By Sara Pastor, Managing Director of Destinations, Adara
Travel & Tourism is going through the toughest crisis the sector has ever faced. And if we have certainty of anything right now it is the uncertainty of what the future holds. The false sense of certainty we had is now gone. These are difficult times but as Sun-Tzu said:
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”.
During these past years, my conversations with destinations have been around two main topics and goals: sustainability and moving from destination promotion to management; and how technology and data could be the enablers by helping them become “Smart Destinations”.
From the sustainability point of view, there were five key goals we discussed:
The importance of those goals varied depending on whether destinations were mature or “up and coming”. In the case of mature destinations, the word “overtourism” was taking over most of the conversations. I always saw the opportunity of “up and coming” destinations and the existence of already “seasoned” travelers, to bring balance to the “overtourism” challenge. However, one of the key success factors for this was getting destination entities moved from promotion to management bodies. This is a massive task, and change, for these mostly government-owned organizations. However, this transformation process was in its very early stages when the Covid19 hit the industry.
All of a sudden, the industry makes a hard stop. It is like someone is pressing a reset button and we do not know how long this operation will take. And here is where I see the opportunity for destinations: leveraging this break to take time to rethink what type of destination you want to be, what type of tourism you want to attract, what relationship you want to build with your residents, what social and economic impact you want to generate, and what type of organization you need to become to make that possible. This new or revisited vision of the destination will then determine how you are acting (instead of reacting) to Covid19. And this is a unique opportunity to define a destination’s identity and the next steps.
In my previous article “Data In Times of Crisis”, I was speaking of how I approach any plan with a three step process: Learn, Act, and Measure. Applying this process can generate a virtuous circle that will allow destinations to keep track of their transformation.
It is true that given the severity of the circumstances, one can imagine that many destinations will be looking at the inflection point to start promoting again to anyone so they can reactivate the economy asap. Although it makes sense, I do not see why destinations cannot do both at the same time: reactivate asap while keeping in mind their new or revised vision and sustainability goals. They are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, by focusing on their strategy and vision, they could achieve both: reactivation and identity/branding.
Data and technology are not the goals, they are the enablers. But for them to enable and make a difference, goals need to be clearly defined (and aligned with the vision). Therefore, in the first phase of learning, it is key to determine the definition of the analysis and indicators you will be looking at.
The approach needs to be split in two:
In the short term, in order to reactivate and generate economic activity again, the domestic and neighboring markets will be the first to answer because of the nature of the crisis. This is why here it is crucial to do a “micro” analysis in those markets, to understand the travelers’ behavior so that you are ready to engage at the right time to the right audience with the right content. We need to bear in mind that all destinations will be facing similar problems at the same time. So, personalization will be essential to differentiate yourself, and be top of mind. That moment is where your definition of the destination you are or want to be can be the winning card. Plus, how you have defined the relationship with your residents can speed up the recovery and will help both with the reactivation as well as the identity.
There are many indicators to analyze (and I mentioned some of them in the previous article), but the main three we should be looking here are as follows:
These three indexes will give us an idea of when travel will be opened again; from and to where the hotel intent and bookings are increasing and when; and how safety to a specific destination is being perceived. The second indicator will determine when and where to launch the advertising campaign; and the third indicator will determine the message in the communication with the potential travelers. Safety might be the driver and/or a “must” in choosing a destination. In this case flight data is important but not as essential since domestic and neighboring markets will be mainly driving and train sourced.
In the mid/long term, destinations should be looking at the trends from a macro level perspective in order to identify where they stand in their region/country/continent and the different trends and inflection points in their top origin markets as well as foresee potential opportunities in other markets. At this point, the main indicators destinations should be looking at are:
Flight intend and bookings, as well as air capacity, will be key to expand the reach of the recovery plans; and will complement the before mentioned indicators to again identify the different inflection points in each origin market. Here again, data will play a role to make digital campaigns more effective and efficient. And it will do so not only by targeting the right audience at the right time with the right content; but also, by measuring the results of each campaign so campaigns can be optimized in real time. Understanding which origin markets are responding better to your messages, which channels are generating more intend and demand, which themes/products are converting travelers, what type of travelers are booking, and when the travelers are arriving to your destination will make the difference on how to make the most out of the limited budgets (ROI). Furthermore, measuring will help you track if you are pacing to your goals (sustainability) and will confirm (or not) if you are indeed moving in the right direction in terms of your vision. Last but not least, measuring and closing this virtuous circle (Learn, Act & Measure) will help you become a management organization, a smart destination.
It is a highly challenging opportunity in an unprecedent crisis, but an opportunity, nonetheless. We hardly ever have the time to stop, think, re-evaluate and reconsider. Now we have it in front of us and we do have a choice to make. We can decide now the future of tourism, of a destination, of what we want to become. Let’s make the most out of it.