Travel, Tourism and 2020
This year has been tough for many businesses. But spare a thought for Susan Coghill and Brodie Reid, marketing bosses of Tourism Australia and Tourism New Zealand, whose remits were literally spun 180 degrees when their governments closed borders to overseas passengers in March.
It’s not just their remits which were skewed, it was entire regions and thousands of livelihoods they are tasked with driving business towards which suddenly had their supply of customers completely cut off.
Tourism Australia’s CMO Susan Coghill says the double whammy of the bushfires and COVID-19 has been particularly tough.
“It’s been devastating for us - tourism is a $126 billion dollar category in terms of overnight expenditure. We know we have about 300,000 businesses all across Australia that have been impacted by these events,” she explains.
“But we are starting to see green shoots. Our research is showing that the intent to travel is quite high. We're seeing 54% of people say they intend to travel the next six months, plus another 22% in the next six to 12 months after that.”
Tourism New Zealand’s Marketing Director, Brodie Reid sympathises, noting travel is New Zealand’s number one export earner.
“The effects of the pandemic have led to quite a big gap of around $15 billion in our GDP. But we're seeing a lot of resilience from domestic travellers - a lot of Kiwis wanting to get behind the country and keep the economy going. Now it's really just about converting that pent up desire into demand for travel in New Zealand,” she adds.
From the ashes, green shoots
Despite the challenges, Facebook’s Industry Head of Travel, Paul Nahoun, says people are eager to resume travelling and are actively looking for ways to indulge their wanderlust. According to Kantar research from October, almost half of surveyed Australians (44%) are comfortable travelling within their own state as soon as possible, while 28% are comfortable travelling interstate.
“We’re seeing three big trends. The first is around travelling locally. There’s a shift towards rural, wide open spaces and beaches. Road trips are also making a comeback - there’s a bit of that Priscilla, Queen of the Desert re-emerging,” he says.
“The second big trend is the rise of conscious travel, on the back of the bushfires, and now COVID-19. It’s all about consciously supporting local businesses and operators.
“The third trend is around flexibility. This year it’s more important than ever for brands to have clear messaging with travellers because of the constant shifting of abilities to travel,” Nahoun adds.
For Coghill, the key to kickstarting the largely dormant travel industry is understanding what people are ready for - which can differ from state to state.
“It's incredibly important to make sure that you're gauging consumer sentiment. In addition to our research programs, we also leverage things like Facebook and Instagram to get a read on how our consumers are feeling. And in fact, we adjust our media plans accordingly,” she says.
Reid says Tourism New Zealand sought to rapidly gain insights into its domestic audience, to understand the differences between them and the international traveller.
“We didn't have a mandate to focus on domestic travel pre-May this year. So it's been a bit of a swift learning curve to get that campaign up and running within a six-week period,” she says.
Nahoun was quick to offer praise to Visit Victoria, the tourism body of the state that has borne the brunt of the pandemic in Australia.
“Tourism Victoria thought laterally about how they could find new ways to help stimulate the tourism industry,” Nahoun explains. “They developed this campaign called Click for Vic which was designed to connect Victorians with small businesses across the state and encourage them to buy Victorian-made products online.
“By thinking differently they were able to drive 102,000 leads to Victorian operators to capitalise on that growing pent up demand,” he adds.
With COVID-19 putting the brakes on international - and in many cases interstate - travel, Tourism Australia had to quickly set up a whole new domestic unit within the marketing team, Coghill explains.
“People travel very differently domestically than they do internationally,” Coghill reveals. “When you travel domestically, you tend to have a little bit more of a flop and drop holiday - you're less inclined to spend on experiences, or that special meal out. So encouraging domestic travellers to spend on those types of holidays was important.”
Reid described the lovely experience of being able to see Tourism New Zealand’s work in her own backyard, when it is usually served up to prospective foreign visitors.
She also says they have encountered a similar issue to Tourism Australia.
“Travellers are using our beautiful landscapes as their Disneyland, instead of doing tourism experiences. So it was a question of how we change that domestic traveller mindset to get them thinking like an international visitor,” she explains.
Reid also outlines the tourism board’s good fortune with an ongoing campaign when COVID-19 spoiled the party. “We were quite lucky that we had about 100 days worth of our year-long Good Morning World Series in the bag, to take us through to June,” she says.
Keeping the brand lights on
For Nahoun, the key to retaining international interest is keeping people inspired to travel once it becomes a reality again.
“It’s about regular engagement on platforms like Live and Instagram Stories, where people have been able to connect via a visual language in real time. It’s also a little less ‘produced’, which drives a bit more of that authentic connection,” he says.
Reid explains how post ‘Good Morning World’ - which featured different Kiwis greeting the world good morning every day for a year on Instagram - Tourism New Zealand segued into telling a Brand New Zealand story at a more values-based level.
“We started to talk about who we are as a nation - what we stood for - and this led to our Messages from New Zealand campaign, which started in June and is still going now.
“We also really leant into Live on Facebook, as well as Stories, and famils (journalist trips).
“I think what we found is we won’t completely go back to what we were doing before and the lessons we've learned over the last six months have allowed us to bring 100% Pure New Zealand to life in a completely new and authentic way,” she adds.
Coghill says that Tourism Australia needs to be a standard bearer for the industry in these tough times: “It’s really important that we ensure the trade keeps the dream alive, because they are front-facing for us. So they need to see us actively promoting Australia.
“And we're also conscious that a lot of brands that help drive awareness of Australia overseas, such as Qantas, are quiet now. So we're really carrying that flag for the country,” she adds.
Lessons for marketers
Nahoun is encouraged that marketers are showing less fear around innovation and trying new things.
“Because if there’s a lesson from 2020, it’s that you could have a great marketing plan or strategy, and then things come out of left field,” he says.
Reid explains that for Tourism New Zealand it is all about being true to its purpose and mission.
“We’ve always been about enriching New Zealand and the lives of New Zealanders. So staying true to our brand values and our brand truth, rather than trying to be too reactive, or flipping to a COVID-19 strategy, is really important,” she says.
“A key learning for me is about the importance of building the case for creative and innovative marketing, before a crisis hits,” Coghill says.
“You want to make sure that you've got support across your business, to sell in those big ideas to ensure that you drive the results that you need.”
The ever-changing traveller
The lessons of 2020 and the fragility of the travel industry won’t soon be forgotten, Reid predicts: “People’s needs and expectations around health and safety, secure travel, digitisation, and crowd control - it all really requires thought from an industry perspective.”
For Nahoun, people being able to work remotely is an interesting travel development: “There's this rising behaviour of people going somewhere on holiday for the weekend, but then staying during the week to work. We are seeing the rise of the working holiday instead of flopping and dropping.”
People will be willing to pay extra to feel more in control and safe in their environments when they travel, Coghill anticipates.
“And we also can't overlook the digital transformation we are seeing that’s impacting everybody, particularly that Boomer generation, which is really picking up competence.
“After all they're the ones with the money for travel at the moment. So I think all tourism businesses need to understand that trend,” she says.
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