How can the travel industry begin to prepare for new normal?

It has been a difficult time in the current Covid 19 situation for everyone including people and businesses. The travel and tourism industry has not bee spared but through my conversations with leaders in the industry, there has been positive sentiments.

There is an expectation mostly driven by hope – which we all know is not a strategy – that the current global lockdown is temporary and that we will emerge on the other side even stronger and better. Many hope that we move back to the old normal.

Major crises like COVID-19 almost always fundamentally change and evolve the status quo. As such, it’s not just a matter of getting the tourism industry’s engine restarted. Instead, the collective tourism stakeholder ecosystem must understand what has changed, and what will best position the industry to grow together and become a global force once again in the new normal. To help with this, Phocuswire predicts a 7 stage process of how this could occur.

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With that said, it is important in the subsequent months to flag out a couple of strategies that the industry can consciously take as we move through and out of the crisis to do so.

  1. Choose your technology wisely.

COVID 19 has successfully put all companies on the express lane for digitalisation. Rather than diving head first into technology, the “new normal” under COVID19 seems to have made the sector realize that investment in innovative technology must have a clear ROI.

We already know that there is a  clear need for a further digital transformation of the industry in order to meet the level of personalization that guests demand. The expectation is that these tools may lead to an increase in direct bookings and lessen the dominance of the big OTAS. The online travel agencies will leverage markets through heavy investment in customer retention, loyalty, and acquisition tools, while hotels are investing in improving guests’ stays.

But technology is an enabler so rather than choosing which technology to use, it is important to consider what the customer needs and how technology can enable us to deliver this even better. This leads me to the next point.

2. Be ready to change what we offer.

In every crisis, there is an opportunity. One of them is to be innovative in re-thinking about how we deliver the  experiences. Another is to take the time to build your community and establishing brand trust within the digital world.

Within this pandemic, we are living in an entirely new digital civilization. The standard digital marketing that we are used to – focusing on a heavy sales message, pushing for overnights and conversions – cannot be the norm. Instead, this time should be about discovery, mentally planning for future trips and learning about new destinations, attractions and resorts.

How can destinations think about experiences that they can offer online (like virtual museum tours or video content) and also about new in-person experiences that they can develop for the future? All these efforts need to add value to the customer. Online, tourism marketers need to focus their efforts on building a community, engaging with their potential customers and establishing a more personal connection with their target audience. This could be the use of Facebook groups as a great way to encourage consumers to authentically engage with your travel brand.

Be ready with new policies that adapt to unforeseen changes, like business meetings that may unexpectedly change or vacations that will need to be delayed due to sudden travel restrictions being imposed, will need to be developed. By offering flexibility to the customer, hotels for example can give a degree of confidence to their customers who are undoubtedly worried when booking accommodations due to the inherent insecurity of possible isolation situations, closing of borders, and flight cancellations.

3. Get your tourism recovery plan ready.

Local and regional travel will be more important than ever as we come out of the pandemic, and that now is the time to prepare. Companies and destinations could begin creating a recovery plan and outline steps for a swift rebound, keeping an eye on inflection points to get ahead of the curve as travelers eventually pivot back to hotel overnights and air travel. It is important to take into consideration the following:

  • What new drive markets can make the most impact in the short-term?
  • Looking at seasonality changes as school dates shift and families plan for missed traditional peak travel periods
  • Preparing for action in what will quickly become a cluttered marketplace

4. Craft your story.

It is important now for destinations and attractions to sell their unique story to customers, not just the product they offer. Now is the time for marketers to take a step back and think about the true attractors that drive visitors to select their destination, stay at an accommodation, or dine at a restaurant. Tourism professionals should think beyond the sales angle and dive into the who and how – how did your business get started, what makes it different, who are the faces behind the counter, has someone famous visited or stayed there? Without a story, your destination is just another on the list, another bottle of wine, another bed to sleep in.

4. Engage your customers

Come from a customer-first perspective. Often, destinations fall into the trap of marketing in the way they are funded, the way memberships or stakeholders are structured, or by the geography of their region or state. But for consumers, their attention is on location (distance + proximity to major attractions) and the destination’s alignment with personal interests like hiking or craft beverage. 

The time we have now will allow destinations to consider their unique positioning and “be famous for something.” Put a stake in the ground and talk about it on your website and Instagram through direct recommendations and attention-grabbing images. Marketeers should steer clear of posting “well designed ads” and instead look at the best ways to engage with consumers. As consumers begin to look at planning future trips, they are less likely to put their time or money at risk when traveling, instead considering locations that are famous for something they truly care about.

Marketers should consider and communicate the “why” of a visit or tour, stating “people will be desperate to experience other people again.” He instead encourages destinations to make a real move towards storytelling – giving the stories and faces behind the scenes – instead of just the features of the tour itself.

5. Make your customers feel safe.

Engagement of customers also involves communicating of health and safety measures put in place. The new normal will likely include everything from the minutiae of sanitation practices (and consumers wanting to know more about them) to broader topics such as the health of nations/regions/ports-of-call, the role of travel insurance, and issues unique to specific modes of travel (e.g., is social distancing possible in modern air travel)?

Post-pandemic, a sudden demand for travel may occur as pent-up consumers begin to re-emerge from their homes. But in order to capture interest immediately, destinations will need to change up their messaging and start planning for a more cautious type of traveler. There will be more need to communicate health and safety measures, in particular to ensure visitors feel safe at various attractions, restaurants, tours or even getting back on an airplane for the first time. Smaller group activities are also more likely to occur, so destinations should consider limiting measures – taking large group experiences down to four or six people instead of the regular 12 or 15.

In the new normal, travelers and guests will make safety and hygiene measures a priority when choosing their accommodation and they will demand that from destinations and hotels to implement strict cleaning protocols to deal with the coronavirus.

Hotels  must ensure that detailed information is provided, like the time it takes the hotel to answer inquiries, details of the what is included in the stay, the hotel’s current situation, and expanded information on security measures, concierge services, transfers to and from the airport, babysitters for children, museum tickets, etc. Furthermore, they must offer explanations and advice on local measures pertaining to Coronavirus social distancing and restrictions. All of these points will now be key to generating reservations.

Once again, every crisis presents an opportunity. The travel and tourism industry would do well to ensure that they continue the preparation to fully tap on the opportunity when the situation rebounds.

Check out my related post: Medical Tourism In Singapore: Is It Worth The High Price Tag?

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