How do you manage your online reputation during a crisis? For many destinations, that is a question to grapple with as Covid-19 has reshaped the reputation for many destinations.
Travel Weekly Asia spoke with Olivier Henry-Biabaud, CEO of TCI Research, to shed light on how reputation data can be measured, monitored and acted on for destinations and travel brands.
What are the key factors that shape a destination’s reputation?
Henry-Biabaud: Data are sourced from the Travelsat Sentiment Index, an advanced social listening-based technique applied to travel and destinations developed by TCI Research. The “sentiment” reflects the state and dynamic of travel and tourism as a topic, destinations’ and travel brands’ e-reputation as mirrored in global web social conversations “at large” — i.e. shared by media, consumers, companies, citizens, brands, officials.
One strategic KPI for destinations today is the Net Sentiment Scores measuring the balance of sentiment polarity in web social conversations concerning the topic and destinations monitored — percentage of positive and negative comments.
In essence, a destination's e-reputation is influenced by a lot of factors, not only direct tourism activities and communication but also external factors. Covid-19 is only one conversation topic involved (still fuelling about 25% of total travel web conversations though), but any other factors can contribute increasing or decreasing attractiveness of a destination: political situation, residents’ protests, celebrities sharing memories on the destination, films and Netflix series, chefs mentioning food about one destination, a new company launching an innovation in relation to cultural or leisure activities or transport… you name it! As soon as it influences the reputation of a place, we select the drivers.
In our Travelsat tracker, we also include posts from blogs and forums, but the flow of actual visitors’ reviews (from TripAdvisor, Ctrip, Google, etc) is tracked and analysed in a separate dashboard for our clients, so they can monitor the quality of experience and satisfaction in real time among their visitors and how they perform with Covid safety.
By the way, there is a huge challenge for destinations when visitors expecting the full experience tend to be disappointed if they, upon arrival, find out too many attractions are closed, too many constraints in their hotels, issues and tensions with other guests, lack of safety, and information about attractions opening not being updated. This also partly fuels the e-reputation of the destination.
Were there any surprising findings?
Henry-Biabaud: I am aware that e-reputation rankings are sometimes surprising but the Net Sentiment score is very volatile and not 100% linked to Covid-19 fortunately!
The reputation of Indonesia, like any other destination, was hit with Covid-related issues spreading into social conversations, but there have been also a lot of positive stories including — just to name one example — anecdotal content from celebrities sharing great souvenirs from Indonesia portrayed indirectly as a destination for “healing and happiness”.
What usually influences destination reputation a lot is when a local celebrity in the outbound market or an international celebrity having influence in the outbound market shares great trip memories about the destination, e.g. a royal celebrity sharing past souvenirs of her visit in Asia. It can also work the other way, e.g. a famous Japanese chef participating in a TV programme in France will fuel a positive reputation of Japan in France for a next foodies trip experience. There are many opportunities in crisis times for activating and amplifying stories that can nurture the link between a market and a destination through “ghost” ambassadors (“ghost” as not often identified by DMOs in their conventional tourism radars).
Singapore has a good reputation overall, but was impacted in Covid-related conversation as it’s a hub in Asia – many people still remember the super spreader from Singapore contaminating Europe, for instance. It is also exposed in the cruise conversations, flight to nowhere controversies etc. Resuming Singapore-based “cruises to nowhere” based on new strict protocols were rather positive for the city’s reputation but also generated negative stories when a false negative case was discovered on the cruise ship shortly after resumption. Similarly, flights resuming in safe conditions is also positive for the reputation of Singapore but Singapore Airlines’ proposed “flights to nowhere” initiative led to some controversial conversations about the environmental impact among consumers and sustainable tourism stakeholders. So as a destination, when you name is associated to potential negative stories, it can deteriorate your attractiveness if similar stories are repeating over time.
In general, destinations having a strong brand pre-Covid with well-identified DNAs — such as honeymoon or food destinations — were more resilient to the crisis, reputation wise. Large countries having a lot of political discussions may impact travel and tourism, even indirectly.
Even a super large country like Australia is indeed challenged in its reputation more than others because of negative stories like the one below.
What will be your key recommendations to DMOs and travel marketers?
Henry-Biabaud: Again, social sentiment is only one indicator to track for DMOs and travel brands, but it is quite important as we know that travellers will chose destinations they trust first once travel corridors reopen.
Our general recommendations to DMOs is to focus on three aspects:
• Ramping up and better targeting community-centric social media presence amplifying organic positive stories from destination fans and other ambassadors including startup companies and celebrities, focusing on the destination’s main brand DNA and niche products, so that people forget the alarming bad political and sanitary context and dream again on the full experience. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel and certainly not the time to promote a “new” Singapore or Japan while people are looking for booking and living the “full” Singapore and Japan experiences, albeit in safe conditions. It is easier and cheaper for destinations to continue promoting their pre-covid competitive DNAs, as this has a better echo in the social conversations.
• Monitoring the quality of experience in reopening attractions and hotels, as poor quality and unsafe feelings arising from Covid concerns will ruin or boost the destination reputation more than any CNN campaign.
• DMOs have to be careful not to over promote sanitary protocols. Destinations of course need to reassure visitors through stakeholders and official sources, but promoting only Covid safety and protocols can sometimes kill the travel dream when people are expecting to live the full experience and do not want to lose their money with restricted experiences at the destination.