Stay the course: beyond the five-year plan

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On the face of it, 2020 was a terrible year to be in travel marketing. However, Phill Clark argues that by holding their nerve, Kemosabe is investing in the present to become the agency of the future.

“Will you shut up, man?”

Imagine. I request a Zoom with the board, because of Covid. We need to change tack, we need to do something. Now imagine what they’d say.

I’ll tell you what they’d say: “Will you shut up, man?” (Got to love that Biden line). The Zoom would end and I’d be left with that feeling of dread, calling myself an idiot and paranoid that everyone’s talking about me.

You see, we’re not making a five-year plan. Not another one. We have one. We’re not wavering or changing. It was robust then and is robust now. Covid may have impacted us but change our plans now?! No way. However, a large part of that five-year plan was to leverage our vast experience in travel. Not to exclusively do just travel but to have a ‘specialism’ in travel.

As you might have noticed, travel and Covid haven’t got on so well. However, here’s the thing and why we will not deviate from our five-year plan: in 2019 senior New York strategist and now partner John Speers joined.

Among many other sectors, John has an invaluable cache of experience in the travel. Like John, Kemosabe’s two other partners have much the same. After all, since Kemosabe set up in 2016, clients have included Cisco, Southern Comfort and Nokia, alongside a 20-year relationship with the worlds 5th largest airline All Nippon Airways.

Our five-year plan was hatched in October of 2019. It took six months to shape and implement. Except the day of launch was the day of Lockdown. I’ll come to this. We know how long it takes to hone and implement a good five-year plan.

Despite the effects of Covid, we concluded that to change our plan mid-implementation would only make things worse. Now was the time for clarity. The plan was go! Ok, so that’s cleared up. But based on the fact that travel is barely confined to a masked visit to Woking, how has our steadfastness fared?

Fail to plan, plan to fail

We’d joined the Tourism Society, The Marketing Society and the Institute of Travel & Tourism to grow our network of suppliers, partners and business in the sector, and started speaking at events and webinars. By this stage Covid was looming large. Our content strategy team got busy and have been published 5 times in The Drum magazines and supplements including the Travel Marketers Tool kit and are currently scheduling a podcast: ‘Travel marketing: is social the way to go?’

We published our own magazine called Human: Travel for Good, a compendium of sustainable initiatives and tangible outcomes from travel industry-leaders with contributions from Rolls Royce, Visit England, MSC Cruises, Lush and many more. It’s worth a look.

18th March 2020 marked the launch to market for our ‘specialism’. Titled Travel for Good the event was to open with a speech from Fiona Jeffery OBE and chairman of World Travel Market, as well as speakers from many of the magazine’s contributors.

But then lockdown. Covid was here. What was meant to be a tah-da! moment was more of a sad parp. The travel market crashed, followed by a period of introspection and naval gazing from everyone, including us. But almost instantly, we noticed the travel sector reaching out to us.

The first being for a combined campaign for the Tourism Society and ANTOR (Association of National Tourist Offices and Representations). A campaign designed to keep key destinations front of mind for when travel got back on its feet. Leading travel associations also turned to us for data intelligence to help them adapt and understand the new behavioural changes and market dynamics caused by Covid. We also conducted webinars and workshops to help guide them.

Travel may have been grounded, but we weren’t. We created our own econometric model of recovery and tracked who was searching and booking and to which destinations. John led weekly travel recovery webinars for the Tourism Society and ANTOR. Then back in September, he was invited to become a board member for the Tourism Society.

To top it, we were invited to a 4-way pitch against 3 multi-nationals and won the travel recovery plan for a (yet to be announced) country. Not a brand, a country - all from our spare bedrooms. With Covid looming, imagine if we’d bottled it? I mean, isn’t this what five-year plans are for? Moments like these? Moments when you need absolute dead-eye clarity are when you lead a plan more than ever – and we’re not budging from ours.

Phill Clark, creative director, Kemosabe