Looking for light at the end of the tunnel
Future plans to overcome the impact of COVID-19
It may be hard to envision a productive ending the current virus crisis for the tourism sector, but one travel industry consultant says stake holders should start taking action now to ensure a silver lining on the covid cloud.
Tourism industry businesses and DMOs (destination marketing organizations) can be using these down times and sales doldrums to prepare for the end of the COVID-19 outbreak, when potential travellers will be needing flights or will finally be looking for a well-deserved vacation. That’s when tourism stakeholders should be ready with sales and marketing plans as part of a recovery strategy, says Greg Klassen, a partner at Twenty31, a travel consultancy firm in BC that specializes in long-range outlooks for the travel industry.
“It’s important to have strong leadership at this time and to start planning for recovery when this threat comes to an end,” says Klassen. “Now is the time to start working on strategies to come out of the gate with marketing plans as soon as we hear the first reports of successful containment of the disease.”
WHAT’S THE MESSAGE
This requires, for instance, knowledge of who will need to travel, who will want to travel, and who will be most responsive to the recovery messaging. For travel sellers, this might include a marketing and communications plan for source markets and target audiences that are most likely to respond to advertising and special offers.
In the near term, DMOs and travel sellers should develop a recovery marketing plan focusing on short-term domestic and regional market campaigns. In the long term, they are advised to stress-test areas of corporate and destination strategy vulnerabilities, such as an over-reliance on a few source markets (eg. China), and to further diversify their source markets and target audiences.
A more intensive use of social media channels to amplify more positive tourism messages and images can also be emphasized.
This kind of messaging should get more focus, he said.
HANDLING THE CHANGES
Future strategizing is inevitably coloured by current events, which continue to unfold rapidly within this uncharted territory. Airlines, including Air Canada, are being particularly impacted, especially with government announcements of more flight restrictions. Recovery will depend on their short to mid-term viability over the course of the pandemic, he said.
“There will be limited-to-no travel at all during periods where we and Americans are asked to practice social distancing,” said Klassen – even though the Canada-US border remains open for now. “But with peak covid, and then announcements from health authorities relaxing the restrictive provisions, we may have an opportunity (for recovery) based on the domestic and US markets.”
Amongst the many suppliers worldwide facing extreme business stress are hotel operators in Hong Kong, some of whom are down to single-digit occupancies and struggling to keep their staff employed, says Klassen. He has noted that some of these hoteliers are using this down time to execute needed renovations to their properties.
Similarly, DMOs and travel sellers can consider how they can “renovate” their destinations and attractions, says the consultant. They can use market research to determine, for example, higher-value and longer-stay consumer segments. They can also develop/promote lesser-known attractions, plus highlight travel opportunities in the shoulder and off-seasons.
“Six months ago, we were all talking about issues like over-tourism, the impacts of carbon and the devastation of cultures. Now may be the best time to address these issues,” said Klassen, who suggested the opportunity was here to do some fundamental rebuilding, such as even repositioning a destination.
On this count, Klassen is looking forward to the participation of the federal government to offer some recovery relief.
He noted that the governments of Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and others had all deployed programs to help their tourism industries get back on their feet.
For example, the government of New Zealand has created a US$10- million funding package for Tourism New Zealand; the government of Queensland, Australia has created a US$27.25-million tourism industry recovery package; and the government of Indonesia has deployed a major economic stimulus package that includes US$21-million for tourism marketing.
And he recalled that Canada’s federal government had stepped up to offer industry assistance totalling $20 million when the SARS health crisis had raised alarms and deterred travel to Canada in 2003.
As an executive with the Canadian Tourism Commission (Destination Canada) at the time, Klassen had been a key player in using those resources to regenerate vacation travel to this country.
“It helped to encourage travel back to Canada and to kick-start the economy,” he said. “When this (COVID-19) is all over, there will be a lot of destinations chasing travellers to lure them back. We want to be in that mix and federal relief funding is necessary for that.”