Tourism

OPINION: It’s an open road to tourism’s return

Jacqui Abbott

Jacqui Abbott

There’s no denying it – the Black Summer of bushfires and a pandemic marked by social distancing, cruise-driven virus clusters, airline collapses and extended border closures has challenged our nation’s tourism and travel industry like never before.

But there’s cause for cautious optimism. An increase in community-mindedness, combined with extended international border closures, is seeing a renaissance in domestic tourism. The opportunity to reimagine the way we market the sector to Australian travellers out of all this is open-ended.

We have an opportunity to open the eyes of new audiences, in new ways and on new channels. The dream can be as powerful as the do – highly engaging virtual experiences and a rethink of segmentation and assets for storytelling could open doors to more clicks and more visitors as we head into this new era of possibility for travel.

Open up virtual experiences first

Lockdown has seen 90 per cent of the world living with travel restrictions, but virtual experiences are giving people a chance to escape, dream and now, plan. In May, Google Trends showed that virtual tours were at their highest on record. People could virtually bypass restrictions and scratch their travel itch in amazing ways, and this trend isn’t slowing down. Technology is enabling new ways to be inspired and to plan ahead. A great example of this in action is the ‘Live from Aus’ campaign by Tourism Australia – an incredible two-day virtual experience showcasing the best parts of our country and now an ongoing program for the brand of Australia.

Emerging technology is being welcomed into homes more than ever. Google Earth VR allows individuals to own their own VR headset and travel to all parts of the world – from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and any other place you can think of. So, brands have an opportunity to make the dream as desirable as the do. Technology and virtual experiences now have the potential to ignite ‘try before you buy’ experiences like never before to aid not only inspiration but, importantly, new ways to plan and eventually book travellers’ next dream break.

Reimagine segmentation as audiences are wide open

COVID-19 forced the nation to move online at speed for work, education, banking, shopping and more, and saw certain demographics become tech elite for the first time. As a result, audience potential has opened up exponentially. Brands have an opportunity to take advantage of this and reimagine segmentation entirely. New subcultures are emerging based on cultural shifts and travel limitations, so there is an opportunity to target distinct pockets of people – we call this the ‘minorstream’, not the mainstream. A great example is Airbnb’s flip to offer virtual experiences that are super niche (i.e. Anime tours of Tokyo – all user-led and created on the platform to inspire those looking for something unique and a little weird. Or, more recently, the small community of Dunedin in New Zealand which launched its ‘Plan D’ campaign – a tongue-in-cheek campaign positioning the South Island destination as a pretty good Plan D. The campaign uses self-deprecating southern humour to entice people to the city and was a quirky way to engage local Kiwis as they reset on where they go and how they get there.

Power of open spaces

Lockdown has had the short-term impact of allowing some of the world’s most famous tourist destinations to ‘recover’ for the first time in decades. With the aviation and shipping industries being slowed to a crawl, air and water pollution have been drastically reduced and natural landscapes and landmarks in many parts of the world are beginning to heal. Nature in all its glory has become desirable again. The Himalayas are visible for the first time in 30 years from India and beach closures in Thailand have seen the largest number of nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades. Tourism operators have an opportunity to lead with natural beauty and use its benefits and regeneration as core to their content strategy. Ignite interest in open spaces and the great outdoors as part of your marketing plans, as it is not only what people have missed, but it is what communities have newfound gratitude for.

Making it unmissable to conscious consumers

Travel has long been a disposable commodity, with most offerings compared primarily on price. This has created a downward spiral in recent years that impacts industry profits, wages and the environment at large. COVID-19 has broken this routine, providing an opportunity for tourism to become much more intentional. People will go back into the world more consciously.

Brands can take hold of this renewed appreciation of things by making what people missed unmissable. Just look at the recent Sicily tourism campaign – offering to pay half of people’s flights to get them back to their shores. It dominated social feeds for days and has since seen copycat campaigns around the world.

So, whether you are opening up virtual content to make the dream more desirable as part of the planning phase or opening up the stories you tell to new audiences and in new ways, the potential to reignite interest and drive the travel renaissance is open-ended and there for the taking. Because one thing is for sure: Australians love to travel, escape and experience new things. We just need to open their eyes to what the new world of tourism looks like.

Jacqui Abbott is the managing director of brand at OPR, a family of communications agencies offering a broad range of integrated services across professional disciplines and industry sectors.


Featured image: iStock/Cappan

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