Most recovery planning currently focuses on the logistics of safe distancing and what re-opening will look like. There’s a real need for this but I’d like to look further ahead, to a more positive future.
How can we increase business survival rates? When tourism fully opens, there will be a marketing stampede: fierce competition for travellers’ attention. The tourism market is already crowded, yet we’ll all be shouting our wares at the same time. How can anyone stand out?
In the fight for day-to-day survival, most conversations about destination marketing themes and messages have paused. Businesses are scrambling to consider the physical adaptations they might need to make.
The tourism industry’s survival depends on our being ready to spring forward with concrete plans, welcoming messages and interesting experiences to capture the public’s attention.
This article looks at what we need to do to bring about tourism recovery. It considers possible opportunities, visitor mind-sets, and practical actions for destinations and businesses.
I’m writing from the perspective of my own practical experience of destination promotion, business development and support. I’ve built on what I learnt from previous crises such as Foot and Mouth and 9/11, and on what’s happening in other countries post Covid-19.
Looking back through rose-tinted glasses?
We look back to pre-Covid times as the halcyon days of tourism. But the industry wasn’t without its issues. Some areas suffered from over tourism. Some were under-visited. Few tourism businesses were operating at peak capacity or profitability. Tourism growth was ad hoc.
Some issues were much discussed but never resolved: the need to disperse visitors away from honeypots; the need to develop off-peak tourism; and how to reduce over-reliance on online travel agents.
Covid has caused enormous human and financial losses. Many aspects of life have been affected. As we eventually move forward, now may be an opportunity to re-think tourism. We’re in the unusual situation of having to re-start an industry out of almost complete hibernation.
An opportunity for ‘good’ tourism?
We’ve talked about sustainable and responsible tourism for a long time. Growth has remained the focus for many destinations, with little time to stop and re-set. Now could be the time.
We have an opportunity to think about the sort of visitors we really want. Where do we most need visitors? When? How do we want them to arrive at our destinations? Is it time to focus on value over volume? What do we want visitors to actually do? Is there a way to ensure broader community benefits from tourism?
What are the opportunities for more meaningful and slow tourism? I’m looking forward to increased interest in sense of place and local distinctiveness. People have started to see things on their daily walks they didn’t notice before. Minds are opening to small pleasures.
One outcome of the pandemic is the increased recognition of the value of local communities, and small actions that collectively contribute to better outcomes.
We may not have previously promoted very strongly to local people, yet they are set to become an important market, both directly and indirectly. There is an important ripple effect. How can we make better use of local and regional ambassadors?
This is a good time to consider about different ways of connecting with audiences and potential visitors, and the importance of building relationships and engagement.
Inside visitors’ minds…
The desire to travel is still strong, possibly even increased by lockdown.
Common sense and research indicate that the day visiting local market will be first, followed by regional visitors, then domestic and eventually international visitors. It is likely that car travel will be the initial preference, avoiding some forms of public transport and air travel.
It’s useful to consider the ‘first’ visitors we’re likely to see:
How can visitors be encouraged to travel when it’s safe to do so?
Visitors will need to know where it’s safe to go. They will want to feel they will be welcomed by locals. It will be essential to build trust and confidence. The Safe Clean Legal kite-mark scheme developed by Quality in Tourism and the proposed VisitEngland/VisitBritain schemes will play a key part in reassuring visitors.
Along with the urge to explore and discover new places, some anxiety and caution are likely. Some will seek out the familiar and enjoy the nostalgia of returning to much-loved places they’ve visited before.
Some visitors may feel over-whelmed by the possibility of their freedom and feel under pressure to make the perfect choice. Compelling marketing messages and tangible reasons for visits will be key. Dull lists will be less effective.
Visitors may initially spend more time in local destinations than they might normally consider. We need to make this an active, positive decision with a good outcome, not just seen as ‘making do’.
Anticipation is part of the enjoyment of travel. Now is the time to stimulate anticipation. Visitors want to be able to share their plans, and talk about their discoveries. They will need some direction to find the places on their doorstep they haven’t yet enjoyed.
It’s likely the tendency toward last-minute booking will increase still further. Visitors will need to feel secure about their bookings and have the opportunity to delay or ask for a deposit refund should plans have to change.
Many visitors will want to avoid logistical challenges: we will need to demonstrate ease of arrival.
Opportunity to re-build tourism, based on some promising trends
Some trends have already emerged during the pandemic. They may give clues for new product development and experiences, and marketing messages that will appeal to a post Covid-19 market:
Time to (finally) build off-peak business?
It’s looking likely that we’ll miss the bulk of the summer season. If this is the case, then many visitors will be more than ready to enjoy time away in Autumn and Winter. Some of the usual concerns about weather may take a back seat when there’s an opportunity to enjoy free time in a different place.
We’ve talked about increasing off-peak business for a very long time. Now might be the chance to experiment with winter openings to change perceptions once and for all. What can we do collectively to build business during the shoulder months?
What do destinations need to do?
Most destinations are currently using a ‘Dream Now, Visit Later’ approach. Some destinations seem to be thinking about recovery planning mainly in terms of how they will deal with post-lockdown tourism and encourage safe-distancing. More pro-active destinations are planning post-lockdown as well as revising their existing marketing strategies so the two planning activities can merge into a longer-term plan.
Businesses are increasingly looking to destination organisations and government for co-ordinated messages about which places will safely open and how visitors will be welcomed.
In addition to leading collaborative marketing, and adapting messages to the ‘new normal’, destinations can use this time to consider what ‘good’ tourism means for their area, and what kind of visitor economy they want in future.
An important role will be guidance on product development. Initially this may be centred around appropriate adaptations for social distancing. Competition for visitors will be fierce and there will be pressure on destination organisations to help businesses survive. There will be an increased need for support to help businesses build on trends in order to create the kind of experiences and product that tomorrow’s visitors will want.
Next steps for businesses?
What can business do to recover quickly and be stronger? Some important activities:
Communications will need to take account of the changed market place. We’ll need to:
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs