This article was first published in QT Business (March 2022 issue).
Whether you’re preparing to re-enter the market or faced with business hibernation as Omicron takes hold, there are some important things to remember to protect your brand’s reputation, writes Scope Media managing director Celia Crosbie.
The head of Tourism New Zealand is predicting it will be a “bumpy road ahead” this year with the staged reopening of our borders.
Chief executive René de Monchy recently told Radio New Zealand that he expected the scaling back up of the tourism industry would be a challenge, albeit a positive one.
In the Queenstown Lakes District, the jewel in NZ’s tourism crown, many businesses are grappling with how they’ll come out of hibernation, or whether they need to go into hibernation before the borders fully re-open.
Queenstown-based Otago Regional Business Partner Network business adviser Ben Chapman is speaking to businesses daily about the challenges of the current environment, heightened by Omicron.
“Business owners are saying that ‘it is just incredibly hard to run a tourism business at present’,” Chapman explains. “The implication of staff isolating, on top of closed borders, means it is a complex trading environment for those who are operating. The opening of boarders can’t come soon enough for most tourism businesses.”
Local tourism industry leader Mark Quickfall, who owns Totally Tourism, says he knows of a lot of businesses that have had to sell assets just to stay afloat over the past two years.
“Unfortunately, a lot of businesses do not have cash reserves. Funding streams are the bank, cash reserves or selling assets. The opening of the borders cannot come soon enough. Now with Omicron, the next couple of months is going to be a real test. If they can get through to July, hopefully things will turn around for them with winter visitors. But if they fall at the last hurdle, it will be very sad.”
Quickfall says for his business, the next few weeks and months are “going to be very disruptive”.
“It’s not just lack of customers, but lack of resources to deliver to customers. Staff are having to isolate, and we will be managing that until we have reached the peak of Omicron. This period is going to be financially more challenging than what we have experienced to date.”
Quickfall’s team is using this time to prepare for winter and next summer, focusing on product, price, positioning and rebuilding connections with pre-Covid markets – all the important drivers for an effective sales and marketing plan.
For businesses that are either faced with hibernation, coming out of hibernation, or hanging on by the skin of their teeth, it’s critical they don’t forget about communicating with their audiences.
Reputation is everything and right now, businesses can’t afford to let it slip
At Scope Media, we’ve been helping companies navigate business hibernation with the support of the Government-funded Regional Business Partner Network.
Our approach centres on the importance of communicating in a crisis and we apply the methodology behind crisis communications and reputation management.
As business owners, we’re all aware that brand trust creates loyalty. But how a brand behaves in times of crisis will impact how consumers view the brand in the future.
The Covid-19 crisis brings new challenges for businesses – the natural instinct is to hunker down and fight for survival. But in this crisis, stakeholders’ needs are acute.
This brings an opportunity for businesses to make their mark by showing strength in their internal and external communications. So when you have to close your doors due to an Omicron outbreak, the best thing you can do is to keep your staff and customers informed in a way that reflects your brand.
Or, if you have to hibernate, make sure you inform the all people who need to know first, before they read about it in the media. This could be staff, shareholders, suppliers, previous customers, wholesale contacts and so on – just don’t forget to leave anyone off the list! The same approach applies for when you’re coming out of business hibernation.
Tips for good communication
The core purpose of communications in a crisis is to:
- Seek information
- Give information
- Influence actions in order to ensure safety
- Connect stakeholders and
- Maintain relationships and reputation
Applying this to business hibernation, it helps to take the same steps for crisis comms. Some of the steps include:
- Identify your audiences
- Consider your messages: What do they need to know and how do you want them to think, feel and behave?
- Channel consideration: Where do your audiences hang out?
- Plan: work backwards from the date you intend to close your doors and start talking to people.
- What next? Have a plan for re-entering the market.
The work starts now
“We need a lot of work reconnecting to the markets,” Quickfalls says. “That’s necessary with our destination marketing as well. We also need to make sure we present our products, so they have the same quality and delivery as pre-Covid. That’s not going to be easy for all businesses.”
The Otago Regional Business Partner Network is encouraging tourism businesses and businesses that service tourism businesses to register for support through the Tourism Communities: Support, Recovery and Re-Set Plan fund.
And if you need to talk confidentially about communicating in times of a crisis, feel free to contact the team at Scope Media. We’d be happy to help – after all, we’re all in this together.
Celia Crosbie is an award-winning former journalist who now owns an award-winning boutique communications and digital consultancy, Scope Media. Based in Wānaka, Scope Media brings people, communities and ideas together through authentic storytelling across all of life’s communication channels.