New Research: Business as Usual Drastically Changing for CVBs

The benchmark study from the Destinations International Foundation and MMGY Travel Intelligence shows expectations of "extreme impact" jumped from 8 to 79 percent in two weeks. 

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Amidst the fast-developing COVID-19 crisis, convention and visitor bureaus have rapidly scaled back their marketing spending, and seen event cancellations and postponements skyrocket within the span of two weeks. These were the preliminary findings of a benchmark series of research launched by MMGY Travel Intelligence and the Destinations International Foundation, which found that between early- and mid-March, the percentage of North American CVBs expecting the pandemic to have an "extreme impact" on the tourism industry increased almost tenfold.

The "North American COVID-19 Barometer" was conducted in two waves -- March 4-8, and March 16-22. The results also showed the percentage of destinations reporting coronavirus-related postponements and/or cancellations of business events skyrocketed, from just below 40 percent to nearly 100 percent. The number of respondents receiving 20 or more COVID-19-related inquiries per day rose from 4 percent in wave 1 to 30 percent in wave 2. The changes reflect how quickly the crisis has rocked CVBs.  

Sentiment around the expected impact of the coronavirus on the tourism economy has also shifted quickly. In the first wave, when asked to rate COVID-19's impact on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "no impact" and 5 being "extreme impact," just 8 percent predicted it would have an extreme impact of 5, while 66 percent expected it to have a low-to-moderate impact between 1 and 3. In the more recent wave, this jumped to 79 percent of respondents predicting an extreme impact of 5, and just 5 percent expecting its effects to be low to moderate.

"Destination organizations not only serve as representatives for the broader travel industry, but as stewards of their communities," said Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for the DI Foundation. "This study allows us to support these organizations by creating a tool that shares up-to-date detail on how their peers are managing through this ever-changing process."

The study found huge changes in how CVBs are doing business, with the number of respondents saying they were shifting sales and marketing strategies surging from less than 30 percent to 80 percent, and those saying they cancelled attendance at industry conferences or restricted/cancelled domestic travel by employees jumping from less than 10 percent to about 80 percent for each. Those who reported they have reduced or postponed sales and marketing spend jumped from 20 to 80 percent. 

Respondents also said they have moved quickly to reassure the traveling public, with substantial increases in actions including "posting coronavirus information on our destination website," "including links to the CDC on our destination website" and "working with local industry partners to distribute coronavirus-related information." 

This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of research tracking these sentiments and actions taken by destination marketers as the pandemic continues to unfold. 

"This is a rapidly evolving situation for our industry, and it's important for destinations to make decisions based on facts and hard data as they begin to prepare recovery strategies," said Craig Compagnone, COO for MMGY Global. "While there is no precedent for this situation, we know that travel has spiked following previous crises, and data will help influence how destinations keep travelers and communities informed until travel restrictions are eased and bookings return."