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The Travel Industry in the New, Never Normal


The Travel Industry in the New, Never Normal

Darien Harris is a Founding Partner of JansenHarris.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, few industries have fallen as fast as the travel and tourism industry. Thanks to technology, travel became easy and affordable. Up to one billion trips were taken in recent years. So what happens when entire populations are told to shelter and how does the industry respond?

The hotel industries in three virus hotspots — past and present — are rebounding from shutdowns differently than predicted. The pandemic hit China, Italy, and the U.S. particularly hard. But while China and Italy have both contained the spread, the U.S. continues to surge with high rates of new cases daily.

A recent example is a three-night luxury private group tour of Qingdao in China selling out within 10 seconds. This augurs well for its next phase of domestic market recovery and raises hope that Chinese overseas travel could be within sight. China’s deliberate travel unlocking is a template that is being closely watched.

The U.S. — the new epicenter of the pandemic — isn’t following China’s trajectory, so a comparison may be more hopeful than realistic. Still, the U.S. Travel Association remains optimistic, believing that over the long term it will be business as usual as people tend to have short memories and a pent up desire to travel.

Sitting in the middle is Europe, where YouGov poll found that roughly one out of two surveyed German, British, and French travelers would rather skip a vacation than take a test, wear a mask, or quarantine afterwards. The pandemic is still fresh in their minds and with a second wave hitting perennial hotspots like Spain, it will be some time until travelers feel ready to venture out again.

What is clear, is now isn’t the time to play it safe by doing what’s “normal”, because we will never know normal again. The ways in which we live, work and travel have been disrupted by new ways of being human, accelerated. Welcome to the New, Never Normal. An age that calls on brands to reconnect and reinvent on a community and societal scale. Brands must bring purpose into moments that empower, enable, comfort, and reassure their communities. Moving beyond into uncharted territories challenges us to be brighter, more resilient and braver.

There are four territories brands can utilize to best navigate this new world.

EVOKE: People need reassurance, so brands need to evoke collective memories through the traditions they’ve shared with their customers.

ENRICH: Brands should create continuously enriching experiences that tease curiosity, connect to community and help them escape through imagination.

EMPOWER: Societal challenges can leave many with a sense of powerlessness. So brands need to become an empowering force in the world, by demonstrating authentic support for progress.

ENABLE: Brands should enable people with the confidence to act in the new world, driving people towards bold new actions.

The unknown brings uncertainty, but this is no time for inaction. The travel industries best defense against crisis is creativity. To be resilient, your brand needs to become the beacon to a brighter future, guiding people to new shores. Even when there is a vaccine, this pandemic has put trends into motion that cannot be stopped. It is my belief that the travel industry should be playing in the ‘Enrich’ space. That is to say that they should be creating continuously enriching experiences that tease curiosity, connect to community and help guests escape through imagination.

I see brands already implementing the Enrich mindset with success. Tourism Authorities in Ras Al Khaimah reported a spike in hotel bookings thanks to its Shortcation campaign. According to the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), the emirate currently boasts the highest  Revenue per available room (RevPAR) in the UAE. In fact, RAK was second in the GCC, beaten only by Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. In the Kingdom, local destinations have seen a huge flow of tourists thanks to the government’s ‘Saudi Summer’ campaign. When surveyed prior to the launch, 78% of locals said they were keen to explore the Kingdom and its historical, natural and cultural treasures.

From a country brand to an airline brand. Singapore Airlines has turned two Airbus A380’s planes into impromptu dining experiences. All seats at the ‘restaurant’ sold out within 30 minutes as people rushed to recapture the excitement of eating off a 16.5″ x 10.5″ tray table. From a meal in a suite for $474, to an economy experience for $39, around half the planes’ seats will be available for dining, to allow for social distancing. As well as turning planes into restaurants, they will offer food deliveries to peoples’ homes, complete with instructions and a curated playlist to recreate the onboard experience.

Qantas meanwhile took it a step further by selling a seven-hour scenic flight for travelers itching to return to the skies. Just this month, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner took off from Sydney to do some low level flying over key Australian landmarks. The flight was sold out in ten minutes. On the itinerary was Uluru, Kata Tjuta, the Whitsundays, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, and Sydney Harbor. Qantas said that it’s using the flight to promote travel within Australia. If there was ever any doubt that people are yearning for the travel experience, this was it.

Closer to home, Emirates has been converting its passenger planes into cargo carriers by launching the ‘Emirates Delivers’ brand. Customers can now sign up for a free U.S. postal address and shop from multiple retailers with Emirates delivering the goods with 3-5 days.

So how can travel brands respond? To begin exploring possibilities in the New, Never Normal, brands need to reframe their role in the world which in turn will help them to reconnect meaningfully to their guests and reignite belief in their employees. Asking your team the following questions to expand their perspectives on what’s important and what’s possible as a first step.

– How can you consistently thrive in a world that’s never normal?

– How can your team increase its ability to think creatively and act boldly?

– How can you break out of thinking and behaviors that have brought you this far but may not take you any further?

– How do you unite minds to overcome the new unknown?

Begin with these and you’ll have begun the journey to thriving in the New, Never Normal.

Opinions expressed in this piece belongs to the author.

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