The COVID-19 pandemic has pummelled almost every industry but none as severely affected as the tourism and travel industry. Major airlines are already threatened with bankruptcy, which was unthinkable just a few months ago. While there’s no clear sign when this unprecedented crisis will abate, there is still a glimmer of hope for the travel industry.
Global Web Index’s multinational study into 13 global markets on the impact of COVID-19 indicates that vacations are the top priority for post-outbreak purchasing, while TripAdvisor’s global study shows over 68 per cent of consumers were still thinking of their next trip in April, and 41 per cent are optimistic that they will be able to take the same or more trips than last year. TripAdvisor’s study also noted an increase in travellers' search activities, a sign of pent-up demand for travel. When asked what would give them the confidence to travel again, a personal feeling of safety is by far the top concern of travellers.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic will change the way people travel in the new normal as they look to maximise their experiences while minimising the risks. Brands will have to reset their communication strategy using data from the market today, not from the past, and to ensure messages are aligned with the shifting sentiments of consumers wrought by the pandemic. Consumers will seek guidance on when and where to travel, what to avoid, and prioritise their health and safety as they plan for their post-pandemic trips. They want brands to focus more on positive and heartfelt communications during these uncertain times. Creating travel-related content in the new normal can be expressed as a simple equation:
Your Usual Travel Content + Health and Safety Reassurances = New Normal Travel Content
Now is the time for brands to engage with their customers to stay on top of their minds. It’s not a time to go dark — let them know you’ll be there and ready to serve them safely when the market reopens. Build empathy with the consumers. Acknowledge the pandemic and its impacts on travel, contextualise your messages and content with reassurances on health, wellness and offer flexibility on travel booking changes. Last but not least, there’s no better time to digitise your outreach as more and more consumers devour content online while being sequestered at home. Brands in the travel and tourism industry who opt to do nothing now will miss out on opportunities when borders reopen and leisure travel resumes.
There’s no magic template for dealing with this dynamic COVID-19 situation. Brands have to remain nimble to constantly refine their communications as the crisis evolves. Let’s hear from some representatives and industry experts — Yap Sze Hunn, Global Marketing, Asia Region Planning, Japan Airlines; Chiemi Maruyama, Executive Director, Japan National Tourism Organization, Kuala Lumpur Office; Takashi Yamaki, Vice Director, Hokkaido Government Representative Office, Singapore; Jiseon Lee, Area Manager, Global Marketing Unit, Hoshino Resorts Inc.; Keinoshin Yamashiro, Senior Specialist, Sales and Promotion Department, Overseas Marketing Section, Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"We persevere so that customers can expect the same or even better standards of safety and service than before."
"The situation with COVID-19 has rendered flying to be exceedingly difficult for now, but various independent surveys have shown that people are yearning to travel again. It is not a question of whether the industry will recover, but when, and we can be hopeful it will in time.
At Japan Airlines, you can say it is business as usual behind the scenes, where we are working hard in every aspect as we would during regular operations, if not harder. From maintaining the fleet for flight readiness to cabin crew undergoing training to upkeep service quality and hospitality, we persevere so that customers can expect the same or even better standards of safety and service than before.
Safety has always been our priority since before this pandemic, and it will continue to be. We implemented JAL FlySafe, a set of stringent measures without compromising on service standards, to ensure our customers’ well-being and comfort when flying with us. In marketing, we seek new content and relevant ways to engage our audience throughout this period. Despite people not flying now, their love for and interest in Japan burn bright. So while we refrain from encouraging travel at this time, we sustain interest in the brand and in Japan by sharing intriguing stories of the country, its culture, philosophies, art and destinations. We believe collectively these assiduous efforts will lay the groundwork for our customers, stakeholders and employees to emerge together from current challenges to fly into a better tomorrow." — Yap Sze Hunn, Global Marketing, Asia Region Planning, Japan Airlines
"The world will further evolve into a new era of digitalisation and online sphere."
"In line with the current world situation, we are maximising our online platforms as well as networks and continuing to strive to provide and share reliable and the latest information to our partners as well as to the public. Taking into account the domestic and international condition, we will determine the timing to resume our travel markets and boost our marketing promotions accordingly.
As for the direction of future promotions, we believe that timing is very important and it’s necessary to identify the unchanged norms and the new changes and to gradually expand our efforts in consideration of the new social norms and travel trends. Safety will be on high demand and a strong motivation for future travels, and the world will further evolve into a new era of digitalisation and online sphere. We trust that these changes will bring us new opportunities in the travel industry." — Chiemi Maruyama, Executive Director, Japan National Tourism Organization, Kuala Lumpur Office
"To continue to engage consumers, we launched an initiative called #HOKKAIDOLOVE."
"In May, we launched the 'New Hokkaido Style' program where we educate residents, businesses — such as restaurants and tourist destinations — on the adoption and implementation of new coronavirus infection prevention measures. All tourism facility operators are encouraged to check the recommended safety measures on the website for their respective industry. For instance, all staff at the Kushiro Marsh Observatory, including the restaurant and shops, will wear masks; and vinyl partitions have been installed to separate visitors from the staff manning the cash registers. There are also fewer seats in the restaurant as compared to before to practice social distancing.
At the Washo Ichiba Market, you will find alcohol sanitisers for disinfection made available in various areas of the market. Some of the entrances to the market are also closed to control the flow of visitors and the number of seats for dining-in has been reduced as well.
As Hokkaido Prefecture’s own initiative, we have also introduced the 'Hokkaido Corona Notification System,' a contact tracing system similar to Singapore's SafeEntry, to contain the spread of infection. Various business operators are providing virtual events, such as a live video stream conducted recently by the Asahiyama Zoo. Finally, to continue to engage consumers, we launched an initiative called '#HOKKAIDOLOVE' to make everyone in Japan and overseas reaffirm the charm of Hokkaido on social media. Users can also refer to our Facebook page for more information on Hokkaido." — Takashi Yamaki, Vice Director, Hokkaido Government Representative Office in Singapore
"We will continuously propose new ways of travel that avoid the 3Cs and make travellers feel safe and secure."
"Hoshino Resorts Inc. reopened our restaurants with a 'New Normal Buffet' since 1 July 2020. The buffet-style restaurants were temporarily closed from 1 May to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, there have been constant demands for enjoying local gourmet food at the buffet restaurants, which can be one of the purposes of travel, so we re-created the buffet with consideration to avoid the 3Cs (crowded places, close-contact settings and confined spaces) and to control hygiene.
In our ‘New Normal Buffet’, firstly, all guests will undergo temperature checks before using the restaurant. Secondly, we apply Medical Nanocoat, an anti-viral and anti-bacterial coating, to things that people come in contact with, such as the buffet table, chairs, tongs, etc. to reduce the risk of getting the contagious infection. Also, all foods have acrylic covers over them.
To avoid crowding and close contact between guests, the foods are strategically placed. There are markings on the floor to remind guests of social distancing. All guests are also provided with masks and gloves at the buffet. Lastly, [our] staff is assigned around the buffet space to control crowds and to ensure social distancing between guests. Aside from our ‘New Normal Buffet’, we created a new smartphone application that can monitor crowds at the onsen to provide our guests with a safe environment. Living in a time with coronavirus, we will continuously propose new ways of travel that avoid the 3Cs and make travellers feel safe and secure." — Jiseon Lee, Area Manager, Global Marketing Unit, Hoshino Resorts Inc.
"Demand for programs that focus on nature and health will increase."
In some regions, the only way to enter Okinawa is by air or sea. All airlines and cruise companies are focusing on countermeasures to prevent infection and posting such information on their websites to promote safety. We have created a video that recommends the new normal style of tourism. The video can be viewed on our website and social media accounts." — Keinoshin Yamashiro, Senior Specialist, Sales and Promotion Department, Oversea Marketing Section, Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau
(Cover photo from: Unsplash/Gabrielle Henderson)