears in Google Search, see which search queries show your site and how often searchers click through for those queries
    • Review and update content on your most trafficked and/or key landing pages. Focus on EAT (Expert, Authoritative & Trustworthy) content and matching content to user search intent, i.e. buying, booking, finding the best in a category etc. Here’s a great article from MOZ on creating EAT content for SEO


8 – Create fresh content and use it well

We could go down a rabbit hole with this wide-ranging topic, but for now here’s a few easily understood and actionable tactics to consider:

    • No matter how big or small your business, you might be planning to undertake or be actively involved in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of some sort in response to Coronavirus. Such actions reflect well on you (of course) and on your brand, especially amongst local communities. Whatever your CSR effort, it’s a legitimate narrative to keep your brand visible, build goodwill and reinforce business and personal values. So write and blog about what you’re doing; keep it modest and real.
    • Review the personal profile pages about you and/or your team and ensure you’ve updated these pages with all the professional and association accreditations or certificates you hold and which mark you out as experts in your field. These are citations. Also look to see who is accredited as the author of any blog post or other article on your site; if you’re in the habit of not identifying an author, then remedy that by assigning ALL articles to named authors and link to their new, beefed-up profile pages
    • If you can, read your product, itinerary and directional instructions with a fresh pair of eyes. You’ll almost certainly find content needing updated or that could be written better; more descriptive or persuasive or both. Remember to loop back to your SEO groundwork first (see 7) before updating web content.
    • If the great outdoors and all that encapsulates is a big part of your tourism businesses offering, then you might find yourself with spare time during the coming months when nature blossoms in Spring and early Summer. It’s an opportunity to gather new video and photography content. Do it yourself and there’s no license issues too


9 – Think long, not short

It might seem dire at present and I appreciate many tourism businesses will struggle to survive a season without income, but the tourism industry will bounce back; perhaps even later this year?

And when travel restrictions are lifted and traveller confidence returns, people will initially and understandably have heightened concerns over hygiene in any venue, accommodation, event or experience. So, thinking ahead, it’s very worthwhile to start updating/creating a policy or method statement about how your business prioritises hygiene and maintains the highest standards of cleanliness.

Mark Ritson of Marketing Week just published a great article ‘marketing in the time of Coronavirus’ in which he talks about thinking long, not short and be sure to keep the brand light burning.


10 – Acquire new skills and knowledge

With an extended hiatus, you and your team could find time to improve your marketing chops. There’s a raft of free training and accreditation available for performance marketing platforms. Here’s some examples:

  • Enlist with Google Analytics Academy and sign-up for/complete the many modules such as Analytics 360, Data Studio and Google Tag Manager
  • Google SkillShop is another portal where you can access a wider range of Google platform training modules such as Google Ads and Google My Business
  • ThinkWithGoogle is a treasure trove of market insights and trends for all sorts of industries and sectors It also links you to specialist tools such as Google Trends, Site Tester and Market Finder
  • Facebook Blueprint is a free and vast resource focused mostly on Facebook, Instagram and messenger ad manager, but also covering facebook analytics and publishing strategies.
  • Google Digital Garage is a free online module in digital marketing with certification.
  • Take a content marketing course. Here’s a handy list from business2community of 7 free and very credible content marketing courses you can take online and acquire certifcation