How Visit Fort Worth pivoted quickly this week to help local businesses

March 20, 2020 / Greg Oates (Author)

Visit Fort Worth is a good example of how travel industry leaders are shifting their efforts to make an immediate impact in their local communities reeling from COVID-19. This week, the organization posted several new pages on to show residents how they could support local restaurants, musicians, artists and makers, as well as how to experience the city virtually.

Other destination marketing and management organizations are adopting similar community engagement strategies, but I haven’t seen many that have developed, prioritized and shared this type of content as quickly and comprehensively.

There’s a reason for that. Visit Fort Worth was able to effectively engage local residents and businesses to build those pages quickly because it has evolved intentionally in recent years as a more community-driven, resident-focused organization. The emphasis on building stronger networks across the city, beyond hospitality and tourism partners, in the public, private and civic sectors has been foundational to Visit Fort Worth’s strategy as it exists today.

Early in its response to the pandemic, Visit Fort Worth focused especially on supporting independent local restaurants since they employ a high number of people and they don’t have the resources of a corporate flag to remain solvent for an extended period.

Visit Fort Worth’s Restaurant Update page now shows more than 150 restaurants open for curbside ordering or delivery, as well as website, contact and social media details for many of them. The organization also produced mobile and map versions of the database.

Visit Fort Worth has been actively promoting the Restaurant Update page on its social channels. Mitch Whitten, executive vice president for marketing & strategy at Visit Fort Worth, told me the restaurant page is topping 30,000 views per day, and 60% of followers on the organization’s Instagram are now local.

Additionally, the City of Fort Worth sent out a press release this week to drive more exposure toward the Restaurant Update page. Then the Downtown Fort Worth BIA shared the page on its social channels and posted the link at the top of its website.

That shows a high level of public-private coordination, whereas a lot of other cities don’t always enjoy that degree of alignment, or they’re working fast to catch up because of the pandemic.

To help support the local creative economy, Visit Fort Worth developed the “Ways to Support Local Artists and Musicians” page. This shows another collaboration between Visit Fort Worth and Hear Fort Worth (Fort Worth Music Association), which supplied artist information for the site.

The page contains updates about an Artist and Service Worker Relief Fund. There’s also a range of links for buying local maker crafts/clothing, a surprising number of local record stores selling vinyl albums, and why residents probably shouldn’t ask for refunds from the city opera or symphony.

With most people working from home these days, Visit Fort Worth also produced the Experience Fort Worth Virtually page to help people travel around the city and meet the locals digitally. Information includes where to find local music on Fort Worth’s Amplify 817 streaming channel, a GoFundMe page, and how to grill steak over hickory from the people at Visit Fort Worth’s EatFW channel.

Check out the Binge Watch section on that page with links to various Visit Fort Worth video content. One of the most impressive destination marketing campaigns in the U.S. presently, the Fort Worth Stories series profiles the most creative and innovative people in the city, across all sectors, to define the distinct local DNA and differentiate the destination in Texas.

I’ve shown this Fort Worth Stories video with Jonathan Morris, owner of Fort Worth Barber Shop, in industry presentations worldwide.

So, how effective is all this content and community advocacy to address the fallout from COVID-19?

“It’s too early to tell, but it’s something,” says Whitten. “We know we’re going to lose some of these businesses, like everywhere else, but maybe this helps give them a bit more time. The thing is, for us, we’re part of this community and we want to help out people as much as we can.”

Today, Visit Fort Worth launched another new page: “Filmed in Fort Worth: Stream Movies, TV Series and More.”

The organization developed the Fort Worth Film Commission in recent years to attract film productions to the city, such as “The Old Man and the Gun” with Robert Redford. That initiative made it relatively straight-forward to create this page quickly with a significant amount of compelling destination-specific video content.

Next week, the Film Commission is launching a “Distancing Distractions”* homemade video initiative, which will be shared across Film Fort Worth’s channels.

“We’re encouraging filmmakers, novices and kids to submit 30-second to 2-minute videos created at home — anything from stop-animation to cooking content,” says Whitten. “We brought the Lone Star Film Festival into the loop to show support for their organization, as well.”

He adds that the Film Commission is also working with the city’s film and creative communities to showcase local work and call out any special streaming offers or remote production services offered by area filmmakers.

Further, Whitten emphasizes how other collaborations with community organizations are engaging local residents and businesses throughout the city.

For example, Fort Worth Herd, the platform for the famous Stockyards National Historic District, is launching videos to provide online history lessons, showcase horsemanship and local cowboy culture, and more.

And, the Fort Worth Sports team is partnering with organizations like the Cowtown Marathon to develop digital content about how to stay physically active during this crisis, along with other sports-related experiences.

All of this is continuing to expand Visit Fort Worth’s local networks and relationship with the community. From an industry perspective, this is a perfect example of Jack Johnson’s work at Destinations International, regarding community shared value.

During this past week, the travel and tourism industry has been occupied with so many different high level discussions. I thought it was important to show how destination organizations like Visit Fort Worth are making an immediate impact on a local level today.

[Update]: The Distancing Distractions: At-Home Video Challenge page is now live. Here’s a sample video shared by Film Fort Worth.