What kind of impact do you think the coronavirus pandemic has had on travel and tourism worldwide, and how relevant do you think destination marketing is at a time like this?
It’s evident that COVID-19 has impacted the travel industry. Even during the summer of 2020 when travel restrictions in some countries were more flexible, changing regulations on where tourists were permitted to go on holiday and requirements of quarantines and testing made the experience of travel very confusing. Other travellers did not feel safe enough to travel. These concerns are entirely reasonable and demonstrate the important role destination marketing can have beyond solely promoting a destination by informing on the latest travel regulations.
Looking at the data from online travel agents tells us that many people have continued investigating options for travel, even during lockdowns. When restrictions on travel are lifted, online advertising targeted at people who are searching for specific destinations can be informative as well as promotional. It can grow demand for destinations at the same time as educate potential travellers on current restrictions and public health recommendations. A campaign we ran for Marketing Greece in the summer of 2020 began with a #StaySafe tag-line, but transitioned to a #SeeYouSoon message once borders were opened, reinforcing guidelines set by national authorities.
What benefits does destination marketing bring and which major trends and changes should destination marketers be aware of to ensure their future viability?
In the wake of the global pandemic, destination marketing organisations (DMOS) will be leading the activities that help with reactivating tourism and encouraging visitors back.
It will be incredibly important that this is done in a responsible and sustainable way. Digital destination marketing has already had a noticeable impact on encouraging tourists to travel slightly outside of peak season in order to ensure destinations are not overcrowded; after the Marketing Greece campaign, Greece received more attention in the autumn than it had in past years.
Greece is a summer destination, but searches for holidays in September and October of 2020 showed that the relative demand share that Greece held among European destinations was actually higher than it was in 2019. Ultimately this helped to sustain the destination and reduce concerns about overcrowding by targeting different segments of travellers at different time period.
What does an advertising campaign need in order to successfully attract tourists to vacation spots?
The crucial ingredient of any advertising campaign in this context is inspiration. The first step of a successful campaign must be to inspire travellers, an aim which can be accomplished with visual branding that showcases the best a destination has to offer, as well as a variety of other marketing
materials. During a pandemic, an early step in the process must also be to build confidence and reassure travellers with relevant information about safety and public health recommendations.
As a company that works with destination marketers, how do you use online search data to manage lockdown restrictions?
We use data to track and understand the demand for travel and analyse it by customer demographic and region. At the end of 2020, we worked on a campaign with a health authority, rather than a DMO, in order to direct ads containing information on quarantine regulations to people who were planning to travel around the holiday season. Because quarantines can last for many weeks, it was crucial that travellers saw these ads at the right time so they could successfully quarantine in a way that reduced the impact on their other plans.
How do you leverage online search data to help destinations promote the attractions in their home countries while ensuring that travellers remain mindful of health and travel restrictions?
Online search data can be used to direct important information about travel restrictions and health guidelines towards people who are searching for travel, equipping them with pertinent information as early in the booking process as possible.
And while travel restrictions are in place, destinations can implement what we call ‘inspiration campaigns’ to grow demand and position themselves as an ideal destination in the minds of the right travellers. When restrictions are lifted these campaigns can change to be more conversion focused to reactivate travel when the time is right.
How can online search data help destinations to work out who their competitors are and how important do you think this is?
Online search data is extremely important in helping destinations work out who their competitors are; travel audience is able to provide analysis on different destinations that a potential traveller has searched for. This kind of analysis can sometimes yield surprising results; in our campaign with Marketing Greece, we found that various Greek islands were unusually primarily competing against each other for a dominant market share, rather than destinations in other countries.
The tourism environment has changed completely in the past year, and traditional competitors may have changed. It’s highly important that DMOs have the right insights.
How important is social media as part of a destination’s marketing strategy?
We live the social search era. As of 2021, there are 3.5billion social media users worldwide with users spending an average of three hours a day on social networks and messaging services. It’s an important marketing tool for almost all sectors, and travel is no different. It’s important that DMOs not only have an insightful and inspiring social media presence, but also that they pair it with attractive and impactful advertising.
What advice would you give to destination marketers who are trying to increase their market share in travel at the moment?
Building market share is now much more complex, but destination marketers can make an impact in a changing market by using data to drive planning and strategy. Close analysis of data allows them to understand where their demand is coming from and who their competitors are, which are both crucial when coping with the reduced demand brought about by the pandemic.
How have travellers or would-be travellers been helping to promote destinations in an age when travel is hugely restricted?
Travellers have and continue to dream about travel, acknowledging that it’s something that may have to be delayed to be properly enjoyed, and encouraging others to dream and be inspired as well. The ‘Dream Now, Travel Later’ campaign that My Switzerland launched back in March 2020 and the #StaySafe campaign from Marketing Greece were aimed at promoting this mindset.