The European tourism industry is said to be experiencing an estimated financial loss of roughly one billion Euro per month with the Covid-19 crisis, and it will likely take up to 10 months for the industry to recover.
Tourism has come to a standstill and although there’s a general negative feeling, I believe the current slowdown has provided us with an unprecedented window of opportunity. I also believe different sectors within tourism are being hit harder than others and that some will have more opportunities than others in the recovery period. What all sectors will inevitably have in common though is that they will have to deal with a completely different tourism dynamic by the end of 2020.
Destinations have the upper hand
One of UNWTO’s key messages now is ‘Staying home today means travelling tomorrow’ and hashtags such as #TravelTomorrow and #DontCancelPostpone have been trending across many social media channels. This type of message will hopefully help place many destinations in the fortunate position that they will be able to recoup their lost visitors. People that ate at a restaurant once a week before lockdown, will not make up all the lost meals when social distancing ends. It is quite possible however that some will take their annual vacation at a later date, so a number of holidays and trips will not be lost.
But it won’t be ‘business as normal’ as the dynamics will change. Destinations and DMOs must be prepared for this if they want to keep pace with visitors.
Digital tools have become more important than ever. People stuck at home are using their smartphone, tablet or pc as their main connection to the outside world. This makes websites and social media channels the most influential lines of communication in this crisis. With the news of outbreaks and travel restrictions changing so rapidly, individuals look to these channels for the most up to date and official sources of information.
Cities, regions and nations that act quickly now can communicate effectively through digital media will help their brand be perceived as a secure place for future tourism and investment. Place branding is also very important as it is key to positioning a national organisation as the go-to institution. The results of relevant and targeted communication and branding now will be rewarded once recovery commences.
Support will be there but planning now is key.
Many travel and tourism associations and organisations are working hard now to emphasize tourism’s proven resilience and are standing ready to support recovery. In 2019 the travel and tourism industry accounted for 10% of the total GDP worldwide. Governments and local authorities will be anxious to aid and fund cities, regions and countries in attempts to kick start the tourism industry as soon as possible. Even whilst battling with the immediate impact, this is also the time to think to the future and recovery planning. In the new travel dynamic people will evaluate and make decisions in a different way. But how many destinations will take advantage of the opportunities that are available now to ensure they are ready to get travellers back once the crisis is over?
What will the new tourism dynamic look like?
International tourist organisations can use this time to study a strategy to ensure their destination and its stakeholders are fully prepared and ready for the inevitable recovery and the new tourism dynamic that will come with it. Travellers will be initially cautious in their movements, but there will be plenty of pent-up wanderlust as the first hesitant steps are taken. Domestic visitors and international independent travellers will lead the way, while tourist groups and study groups will arrive in a later wave. However, one thing is certain, everyone will be thinking differently about how they travel and what they want from their trip. A residue of fear will initially exist, and many will shun aspects of perceived over-organisation and lean instead towards independent and localised experiences away from the crowds. While fewer people will initially join groups, those who do travel will demand an increased level of customisation and personalisation of services.
The importance of digital services
The goals for sustainable tourism and the efforts to better manage tourist flow in cities and reduce over-tourism will most likely continue to be very high up on the agenda for many tourist boards. Communicating efficiently in a number of languages will also underlie strategies, and in all likelihood, digital services and targeted communication will be the keystone of campaigns. Lockdown has created an unexpected boost in everyone’s tech usage and skills, especially in those people who previously used it less, such as the older generation.
Before this crisis, functions such as downloading of digital maps and/or audio guides, available in various languages, had proven very popular. In the rebound, these types of services will be expected even by the older generation, so it is imperative that tourist organisations offer them in their mix of collateral and promotional materials.
The secret is in great content and audio
Easy to use city mapping and sightseeing apps are greatly appreciated by visitors. Basic ones provide a free map and sightseeing tour downloads; while more sophisticated combination packages can be easily integrated into destinations’ native apps, and feature audio guides, promotions functionality and e-commerce such as entrance tickets to local attractions. Online reviews highlight the important of a simple download experience, along with crystal clear audio and text that not only tells a fascinating story, but that is available in a variety of languages. These features are essential if you want visitors to positively review this type of service, and the tourism industry is well aware of the benefits of UGC (User Generated Content).
The rich data for managing flows
The other major advantage of this type of service is the rich trend data that can be collected from the app users. Until recently, tourist organisations struggled to collect relevant data on tourist activities in their destinations. Travellers relied mainly on Google Maps as their sole navigator, so activity data was collected only by Google. Today however, some new technology on the market now allows tourist organisations to collect user movement trend data, so that DMOs can more easily manage flows and optimise tourist spot visits. This new breed of also allows sophisticated pop-up notifications with special offers or recommendations, which have the added advantage of sponsorship options for the tourist organisation.
It’s now or never!
One of the main objectives of National tourism boards, state/provincial tourism offices and visitor bureaus now is to prepare for the world post-Covid. They need to think about planning for the long-term development and marketing of their destination, based on the new tourism dynamic that will follow. DMOs have always played a critical role in developing and protecting their destination’s brand. Their success, once recovery kicks in, will depend on how they capitalize on the current window of opportunity.
Technology and digital services are helping everyone at all levels, and in all sectors today, so tomorrow’s travellers will be much more digitally savvy and have more information at their fingertips than ever before.
If they engage the right mindset, the time and the tools, DMOs have the power to drive the recovery and success of a destination in the new tourism dynamic.
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