For more than a year and a half, Australia and New Zealand’s borders were closed for nearly all travellers.
While the situation appeared to be improving, the Delta variant resulted in more restrictions in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty and lockdowns have decimated a once-thriving travel industry. In 2019, travel employed more than 666,000 people and accounted for 3.1 per cent of Australia’s total gross domestic product. Currently, the industry is only expected to perform at 10 per cent of 2019 levels, with a mere $770 million in revenues.
But there’s hope: Australia recently announced a national plan to gradually reopen when 80 per cent of Australians are double vaccinated. Currently, 80 per cent of Australians have received one dose, while 55 per cent are fully vaccinated. As of November 1st, Australia’s New South Wales and Victorian borders have reopened to citizens and permanent residents. In fact, Qantas recently announced that it would resume overseas flights for fully-vaccinated Australians in mid-December to COVID-safe destinations. That list presently includes Singapore, the US, Japan, the UK and Fiji. In addition, Jetstar Asia and Scoot plan to resume flights between Singapore and Australia.
While this is only the first wave of reopening, it’s laying the groundwork for tourism, and marketers must prepare now to capture the recovery. Here are three steps travel marketers can take to deliver campaigns to drive bookings and make the right changes to keep up with dynamic market conditions…
1. Create short and long-term plans
If 2020 taught marketers anything, it’s that flexibility is key and direct bookings are critical. While it’s important to create long-term strategies, it’s equally important to stay abreast of current market conditions and adapt accordingly. For example, COVID safety protocols are here to stay, and travellers will continue to expect flexible booking, cancellation and refund policies. However, in the short term, marketers must continue to adjust campaigns based on booking windows and traveller distance.
Given the ever-changing conditions and restrictions in 2020, travellers were hesitant to plan too far in advance, so booking windows shrunk. In 2021, booking windows extended, but Sojern data shows a strong correlation between the number of cases with both booking windows and proximity to home. When cases increase, travellers gravitate towards last-minute options that are closer to home. By tracking cases and restrictions, marketers can adapt short-term strategies that capture direct bookings from last-minute, local travellers.
2. Focus on traveller intent
Vaccination rates, simpler travel and the reopening of borders are all playing a role in spurring travellers to book. In the UK, nearly nine in 10 people over the age of 12 have had at least one vaccination shot, and fully-vaccinated travellers will enjoy simpler, cheaper rules when coming and going to the UK now that lateral flow tests are widely available. In response to opening borders and easier journeys, US bookings from UK travellers have skyrocketed in the past month, increasing over 150 per cent.
As travellers feel more comfortable booking, uncovering and understanding traveller intent is key for marketers to deliver the message and anticipate needs. Now more than ever, business travellers want a different experience than those travelling for leisure, and many younger travellers are taking full advantage of working from home so they can travel more. The ‘bleisure’ trend means that hotels should consider offering discounts for longer stays or even packages that cater to both objectives. It also requires any destination to have reliable, fast WiFi.
In addition to simultaneously travelling for business and leisure, travellers are more deal conscious than before. For example, 58 per cent of travellers say they are willing to try a new airline if the value is there. Comfort levels will vary, so while some customers are ready to eat in a restaurant, others may want contactless room service. Learning the underlying reasons for travel will enable brands to exceed expectations every time.
3. Create compassionate, clear communication
A recent report revealed that travellers use a variety of touchpoints that offer advice, including search, a company website and other external touchpoints. This means marketers must keep potential travellers abreast of changes in the travel experience, no matter how small. By considering this type of communication an opportunity, marketers can remove the guesswork from the travel experience to give travellers peace of mind every step of the way.
First and foremost, brands must keep an up-to-date crisis plan. Regulations are changing every day, so it’s important to be clear about current travel guidelines as well as company policies. A recent report found that 56 per cent of respondents agree that travel is ripe for direct response campaigns – and that’s because travellers were frustrated with their refund and cancellation experiences with online travel agencies. Brands have the opportunity to offer clear flexibility to postpone or cancel to spur direct bookings.
Regardless of the message, compassion is key. Brands must take an empathetic approach and work to offer customers the extra bit of reassurance they need.
Lina Ang is the managing director of Sojern across the Asia-Pacific region.
Featured image source: iStock/Sitthiphong