The crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic hit the travel industry especially hard. With travel at a near standstill, tourism offices should temporarily put destination promotion on the back burner and instead put a focus about communicating the crisis to the global travel audience.
That was among the key recommendations put forth by several travel industry experts who spoke during the recent Virtual Destination Mekong Summit, which was organised by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.
Amid the widespread uncertainties that the pandemic has wrought across the travel industry, destination managers should always lead their communications with accurate and timely information, advised Sinisa Topalovic, global head of tourism, Horwath HTL.
Important areas that tourism organisations should address include the epidemiological situation of the destination, when the destination is open for business, and how travellers are expected to behave in the destination, he added.
Not a time to go dark
Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor at Tourism Authority of Thailand, also holds the belief that it's critical for destinations to continue their communications to world travellers – albeit with the message adapted to reflect the crisis mode times.
"Thailand's borders are still close but it’s TAT’s job to keep updating about our situation to the world," said Tanes. TAT's focus, he elaborated, is to communicate appropriate content to the audience, making sure the market stays updated on initiatives such as the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration Certification.
In fact, the tourism body has “stopped campaigning in terms of marketing, but continues to communicate with our TVC”, added Tanes, citing the recent example of TAT's 'Until We Meet Again' commercial on international TV channels such as CNN.
"We have put a lot of messages to cheer up the world," he said. "The goal of TAT is to maintain the Thailand brand at top of mind for travellers once skies and airlines are open."
Topalovic also sees a good example in Singapore Tourism Board's approach to communication during the pandemic, with the Visit Singapore webpage significantly adjusted to reflect the 'Experience Singapore now. Travel later' message alongside a Covid-19 advisory page for travellers with instructions and what to expect in Singapore these days.
Elsewhere, Switzerland's example of illuminating different country flags on the famed Matterhorn mountain in Zermatt is also a good example of how DMOs can retain communications and mindshare during such times through inexpensive means, pointed out Simon Hudson, professor at University of South Carolina and author of upcoming book “Covid-19 & Travel".
Why place making is the new destination marketing
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many challenges, but like every crisis there are ample opportunities to be found too, said the speakers at the summit.
As many destinations had suffered from overtourism prior to Covid, Hudson believes that the crisis now offers a chance for the sector to face the challenges head-on and rethink a future that is less driven by tourists and more towards sustainable tourism in the long term.
“There are opportunities but whether we see that depends to be seen,” he remarked, questioning if more ethical and sustainable travel could be the norm in the wake of the pandemic.
Hudson also sees the role of DMOs increasingly shifting to “place branding instead of destination marketing" in order to position their country or destination as attractive places to live and work in, and not just a fleeting stop for tourists.
Like Hudson, Topalovic agreed that it's opportune for destinations to pursue the development of "out of the box products” to attract new travellers like digital nomads.
In what could possibly become a common trend, Estonia, Georgia and Barbados are among a handful of countries which have announced one-year visas in order for remote workers to stay for extended periods of time.
Croatia is also in the process of introducing a digital nomad visa, which will allow internationals who are engaged in jobs independent of location and time, to work in the country.
“Place making is becoming more and more important to tourism, and tourism organisations are one of the most important ambassadors in this process," he stated.