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The road to recovery: How digital creativity is driving growth for the travel & tourism sector

By Ian Darby, journalist

June 22, 2021 | 6 min read

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The impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism sector can’t be understated. Overall tourism levels in the EU dropped 52% in 2020, the UK’s tourism sector suffered a £148 billion (62%) loss, while Germany’s experienced a €161 billion decline (46.9%). Despite this, tourist boards and travel brands turned to innovative uses of media and technology in order to remain prominent in the minds of travellers.

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The panel turned to identifying ways that marketing has evolved in the travel sector.

For instance, we saw multiple examples of virtual tours, including The Rough Guide working in partnership with Xbox to provide in-game “digital tourism”, and Singapore Tourism launching live streams from taxis on the Twitch platform.

To look at this innovation in greater detail, Braze, the customer engagement platform, hosted a panel session as part of The Drum’s Creative Transformation Festival, ‘The big travel and tourism transformation’, highlighting the major challenges and creative solutions that lie ahead for travel and tourism organisations and brands as they focus on future growth.

The panel session opened with a look at how travel and tourism organisations have handled the challenges of the pandemic. Matt McRoberts, SVP, global alliances, Braze, described how travel restrictions required some of its clients to “get creative in terms of how they really spoke to their consumers and expose them to potentially virtual experiences.” He added: “Skyscanner, for example, created Spotify playlists of countries that you could learn more about and listen to music that resonated with their culture.”

Justin Reid, director of destination marketing, EMEA at TripAdvisor said its marketing communications at various stages of the pandemic focused on messages of reassurance and that this is something that will continue: “Now we're looking at what will hopefully be the first signs of a global recovery. And, it is all about that sharing of information and making sure that we're looking after each other during this time period.”

Gail Grimmett, chief experience officer at private jet charter company The Wheels Up, said that it shifted to virtual events to engage with its members: “We were able to find ways to be far more inclusive, to a broader group of our members, by creating these events. For instance, a private concert with Sheryl Crow for Breast Cancer Awareness Month for our members. I think that we've learned a lot about really thinking through ways that we can keep some of this emotion to be able to reach a broader group of our member base.”

Cecilia Adjei, former global brand partnerships and campaigns manager, VisitEngland & VisitBritain, then spoke about the challenges it faced - and its renewed focus on untapped domestic audiences due to the international travel bans in place: “We really took time to look at who else we needed to speak to and who we were ignoring. And despite the work that we've done behind the scenes, on the accessibility point, we hadn’t really done anything consumer facing. So that was a great opportunity to step into that community, on the domestic side of things.”

Be ready to be reactive

The panel turned to identifying ways that marketing has evolved in the travel sector, covering everything from Virtual Reality tours in China, through to the growing importance of money back guarantees and pay-at-destination offers that reassure travellers. But what’s next in terms of marketing trends in the sector?

McRoberts emphasised the importance of consistent authenticity and safety messaging from travel brands and their partners: “They need to make sure that they're working with consumers through the entire journey. From inspiring, through conversion, all the way to the experience itself, and encouraging feedback along the way from their consumers becomes really important. The concept of reviews has been paramount in the travel industry for quite some time, and I think, more and more, you'll see the reviews will talk around how safe people felt, the cleanliness of certain environments. So, again, it's about being very, very authentic to that entire journey.”

The need for brands to be flexible in their reactions to unfolding events was a key issue raised by Reid - especially in light of TripAdvisor’s own research that suggests a rebound for international travel in the latter part of 2021, driven by millennials and affluent travellers: “The one thing we've learned over the past 18 months is that you cannot predict what's going to happen. Therefore, be ready to be reactive. Don't lock yourself into a 12-month strategy because the chances are you're probably going to have to change it.”

Adjei concluded the session with a strong message about the importance of partnerships and looking outside of the travel sector for creative transformation ideas. She said: “Get creative. Go outside of the tourism industry and look at brands that are also recovering. How can you recover together and get bigger reach and more impactful marketing campaigns that will, in turn, benefit all parties involved? Definitely be creative, be agile, be responsible, be purpose driven. And let's recover this industry that we love dearly.”

Watch 'The big travel and tourism transformation’ session in full, on-demand here.

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