2020 – Optimism, Disruption, Resilience
2020 started out a year of huge optimism and big goals for many of us in the adventure industry. We were ready and pumped to serve up amazing adventures across the US and abroad to our customers of all ages. Fast forward only weeks later to March, and the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global adventure travel and tourism industry. The last 36 hours have seen it escalate here in the United States and it is impacting local tour operators with immediate trips and those with trips 3+ months out who aren’t even open for the season yet.
Yes, while this too shall pass, we also know that in the short term it will get worse before it gets better.
There are things we can do immediately to support our customers and our businesses.
- Increase our customers’ confidence in our safety and risk mitigation operations protocols
- Help maintain customer loyalty to our adventure brands
- Protect our staff (and increase their confidence in our leadership, too!)
- Position our businesses to come through this period of disruption more resilient than before.
As leaders in adventure recreation, we are used to risk, we are used to managing risk prudently, and we know how to quickly act when unplanned sh*%! happens in the wilderness. We train for that. This is also our time to step up. We can do this.
The question that adventure brand owners are asking is:
How can I prioritize my hard-won and long time relationships with my customers and still protect my business during these uncertain times?
At the heart of this situation is fear—and our immediate decisions, whether business or otherwise, can begin with the people factor – understanding the fears around safety and well-being of customers and staff. We are all humans doing the best we can, given this situation. So start by identifying the concerns of your customers. Then, move next into identifying your concerns for your business and your staff. The economic fears of coronavirus are just as great as the health ones, for companies and individuals without strong reserves. These fears are very real, and we can still mitigate certain risks.
You know your adventure customers and target market audiences. (If you don’t, here’s a comprehensive process to figure that out.) Consider what their biggest worries are around the coronavirus, and develop (or refine) your coronavirus message from your adventure brand that speaks directly to those concerns.
Develop a Coronavirus Message for your Adventure Brand
Answer the following questions in your statement and remember that things are shifting daily. The more general your plan is, the easier it is to pivot. Specifics on cancellations for the next two months are useful. Specifics for cancellations for summer trips are not necessary yet. We don’t know enough at this time, for that far out. You want to address immediate customer concerns.
[And, note that for your business, you might develop your coronavirus message, make your plan, and NOT release it yet.] If your business isn’t open till later April or May, we know things will change a lot between now and then. Be ready, and wait for another week, or two.
- What is the current coronavirus information for your geographic area(s) of operations?
- What is the current state of your business operations?
- Open, open with modified hours or trips, or closed?
- If not yet open – what are your current opening plans?
- Example: We are opening on “x” date as scheduled and any changes will be communicated on our website.
- What is your current cancellation policy?
- Can you be flexible for spring bookings only at this time, so that customers know you care about their safety long term?
- Rebooking instead of cancelling: Can you offer rebooking of trips to later times in 2020 at no fees or penalties?
- If this is already your policy, (like for our adventure park clients) absolutely call it out – its both uncommon and very reassuring.
- Personal safety and hygiene at your operations
- Let them know you are following CDC protocols for social interactions, equipment disinfection, food preparation, etc.
- Don’t overstate this, just calmly say you are following all protocols to mitigate risk for customers and staff. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you haven’t followed normal best practices for safety and hygiene standards all along. You want them to know you have taken it to the next, above normal level, specifically because of this unprecedented coronavirus epidemic, out of an abundance of caution and concern for everyone.
- Remind your guests of their responsibility to follow best practice preventive actions for personal health by the CDC.
- Train your staff on these same preventive practices.
- Make it easy for your customers to reach out
- Provide your contact information for customers to reach out with questions or concerns. Yes, they might overwhelm the phones, but this is the time for your staff to shine with “warmth” plus “competency” – you can do this. It’s not forever.
- Sign your message from a real human being. No kidding. In general, we’re pretty good at this in the adventure industry, but don’t make the mistake of this coming from “XYZ Company”, with no actual person named and signing the message. I got an email like that yesterday – epic fail.
Side Note: Let’s talk about the word “Safety” in our customer communications around the coronavirus.
We work hard in the adventure industry to mitigate risk. We plan for unforeseen natural disasters with evacuation scenarios. We train our staff to the highest levels in guide standards and wilderness medicine. We are careful with how we use this term “safety” in our adventure trips and experiences, because none of us can guarantee the safety of customers for circumstances outside of our control. When Mother Nature is calling the shots, or a global pandemic arises from a singular source across the world, or a guest joins a trip without disclosing a medical condition – these are things beyond our control as adventure operators.
We say things like “We do our very best to ensure your safety by following strict safety protocols, and our staff is trained to the highest safety standards.” In our customer communications, we want to be clear with customers that they are also in control of managing their risks through the decisions they make. (Observation: Americans are a bit lax with this, compared to some other countries. As the liability industry (lawsuits, insurance, etc.) exponentially took off over the last few decades, Americans have forgotten that they still have both agency and responsibility to manage their own risks.)
Messaging Safety During Coronavirus
This coronavirus outbreak presents the same issues around safety. We want to encourage customers to honestly assess their health and make good decisions about whether they join a trip or visit a park based on their health and their risk to others.
Your message might be something like this: “Our company is following CDC safety protocols to minimize risk from the coronavirus and support healthy outdoor experiences for our customers and staff. We ask all our customers to ask themselves these questions, and to make sure they are not putting others at risk unintentionally.”
Roll Out Your Communication Plan to Your Customers & Prospects
When your statement is ready, roll out your message with a simple communication plan for your prospective and current customers. If you want to get a second review of your message to your guests, we are happy to offer our complimentary feedback during this unprecedented time. Send it to us here.
- Email your message to customers booked on trips this spring (March, April, possibly May).
- For trips to/in locations under travel restrictions already – you might be communicating on trips well into summer.
- Ideally, make sure customers get this separately and it is specific to the type of trips that they are on. (i.e. If it’s bike tours across the country, don’t talk about local rafting. If it’s local rafting and ziplining, these go together.)
- Put a link to your message on your home page.
- Note: We prefer to use a clearly visible button or banner that goes to a separate landing page, instead of a popup page. The reason being, on mobile, popups can cover up your navigation and frustrate visitors who can’t see how to close that popup and keep going on your site to other pages.
- Post your message on social media, after thinking it through.
- If customers are asking questions, be responsive and transparent and answer them. Don’t leave them hanging or let others fill in the void! You want to control your message.
- A post that links to your full message on your site is enough to communicate well, rather than the entire message in a post. That may be overwhelming to readers.
- Timing – transparency and authenticity are the best. If your business gets cranking in late May – you might wait a bit before posting. Or just say – we are monitoring this and ready to support our community, staff, and customers. Simple is good.
Keep Current and Be Prepared to Update Your Message As Needed
As your company stays educated and focused on facts, you can continue to be a source of calm and valid information for your customers. Monitor the latest information surrounding coronavirus via reputable sources for updated information.
Other: Our team finds this a helpful resource – and the NYT so far is releasing information about what’s going on, faster than government sources.
- New York Times: Daily Coronavirus Briefing (Free without a subscription.) Sitting down to read this instead of listening to the news is calming in and of itself.
How the Adventure Industry Can Encourage Healthy Behavior During Coronavirus 2020
Encourage Your Customers to Get Outside – with Calm and Nature’s Medicine Benefits
Encourage your customers and prospects that you are looking forward to getting outside for healthy adventures with them in 2020. Your business is ready to serve them healthy adventures, fresh air, sunshine and a respite from the 24/7 news cycle.
This pandemic is something few Americans have ever experienced, and many are frightened. It may surprise you who is frightened. Elders, parents, business owners, children, and yes, even teens. Teens seem impervious to just about everything – but, they can be worried, too. PTSD from fear of this unknown virus – that has as of yet no immunity, cure, or vaccine and comes with a barrage of fast moving, not always accurate information -is very real right now. And the economic disruption is right behind it with real fears of business and work losses.
Adventure industry folks tend to be pretty good under pressure, from my personal lens of four decades in the industry. We also know nature heals, and our companies can play a key part in helping get people outdoors for this healing, even in the midst of the epidemic this spring.
Finding New Customer Opportunities for Your Business
How can you extend access to your adventures to those communities that do not typically do them, cannot typically afford them, and/or are left out of the “outdoor adventure industry” altogether? Now is not the time to seek out the highest margins we can, but it is a time to embrace more people who can benefit from our adventure help.
- Is there a product we can offer or modify, that gets more kids and adults out for adventures? One client is thinking about heavily discounted adventure park tickets during this trying time to help folks get out.
- How about changing up rafting trips for smaller groups in a boat, and prioritizing having people from the same family/group only, in the boat, not strangers? Even stating that we are trying to do this could help reassure our customers.
- Is there a shorter raft trip and healthy snack we can offer at a deeply discounted rate? Can our vans or buses pick up community members with free transportation, for a fun and healthy day at our adventure center?
- How can we put our adventure assets to good use for our larger community? Especially if they are sitting idle due to cancellations?
- Are there free services we can offer? Even $20 tickets are too much if people are laid off from work and struggling to pay mounting bills.
- Let’s get creative here – we know as an industry we are good at that!
Protect Your Business Now with More Financing Tools and Flexibility
Super basic, but let’s say it anyway – double down on your line of credit, increase your bank financing limits, and investigate SBA emergency business loans to help you make it through a cash flow restriction. Interest rates are very low, and special support is available for businesses in this epidemic. For many of us, revenues have dropped, cancellations are draining our cash reserves and the immediate forecast is socked in with dense fog. We don’t know how long this coronavirus-impacting economic storm will last. We have bills to pay, great staff to reassure and try to keep on, and customers to navigate skillfully.
Call your banker – it’s their job is to help. My banker is doubling my line of credit – whew. As we move to protect our companies, let’s think about the most vulnerable of our hourly paid staff and those in our communities. How can we soften the blow to them as well? The kindness and generosity we show now will come back to us in spades.
Your Business Partners – “No Man is an Island”
We will all do better if we work together. That means that your business partners, vendors, and suppliers can help support you and make you stronger and more resilient. Working with them constructively will help you both over the long term. Unilateral, pre-emptive actions like the one in the email I got last week, are much more likely to get you banished to an island of your own creation. When help is on the way, you’ll be last in line. Or maybe that help will just fill the life raft and take off before you are able to get in.
Here’s that email an adventure company sent to all vendors this past week. Don’t do this.
Given these concerns, we respectfully request that all monthly payments be delayed until September of 2020 which will give us ample time to assess the financial viability of the [business name omitted intentionally] this year.
Up Next: Creating Strong Marketing Content in the Downtime of Coronavirus 2020.
Our next post will be about using this time to strengthen your Adventure Brand with marketing initiatives you can do in-house. Leveraging idle staff that you want to keep on, while the coronavirus works its way through America over these next weeks, is a business opportunity to take advantage of.
We are here to help. If you have questions, send us an email and we’ll give you complimentary guidance on your Coronavirus 2020 “In-the-Trenches” Adventure Response.