Here's how marketing and smart technology can save your 2020 holiday


Five innovative marketing tactics that can take holidaying to new heights.

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Let’s be honest here: if there’s one thing that everyone loves, especially the British, it’s holidays. Even the most argumentative of trolls can’t argue with that. Whether you’re into drinking cocktails with little umbrellas and sand between your toes or bombing down black diamond routes in soft powder, we’re all missing those leave days outside of our homes. As a result, the travel and tourism industries are hurting, and that’s even with brilliant campaigns like I Will Travel Again and their pay-it-forward postcards, Armchair Adventures and its goal to #KeepTravelAlive, and #ShineOnTravel which promotes the travel and tourism companies that are doing great things during the pandemic.

Sadly, many travel companies have had to close, and most have had to cut staff and resources. Airbnb is one of the most prominent, and they’ve already lost 25% of their team and are forecasted to lose more than half their revenue in 2020. The letter sent to all the staff from co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky revealed his compassion and strong leadership, and the impact of the pandemic. Crucially, it also describes how and why travel will look different when it returns. “People will want options that are closer to home, safer, and more affordable. But people will also yearn for something that feels like it’s been taken away from them – human connection,” Brian explains. We couldn’t agree more: digital connections are important, but right now we’re all now craving some real-world interaction.

That means carefully-curated inspo, cut-rate flights, and batch deals aren’t going to be enough going forward. Brands will need to stand out from the crowd in a hotly-contested market, and they need to do it fast to leverage off the summer season of this year, especially for the proposed new Bank holiday in October. Borders and restrictions are slowly lifting, along with recommended travel allowances like ‘air bridges.’ Customers are looking for new, thoughtfully-created escapes that put people first, regardless of whether it’s a local or international escape. Here’s how to give them what they want.

virtual holiday

1. Digital experiences will still be potent post-lockdown.

One of the positive spin-offs of the pandemic has been the way that tourism departments (virtual dance parties in Jamaica anyone?) and travel companies have used live streaming and tailored digital experiences to promote their services. In fact, it’s helped some of them thrive, like some of these brands who have found their place in our not-so-new normal. Our favourite example: Tourism Australia taking customers on a virtual weekend away to promote their best features virtually and to help people plan trips there.

Now airbnb has also ramped up its digital portfolio: they’ve just launched their own Online Experiences, a spin-off of their existing airbnb Experiences. These let you take fun trips without leaving your home, and they do this by providing a spectacular range of virtual hangouts. From spending time with rescue goats in the Catskills through to meditating with Buddhist monks in Japan, you’re guaranteed to find a novel, extraordinary experience that promotes both places and people.

It offers enormous marketing potential – as you can ratchet up the appeal of a place by offering sneak previews of the unique benefits. Here’s where virtual reality can conquer the sales pitch: walking along the shores of a white-sand beach with turquoise waters and listening to the waves is a much better sell than a brochure or promoted social media post.

You can also partner with influencers, celebrities, and athletes to share unique digital experiences that promote the destination and the activity: like jumping on an indoor cycle trainer but riding virtually with a top MTB rider on their favourite scenic singletrack. The potential for virtual reality and live streaming experiences is almost endless – and there are several smart case studies of creative travel agency experiences.

One of our favourite examples is from the Faroe Islands. Instead of just relying on picturesque drone footage to market their wares, they placed cameras onto a local. That local then responds to commands from people anywhere in the world to show them around the islands. It’s old-world hospitality but done in a modern way.

Another potential avenue here is offering local knowledge in a new way. Instead of just offering pre-selected trips, travel companies can provide video calls with local experts so customers can create a trip that suits them. The Swedish realised this years ago and even launched a hotline which gives you access to ask a random Swede questions about their country and culture. This can now be updated with video hangouts with the locals, and offer their recommendations, like the best local restaurants and lesser-known tourist attractions.

Bottom line: as a travel brand, you need to partner with someone who understands this new immersive technology so you can speak to customers in a new, more engaging way.

2. Use nature to gain an edge over traditional tourist traps.

One of the unexpected real benefits of the pandemic has been the now widely talked about drop in emissions and pollution, and a partial return of wildlife. Cities have never been quieter, and with less smog – birds and the other sounds of nature have become the soundtrack. People have been working remotely, away from crowded cities, traffic, and polluted urban areas, and that will transfer over into their holiday needs. This slower pace of life offers mental and physical benefits through ecotherapy, and it’s fostered a closer, better relationship with nature.

Combine this pandemic effect of wanting to have a more eco-conscious escape with a millennial market that treasures experiences, eco-tourism, and off-the-grid, sustainable travel. It results in an opportunity for travel and tourism brands to focus on providing exclusive retreats and simple fresh-air experiences that focus on nature and wildlife. And that’s instead of adding foot traffic to the popular tourist attractions – especially considering that many of us consider large groups and crowds to be unsafe in the new normal.

Even better, brands can also focus on their carbon footprint and emissions. A good example is tour operator Intrepid Travel who, in partnership with Offset Earth, has launched a monthly subscription service that helps travellers offset their emissions and make positive lifestyle changes. Generation Now is another example of this new kind of carbon emissions subscription service.

Expect a rise in glamping, caravanning, camping, road trips in RVs, wildlife resort visits, and all outdoor experiences. Isolation and fresh-air therapy are in, and not only can it help boost local tourism in the short term, but it’s also a trend that’s going to keep growing. Keep an eye on our blog as we’ll be interviewing the team at The Caravan and Motorhome Club. They’ve just wrapped up a virtual festival, and plenty of UGC was created with people all over the UK pitching up for the event from their driveway or back garden!

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3. Celebrate staycations, hobbies, and local flavours.

Even though select airlines have opened up international routes again and plenty of popular tourist spots have reopened their borders, there’ll be a slow return to business as usual due to economic pressure, border bans, and virus fears. However, this does open up opportunities for holidays closer to home. The research backs this up: according to a survey done by the Queensland Business School, more than half surveyed wanted to travel close to home when restrictions are lifted, and 50 percent said they’d drive to their destination rather than fly. This opens up opportunities for tourism departments to be creative, and to offer new experiences for both locals and visitors, especially if the October Bank holiday is made official: The Guardian reports it could boost the economy by £500m.

This is where creativity and curated experiences need to come first. Whether it’s out-of-the-box thinking and activations like vending machines that sell cans with different tourism ‘flavours’, or mystery weekends, which are bespoke getaways where the best in local experiences, restaurants, and accommodation is chosen for you, and are only revealed once you’ve reached the destination.

Another pandemic side-effect has been the colossal uptake in hobbies. People have pursued old passions or taken up new challenges. This movement will lead to a new focus in travelling too, where customers will want to return to simple pleasures and activities. Sailing, cycling, walking tours, surfing expeditions, hiking challenges, fishing escapes, are all activities that nail two trending travel themes: namely, a return to fresh-air activities and a focus on experiencing something bespoke.

4. Harness new technology.

You’ll know about live streaming, digital experiences, and the VR potential, but there’s more. Not only are there new ways to showcase scenery, but there are also new ways to discover how customers are enjoying your tourism offering. Case in point: the world’s first marketing campaign to use tourists’ biometric data to design an advert. They used head-mounted cameras and heart-rate monitors to record a couple’s travel experiences in Ireland and then used that footage in the advert – and it paid off. Not only did the number of international visitors increase significantly during this campaign, but it also garnered vast amounts of PR value and highlighted lesser-known attractions and experiences in Ireland.

The power of tech can also upgrade the way customers find your service, whether it’s accommodation, flights, or travel deals. HotelTonight used the swipe right functionality of dating apps to gamify finding the right accommodation deal for the right price. The “Daily Drop” deals are temporary, so customers have to jump on the deals quickly, which adds a competitive element, and helps drive spontaneity. They also riffed off the millennium acronym FOMO, and made their own: FOBO – Fear of Better Options – and emphasized how you don’t want to feel like you’ve missed out on a great deal.

If you need to find a partner to help you create the right tech strategy for your brand, here’s where you can start.

5. Provide transparency and peace of mind.

Travel and tourism companies need to understand that travellers want to feel secure at all times – not just in transit. This starts right from contactless flights and what the cabin crew wear through to the staff routines and accommodation options. In a survey done across travel agents, it was found that almost half of their clients are waiting for the pandemic to end before travelling. Here are some common fears: being quarantined on a cruise ship or hotel, and being unable to return home. While you can’t offer guarantees to these customers, transparency and planning can help lessen these fears.

In terms of accommodation, there are different options for varying budgets. At the high-end, there are providers like Le Bijou, which is part hotel, part serviced apartment with their own Covid-19 Service, which includes testing, doctor visits, and 24-hour nurse care. However, you don’t have to become a high-end medical option in accommodation; you just need to offer a comprehensive plan to make your customers feel comfortable and safe.

The bottom line: whether you want those drinks with the umbrellas or prefer to ‘glamp’ in the countryside, your holiday can still happen if you plan cleverly and play it safe. If you’ve got a travel or tourism brand that needs to pivot fast, join us for a free Masterclass where we discuss topics like brand planning during a global pandemic.