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A shared goal of keeping Salem residents safe during heaviest tourism season

In a typical year, Salem’s tourism industry generates approximately $140 million in annual spending, supports more than 1,000 jobs, and supports scores of businesses directly and indirectly.

You probably know that 2020 was on track to be Salem’s biggest year for tourism to date. The new Salem Ancestry Days festival was being planned for May, we were gearing up for a Haunted Happenings with five weekends and two full moons in October, adding a new hotel, the Hampton Inn Salem/Boston, to our roster of partners, and had several cruise ships on the schedule.

And then COVID-19 hit. Recently, I found a meeting agenda from March 4 that had several notes written on it, including, “Coronavirus?” circled at the top of the page. Two weeks later we would find ourselves in quarantine, locked down for two weeks at a time as Massachusetts and Salem addressed the emerging public health crisis. By March 20, Mayor Kim Driscoll had convened several response teams to address the crisis in Salem, including the Economic Recovery and Revitalization Task Force (quickly recognized as the EDRR), on which I was asked to serve.

As the pandemic evolved, Destination Salem remained tasked with cooperatively promoting tourism to Salem in a way that benefits the residents and businesses of the city. All industry indicators pointed toward a recovery process that would begin with hyper-local audiences. We created a recovery marketing plan that included communication and outreach to invite residents of Salem and neighboring communities to come downtown and be a tourist in “your own back yard.” We looked for ways to invite locals to come out to dine, shop and explore sites and attractions as businesses were permitted to reopen under strict guidance.

Destination Salem ran local advertising and retooled social media to focus on a local audience. In addition, we created a video to promote “Salem is safe, Salem is open,” and added pictures of employees wearing masks to our advertising.

As part of the EDRR, we created and promoted the Salem Together Pledge to clearly communicate our shared commitment to the health and safety of our residents, employees, and visitors.

We quickly learned that tourists were coming to Salem, whether we were open or not, and they were coming from all over the country.

COVID had turned what we traditionally referred to as “long haul domestic travel” into drive market, and we started seeing license plates from all over the country. Residents were seeing them, too, and began sharing their concerns regarding tourism and the virus. We all shared those concerns. Nobody wanted to see the virus brought into Salem by tourism.

The Massachusetts travel order, which was issued Aug. 1, helped us to communicate with potential visitors about our quarantine or testing requirements. On Aug. 3, the city of Salem issued an advisory that we would remain in Phase 3 of the Massachusetts reopening plan through October and all events planned for Salem Haunted Happenings needed to be cancelled, postponed, or modified (made virtual).

At the end of August, Destination Salem launched a smartphone app to provide a way for locals and visitors to find business listings, COVID guidelines, and events (real life and virtual). The traditional Guide to Salem Haunted Happenings was scaled back to a brochure with a map and guidelines for visiting during COVID.

By Labor Day it was clear Salem was riding an unexpected wave of domestic tourism. Numbers are a fraction of what 2020 was forecasted to be, but in a pandemic even half of what we expected feels like a lot of visitors. Salem is not a fair or an amusement park, it cannot be shut down. We have a vibrant, creative, independent business and cultural community that relies on tourism to survive, and they had already lost three months of revenue to the shut-down. These businesses, many of which are owned by residents, and all of which employ our friend and neighbors, were finally seeing customers who would support their economic recovery.

Our communications strategy evolved into a public health awareness campaign, focused on promoting the expectations we have of visitors. Every conversation includes a mention of Salem’s mask order and the Massachusetts travel order. We encourage people from low-risk states to come, even though events are cancelled, and suggest future visits to people from highrisk states. We encourage everyone to check mass.gov/matraveler and the FAQ pages on our websites, salem.org and hauntedhappenings.

org.

It is Destination Salem’s job to promote tourism to Salem that will benefit the residents and businesses of our community. We understand the nuance to that statement in the context of a global pandemic. We share the anxiety felt by residents, business owners, and employees.

With this shared goal of keeping everyone safe, Salem businesses are ready to welcome customers while following the reopening standards established by the city and the commonwealth. The tourism industry shares everyone’s concern about a second wave this fall, and nobody wants to see that happen, especially not in a way that is attributable to Salem and its visitors. We will continue our work to promote safe, responsible visitation to Salem to support the City’s economic recovery, and we will remain reactive and responsive to the public health crisis, prioritizing the health and safety of Salem’s residents, employees and visitors.

Kate Fox is the executive director of Destination Salem, a marketing agency tasked with promoting tourism and visitation to Salem in a way that benefits both residents and businesses.

As the pandemic evolved, Destination Salem remained tasked with cooperatively promoting tourism to Salem in a way that benefits the residents and businesses of the city. All industry indicators pointed toward a recovery process that would begin with hyper-local audiences.

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