Let’s admit it: many remain fearful as the US economy reopens. Fortunately, we are past the stage where people think our choice is between saving lives or the economy. The issue has matured: we are learning to balance the risk to health with the risk to livelihoods.

What remains underappreciated is that reopening may avert a mental health crisis as disastrous as the pandemic. Experts warn of shutdown-triggered depression, domestic violence and substance abuse, even suicide.

A study published this month in The Lancet shows people separated from daily life due to potential illnesses report adverse psychological effects even three years later. Boredom and isolation gave rise to fear and anxiety, especially among those quarantined for more than ten days. 60 percent of those isolated for any time reported symptoms of depression. In the three years following quarantine, PTSD in isolated populations was four times that of those who were unaffected.  For most, quarantine was at best a miserable gray haze. Only 5 percent recalled a positive experience during quarantine unless prompted to do so.

As we shake off the shutdown, it is time to lift our eyes and imagine a brighter future where tourism is invigorated and reborn.

DMOs are already working with businesses and local government on the critical first step:  implementing safety protocols and assuring residents and travelers that businesses are strictly safeguarding employee, visitor, and customer health. This means educating tourists and locals about their responsibilities, too.

Here are a few instructive examples:

Sedona Arizona 

Sedona | Safe.Clean.Ready invites businesses to adopt a list of safe practices voluntarily, at which point they are listed and promoted on SedonaSafeCleanReady.com. In the first ten days after launch, hundreds of businesses signed on.

Created by the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau with the vocal support of the City of Sedona, the program accomplishes two goals:

  • Assisting businesses with best safety practices while providing a platform for consumers to see the businesses committed to the guidelines
  • Emphasizing the personal responsibility of visitors and residents

SedonaSafeCleanReady.com promotes eight safety practices residents and red rock country travelers should follow, such as customer separation, sanitation protocols and respiratory etiquette. The message is duplicated on posters at hundreds of participating businesses, whose promotional toolkit includes logo usage, window stickers  and a listing on the website, aggressively promoted to residents and out-of-market visitors.  Ads are running in the local newspapers and airwaves, and Sedona is dotted with roadway signs and A-frame messages contributed by the City.

Sedona’s social media highlight smiling employees practicing Safe.Clean.Ready protocols and the #SedonaStrong message. The Chamber, Sedona’s DMMO, also revised the SedonaCares.com visitor pledge to remind visitors of their role.

Tourism is a $1 billion annual industry in Sedona, with 10,000 jobs linked to the area’s approximately 3 million visitors. Without tourism, the economy of the sparsely populated region would quickly grind to a halt. Sedona|Safe.Clean.Ready unites locals, businesses and visitors in keeping Sedona safe and livelihoods intact.

Visit Salt Lake

Partnering with Respro Health and Safety, VisitSaltLake.com developed Prevention Guidelines and Best Practices that include formal third-party certification.

The general guidelines apply to all businesses, and additional guidance is categorized by industry.  Practices are continually updated as the state moves through the Governor’s Phased Guidelines.

Businesses use the guidelines to create their own COVID Prevention Plan, which is reviewed by Respro Health & Safety for certification.  The certification can then be promoted and shared with their customers.

Elsewhere, destinations are creating pledges to help promote business safety.

Arvada CO 

This Denver-area residential/retail center is boosting the gradually reopening economy with the Safe and Open Business Pledge. Businesses vow to adhere to industry-specific government safety standards while explaining in brief statements anything they do exceed those standards plus the safety expectations they have of customers. The Pledge includes contact information for customers and business access to a Safe and Open marketing toolkit.

Outer Banks NC

In coastal north Carolina, via The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Tourism Pledge, businesses commit to take  “specific actions” to help slow the spread of coronavirus, followed by a written description of the steps taken.

The Visitors Bureau posts the name of pledged businesses on outerbanks.org with a link to their safety steps and web site. It’s a simple, free way to educate consumers and promote responsible businesses.

The Poconos PA

Designed to help customers easily discover how businesses are working to protect them, this popular destination in northeastern Pennsylvania created the Pocono Promise. Businesses agree to practice all federal, state and local public health guidelines and may display a Pocono Promise flyer.

San Antonio TX

Home of the Alamo and the River Walk, San Antonio’s Greater. Safer. Together Pledge is seven safety commitments from local businesses, such as using face covering and providing hand sanitizer. Participating businesses get a marketing toolkit helping them promote their commitment to the Pledge.

Columbus OH

The Live Forward Pledge holds businesses to three commitments that form the initials FWD:

  1. Following: Adhering to the health and safety guidelines provided by the CDC and state
  2. Wear: Requiring employees to wear protective gear
  3. Distancing: Implementing social distancing practices

Businesses receive a window decal and signage toolkit.

It will be a long journey back to health, safety and prosperity, and coronavirus will continue to be with us. But sharing recovery and promotion ideas is one way we can help each other rebuild traveler confidence and trust – and welcome a bright new era of tourism and travel.