Quick Takes on Travel: Part IV

Part IV

Anticipating, not just meeting, traveler sentiment will help brands succeed. Stewart Colovin, EVP of Global Brand Strategy, tells us what brands need to consider to project their unique voice in a time of collective crisis. Read his quick takes below and click here for even more in-depth research, insights and webinars.

We recommend that brands embrace their human element and tap into consumer sentiment, but how do you design a playbook when the situation is changing so rapidly?

There are a lot of challenges right now for brands on how to remain consistent and human. But if you have created a brand that’s true to who you are, it’s not that tough to do. Speaking in a way that is true to the brand helps provide some differentiation and also consistency. It’s a hard thing to say, “How do you make your brand human?” Your brand should already be human; your brand should already be authentic. It shouldn’t have to be something that you make up.

Should brands lean into our shared sense of fear and uncertainty?

Right now, travel brands should focus on providing value – and that value is hope and inspiration. I always say that people look outside their window and wish they were somewhere else; now, more than ever, that’s true. We’re all wishing we were somewhere else. What we want to be able to do as travel brands is to allow people to have those dreams. But as travel brands, we should also give them flexibility. Let’s not get in the way of booking; let’s make it easier for them to book. If they have to cancel, if they need to change plans, being as flexible as you can now will pay dividends later. This is an opportunity to create unbreakable bonds with your audience that will only strengthen in the future.

What audiences should we be focusing on?

People are saying travelers are going to start local, and that’s pretty logical. But it’s not a short-term strategy, it’s a mid- or longer-term strategy. After 9/11, people wanted to go back to New York City and put money back into that economy. After Hurricane Katrina, people wanted to go to New Orleans to show their support. It’s not that we’re going to be traveling locally and regionally because we’re afraid to travel farther; it’s that we want to tap into local community pride. We’re going to travel to where we’ve formed an emotional relationship in order to make a difference.

With so much attention on local communities, how will measuring resident sentiment help shape strategies going forward?

Community sentiment moving forward is going to be very key. We’ve always said, the audience you have to talk to first is the local residential audience in order to create something that differentiates you and speaks to the soul of a place. As our research shows, travel will bounce back more quickly than a lot of other industries and it will have greater importance than before to communities. It’s going to be very important to have those conversations with locals so they understand the impact of tourism on the local economy.

If a DMO hasn’t been measuring community sentiment, is now the time to do it? 

Now is the perfect time to start engaging your residential community. They are invaluable in helping spread your message through their social channels, to their friends and family networks. They can also provide insight into the stories that you can’t find anywhere else. Now is the time to tap into that desire and that local pride and activate those residents. Make them a part of your message and a part of how your recovery moves forward. 

How quickly do we have to work to stay on top of traveler sentiment and create effective messages?   

There are a lot of pressures on destinations and travel brands about whether they should be out in the market saying things. We don’t recommend that you be dark. This is a time to be having conversations through multiple channels, and to develop your messaging strategy as you move forward. We’ve seen research that people are open to travel messaging and travel brands. They’re giving us permission. This is the time to be putting those plans in place, testing messages in social channels to understand what resonates with people. In showing that we care, that we listen and by showing our value in our action, in the long run brands will create stronger bonds moving forward.

What’s more important at this stage of recovery, building trust or generating future bookings?

At this point, we’re still in the Ready and Set phases. I think there are things that are more important than how many bookings we’re getting. It’s engaging people, it’s having conversations, it’s listening, so that when we do want to start putting those conversion messages out there, that they’re not tone deaf. That we understand what people are thinking and how they’re thinking. While many of our travel brands have constituents that are hurting and want results right now, those will come. It’s laying the foundation and letting them understand that we understand what you’re going through because we’re going through the same thing. The way we do that is not just by just what we say but our actions.