MMGY Travel Intelligence, in partnership with Destinations International Foundation, has released the inaugural findings from a benchmark series of biweekly surveys of North American destination professionals. The surveys track how this sector has been affected by COVID-19 and what shifts organizations are making during a period of very fluid change.  Preliminary findings reveal that, in the span of about two weeks, the reverberations of the pandemic dramatically changed the sector’s outlook, operations and marketing spending.

Wave II of the survey, conducted last week, found that more than 80% of destination organizations surveyed have reduced or postponed sales and marketing spend, and more than 60%  have asked all employees to work from home. In Wave I of the study, conducted in early March and prior to many of the COVID-19-related travel bans currently in place in North America, less than 20% had reported reducing or postponing marketing spend and a similar amount reported restricting domestic travel for employees. The majority of destination organizations are now reporting a strong expectation that coronavirus will have an extreme impact on their business over the next six months.

“Destination organizations not only serve as representatives for the broader travel industry but as stewards of their communities,” said Jack Johnson, Chief Advocacy Officer for the Destinations International Foundation. “This study allows us to support these organizations by creating a tool that shares up-to-date detail on how their peers are managing through this ever-changing process."

At present, the effects of COVID-19 are all-encompassing for this sector. The percentage of destinations reporting coronavirus-related postponements and/or cancellations of conferences, meetings or events surged from under 40% in Wave I to almost 100% in Wave II. The number of respondents receiving 20 or more inquiries related to COVID-19 a day rose from 4% in Wave I to 30% in Wave II. These inquiries are primarily related to information about event cancellations and attraction closings, as well as business-related functions such as conferences, conventions and business meetings.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation for our industry, and it’s important for destinations to make decisions based on facts and hard data as they begin to prepare recovery strategies,” said Craig Compagnone, Chief Operating Officer for MMGY Global. “While there is no precedent for this situation, we know that travel has spiked following previous crises, and data will help influence how destinations keep travelers and communities informed until travel restrictions are eased and bookings return.”

The survey also asked destination organizations about their preparedness planning. Data shows that only 30% of respondents stated that their destination organization had a pandemic emergency plan in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. While this seems low, it is most likely attributable to these organizations relying on plans from state governments rather than developing their own.

This survey was conducted among employees of destination organizations representing U.S. cities, regions and states. Wave I of the survey was conducted March 4–8, 2020, and Wave II was conducted March 16–22, 2020. This study does not include U.S. consumers. The full report is available online on MMGY Intelligence’s website.