Keeping Your Clients Informed About Covid-19
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

Keeping your clients informed about travel options, regulations, rules, and other things they need to know about was a challenge before the pandemic. Now it seems like a full-time job. Just when you think you have a handle on what’s going on, things change.

As a travel entrepreneur responsible for your own marketing, you have probably struggled over the last nine months knowing what to share and what not to share. Where is the line between informing and scaring? Is it better to tell everything, just highlights, or ignore it and hope it goes away?

When I was in grad school studying communication, we learned a bit about crisis communication and I think there are a few lessons from that field that can be helpful to travel advisors.

First, your most important asset is the trust of your audience. If your audience doesn’t have faith in you, they will discount everything you say or dismiss it altogether. Those of you who have been sending out a regular (preferably weekly) email communication to your clients have a huge advantage here. You’ve built rapport with those on your list and they are far more likely to trust what you share with them. If you haven’t been sending out a regular email newsletter it is not too late! (And sidebar, seriously, what are you waiting for? It is the single best marketing activity you can engage in.)

You may be wondering how you get – and keep – the trust of your audience. It’s not just about telling the “truth” because there will be things you talk about that they won’t know whether they are true or not. It’s about being genuine. Readers get a real sense of who you are from what you share in articles, social media posts, and any other channel you use to communicate. That’s why it is important that you author the majority of your own content. Sure, you can supplement with purchased or provided content, but it should be more than 30% of what you share.

Infuse your own stories and personality into what you are writing. You can be warm and approachable and still be professional. If they have connected with you during “normal” times because of your communication style, they will really lean into you during a crisis.

Another key to effective crisis communication that holds true for virtually every type of message you deliver is that consistency and timeliness are critical. If there is something going on that your clients need to know about, get it out as soon as practical. Make sure you check your sources and have all the right information and then get it out there. If your clients are waiting on you to inform them and you don’t do so in a timely manner, they will look elsewhere and their trust of you will be diminished.

Even in regular communication if you show up on social media once a day for a week, disappear for a month, reappear for a few days, and disappear again, you have just damaged your reputation as a resource in a way that is hard to recover from.

That’s why the weekly email newsletter (or ezine) works so well. You show up in the client’s inbox every week at the same time of the same day. That consistency builds confidence. Sporadic communication feels disingenuous to readers. They wonder why you are communicating with them now. What do you want? There has to be some sort of motive for you to be reaching out now.

Finally, when it comes to delivering news that is either unwelcome or just plain bad (like canceled trips or new restrictions on travel), don’t sugarcoat it. Layout the facts and don’t dance around the subject. You don’t need to be doom and gloom, but don’t try to bury or hide the information. With bad news, it is critical that you share reliable information, not second-hand news. You should have a list of industry and media sources you can count on. ASTA has proved its worth over and over again during this pandemic and have numerous resources for its members. If you aren’t a member, you should be!

This is yet another reason it is so important for solopreneurs to have a strong support system where they can get information in a timely manner. You typically need a network of organizations to provide what you need: industry organizations like ASTA, a host agency, a consortium, and network of colleagues that support one another.

When you signed up to be a travel entrepreneur you probably did so because you love travel – not because you wanted to be a master marketer or communication strategist. That’s the reality of entrepreneurship! As my dad used to say, “You get to be the chief cook and bottle washer.” Your business, your message. You’ve got this!