As realization sinks in that the coronavirus catastrophe will change travel behaviors, marketers are figuring out how the crisis will reshape clients and and how their brands can remain relevant.
Demystifying the future of travel appears to be the next big thing for marketers, and it should usher in a second round of campaigns that is more targeted than the first since the coronavirus crisis began.
Initially, when it became clear that travel was coming to a screech due to restrictions, campaigns that hit the right notes — hope, yearnings to see you but can’t, together in this — started appearing. Stunning videos and live streams of cooking classes and such try to keep brands and travel alive: if you can’t travel, travel will go to you.
But the new question is: If you can travel, will I matter to you? Expectations are that what travelers value before will not be what they will prize in future. If brands don’t take heed, they stand to lose.
“This is the time to revise and rethink all destination brands. Everyone is going to travel differently for the foreseeable future. Priorities are not going to be the same,” said David Keen, CEO of Quo Global, a company that focuses on travel and hospitality branding.
“In simplest terms, the recession is going to make long-haul travel unaffordable. Both leisure and business travelers will suddenly have far more concerns about health and safety. What each destination does now will impact its perception as we start to come out of this horror,” said Keen.
Quo Global has started The Future of Travel podcast, a series that features industry leaders’ take on how coronavirus is likely to change the industry. The first episode, aired Monday, features citizenM Chief Operating Officer Michael Levie.
A Peek Into the Future
If you were writing a letter/essay on April 5, 2025, about what happened to travel in the intervening years, what would you write?
This profound question, posted by Skift CEO/founder Rafat Ali on LinkedIn, hit a spot and showed how people were already thinking about post-coronavirus travelers. Here’s a pick of comments with the most likes (edited/extracted for conciseness):
“Mine would be about how radical localism became the way travel industry came back. People began to appreciate their rural areas around cities and local small businesses in tourism/hospitality thrived as a result.” — Rafat Ali, founder, Skift
“I would note how remarkably similar the overall travel landscape looks in 2025 to the way it looked in April 2019, in spite of and through the perils of the past five years. People still love to travel, to connect, to explore. Purveyors who give them the most enriching and cost-effective ways to do so — thrive. The companies that are leading travel look and feel different than leaders of five years ago. The services they offer differ markedly from the travel services of the past. Many venerable brands and companies perished. But others rose to take their place. We learned many valuable lessons in the aftermath of 2020. But by 2025, most of them have been forgotten. Most importantly, technology and its ability to transform the travel experience continues to be a driving force from both a business-to-business and business-to-consumer perspective.” — Michael Frenkel, creator, Travel Conversations
“The revival of camping parks, motorhomes, caravans and the age of glamping. Away from mega resort destinations to small resorts, away from ‘brand megastore’ to individual, new age, lifestyle, eco-friendly hotels.” — Joseph Fischer, owner, Vision Hospitality & Travel
“How humans helped other humans. And how we realized that growth, the stock market and profits should be replaced by hope, dreams and ethics.” — David Studden, senior manager of business development, Gulf Center for Aviation Studies.
The only thing that is certain is, deciphering the future traveler will continue in earnest. And some brands that believe they are made for the future are starting to fortify their positions.
A good destination example is Abu Dhabi, which is convinced that emerging destinations bursting with natural sceneries, away from crowded cities, will appeal to future customers even more, perhaps a bit of unbridled optimism at this point.
“We believe that the current global crisis will compel the international traveler to slowly test the waters across emerging destinations with less pressure, where they can enjoy healthy choices, nature, top affordable luxury hospitality, and clean facilities and attractions,” said Saeed Rashed Al Saeed, destination marketing director of Abu Dhabi Culture & Tourism.
Abu Dhabi Tourism has rolled out a video on its official social media channels as part of its strategic plan, which includes other marketing and communications initiatives that shed light on its diverse assets such as Qasr al Sarab by Anantara, a retreat in Al Dhafra desert, vast beautiful beaches and Al Ain oasis.
At the same time, the destination is doubling down on efforts to provide international travelers with the safest conditions and the highest standards of service and cleanliness. “We will be ready to offer our visitors a safe, healthy, and detoxing platform to decompress once borders begin to open,” said Al Saeed.
Abu Dhabi last year welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors, a 10.5 percent increase over 2018. A “Ghadan 21” economic initiative unveiled recently includes such measures as exempting potential investors from certain fees and incentivizing them to launch new services or major projects at relatively low costs. In addition, tourism and municipality fees across the tourism and leisure sectors are cancelled throughout 2020.
Another tourism player, andBeyond, also believes nature will be desired by travelers even more post-coronavirus. The company is still on track to open a river lodge in Bhutan in the first quarter of 2021.
Its chief marketing officer, Nicole Robinson, said 90 percent of guests opted to postpone instead of cancel. “We’re preparing for a slow recovery. What we’re hearing from our key markets is that local travel will most likely pick up first. We’re also hearing, something very encouraging to us, that travelers are more likely to be interested in travel to explore nature and turning to more meaningful, purposeful travel experiences.”
Having launched an #andBeyondathome campaign which curated recipes, music, books, documentaries and videos, the company is now capturing the live action that happens each day on safari in real-time, in collaboration with wildlife broadcasting experts WildEarth, through its WILDwatch LIVE channel.
“It is now more important than ever to remain close to our guests and trade partners to have an understanding of how travelers’ mindsets are shifting,” said Robinson.
What do you Stand for?
Now is the time for companies to look within and understand that the brands that will succeed are those that have an emotional relationship with clients, said Quo Global’s Keen.
“As a function of the crisis, we [customers] will interact only with brands with which we share similar values. Before the crisis, there’s a lot of research showing Gen Z only wants to interact with brands with purpose. Today I believe that mindset will very quickly shift to a much wider demographic and will need to include trust and humility,” he said.
That purpose should have something that projects positivity about the destination’s environment, its people, its food — something, he explained. Thailand, for instance, has an innate love and deep caring for people; it could project that Thai-care. Singapore has projected values of transparency, clarity, intelligence, pragmatism and no politics.
Another branding company, Shrimp Asia, urges companies to remember just two words in their struggle to keep a brand balanced and alive in these dark times.
“Relevance and differentiation,” said founder and CEO of the 43-year-old firm Patrick Gauvain.
As well, the right reach.
“What is critical in keeping your brand front-of-mind is being frequently and consistently visible, which of course is budget driven,” he said. “With much of the population shopping and working from home, device usage is changing. We could very well see an upsurge in mobile and tablet usage and should be mindful of budget allocation and conversion rates across devices. Joint-promotional efforts with front-line groups such as medical, hospitals, sanitizers, mask manufacturers and the like can be a supportive opportunity.”
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Photo credit: Binoculars at andBeyond Phinda Mountain Lodge. Marketers need a pair to spot new travel behaviors. andBeyond