In 2020 the pandemic ground the travel industry to a halt, with (UNWTO) for 2020 international tourist arrivals showing a full-year decline of between 58 and 78 percent, taking it to historical lows.
And with the top 10 tourism markets losing an estimated $1.4 trillion to $1.9 trillion in travel spend in one year, one thing is clear – the travel industry has taken a huge hit due to the pandemic and the recovery will not happen overnight.
So, with further restrictions and COVID-19 waves still a potential threat, pent-up demand for travel is mixed with a sense of apprehension. In order for tourist boards and destinations, airlines, cruise companies, tour operators and the wider tourism industry to capitalise on opportunities when restrictions are eased, the importance of understanding the mindset of their audiences, being able to differentiate their proposition and build trust with their potential customers will be paramount.
The desire to build memories, to connect with people, and to see new places drove 1.4 billion of us to travel internationally in 2019, and the idea of wanting to make memories over money is not a new one. A study by Harris showed that more than three in four millennials (78%) would rather invest money in an experience or event over buying something desirable. But what has the pandemic done to this desire? While there will inevitably be some hesitation from travellers, there is no sign that the yearning for travel has been thwarted. What has changed is the way people want to travel and the experiences they will be seeking.
It’s this emotional pull and pent-up desire that brands and destinations can use to better connect with their audiences. Emotive marketing and storytelling are powerful tools that can help to convey the guarantee of emotional fulfilment. And when faced with a choice of two destinations, having a deeper, more emotional connection to one will naturally sway the consumer’s decision.
That’s why the way these experiences are advertised will be key to attracting travellers as restrictions ease. When presented with two picture postcards featuring the standard beach scene, there is nothing to tell the destinations apart and consumers will look to external factors like price, availability and safety measures in order to differentiate these two destinations. And although these will still be important considerations for travellers, if you can think beyond the standard approach to this initial advertisement (although the beach scene is still an attractive proposition to many), you will be able to create that emotional connection before they even get to considering those external factors and that pull will sway their decisions making. The bottom line is – being clever, not cliché, with your creative is the right way to attract more visitors.
As we have seen across retail, consumer behaviour has shifted throughout the pandemic and a number of factors are driving new buying decisions. With more importance placed on health and fitness, sustainability and various social issues, the crisis has given people time to reflect and consider their priorities. Issues such as climate protection and overtourism, which were already major challenges for tourism before COVID, have now come into even sharper focus (Martin Balas of the Center for Sustainable Tourism (ZENAT) at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development).
It is important for brands and destinations to consider these factors in their marketing. Operators or locations that can offer travellers the ability to enjoy something more wholesome, with the chance to regenerate, renew and rebalance, while offering a culturally rich and environmentally friendly experience, will be ticking those all-important boxes for travellers that have established these new priorities. Whether you believe that pent-up demand will entice travellers regardless, to ignore such trends would be a mistake.
Also, where and how your audience is making purchases will be a key consideration. We already know there has been a huge shift to consumers purchasing online, as well as the adoption of digital technology for entertainment, gaming and even online health and fitness, which presents other challenges for the travel industry. Choosing the right channels and mediums to reach your audience could decide the success of your marketing campaign. Sticking with your pre-pandemic marketing strategy without any consideration for how your audience’s behaviour has changed would be a gamble. It is important to conduct research and think carefully about current trends in order to maximise your reach and engagement.
And while there is currently a big focus on social media, an extremely important channel for any business right now, maybe it’s time for some of the more traditional media to make a comeback to compliment this online activity? Media where telling a story and creating a connection are more easily consumed and engaged with. *Our own independent research told us that TV remains the most trusted platform, but consideration to big impact Out Of Home, other print formats and even radio to deliver a range of sensory messaging, could work to enhance your strategy.
*For a copy of our FKC Truth Report 2019, just email the contacts below.
Just as building emotional connections with travellers will help to win their hearts, reassurance around safety will also be a key factor in winning their trust. In a survey carried out by Kantar, having to self-isolate on holiday or being ill while away are the biggest concerns among prospective holidaymakers, with 43% appearing to be concerned about flying. With such a large percentage of people worried about the prospect of going abroad, this could translate into a huge drop-off of people travelling even as we exit the crisis.
Those tourist boards, destinations, operators and more specifically airlines that can win the trust of these apprehensive travellers stand to do the best in the recovery. And in our experience, the way to do this is through good communication. Being able to show an understanding for travellers’ concerns and address these in a clear and concise way will help to put their minds at ease. And when you create these positive experiences, you will build this trust and the power of word-of-mouth will help to spread that message far and wide.
As McKinsey suggests, near-term uncertainty may mean, for example, that the ability to cancel a reservation matters more than brand choice or price. Solutions that provide travellers with the choice and control they desire will also help to build the trust and confidence required for the industry to recover. For example, Hotels.com’s recent advertising campaign is built around their ‘free cancellations’ policy, referencing the fact that travellers don’t know “what the future holds”. Providing customers with the flexibility to cancel and change their plans if needed provides instant reassurance to those who are hesitant about booking.
Using the circumstances of the pandemic to understand why customers are hesitant and provide the flexibility they require to reassure them is a great way to win their trust. And making sure this supports your overall messaging when it comes to your advertising will be key to showing you are considering your audiences concerns. Of course, it is important to include those other differentiating factors in order not to once again fall into the trap of offering something that everyone else is.
The idea that travellers are seeking more authentic experiences is not a new one. McKinsey states the bar for authenticity in brand communication and behaviour across channels (including in person) must remain high. As such, communication should be focused on what a company is doing for the traveller, rather than delivering superficial platitudes.
McKinsey also reports some interesting trends, like travellers seeking destinations with less crowds in more rural areas. Also, the idea of community-based holidays and adventure tourism may play a big role in the future of travel.
One thing is for sure, the power of authenticity will help to generate the emotional pull we referenced earlier – something we discussed at length during our recent webinar, The Future of Travel. There is no doubt that travellers will be looking for more fulfilling experiences – especially if travellers, as has been predicted by various reports, choose to travel less frequently. Authenticity touches on all of the elements we have discussed – it will help brands to create that emotional connection, it shows you understand your audience and it helps to build trust. Being authentic now, especially in your advertising, will stand you in good stead to attract and retain customers for the future.
If you want to understand how FKC has helped tourist boards and destinations, airlines, cruise companies, tour operators and the wider tourism industry to use clever creative to better connect with their audiences and drive increased revenue – including how we helped to grow Tourism Authority of Thailand’s audience during lockdown with an authentic social campaign that helped to keep the destination front of mind for people while they were stuck at home – then please get in touch with either Gary Jacobs firstname.lastname@example.org or Kim Harris email@example.com to find out more.