There’s no question that people across Canada are itching to get back to nature travel experiences, birdwatching, worldwide adventures, nature destinations, and much more in the great outdoors. Nature tours and expeditions have been forced to shut down during Covid-19. Revenues have plummeted in recent months. Tour operators certainly know that fact.
Nobody is overlooking the obvious change though.
Suddenly it’s no longer just about which backpack is best for a trip to Banff, or which hiking shoes will be the most comfortable for birding tours on rugged trails in British Columbia or Newfoundland and Labrador. Nature tours travellers have a lot more on their minds these days.
You’d better be able to answer their questions. Because safety is no longer about only lifejackets on nature expedition cruises, bear repellent, or satellite phones.
Suddenly, you have to be able to give consumers confidence that you are the right nature expeditions company or wildlife photo tours operators that will not only deliver a great experience, but also a safe experience in the Covid-19 era. You now have a dual sales pitch. So be prepared.
This is a Q&A with Gregg McLachlan, conservationist and founder of WorkCabin and digital marketing expert with WorkCabin Creative, about some of the Covid-19 tourism challenges now faced by outdoor adventure businesses.
Q: What challenges from a marketing perspective do you think nature travel and tourism operators have to be hyper aware of today?
No, question, everything has changed for off-the-beaten path nature trips. I think travellers now will really want to seek out businesses who understand the importance of health and safety as it pertains to Covid-19. Operators now have to be proactive communicating vs waiting to be asked. How many people will be in each group? What are the hygiene, handwashing and sanitation procedures? How will gear be sanitized? What is the trip’s proximity to medical facilities? Are participants from within the same bubble or are they strangers? How will social distancing be maintained, both on camping sites or at accommodations, and during any trip travel? How will participants be confirmed as Covid-19 negative before participating? I know, so many questions! But you really do have to put yourself in the ‘anxiety’ hiking shoes of your customers today. Having said that though, I do think the opportunities to return to a new normal are well suited to the nature and eco tourism industry. For the most part, the industry is already well positioned. Many experiences, whether they be birdwatching travel trips, backcountry camping trips or paddling adventures, have always had a feeling of exclusivity about them, meaning the experience is for a smaller group of people during each adventure.
Q: What about social media and nature tour operators? Do businesses have to be extra careful?
I really think in the spur of the moment, that’s where things can go unintentionally wrong and that’s where tourism operators really have to be careful now. We’ve all heard of the Covid-19 Police mentality nowadays. These are folks who enjoy publicly shaming people who they believe are breaking rules. So beware. All it takes is one seemingly innocent photo posted to Instagram that shows your trippers all crowded around a campfire eating marshallows. And you can guess what will happen next. BOOM! The Covid-19 Police who seem to be everywhere online these days will post comments calling out your nature tourism operation as being irresponsible and endangering lives. Nobody, you or the industry, wants that PR nightmare. It’s guaranteed that your trippers will be taking photos with their smartphones. But you need to doubledown on educating them about social distancing and the power of photos posted on social media to convey being responsible during Covid-19 and being irresponsible. It’s your business reputation that is potentially at risk too.
Q: How can nature tourism operators get back to business fast and attract customers?
It would be easy if you could wave a wand and nature daytrippers and multi-day trippers would start signing up to fill up spots for your nature destination experiences. But I think eco-tourism businesses really have to be especially savvy with their marketing right now. That’s probably a good thing anyways as budgets are tight as operators look to make up for lost sales. I hope most nature tourism operators have email lists of customers from past trips. Re-targeting previous customers is going to be huge in post Covid-19. These are people who already know you. So that means they are further along in the sales funnel of being converted again into a repeat customer. The thing I like about targeting past customers is that these folks may be your fastest route to restarting business. Getting back to business means you can be back in the wild. This means you can start creating new in-field content (videos, photos, etc) that shows you are truly back in business, operating safely during Covid-19, and thankful for the support. This kind of content will get noticed. And hey, it can only help amplify word of mouth about you. Not every tourism operator is going to return to a new normal at the same pace. It will be competitive out there. So you’ll want to get out in front, do it safely and responsibly, and communicate that you’re back. If you are a newer eco-tours operator or nature guide in Canada and you lack an extensive customer email list, your best marketing friend will be paid target marketing using social media (Instagram and Facebook). This type of marketing is relatively inexpensive and you’ll be able to precision target only the people who actually do the activities (nature and wildlife tours, birdwatching, whale watching, walking tours, eco tours, hiking and camping tours, boat tours) that fit with your offerings. What’s more, you can geo-target these people too. This is hugely beneficial and very ad-spend efficient vs throwing your dollars at blanket crap-shoot marketing to people all across Canada when your main target market is instead within a radius of a certain city or town.
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