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Red Sage Hosts Covid-19 Crisis and Recovery Economic Development, Community Marketing and Tourism Roundtables

Throughout April and May, Red Sage developed and administered multiple COVID-19 crisis and recovery roundtable discussions.  These discussions brought together communications and marketing experts from across the region.  Our goal was to create a robust conversation around the unique challenges COVID-19 has presented in key industries, especially economic development, community marketing and tourism.

Advice for economic developers, chambers of commerce, CVBs, travel and tourism marketers in the time of COVID-19

Our Red Sage-moderated economic development, community marketing and tourism communications roundtables attracted economic developers from across Alabama and other states.  They also featured a special presentation from Tami Reist – President & CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. Here are three key “takeways” from our after-action summaries for participants.

Consistent, frequently-updated communication is the key to navigating COVID-19’s changing impact

Consistent communication is critically important because in today’s crowded media environment people are bombarded with mixed messages.  In addition to a COVID-19 landing page, weekly e-newsletters or webinars, economic developers make consider other strategies for staying engaged with audiences.  Economic developers looking to attract the attention of site selectors should prioritize virtual realty and video assets for distribution on websites or through social media.  Interactive community tours are also excellent resources for workforce recruitment.

Integrating and sharing information from local, state, and federal resources is also helpful for local employers.  News about changing COVID-19 social distancing or sanitation guidelines will be welcomed.  We also encourage economic developers and municipalities to keep it conversational, providing opportunities for collaboration the sharing of uplifting stories happening in your community.  Social media is a great platform for promoting this kind of conversation – especially on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Other questions to ask: Are you preparing a business impact study for existing industry? How are you distributing this? How frequently are you distributing? Do you plan to share data over time as COVID-19 evolves?

Tourism and travel marketing will need to prioritize “staycations” and closer-to-home experiences during COVID-19

One key takeaway from the discussion was that the tourism and travel industries should prioritize investment in marketing of local attractions.  Data suggests a reluctance to partake in international and national travel, especially air travel, may linger well into late 2020 and even 2021.  While rollout of a vaccine would help mitigate these fears – Chambers of Commerce, CVBs, tourism and travel authorities have an incentive to look “inward.”  Creative campaigns, interactive websites, virtual tours and social-media driven “experiences” that invite travelers to discover their backyard are all strong strategies.

Red Sage, for example, partnered with Decatur Morgan County Tourism to develop Armchair MOCO – a website making it easier for people to engage with their community while social distancing.  We structured the homepage for an optimal user experience – funneling visitors into do something fun, learn something new, or help or be helped “explorative” categories.

The shop local movement isn’t going away and communities should support restaurants and retail

COVID-19 hit the restaurant and retail industry hard.  As states like Alabama reopen, many visitors remain wary of dining in.  Some establishments are also struggling to adapt to health and sanitation restrictions.  Bottom line…. mom-and-pop restaurants and retailers are hurting (especially those without the backing of a major chain.)  Community leaders can, and should, do everything they can to provide support for these businesses.  They make up a vital part of most localized economies.

Some Chambers of Commerce are creating “communications kits” for their members, including a variety of materials like door and window decals or signage.  These tools make it easier for small businesses to reassure wary diners or patrons that safety measures are in place.

The scattered nature of rapidly-changing information has also caused problems.  Our agency, Red Sage Communications, specializes in economic development and community marketing.  We frequently partner with Chambers of Commerce.  When COVID-19 first hit, we heard from Chambers who were looking for a forward-thinking way to support their local restaurants and retailers.

We quickly rolled out a solution.  It’s a directory-based “Shop Local” website aggregating information about local restaurant and retail operations (pickup, delivery, gift cards, etc.) into a single, easy-to-maintain platform.  Right now many communities are still sharing limited information on the web, or have set up a Facebook page, making it hard to scroll through dozens of merchants.  Others don’t have a solution at all, and have left it up to individual businesses to communicate information in a piecemeal way.  Our website solution fixes those problems – making it easy for consumers to stay engaged and support local (for long after COVID-19 as well.)

Grow Southeast Alabama was one of the first, proactive regional cooperatives to adopt the Shop Local solution.  You can see the website here.

chambers of commerce, community marketing, COVID-19, CVBs, economic development, shop local, tourism, travel, website development

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