Disaster Recovery Marketing Tips for Tourism Businesses

Disasters like bushfire, drought, floods and cyclones ravage our nature and cause destruction to peoples’ lives and businesses. In regional communities, tourism plays a significant role in the regions’ prosperity and sometimes is the number one driver of economic development in that area.

Sadly tourism, an industry that is comprised of 90% small and micro businesses, is harshly impacted following a crisis like the Australian bushfire seasons of 2019 and 2020 and visitor confidence is decimated. The road to recovery can be very slow and it can take up to two years and longer to return to normal tourist visitation levels.

Dealing with the immediate priorities, in some cases, just to survive can be overwhelming for small business owners and they are in shock as well and who wouldn’t be in the current disaster crises. Communities across Australia have been traumatised by the Australian bushfire crisis impacting regions in Queensland from September 2019 and all eastern States throughout December and January 2020 and still the fires continue. And the number of regions that are enduring ongoing drought conditions and lack of water is heartbreaking and we send our love and support and want to help where we can.

Recovery means different things for different people.

  • In some cases, the business has had to close its doors to physically rebuild infrastructure before it can re-open and trade again.
  • In other cases, the business is able to keep operating, but would-be visitors to the region are afraid to visit, believing it may not be safe or that there is nothing to enjoy given the fire damage.
  • Often this is not true, but it is consumer perception and perception for your customer is reality for them.

Depending on where the business is at in these scenarios there are things they can do to restore the confidence of would-be visitors to their region and their business Time is of the essence in these situations, meaning it’s important to start communicating now to minimise the downturn in visitation.

Liz Ward, CEO of Tourism Tribe has provided in the below key principles to follow, which she has nicknamed SHOCC.

As part of our support of the industry, we have previously shared this helpful article and commencing on Monday 20th January we will be posting a daily series of disaster recovery marketing and communications tips starting in the lead up to the free “Road to Recovery” online workshop we are running on 7th February 2020.

The SHOCC principle

SHOCC is a disaster marketing principle designed to get you in the right headspace to develop appropriate marketing content following a bushfire, drought, flood or other event.

The principles we’d like you to apply in your recovery marketing are:

To make it easy for your colleagues and us to share your stories and updates tag @TourismTribe and #tourismrecovery on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Tip #1: Share your status with visitors

 Provide a factual update on the status of your business, in the context of the bushfire or any natural disaster is affecting your region that your market has likely seen in news reports. You know your area best and in light of a natural disaster, it becomes your responsibility to share the information you have with your audience.

People who are not familiar with your region are not going to be on top of what’s happening there so you can give them guidance and reassurance by acknowledging the situation and giving them the facts.


Give an honest account of what’s happening with your business and your area. Are you open or have you had to shut your doors temporarily? Are you close to the danger or far away? If you are a tour operator, have you had to reroute any of your tours or everything business as usual? 
If the fires are nearby, provide information about your proximity to the danger and any road closures that visitors should be aware of. It’s also important to let people know what you are doing to stay on top of emergency advice.

The key here is to try to imagine what your audience is thinking and what they’re worried about. They are likely to be concerned about the possible need to evacuate, about air quality, about whether other businesses and attractions in the region are still operating. You can address these concerns through some social media posts by putting up a notice on your website. Consider accompanying your post with a photo of your staff outside with big smiles ready to welcome guests. 

Your audience will appreciate your honesty and openness about the situation if you share this kind of update.

Tip #2: Write a blog post

You need to get the message of the ‘current situation’ in your region out there, to the top of the search engines and to your audience. The easiest way to do this is through a blog post.
 
Your blog post should answer a specific question about what guests can expect during their next visit. It is a good idea to use a specific upcoming holiday (Australia day long weekend, Labour day long weekend, Easter, etc) as a suggestion for their next visit. So an example of your blog post heading might be, “What you can expect when visiting *Our Business* during Labour Day weekend?
 
Plan out your post using dot points:
  • What was affected by the fires?
  • How were you affected by the fires?
  • What has not been affected that guests can include in their itinerary? Provide links to nearby attractions and businesses.
  • What else can visitors currently see and do?
Use images within your blog post. Of course, we don’t want to scare the visitors away, provide context for the photo by using an appropriate caption, for example, ‘This photo was taken in the nearby national park one month after the fire, look at all the regrowth already!’. If you have relevant videos to share, include them! Consider embedding a google map into the post.
 
Write your post using language that is appropriate for your audience (no local acronyms that they will not understand. And don’t forget to optimise your blog post for search engines.
 
Finally, milk your blog post for what it’s worth! Don’t share the post all at once on your social media channels, break it down into parts and spread it out to give you lots of content. Send it to local media outlets and your local tourism organisation as well as to other businesses in your area who may not have written their own posts. And of course, don’t forget to send it to your email database and include a link to it in your email signature.
 

Tip #3: Use bushfire recovery and destination hashtags

The community support for bushfire affected communities has undoubtedly impressive. There’s been a real spirit of generosity and camaraderie, it has been truly fantastic. There has also been a lot of public discussion about the ongoing need for economic support for bushfire affected regions. This has led to the creation of a few new Instagram accounts and campaigns that focus not on the initial need for survival and rescue fundraising, but on the ongoing need for economic support in these regions.

The Instagram accounts that have been created specifically to encourage people to spend in these regions are Spend With Them and Discover Here. We encourage you to check those accounts out and ask for your business to be featured on their page. Regardless of if whether or not they choose to reshare your posts, we recommend that you still use their hashtags by the same name to broaden your exposure.

You may have also seen the hashtag #GoWithEmptyEskies which is very popular at the moment. The idea behind this one is that visitors should travel with minimal provisions and spend big in the towns that they visit in order to put money back into the local economy.

For those operators impacted by the South Australian bushfires, SA Tourism has launched the #BookThemOut campaign to encourage travellers to visit Kangaroo Island and Adelaide Hills specifically. So, if you are located in either of these regions we recommend posting some of your best images so you can catch the eye of anyone following that tag.

You should also be using your local destination hashtags. This is something you should do regardless of whether you are impacted by a disaster in order to have your posts picked up by more people who are looking at your region. So, if you’re not already doing this, get on Instagram and look up your local, regional and state destination accounts, they should have their hashtag written in their bio, if not, have a look at their posts to see which ones they are using and copy them.

The thing to remember here is that people right now are very eager to help and are looking for ways to support the wider Australian community. Now is the time to use the momentum generated by all of the news reports and activity online to get into people’s Instagram feeds and promote yourself as a viable option for their next trip. We encourage you to be really earnest in your posts, let people know that although times have been tough recently, you are ready and excited to welcome them. Also, let them know that visitation is one of the best ways to support struggling communities right now.

Tip #4: Share the positive!

Our tip today is focused on ‘sharing the positive’.

We’ve seen the devastation the destruction – its been on our TV’s, news feeds and become a part of many conversations. And by no doubt the current environmental crisis has affected hundreds, if not thousands of businesses. Whether you have been affected by fire, drought, or even more recently, flood, the most important action for a business remains the same: communication. 

In many of our tips, you may notice there is a huge emphasis on communication. You may remember us saying ‘Share your story’, communicate! Write a blog – tell your audience what is happening so they feel up to date with all the changes. In today’s day and age, we are fed so much information that the human need to connect still remains as strong as ever. This is why there is such a push now to share ‘real’ content. Genuine content, content that allows the viewer to feel that connection.

The harsh reality of a bush fire or natural disaster can be exhausting both for you and your audience. You can relieve some of this anxiety by sharing an uplifting story that has come out of the event, or what you may be experiencing as a business right this moment.

So, I have an exercise for you. After watching this video, grab a pen and piece of paper. 

Think about the challenging event or circumstance you or your business has encountered. It was probably stressful, exhausting and frustrating, but from that experience, positives began to emerge. Or maybe you haven’t yet had time to see any positives and this could be a great exercise for you. After thinking about the experience, begin to note down any positives that you experienced or are experiencing at this current moment.

Here are some examples for you that you may be able to work with;

  • The community banded together
  • Receiving an unexpected hand from a friend, neighbour, relative or complete stranger
  • Maybe there is a hero story or a selfless act that you may wish to share

Once you have written down some positive experiences, elaborate on the and begin to flesh it out. Depending on the story, think about how you can use this for your social media channels, your email marketing, or would it be a great story to craft into a blog post? 

Remember, after so much devastation, it’s most lively that a good new story will be received well by your audience. SO give it a try, keep the communication open, honest and in this case, share the positives.

Tip #5: Speak with other operators

In the wake of a natural disaster such as a bushfire, one of the main concerns your guests will have is whether or not there will be anything for them to do if they visit. They may be up to date with how YOU are going because you have been so good with your communication…. but what about everyone else? You and other tourism operators in your community can step up here by communicating with one another. You need to find out who is operating, who isn’t, who has been affected, and what attractions are still viable.

A good place to start is to consider what recommendations you normally make to your guests. I’m confident that you get asked questions like, “Where should I go for dinner tonight?” – or – “What kid-friendly activities can you recommend for the weekend?”. Consider what your frequently asked questions are and start there. Make a list of 5, 10, 15 local tourism operators and give each business a call to find out how they are faring and if there’s anything you should know before recommending them to guests. Ideally, this will also put you on their radar so that they can recommend you to their guests as well. Win-win!

Then, we recommend promoting other businesses in your social media and blog posts. Have a look using your local tourism hashtags (like we talked about in tip #3) for great posts by other local businesses that are compatible with your product. So if you are an accommodation provider for families, you might look for family-friendly attractions like a maze or wildlife park and promote that. If you are a winery you could promote some romantic getaway accommodation options. This is also great for those people who sometimes have trouble coming up with new content ideas for your social media channels. This gives you something to talk about when you feel like you’ve got nothing to talk about.

Doing this shows your audience that there is plenty to do in your region, and lets them know that they should not be concerned about your community not being ready to accept guests. You are saying, “Look at all of these brilliant things to see and do – don’t wait!”, and that boosts the attractiveness of your destination as a whole.

 

Tip #6: Ask for reviews

As any small business owner is well aware, online reputation MATTERS! What your guests and customers say about your business on Google, Facebook, Tripadvisor, Zomato and everywhere else in between has a very real impact on the expectations of potential customers.

After a natural disaster, guest reviews can carry even more weight than usual. This is because testimonials are perceived as highly credible and positive quotes from guests who have visited during the recovery period can be reassuring to future visitors. It’s one thing for you to say you are doing well and to tell your audience that your product is still worth purchasing, but the same sentiment coming from a paying customer has much more value.

You should be speaking with any customers you have now, who have used your service in the post bush fire period, and ask them to leave you a detailed review. Any guests who are aware of the struggle that your business and region has gone through are likely to be looking for ways to help. This is a great way for them to help! 

Ask your guests to write a positive review on the platform of your choice. You might like to do this in person at the end of your interaction with them verbally or with a leaflet or letter, alternatively, you might prefer to send a follow-up email. Whichever method (or combination of methods) you choose, your message should briefly speak to your experience of the bushfires, then let the customer know how much it would mean to you to have them write you a review online. The advantage of the email method is that you can make the process very easy for your customers by providing direct links to any or all platforms for them to complete their review.

Once the reviews start coming in, don’t forget to respond to them as soon as you can. And don’t just leave a cut-and-dry “thank you” message. Leave a unique response that addresses their comments accordingly and, if it’s appropriate, use the opportunity to offer additional information about your business and, of course, thank them for taking them time to leave a review. For potential visitors who might be researching your business, this shows them a few things: it shows that your business is doing well despite the disaster, that other people have been enjoying you product or service, and that you care about your customers enough to read your reviews and leave responses.

The last step in this process is to make the most of these excellent reviews. Include them on your website on the homepage and in a dedicated testimonials section. And, of course, share the best messages on your social media channels.

Tip #7: Recruit mascots!

At the time of a disaster unfolding, the media is so focused on the current dire situation, and then it moves on to the next disaster to report, so unfortunately the media will rarely come back to give the good news story. This then leads to the view in the consumers mind as unbalanced or negative. 

It’s within your best interest to grasp this opportunity to spread the good news – you will need to ask for the assistance of your guests to help you to do this.  

To understand the importance of reviews, here’s a few facts:

  • 90% of people trust 3rd party endorsement ahead of any advertising. 
  • Two thirds of marketing is not done by advertising, its done by your consumers.

Your consumers have the abundance of voice. and it is these voices of your guests that have help change the negative view.

Here are a few ideas or you on how you can use your guests to help: You will need to put on your opportunistic googles to see opportunities:

  • Ask your guests if you can take a picture of them enjoying your business and write down a few words that capture their feedback. Post this to relevant online channels. Caption the endorsement and grab their names. (Remember to ask for their permission to share).
  • Perhaps you can write a little blurb that is handed out saying a little bit about your story and how the guests can help you. Provide links to your Google My Business listing, social media and TripAdvisor pages asking them to share pictures, write recommendations and share with their friends. Make it simple for your guests and thank them in advance for their support.
  • Do a Facebook live video with some guests  and ask them about their experience. You really need to take the opportunistic approach here!

Use your most current reviews on your website- weave them in throughout your copy to add in the power of the 3rd party endorsements.

Lastly, ensure you dedicate time to make this step of your recovery happen as it will be so powerful for your business.

Tip #8: Protect your passwords

If your office was to burn down or the electricity to it got cut off, would you be able to access your work files from anywhere? 

In case of emergency, could you access your guest list from any computer or device and sent them a critical piece of communication? via Facebook, email or other?

To be able to do so you need for your files and systems to be cloud based and you need access to your logins and passwords.

There are now secure systems that exist that allow you to protect your business not only from hacking attacks but from being able to operate in critical times. These are called ‘Password Management’ software such as LastPass or 1Password. Read more about it here

Tip #9: Utilise email to connect with your past guests

During the period following a natural disaster, it’s important to build the confidence that your target market has in your business. The most valuable asset you have right now if your existing customer email list.

In an ideal world, your email database would be segmented, your messages personalised for each recipient and you would be utilising automation and integration techniques. We understand that most businesses don’t have these best-practices in place yet. But, this shouldn’t stop you making use of email in your disaster recover marketing. So even if you don’t have a tidy aggregated database or CRM software you should include email in amongst your recovery marketing arsenal.

For those operators who don’t use any CRM tools and have never used an email list before, the most simple solution would be to gather the emails of all of your past customers from the last 2-3 years and create a spreadsheet with their names and email addresses. Obviously, the more personalised info you can track and record the better. You should aim to record information such as when the guest visited, who they were with (i.e. family/couple/single), where they were from, what age group they were in, etc. Even if you don’t have the capacity to segment your list right now for this email campaign, it’s great to keep track of this information so that you can target certain groups further down the track.


We want you to reach out to this group because you have already established a relationship with them. They have stayed with you or used your service or bought your products and have hopefully enjoyed their interaction with you so far. It’s very likely that they are aware that you may have been affected by the bushfires in your area and will be curious about what your current status is. That interaction with your business – those memories they made with you – gives them a small sense of ownership and responsibility for your region. If you think about the places that you yourself regularly holiday or have visited before, I’m sure you feel a certain special affection for that place. And that’s why we want to reach out to this group specifically.

For those operators who are temporarily closed while recovering:


Your email should focus on keeping your relationship going. Provide your past guests with an account of your experience and advise them that when you re-open you hope that they will visit you again. Also, let them know that when you do reopen you will be in touch with them again to let them know and invite them back.

For operators who are open for business:


Your email message should provide a similar account, but focusing on letting them know that you are open and you’d love for them to come back and they’d really be helping out if they did. You might like to extend them a special offer. Let them know that as they are previous customers you would like to offer them a special 25% discount, or whatever special offer works for your business.

In both scenarios, you are leaning on that memory that these guests have of their experience with you which ties them to your business. 

You do need to get into the sales mode here and think about what you want the person receiving the email to feel and what you want them to do. So give them a call to action that they can engage with at the end of your email. If you can, we strongly suggest looking at an email platform such as Mailchimp. Mailchimp makes it easy for you to personalise and customise email campaigns in a way that is very visually engaging and fairly simple and very professional. You can add videos and images and all of that pretty easily. Eventually, you might wish to go one step further and use a more complex and adaptable solution that gives you extra functionality such as email automation.

It’s important to start working on this as soon as you can. Get mobilised and start communicating via email because not everyone will see your social media posts.

Tip #10: Go live!

Going live is a great way to create unique and sharable content for your social media channels. Live videos are more raw than most pre-recorded and edited video content and can really pique the curiosity of your audience, because they won’t know what to expect and will be more eager to watch the video live in the moment. This makes it a great option for those operators who are trying to push their messages following a natural disaster.

There are lots of possibilities of what you might like to do in your live video.

If your business was impacted by the bushfires, you might like to use your live video as a storytelling tool, take your audience on a quick tour and show them how the physical recovery of your property is coming along. You might like to show your audience all of the fresh growth in your area – the green shoots coming out of burned trees. You could talk about a local event that’s coming up and what visitors can expect at that event and your involvement in it, maybe show them how the setup for the event is coming along. You could also talk about a new product you’re offering, or a new tour you have just launched. Or, you might like to address some frequently asked questions.

If your business gets high engagement on your Facebook page, you might like to do a live Q&A session. I recommend this primarily to businesses who get good traction on regular posts on Facebook because you are more likely to have an engaged audience joining your live video. If you are going to do a live Q&A it’s worth having a couple of minutes worth of material to talk about at the beginning on your video while people join, and having some FAQ’s ready to address while you’re waiting for people to think of their own.

Of course, you will need to plan out your live content just as you would for anything other posts. To get the timing of your video right, have a look at your Facebook insights to see when the majority of your followers are online. You can see this by going to insights and clicking on ‘posts’. If your business does better on Instagram and you are planning on going live there instead, you can look for this same information by going to your insights, click on audience, and scroll right to the bottom of the screen. It’s good to have this information because you want to schedule your live video for a time of the day when your audience activity is at its peak to give it the best possible exposure.

If you’ve never done a live video on Facebook or Instagram, you might like to practice in advance. You can do this by going live on your own personal page so you can get an idea of how it works before you do the real thing. This is handy because on your personal page you can adjust the audience settings from ‘public’ or ‘friends’ to ‘specific friends only’ or ’only me’, which will limit the number of people who see your practice video if you’d prefer it that way.

It’s a good idea to build some hype for your live video too. Schedule some posts a few days in advance letting your audience know that you’re going to go live at a certain time on a certain day to talk about something special, or to show them something interesting. This is important especially if you are hoping for live interaction such as in the Q&A example.

If you are using Facebook, it might be handy to have a colleague on hand watching the video live so they can field any questions or comments from audience members who interact if you think you might need a wing-woman or wing-man.

Once the video is done Facebook will process the video and add it to your newsfeed, from there you’ll be able to download it and share it on other platforms such as IGTV and Youtube, and you can even embed it in your website, maybe in a blog post perhaps.

If you go live on Instagram your video will be available for 24 hours as a story which you will be able to save as a highlight to your page. You’ll also be able to download it to your camera roll if you wish to repost in on your other channels.

For those few operators who are active on twitter, you can go live on twitter but be aware that the maximum time is 2minutes and 20 seconds so you need to keep it short and sweet.

Tip #11: Leveraging campaigns

Tourism Australia has launched the Holiday Here This Year campaign and with it, they have offered lots of tips and guidance on how tourism operators can interact with their campaign. This is a great opportunity for Australian tourism businesses to reach a new domestic audience. To make the most of this campaign and other state and regional bushfire recovery campaigns, operators need to take the time to align their marketing messaging with that that is being presented with the campaign as a whole.

One part of this process is to revisit your listing on the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW). Now is the time to log in and update your listing with specific information regarding whether you are currently open for business and upload new images that present your business in its best light. Campaigns such as the Holiday Here This Year campaign are likely to source information about tourism operators from this source so it’s your responsibility to ensure that you are putting the best information out there to be captured.

To get the most out of the Holiday Here This Year campaign you will first need to download the marketing toolkit that Tourism Australia has developed to assist operators. The toolkit provides information about the campaign, guidance on how to use the campaign logos and more. The branding images that are provided in the toolkit can be added to your own photos of your property or tourism product through tools such as Canva, which you can then post on social media and on your website. It is important to review the guidelines in the toolkit on how to compose these images as their instructions are very thorough. Of course, when you are posting using the Holiday Here This Year logo be sure to accompany it with the #HolidayHereThisYear hashtag to give it that extra boost in exposure!

Tip #12: Plan your activities

We hope that by now you are feeling energised and motivated after the last two weeks of daily tips. We’re sure your to-do list is growing and the last thing we want you to do now is to lose momentum. The best thing you can do right now is to focus your energy into a realistic plan.

What I’m going to suggest you do, is set aside a couple of hours next week to sketch out a 3 month marketing plan for your business that incorporates all of the advice that we have been discussing. I’m suggesting that you do it next week because we will be covering even more information and advice in our free online workshop this Friday. So I recommend attending the workshop first so that you can incorporate all of it into your recovery practices. PLUS, we will also be providing attendees with a downloadable 3 month planner for you to use to map out your next steps.

In the meantime however you can start thinking about how you might take our suggestions and make them your own. Start prioritising your storytelling and other activities and figuring out when it might be best to take which actions.

For example, you might want to think about what blogs you will write over the next three months. If you haven’t written one about your experience of the bushfires you should make that your priority. Include your story and talk about the status of your business and the region more broadly. Then next month, in March, you might like to write about something that’s happened in the community since the bushfires, you could talk about the recovery effort. Or you could focus on something else entirely, promote a festival that’s coming up or a new collaboration you have with another tourism organisation. And then at the start of April you could write about what happens in your area during Easter and what visitors can expect to see if they book with you for the long weekend.

The planner that we’re providing will also give you prompts for social media posts so that you can plan those out as well. In terms of frequency you really need to think about what’s feasible for you. We usually suggest that businesses post 4 times per week on their main social channels and write one blog post per month. Some operators have the time and resources to post daily which is great and works well for some people. But if this seems way out of reach for you that’s okay. Start with something that you can maintain. Two posts per week is better than none.

It’s important to plan out your marketing activities so that you can stay consistent. It’s easy to have a short burst of motivation or inspiration and then get caught up in all of the other responsibilities that come with running a business. So writing a plan will help you space out your posts and activities in a way that is manageable for you so that you’re not left scrambling for ideas at the last minute.

Planning will also help you to see what’s coming up and get prepared. For example, when you sit down and look at a calendar, you can see the special events that are coming up and plan your messaging around them. Easter weekend is a good example. So, think about other events and occasions that would usually draw visitors to your region. Being prepared early means that you can create material relevant to what visitors will be looking for during these times and give your business better exposure.

So, start thinking about what tips you haven’t incorporated into your marketing activities yet and think about when it would work best for your situation to do so. Then on Friday when we provide the downloadable planner, you can map out your activities for the coming months in a way that works for your business and your situation.

 

More tips will appear below each weekday until the 7th of February when we run our free live ‘Road to Recovery’ workshop

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