COVID-19 represents a humanitarian challenge that is unprecedented in recent times. Its impacts are far-reaching, from healthcare to supply chains to family life at home. While it might not seem evident right now, tourism boards and travel brands have the power to help both the public and themselves through this crisis.
What we’re up against
Typically the impact of a crisis is localized to a certain city, state, country, or region. COVID-19 is unique in that it’s the first crisis that has unilaterally shut down the travel industry globally for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this has had a devastating effect on the people, communities, and businesses that rely on tourism. Airlines have slashed scheduled flights, DMOs have suffered severe budget cuts, and hotel chains have resorted to widespread furloughs and layoffs. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that one million tourism-related jobs are being lost every day. (1)
Beyond travel industry jobs, lost income and high unemployment rates will affect consumer purchasing power. Since leisure travel is a discretionary purchase, full recovery in the tourism industry will take considerable time.
The news is undeniably grim, but we know that the world will overcome this and the travel industry will bounce back. Demand will be like nothing ever seen before as cooped up travelers look at travel with a newfound enthusiasm after an extended period of withdrawal. Marketing will be even more vital than ever as competition for share of voice and share of wallet will be fierce. In order to make it through this crisis and to be prepared for what’s next, there are several steps your brand can take right now to begin your recovery.
1. Protect budgets to maintain market share
In the past few days alone, several travel brands have launched COVID-19 response initiatives. The competitive landscape will only get more crowded as time goes on. Once travel restrictions are lifted and recovery starts, your brand will be competing with countless advertisers both within and outside of the travel space that have seen declines and are looking to bounce back (including DMOs that will be coming with tourism stimulus funding).
Research has repeatedly shown that decreasing marketing budgets during a recession leads to minimal increases in profitability (if any) and significant losses in market share that persist well into the future. (2) History tells us marketing budgets should be protected and even increased (if possible), not slashed.
In order to inform a client’s recovery marketing plan and associated budget, we have developed a scenario planner that models recovery rates based on the performance of marketing spend.
We analyze historical stopovers, overarching business goals, historical conversion rates and current economic modeling (with different scenarios assuming different return to travel dates e.g through late Summer-early Fall 2020 or Q1 2021).
One of our clients was able to learn that with their original media budget and a best case scenario, it would take 8 years to get to flat growth. In the worst case scenario it would take up to 9 years to get to flat growth (by 2028).
We were able to create a budget & execution plan that we believe will take as little as 2 years to get to flat growth (mid 2022).
2. Be resourceful
With most travel at a standstill (including production shoots), brands may be worried about their ability to produce marketing assets, but there are so many creative ways to stand out. From existing footage, to user generated content to creative uses of text animation and sound design, tourism marketers have the opportunity to convey empathy, connect with travelers, and establish a leadership position in a time of uncertainty.
You have creative talent in your teams and your destinations. They are likely stuck at home with footage and editing software (sales of online training & skills programs are dramatically increasing) capable of repurposing existing footage and segmenting it for different audiences.
3. Reprioritize mobile, digital, and social media
Quarantine is forcing travelers around the globe to adapt to life online, and screens have become our gateways into the world. Consequently, our Beautiful Destinations team has launched mobile-first social activations to inspire, connect, and have a positive impact on our community of travelers. The results have been overwhelming, with over 110 million impressions and 7 million engagements generated since we went into quarantine. These types of social efforts can take many forms as every brand is different. For brands with a loyal following, rallying the community is a great way to enable connection and solidarity. For others, providing inspirational stories or feel-good messaging may be more appropriate. The scale and shareability of social and digital channels are simply too important to be ignored.
4. Understand consumers changing needs and behaviors
Travelers are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, lonely, and bored. They’re feeling a strong sense of cabin fever and want more than anything to get back to traveling. On a more positive note, they are also reprioritizing personal growth, mindfulness, and gratitude via online classes and live social media events popping up on a daily basis. How can your brand meet these shifting consumer needs?
Anxious and overwhelmed? Focus on messages of hope and positivity.
Feeling lonely? Prioritize community.
Bored and restless? Provide entertainment.
In a growth mindset? Connect audience with locals that can teach them new skills.
At Beautiful Destinations, we're constantly monitoring the mood of travelers by tapping into our social media community of 25 million global travelers in order to understand what they are feeling and how we can provide value to them.
5. Reevaluate your audience segments
Crisis moments can upend the insights that led to your audience segmentation. It’s important to take another look at what may seem like settled science. Travel behavior is changing dramatically and will continue to do so moving forward. Experts predict that leisure travel will recover before business travel (3). Within that, domestic travel is expected to recover before international travel, (4) and trips to nearby destinations (whether domestic or international) may be perceived as less risky than extended long-haul trips. In post-crisis recoveries, it’s typically repeat visitors that return first (5). The WTTC also found that adventure travelers and those with higher risk tolerance can be some of the first ones back, suggesting a focus on millennial travelers could pay dividends (6). Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) and Diaspora homecomings may be additional opportunities after a long time apart from loved ones. Look at all potential audiences to uncover low-hanging-fruit opportunities that may not have previously existed.
6. Be on the platforms that your consumers are spending time on
We have already seen massive changes in media consumption due to COVID-19. In the absence of in-person quality time, virtual happy hours and coffee dates are taking off, travelers are exploring museums from their living rooms through VR, and restless professionals are upskilling via YouTube and online classes. Social media usage is up by 16%. Connected TV viewership is up 24% (7). The number of Twitch channels is up 33% (8). Duolingo signups are up 148% (9). On the other hand, stay at home orders have rendered Out-of-Home (OOH) media much less practical. Since media consumption patterns will continue to change as the crisis unfolds, it’s important that tourism brands create flexible and innovative channel strategies.
7. Raise the profile of your leaders
It’s important to keep known voices at the forefront of your recovery effort in order to foster trust. Tourism ministers, CEOs, CMOs, subject matter experts, and influencers can and should be an integral part of your recovery communications whether that’s in paid media, press interviews, or owned channels. By bringing these voices into the conversation early, you can establish credibility and control your recovery narrative.
8. Be Agile
Develop a recovery plan, but leave room for iteration. Give your team a chance to adapt as weeks go by. For one of our DMO clients, we monitor leading indicators and develop bi-weekly reports that examine:
- The state of the global economy
- US government travel guidelines
- Industry health (e.g. changes to flight capacity)
- Local market conditions
- Unemployment numbers
- Consumer habits
This type of ongoing diligence helps brands to stay nimble and pivot their marketing activities as the crisis situation unfolds.
While we don’t yet know how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, it’s important for marketers to take immediate action in order to best position themselves for success. Travel and tourism accounted for 10% of GDP and jobs globally (10), so the importance of recovery can’t be overstated. By implementing data-backed best practices and forward-looking planning processes, travel and tourism brands can and will successfully bounce back and continue to have a positive impact on people, communities, and the world.
About Beautiful Destinations
Beautiful Destinations is a 21st century full-service travel marketing company with a bold mission: to have a positive impact on the world through travel. Rooted in one of the largest social media communities of next-generation travelers in the world –– 25 million people turn to us daily on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, TikTok –– Beautiful Destinations is a strategic and creative agency that helps tourism boards and travel brands to navigate the new world of travel through Recovery Marketing.
- World Travel and Tourism Council “Coronavirus Brief” (4/3/2020)
- G. Tellis & K. Tellis “Research on Advertising During a Recession: A critical review and synthesis” (2009) via MarketingWeek
- Interview with Adam Sacks “Adara COVID-19 Insights Webinar Series Week 2” (4/2/2020)
- McKinsey “COVID-19 Briefing Materials: Global health and crisis response” (4/3/2020)
- G. Walters & J. Mair “The Effectiveness of Post-Disaster Recovery Marketing Messages —The Case of the 2009 Australian Bushfires,” Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing (2012)
- World Travel and Tourism Council & Global Rescue “Crisis Readiness” (October 2019)
- Comscore “Understanding Media Consumption During the Coronavirus Pandemic” (4/3/2020)
- Newsweek “Twitch usage surges during Coronavirus lockdowns, surpasses three billion hours watched” (4/3/2020)
- Business Insider “Language app Duolingo has seen a 148% spike in sign-ups. Here are the 5 most popular languages people in self-isolation are learning right now.” (4/7/2020)
- World Travel and Tourism Council “Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2019: World” (March 2019)