Insights into tourism branding
The travel and tourism sector has evolved dramatically over the past decade.
The travel and tourism sector has evolved dramatically over the past decade. This evolution is clearly evident in the numbers – arrivals, revenues, length of stay, dispersion, repeat visitation, investment – all of the metrics which the industry uses to quantitatively measure performance. With over 7 million travelers traveling internationally each day in 2007, 70 million traveling domestically each day, travel has become a natural part of our work and play lives.
Importantly, at a qualitative level, the travel and tourism sector has also shown itself to be invaluable in bringing together people of the destination around a shared national identity and invitation to the world, regardless of age, race, religion, profession, personality, and political point of view.
Today in our connected world, travel is no longer just about movement from
logistical points A to B. Travel has become a powerful vehicle for educating the people of the world about who we are – showcasing different beliefs, different codes, different ways of living and ways of thinking. Travel has been essential in breaking down barriers and out-of-date perceptions about who we used to be.
In addition to playing a part in one’s individual identity, travel has become a form of personal therapy – the opportunity to escape, experience, exhale… whatever the need may be in these increasingly stressful times.
Clearly, travel and tourism is about more than just holidays, conferences, and
business meetings. It is about connection, growth, learning, being, and well-being.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS HITS THE TOURISM SECTOR
From the middle of 2008, however, the travel and tourism sector saw a dramatic halt to rates of growth of activity seen in the previous 4 years. The almost 5 percent year-on-year growth of international arrivals enjoyed since 2004 and going into 2008 began to drop off as soon the second half of 2008 began to unfold, with predictions for 2009 dropping to -2 percent. At an alarming speed, the global economic downturn evolved from a housing crisis, to a credit crunch, to the collapse of monolithic banking institutions… both nationally and globally. Exports dropped, purchasing dropped, confidence dropped. Finally, by the end of Q3/2008, there was open usage of the ‘R’ word – recession – by economists, retail analysts, and politicians alike.
At an individual level, talk of credit squeezes, bank and business closures, job losses, repossessions, and unemployment created global panic. The economic
recession gave birth to a frightening emotional recession. The end of the year
brought on deeper concerns of what was ahead in 2009. The unknown was
IMPACT OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS ON TRAVELER BEHAVIOR
As a result of the economic downturn, there have been dramatic changes in travel and tourism. The recession has forced many to cancel travel plans. Business trips turned into teleconferences. Conventions and conferences turned into cancellations. And holidays turned into concerns. The stress and emotional fatigue of the economic crisis has increased the need to go on holiday to escape/recover from the burdens of reality. Even just the thought offers some relief.
And so, as 2009 unfolds, more and more travelers will be asking not IF they should travel, but:
2. WHEN, and
3. FOR HOW LONG.
These three questions unlock an array of opportunities for destinations competing for travelers in the year(s) ahead. They also act as platforms for travelers to bring to life how their habits, attitudes, and behaviors have changed as a result of:
• our evolving consumer-centric society,
• the overt and covert of travel,
• the evolution of citizen journalism,
• thought sharing through social networks and opinion blogs, and
• increased need to travel yet very real economic constraints.
For the travel and tourism sector to recover in a way which meaningfully, sustainably, and competitively strengthens the industry and its individual stakeholders, it is critical that changes in traveler thinking and behavior – permanent changes, which are unlikely to fade once the red ink turns black again – be understood and embraced.
Below is a list of just some of the ways travelers have responded to the economic downturn… and how it impacts their travel wishes, wants, and ways.
A SAMPLE OF SOME OF THE CHANGES IN TRAVELER BEHAVIOR IN 2009
The EMOTIONAL NEED TO TRAVEL HAS GROWN as the economic crisis has deepened. The stresses and fears surrounding the global economic crisis have resulted in an increased need to get away, to escape the pressures of what is and what still could be, even if for just a short while.
Trading DOWN has become a far better option to trading OUT. While the need for a holiday may be increasing, the fact remains that times are tight and budgets thin (if not gone all together). People would rather move to the back of the plane or lose a star on the hotel than pass up getting away all together! Trading down from business-class seats to economy for long-haul flights is estimated at over 18 percent in 2009. Local air travel down-trading is estimated at 1 in 3.
Google News, Bing News, Yahoo News, 200+ publications
ADVERTISING AND WEBSITES play a critical role in building destination awareness, understanding, and preference for when travelers are ready to say,
“Let’s book – I’m ready to go!” Planning where next to travel dramatically increases the pleasure and emotional sense of relief of the travel experience – even before the travel is undertaken. Sixty-two percent of
travelers surveyed state advertising influences destination choice (OCS 2009).
Travelers have adopted a D.I.Y. APPROACH TO TRAVEL PLANNING with a growing sense of confidence and cleverness. Meta-search engines
have increased the ability for travelers to dream about and directly book their travel – and decreased the need for travel agents. Over 50 percent of
American travelers compare online site prices.
CASHING IN IS KING! Airline and credit card reward programs have become a powerful way of purchasing/upgrading tickets and accommodation. With travel budgets under pressure, other forms of travel ‘currency’ are being used to keep moving – and keep moving as comfortably as one may wish. In 2009, cashing in of air miles increased 600 percent in the Middle East region.
LAST MINUTE travel has become a fun way of getting away… at a far better price. Travelers are more flexible in the WHERE as long as
the main WHAT and WHEN criteria for getting away are in place (i.e., dates, price, weather, travel time). Essentialtravel.co.uk reported a 70 percent increase in last-minute bookings since November 2008. Packages (airfare + accommodation) are key.
STAYCATIONS – holidaying closer to home – have become a great alternative to long-haul vacations. Not only do they cut travel costs, they allow travelers to discover the travel offerings within their own country/region. Twenty percent of Britons who traveled abroad in 2008, plan to vacation locally in 2009. Domestic/pan-regional advertising is vital to
destination marketing strategies and resulting tourism results.
SERVICE MATTERS! It is a critical part of quality brand
delivery and it costs nothing to deliver. But when service is poor or even absent, it can cost not only customers but also reputation, brand equity, and
future revenues. Lack of budget is no excuse for lack of good service.
Now more than ever GOD IS IN THE DETAILS. Small acts of kindness and generosity – upgrades, acknowledging a guest’s birthday, free wifi – establish and embed brand loyalty and preference… a powerful differentiator and competitive edge. Over 53 percent of American travelers
state ‘free breakfast’ seals the deal.
BRAND EXPERIENCE DELIVERY IS NO LONGER PURELY ABOUT THE CORE BUSINESS. Air travel is about more than just the in-air experience. Lounges and chauffeur drives matter. Understanding what is truly important to travelers allows for brand equity growth through competitive, connecting brand
differentiation and experience delivery.
The economic crisis of 2008/9 has dramatically altered how global travelers view:
• Need and value of travel
• Role of service providers within the travel and tourism industry
• Travel decision making and purchase process
Importantly, changes in traveler attitudes and behaviors will remain a part of the psychology of travelers long after economies around the globe have come out of their recessions and started to enjoy regular traveler traffic once again. As a result, the global travel and tourism community must prepare for, and embrace, more hands on, high expectation, savvy, and spontaneous behavior of travelers.
Critical for the industry to remember in these unique travel and tourism times is that:
• BRAND BUILDING matters,
• PRICING matters,
• PACKAGED OFFERS (airline + accommodation + attractions) matter,
• SERVICE EXCELLENCE matters,
• GENEROSITY in travel experiences matters,
• TRAVELER LOYALTY matters,
• STRONG MEDIA PRESENCE (on-line and TV) matters, and very importantly,
• PAN-REGIONAL ADVERTISING matters, and
• TRAVEL DREAMING matters.
We cannot go back to the way things were – our world has changed at so many
levels. Within these changes, however, lie the seeds to future competitive
advantage within the travel and tourism sector – the foundation for meaningful long-term destination recovery, growth, and development.