The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has hit all businesses hard, and those in the travel and leisure are among the hardest hit. At this point of writing, the rate at which the virus is spreading does not look like slowing down anytime soon, and entire countries or cities are going into partial or complete lock down, if they haven't already done so.
Globally, governments are preparing and deploying financial aid to support small and medium-sized businesses, to prevent them from shutting down and laying off millions of employees. Whilst these financial aid packages are necessary and helpful, there are more things that you can do during this period, so that your business will not only survive, but be ready for customers when the market rebounds.
Here are 7 things that you can do for your business during this period of travel lockdown.
1. Establish (and maintain) your online presence
Even though traveling is not permitted, it doesn't mean your customers can't dream and plan ahead. The companies and brands that stay proactive and close to customers now, are the ones that will gain brand awareness, and be the top of mind among customers when the market recovers.
Website and social media:
Make sure your website is updated with images and testimonials from your latest trips (before the COVID-19 outbreak). Have a Facebook page or Instagram profile too? Keep your social media presence going during this period. Let your customers know that you are concerned about their welfare, but will be ready for them when they can travel again. Posting #throwback photos and videos are a good way to build up interest and anticipation.
Does your dive shop have a profile on Tripadvisor? This is a great time to start replying to those customer testimonials and feedback, if you haven't already done so. When it comes down to shortlisting dive shops that have similar prices, the one with the better ratings and more forthcoming responses to feedback will always standout. Oh, and make sure you reply to negative feedback too! Taking the time and energy to clarify any misunderstandings, or even admitting to shortcomings and explaining how you will improve in the future, goes a long way in attracting future customers.
Google maps and business profile:
Consider having your business listed on Google Maps too. Having a Google business profile is another good and free way to get your business noticed and receive testimonials from happy customers. Just make sure to always use updated and high-resolution photos.
2. Build up your customer email list
Now that you got your website, social media and other online profiles up and running, it's time to build up an email list of high intent customers so that when travel is permitted again, you have a ready list of interested customers to reach out to.
First things first, ask yourself why would a diver want to subscribe to your email list? Does your dive tour frequent locations with regular pelagic sightings? Or do you have lazer eyes and are a well known macro expert? Do you have special rooms or partnerships with a travel partner? Create a clear value proposition that is attractive to a diver, especially during this travel ban period, and get them to sign up to your newsletter to qualify for this offer. A note of caution, while it is very tempting to offer discounts for quick wins, it is often not a good idea and definitely not what your business needs to recover from this lockdown. On the contrary, I think most divers will understand that your business took a big hit, and might even negotiate less.
The goal is to funnel users from social media to your website and get them to sign up for your newsletter. If you are using WordPress, consider using a newsletter plugin, or speak to the agency that built your website for assistance.
The key to growing your customer email list is having quality content, regularly. Of course, you can't keep sending out offers on a weekly basis, but other content ideas for your newsletter can include what life is like for you and your dive guides under lockdown, perhaps photos of rental equipment undergoing maintenance and TLC (tender loving care), or better still, photos down at the beach.
3. Maximize brand exposure with your customers through 150bar
Now that you got your website and social media profiles up, leverage them to increase sales inquiries from multiple channels. One thing we understood very early on about why many dive shops still prefer a pen and paper log book, is because they can have their branding on the cover. That's why in our 2nd release of the 150bar dive log app, we included a feature for divers who are Dive Master equivalent and above, to include a website in their profile.
If you are a Dive Master equivalent or higher and you verify a dive log, a website link will appear in the dive log beside your name. When the user taps on the link, it will bring them to your dive shop's website, giving you brand exposure and reminding the diver on who they did the epic dive with!
To unlock this feature, you need to first be verified as a Dive Master equivalent or above by submitting your Dive (certification) Card details, which takes less than 2 minutes.
4. Sell flexible travel itineraries
In today's uncertain travel climate, many airlines and travel operators have either refunded their customers, or converted the trip value to vouchers or credits for future bookings. This gives customers the flexibility to travel whenever they want to, but more importantly, the assurance that their money will not be forfeited should another major event cause a trip disruption.
Consider selling your dive trip itineraries with an open date and reasonable refund terms, and you might just end up with some much needed cash flow during this period.
When customers purchase such trip packages, it is a strong indication of trust for your business. Make sure to keep them updated on local travel developments as they unfold, and be transparent if one day, the need to refund them arises.
5. Provide equipment maintenance services
Kudos to delivery providers who are still continuing to shuttle between places during this period. This also means that your customers can send equipment to you, and vice versa. Many dive shops service their own rental equipment, and/or provide equipment servicing for their customers. This is the time to start driving this business arm of your dive shop.
6. Update your customer service and after-sales process
When this period of lockdown is over, the travel landscape will look very different, and just surviving this period is going to be an incredible competitive advantage.
More importantly, you want to be rightly positioned to capture the spike in travel demand when the market recovers. Use this period to double down on significantly improving your product. Figure out how you can increase lead generation from more channels, improve customer inquiry lead time by creating templates, and generate more testimonials and recommendations after a trip. This process applies to equipment purchases and servicing too.
When it comes to travel, the innate human desire to travel is never going to fade away. All those who love traveling is bottling up that desire for the next couple of months, but at some point, the lid will open and the demand will come at a very fast pace. You want your business to be ready for that. Use this crisis as an opportunity to build better products and scalable processes.
7. Re-affirm your relationship with your travel partners.
Last but not least, remember that you are not alone. Stay in touch (virtually) with your business partners and grassroots leaders who are all going through this rough time. Show kindness and empathy, and reaffirm the years of friendship that you have. When this pandemic ends, let's all come back stronger than ever. We're all just dive buddies that haven't met.
Do you have more ideas on how to help dive operators during this challenging time, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
150bar is looking for dive shop ambassadors who want to encourage citizen science and help marine scientists record underwater temperature through the dive log. If you'd like to connect and explore how we can work together, please reach out via email too.