COVID-19: Tourism and Accommodation playbook

UPDATED: New Zealand Government alert levels

The New Zealand Government has released an alert levels system to help explain what is required if alert levels change related to COVID-19.  They have said that alert levels could change quickly and may chop and change not only at a national level but at a regional level, going up or down.  This playbook has been edited to explain what each of the plays in the playbook mean at different alert levels.

Speaking with Tourism and Accommodation clients this week, it’s clear that business owners are in shock over how quickly the international cancellations have flooded in.  If you’re deep in problem-solving mode, your website and digital solutions are probably the last thing on your mind, so we’ve created a playbook of key actions at this challenging time.

When I spoke with an activity operator today, he was tired of the dozens of COVID-19 emails from big corporates talking about their COVID-19 response.  This playbook is not telling you to do that. In fact, because of that, email probably isn’t the best communication channel right now. I find myself checking businesses websites, social media profiles and also news outlets for updates, while emails about COVID-19 can feel like a distraction.

Update Facebook AND your Website — don’t leave people wondering!


Some businesses are communicating regularly with their Facebook followers how they’re adapting to business in a new world but most are forgetting to also post that information on their homepage.

Adding a notice to your home page about COVID-19 is as simple as adding a new stack right near the top of the page, adding a heading and then a paragraph of information.

With the potential for alert levels to change over the months to come, communication is important.  Explain what the different alert levels mean for your business.  A great example of this done well is the CEO of Cardrona Ski Resort, click below to watch the video.

In this example from Nature and Nosh, they have created a new page that explains their COVID-19 policy and they link to it from their home page.

Appeal to the domestic OR local market and be real


Now that New Zealand has switched to alert level 2, domestic travel around the country has been advised against unless absolutely necessary.  Thinking longer term, how is your business geared up to reach the domestic market once we are lowered back to alert level 1?  How far away that might be is difficult to say but it could be that the international visitor isn't an option for tourism businesses for a some time, so think about how a return to level 1 could reopen the potential for domestic travellers.

Think about cancellation policies that make potential domestic visitors feel more comfortable that if they book for a month's time, they aren't going to lose out if it were to return back to level 2.  Expect shorter term bookings and a reluctance to book longer term.


With international tourism drying up overnight, many tourism activity businesses were appealing to the domestic market and offering deals to keep revenue trickling in.  However, at level two, domestic travel is restricted.  Can your business appeal to locals to try your experiences?  Locals who once travelled internationally or even to other regions may miss their adventure tourism pursuits.

How can you adapt your offering to be safe for guests, keeping guests at least 2m apart.  Outdoor activities have a real advantage here.

If you are able to host guests at whatever alert level, be honest and real on your website and social media that times are challenging but you’re open for business and excited to host guests.

A few of the pricing offers we’ve heard to draw in more visitors in these trying times:

  • 25% off discounts for locals
  • Across the board discounts
  • Stay 2 nights and get the third night free
  • Offer 14 day accommodation packages

Make it clear on your home page and social media what the deal is.  Add a stack to your homepage promoting the offer and even set up a specific landing page about it.

Present an alternative for kiwis who have to cancel international holidays


At Rocketspark some of our team will have to cancel or postpone upcoming international vacations as a result of COVID-19.  The annual leave is booked and the desire to have a holiday hasn’t gone away, so people might be on the lookout for domestic alternatives as opposed to cancelling annual leave — particularly off the grid accommodation away from large cities and public spaces.

Accommodation providers — can you offer self-isolation accommodation?

Dependent on the advice of the Ministry of Health

Fast thinking motels and accommodation providers around New Zealand are adapting to the growing need for self isolation accommodation.

Here in our hometown, Destination Cambridge CEO Miff Macdiarmid is working with the local council to build a database of accommodation providers that can offer such accommodation and other councils are doing the same.

There is specific criteria for suitable self-isolation accommodation, such as not having communal facilities — ensuite toilets and separately accessible rooms.

Think about ways you can eliminate contact with guests.  Closed reception, no contact key dropoff etc.

Activity operators — don’t neglect keeping up with photo and video posts


Social media posts of people having fun in beautiful outdoor locations “yesterday in the canyon” or “today on the river” show potential guests they can still come and have a great time with you, at a lower risk of exposure than public places and cities.

If you're unable to operate at all, in this anxious time people will be comforted by images of beautiful scenery, action shots etc — giving people hope for a future time when they'll be able to get back to these tourism experiences they love.

Look after guests by knowing which restaurants offer delivery and kerbside pickup


If your vacancies are high, think of ways to channel great service into the guests you do have.  

As COVID-19 progresses, there is a possibility restaurants, cafes and bars could close their doors but many are preparing to continue producing delicious meals but offering delivery or kerbside pickup.

Accommodation providers usually do a good job of advising guests of nearby restaurant faves but if restaurants are closed, make sure you ring around your usuals to get a handle on who is offering delivery or kerbside pickup.

What is kerbside pickup?  Kerbside pickup is the idea that diners can order and pay online for restaurant quality meals without having to enter through the doors of the restaurant.  They pick up their meal in takeaway containers streetside via a hole-in-a-wall type exchange at the door, maintaining social distancing for both the restauranteur and the diner.

Today I enjoyed lunch by Absolute Coffee House at the office and they’ve just started offering free delivery here in town. In larger centres, Uber Eats is also an option.

Stuff’s Back Your Backyard campaign


Stuff are supporting the local tourism industry in New Zealand with a promotional Campaign encouraging people to support local tourism opportunities.  Encourage your customers and past customers to send 600 word stories and four photos to Stuff of their experience and it’ll get posted on Stuff.

Then use the hashtag #backyourbackyard in all social media posts.

Optimise your accommodation business for Google search


In a normal tourism market, a heavy proportion of bookings come from Booking.com but if people are stranded due to closed accommodation, we may find more travellers taking to regular Google search to investigate alternative options.

If you're unable to operate, now might be a good time to invest into improving for Google search so that as the alert levels drop down again in future, you're positioned well to pick up more business.

Here’s things we’ve seen work well:

We’re always nagging our friends in tourism businesses to write some blogs as it really helps their rankings but they’re often too busy. Maybe now might be the perfect time to invest in some content creation.

Check out our Rocketspark ebook on building an effective website for step by step guidance on optimising your site for search engines.

Know what financial support you can get


Be proactive and get on the phone now with key stakeholders to find out what kind of financial assistance you can get access to — don’t wait for it to come to you.  Our experience with government funding opportunities before COVID-19 is that help is there but you need to do the groundwork and communication well. Over-communicate with stakeholders, don’t miss out on opportunities.

We recommend reaching out to these agencies for advice:

  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Your regional tourism organisation
  • Your local iSITE/tourism agency
  • Regional economic development agency which may have regional development funding available
  • Government rescue packages

Talk to your bank.  Banks are recognising the need to protect businesses and we’ve seen good support provided today to a client’s business who’s orders had stopped.  

If you need help in any way, don’t forget you can get in touch with us.

Remember, the virus won’t last forever and neither will economic downturn

Difficult times are afoot but don’t forget that the virus won’t last forever and how you operate now will have a significant effect on how your business fares out the other side.