Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic forced states and countries to close their borders and travel to come to a near standstill, economists and experts have been speculating on travel’s ‘new normal’.
There’s been so much change. With new pandemic protocols such as biometric scanners and accelerated digital transformations like robots welcoming guests at reception desks, the future is starting to look a lot like a sci-fi movie!
Though we have more questions than answers right now, there are ways travel companies can pivot to meet Aussie travellers where they are.
Here, are three trends driving the motivation of today’s traveller and what travel brands can do right now to stay relevant…
1. Prioritise your travellers’ health and wellbeing
- According to The Black Dog Institute, COVID-19 has caused 25 per cent to 33 per cent of Australians to experience high levels of worry and anxiety. To put these numbers into context, the Australian Psychological Society says only a quarter of Australians are stressed in typical times.
- Anxiety levels are likely going to rise, with Global Web Index reporting 84 per cent of people thinking the outbreak is going to last at least six more months.
The good news? Travel offers a tried-and-tested mental boost. Research shows people who booked a trip are happier than those who made material purchases – and their happiness lasts longer. With so much ambiguity around travel, restoring confidence needs to be a travel brand’s first priority.
A great way to achieve this is by communicating your brand’s pandemic protocols and sanitation procedures. People want to know they’ll be safe when they travel with you, and that their health and wellbeing will be taken care of. To cement your authority and travellers’ trust, brands can conduct and promote interviews with medical experts or their employees about safety and hygiene.
Additionally, brands can look into how they can help travellers find a sense of calm and emotional wellbeing. Create content with self-care tips (how yogis meditate in the ashrams of India or how Swedes sweat it out in steamy saunas), or help keep their passion for travel alive with virtual travel guides and tours on social media (‘How’s the weather in San Sebastian today?’ or ‘What’s the gelato flavour-of-the-week in Italy?’).
These efforts will nurture existing communities by feeding them the content they crave, and they’ll also help brands stay top of mind.
2. Encourage travellers to keep it local
- According to Tourism Research Australia, 80 per cent of Australians plan to take a domestic trip within 12 months.
- Data from travel site Kayak revealed Australians have searched for domestic travel more than international travel flights since May – a trend usually reversed.
Until travel bubbles take shape or a vaccine is found, domestic travel will be the only – or best – option. Since the playing field will be more competitive, travel brands will have to rework their unique selling points (along with offering travel deals where possible).
Cultural immersion has always been a strong motivator in travellers’ decision-making. And thanks to the recent bushfires, COVID-19 lockdowns and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, people are now more invested in showing their support for local communities.
At the start of the pandemic in April, Airbnb mobilised and launched their online experiences. Since then, top Airbnb experiences like ‘Sangria and Secrets with Drag Queens’ in Lisbon to ‘Meet the Dogs of Chernobyl’ have pulled in monthly earnings of $20,000 to $150,000.
Travel brands need to take a cue from Airbnb and tell more enriching stories to hook audiences. Brands can explore producing teaser travel videos (quick trip snippets) or a meet-the-makers series (see ‘Chef’s Table’) to help travellers feel more immersed in the place they’re visiting – whether it’s in-person or virtually.
On the brand’s social media, consider introducing local partners in posts (think Humans of New York) or using the ‘support local business’ sticker across stories to show support in more meaningful ways. This will also inspire intrepid travel.
3. Cater for small travel appetites
- According to an International Air Transport Association survey, 71 per cent of travellers will avoid large gatherings to protect themselves from COVID-19.
- Harvard disease experts predict social distancing will be in place until 2022.
Due to social distancing, travellers will favour smaller bookings and more intimate experiences. The biggest opportunity now for travel brands to make up for the numbers is to identify appetites for the ‘right’ experiences, like luxury small-group travel.
An effective way to gauge this is by leveraging CRM databases to conduct surveys, or running polls and live Q&As across social media to make data-driven decisions. If possible, incentivise your audience to take part with a reward – this not only keeps your community alive and engaged, but it also secures bums on future seats.
It’s never too early to start planning for travel trends
We don’t yet know when Australians will be able to dust off their passports and jet off for overseas travel. But history has proven the resilience of the travel industry, and there are plenty of opportunities right here at home, even with Australia’s international travel ban.
Whether the future is filled with more private spaceships or plastic bodysuits, being proactive and anticipating what travellers seek will help travel brands see more check-ins and fewer bounce-offs.
Jia Yoong Lee is the co-founder of and strategy director at independent social media and content marketing agency We Are Frank.
Featured image source: iStock/Violeta Carlos