September is usually way too late to start destination marketing for the Christmas holiday season. Normally hotels are fully booked five or six months in advance. But 2020 is no normal year. This year, people are either unable or reluctant to travel.
But the restrictions are being lifted and COVID-safe travel plans are being enacted to ensure that travellers can return in a safe manner.
Domestic travel is predicted to be the main benefactor in the post-crisis recovery. International travel may not return to previous norms until a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19 is widely available.
“Domestic travel – especially road trips – will increase as COVID-19 restrictions are removed. Combined with a pent-up demand to get away, and a desire for safety, demand for local travel will be even stronger than it was prior to the crisis”Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor, Incentive Research Foundation
The research goes on: People are beginning to anticipate and crave travel, with a focus on new experiences at safe destinations within driving distance or shorter flights.
For destination marketers, this poses a unique headache. Everything has changed. The product has changed due to health restrictions and your target market has changed due to a desire to stay closer to home.
But the marketing assets were all carefully planned and created pre-COVID. So how to rapidly recreate a library of updated collateral?
The good news for destination marketers is that potential travellers are more likely to trust the recommendations of “micro-influencers” such as trusted travel journalists. This means you can use your familiarisation trip reports as part of your content marketing.
Post-COVID, the kind of destination marketing content that consumers want has changed. Destination marketing during these times requires sensitivity to what’s going on in people’s lives as well as flexibility to keep up with swift changes to travel restrictions.
How to use travel famils in the COVID recovery period
There is opportunity in the chaos too. Some 76% of consumers picked up new habits and routines during COVID-19. Most said they plan on keeping some of their new habits.
For destination marketers, this provides a new potential market of visitors, who would usually travel further afield, who will consider domestic holidays in 2021.
The content you provide needs to be framed with empathy and sensitivity, but also highlighting the COVID-safe aspects of your destination. The best way to show empathy is by ditching glossy marketing and embracing real user feedback, user reviews and user-generated content.
According to best practice, marketers need to proceed with empathy
famil trips can be harnessed to produce updated attraction reviews, COVID-safe transport blog posts and video content for your library. Journalists and trade participants simply need an easy way to upload their video clips and images for you to use in marketing.
After COVID, potential travellers are increasingly looking for social proof for inspiration. The impact social media has had on the travel industry is transformational. Travellers in all age groups look to user-generated content (UCG) for guidance and ideas. Photos and videos posted by friends, family or peers on social media are the best inspirations.
But the advice of trusted travel media is almost as valued, especially to more nervous individuals whose reservations agents travel are higher. Consumers want to talk to people who have real experience of the accommodation and transport they will be using. Education trips provide DMOs with an arsenal of material that could be used for marketing.
And when will we all go back to normal? Well, using 9/11 or the 2007 recession as a reference, and assuming a vaccine is available in 2021, tourism should recover by late 2022 or early 2023.