The pandemic has been utterly disastrous for the travel and hospitality industry. And yet, even amid such profound uncertainty, businesses are finding ways to reinvent themselves, innovate and adapt.
Lauren Bowes, brand publicity manager for Wyndham Destinations, recently shared with Ragan’s Crisis Leadership Network how the company has navigated the turmoil of the past year and a half. She offered numerous examples of how Wyndham Destinations, the world’s largest vacation ownership company, kept its 850,000+ owners and the news media engaged during an era of lockdown.
As the pandemic unfolded, Bowes says, Wyndham Destinations focused PR efforts on four phases:
- Managing the crisis
- Finding the company’s new normal
“With our resorts temporarily closed, media relations efforts became a tool for keeping the media, stakeholders, owners and guests informed on updated policies and community relations efforts, before and eventually transitioning into a proactive way to keep owners entertained from home,” she says.
Bowes and her team actively pitched stories to multitudes of outlets to share the company’s efforts to connect with customers during the pandemic, which included offering free Postmates food delivery and producing a video featuring pro golfer Brandt Snedeker demonstrating putting practice drills.
One initiative in particular struck a therapeutic chord. Wyndham offered travelers a complimentary session with a certified music therapist, Noel Anderson, along with access to his “curated playlist on Pandora’s Margaritaville station.”
Anderson shared the benefits of music therapy on Wyndham’s blog: “Music therapy has long been regarded as an established allied healthcare service for people of all ages and is highly effective in helping folks understand and process emotions.”
She adds: “With so much change and isolation occurring over the last year, music therapy can positively affect mood and emotional states by releasing ‘feel good’ neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Music therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for relaxation – a key element in releasing stress as vacationers prepare to venture out into the world again.”
Coverage of that music therapy campaign landed in Forbes and Travel & Leisure, resulting in 638 million media impressions, according to Bowes.
Of course, the benefits of the thoughtful gesture to support customers’ mental health go well beyond media impressions. That sort of substantive effort is what helps forge meaningful connections with your target audience—and demonstrates that your company cares about more than the bottom line.
Wyndham got creative with offerings and deals during the pandemic, pitching opportunities to work (or learn) remotely from an idyllic location or to celebrate Thanksgiving at a resort. She shares that the “Thanksgiving Quar-nucopia” package included a $250 gift card to use toward holiday feast musts, such as beer and wine delivery, among other essential Turkey Day ingredients.
Bowes shared that even as resorts closed and travel ground to a halt, the state of the travel industry remained a hot topic for top-tier business and financial publications. “In addition to sharing how we adapted to the crisis from a business perspective, we also shared our revised marketing strategy to showcase how to talk about traveling during a global lockdown,” she says.
Bowes notes that Wyndham Destinations had to pivot quickly as the pandemic took hold. The company took the opportunity to overhaul its owner communication strategy and tweaked its marketing tactics. It has also leaned more heavily into partnerships and influencer marketing.
More than 30 influencers stayed at 10 different resorts from May – Dec. 2020, featuring alluring Wyndham content with a combined 4.2 million Instagram followers, she says.
“As travel restrictions rolled back and people started getting back on vacation, we created and launched publicity campaigns that focused on the ‘new normal’ – extended stays, working and learning from anywhere and quarantining on location with all the necessary amenities,” Bowes says.
Which metrics matter these days? Bowes says her team closely monitors media placements and share of voice. She notes that Wyndham Destinations landed coverage in The New York Times in a story about the rise of membership travel, and CEO Mike Brown appeared on MSNBC to discuss how the travel industry can bounce back after more than a year of misery.
Bowes shares Bowes shares that total media impressions for Wyndham Destinations in 2020 totaled over 6 billion.
“Wyndham Destinations maintained the majority share of voice (35%) in the news in 2020– an increase of 14% from our total share of voice at the end of 2019.”
Bowes offers guidance on what she’s learned from communicating amid the worst crisis in a century:
- Stay flexible. Just three months into 2020, Wyndham Destinations had to scrap its entire PR plan for the year. “A changing environment doesn’t mean you have to stay stagnant,” Bowes says.
- Start the recovery in the midst of the crisis. Don’t let turmoil derail your long-term objectives and goals. Be mindful about how you’ll proceed and succeed moving forward.
- Identify a story that needs telling, then find a way to tell it. Bowes says her team stayed top-of-mind with travel media and consumers by focusing on emerging trends such as extended stays and reimagined travel seasons—and finding ways to meaningfully be part of the conversation.
- Focus on your strengths. What does your team do really well? What makes your company special? These strengths should fuel your storytelling.
To hear the rest of Bowes’ session—and to access a trove of crucial messaging guidance from the industry’s top professionals—join Ragan’s Crisis Leadership Network today.