8 Communications Lessons from Pandemic Travel

By Hinda Mitchell
March 30, 2022

Traveling in a pandemic is not for everyone. And leaving the country presents an additional set of challenges to navigate. From COVID testing protocols to never-ending mask-wearing, it gives a new sense to the word “adventure.” In staying in the Caribbean at a beach resort for a week, there were a few observations about travel that apply easily to communication.

1. Hope is not a strategy. A well-thought-out plan for how you are going to manage the pandemic-related travel restrictions is deeply important. Just “hoping you won’t test negative” is not enough. Similarly, when preparing a communications campaign, a thoughtful strategy and implementation plan, prepared in advance, is essential.

2. Give your audience credit for knowing what they know. At the resort, there were guests in quarantine who had tested positive for coronavirus. Everyone knew it, and yet there was so much effort around hiding them from the rest of the guests. But the guests knew it, and the attempts to diminish what was happening created distrust. Honest, transparent communication is the hallmark of successful trust-building.

3. Make good choices – people are watching. Maybe it’s not the right time to have the pool filled with bubbles for a dance party. Or perhaps there is another way to remove those who’ve tested positive from public areas with more discretion. For businesses and organizations, your stakeholders are watching how you manage difficult situations – and they will draw conclusions based on how you respond.

4. Meet your audience where they are. In communication and in COVID prevention, one size does not fit all. Tailoring your messages – and your actions – to the needs of your audience is key. Consider what is expected by different stakeholders and incorporate messaging and actions that specifically address their expectations.

5. The "head-in-the-sand" approach rarely is successful. Pretending COVID is not a thing simply isn’t working. Dealing with it in a forthright, open manner will create confidence and understanding. Adjust your strategy to reflect the current environment – even when it’s difficult to do so.

6. When you don’t create the proper narrative, the peanut gallery creates one for you. The resort’s lack of consistent, transparent communication didn’t stop people from talking about COVID. Instead, they created their own stories and narrative, which often did not reflect reality (consider the gentleman who said there were 400 people in quarantine at a 200-room hotel). Organizations can choose to define their own crisis – or others will surely define it for you.

7. Managing expectations creates a level playing field. When planning our trip, we did not fully understand the level of detail that would be required to travel. And while we chose to travel, our expectations and our experience did not match. Communications that anticipate and create accurate reflections of how a situation will play out establish a foundational level of trust with audiences.

8. Make sure that all your messages and messengers are aligned. Our resort had a cadre of fantastic employees to take care of us. And each one had a different story to tell about the resort and COVID. These mixed messages created frustration and confusion among guests, just as inconsistency in messages in organizations does. Alignment is essential to managing the dissemination of information.

Ultimately, we chose to travel, and with that choice came the acceptance of a trip interrupted by the ongoing pandemic. We fully believe that everyone involved was making the best of a bad situation. In all, our experience was a positive one.