By Eddy El Abyad, Industry Director, DMS
We all know that COVID-19 has brought the world to a literal standstill and has gone on to impact all industry sectors. The Travel and Tourism industry’s woes, therefore come as no surprise. With flights only operating to repatriate citizens or transport essentials, the broader travel industry including airlines, hotels and destinations amongst others, had no way of escaping the devastating implications that the rapid spread of the coronavirus has brought on.. Fortunately, restrictions are slowly being lifted, which means it is paramount for this industry to understand how the pandemic will impact future travel, knowing that travelers’ habits have clearly shifted, and there will be an urgent need to adapt to their newly set expectations. So, what might the future of travel look like when restrictions are completely lifted? Despite the current situation and given the time spent at home during the lockdown, a big chunk of people still have a surprisingly positive outlook on travel and are actually looking forward to traveling, as soon as airports open up. However, the key decision drivers behind booking their flights and accommodations have changed as follows:
Firstly, there will be a heightened need for awareness about the new standards being adopted by airports, airlines, and hotels. For travelers, considerations surrounding hygiene and precautionary measures used to avoid spreading the virus will become as important as price and location. With this said, travel and tourism brands will need to revisit their marketing strategies and go back to focusing, on the upper part of the funnel to spread awareness about the importance they place on training their staff and on the strict safety protocols being enforced, before tackling the lower end of the funnel, which is purely performance-driven. Creating a positive brand association by consistently reassuring their consumers and receiving rave reviews on this matter will, in fact, become essential for the survival of this industry.
This brings me to my second point about boosting measures needed to restore travelers’ confidence and this is particularly relevant to tourism board authorities, as showcasing how a country responded to the pandemic will play a key role in shaping travelers’ perception about the destination itself. In fact, countries that were quick-on-their-feet and took drastic measures to protect their citizens through a strict quarantine period, and were able to offer them premium healthcare, such as the UAE and KSA, will be perceived as top travel destinations. On that basis, traveling within the GCC first before venturing outside, and even exploring domestic locations, will most probably become the preferred options, once restrictions are lifted. Accordingly, tourism boards need to revise their targeting strategies and move away from a global mindset to a more local approach, focusing on staycations and destinations that are accessible via short-duration flights or even driving when talking to their consumers who are now more health-conscious and definitely more informed. This is also the perfect time for brands to create educational videos as well as leverage curated audio opportunities to accompany people who plan to be on the road.
Thirdly, in order to adapt to the “new normal”, priorities had to change and we saw people taking a step back from their crazy lives to value the time which they spent strengthening their family bonds. Once travelling is allowed, most people would want to explore travel destinations or staycations as a family, rather than just going on another “friends trip”, which could come at a later stage. It would actually be the perfect opportunity to meet up with family members who they haven’t seen in a while to make up for lost time. It goes without saying that brands’ communication tactics, messaging and targeting approaches would therefore need to be relooked accordingly to address families properly and yield effective results.
Lastly, and in line with the shift in priorities, people will now more than ever, be looking for unique travel experiences to create special moments, which they might have taken for granted prior to the pandemic. There will surely be demand for more secluded destinations that are less crowded and less likely to be risky, which would encompass various food and entertainment options, while making sure to uphold the necessary safety measures. This means that if brands want their consumers to consider them as their much-needed escape plan and push top of mind awareness, they will need to focus on creating scroll-stopping content in the form of snackable experiential and edutainment videos, highlighting all the unique and fun experiences they have in store, while stressing on the new health guidelines they’ve implemented since the quarantine.
To sum it all up, despite the current uncertainties, the travel and tourism industry will bounce back at some point, knowing that humans are naturally resilient and most of them will always have an inherent hunger to travel and explore new grounds. But, if brands want to come out on top, they will need to adjust their strategies based on their consumers’ new mindsets, while keeping in mind that safety and hygiene measures will play a key role in rebuilding consumer confidence.