We were optimistic, looking ahead when we received 2020, the tourism industry across the world seemed to be in for another good year, and was coming off another year of robust growth in which international arrivals increased, then Covid-19 had its effects, and suddenly the world stopped.
Now after over seven months since the beginning of this pandemic, destinations tested their situation, and many opened up for international travel, hoping to rescue what they can of 2020. Recent surveys show that tourists weigh extra factors when planning to travel, such as how well the virus is being controlled in different countries, their health system, and other factors that may influence their decision to travel.
Almost all destinations started with domestic tourism before lifting the lockdowns and opened up for international travel. Yet other challenges are facing them. Classifying countries as per their pandemic status (Green being relatively safe, Yellow somewhat safe yet quarantine may apply, and Red is still in the no-zone) is changing. Europe is testing countries every two weeks, the same for many other destinations, and with the virus rapidly spreading in some countries after lifting the lockdowns, it’s becoming impossible to plan appropriately to promote destinations since those countries may shift from Green to Red in no time.
So what would be the solution? How can we promote our destinations?
I believe that destinations should take the tactical approach rather than build a strategy since things are rapidly changing, so they have to be lenient enough to cope with changes. Also, marketing and promotions have to be online for broader reach at reasonable costs. Social media is playing a significant role in this. Online platforms where packages are ready for clients to book and pay are essential. This may sound odd, but believe me, many DMCs and agencies still do not have this in place.
DMOs and stakeholders have to create a new offering to match the needs of the travelers. They need product development. They have to take advantage of their success stories in containing the pandemic and promote their destination.
As I have mentioned in one of my previous articles, all destinations are competing more or less on the same traveler, and it will be very challenging to gain the trust and confidence of the traveler. Those who could contain the virus and promoted their successes through proper messaging will learn more than others. As an example, Egypt was one of the first countries to be proactive and communicate what measures they are doing to contain the virus. I’m impressed to see their minister of tourism personally inspecting and directing what to do.
When can the tourism flow return as before? Which destinations would they prefer?
It will take time because we are dealing with facts on the ground related to the spread of the virus and the confidence of the traveler who has to be assured of safety, Safecation.
Destinations that were hit hard by the pandemic will take more time to recover and gain travelers’ confidence besides their ability to flatten the curve as in some Latin American countries. Some destinations controlled the virus-like in Cyprus, but they have other challenges attracting tourists to come and support their industry. Other destinations, despite being successful in taking the virus under control, they still forcing strict measures. Diversifying your feeder markets is essential so that your destination does not depend on a few feeder markets. If one is out, you still have many to send you clients.
The fear of getting infected, the concern of their well-being, is the prime focus of travelers today and should be fully understood by DMOs. In a study featured on the World Economic Forum by a consulting company, they asked people questions based on three uncommon scenarios; if the pandemic is to stay but controlled and became part of our lives, or if the pandemic is nearly over and treatment is found, or if the epidemic is over, the responses were between 15% – 45% that they will not travel for the coming year.
Here comes a question to authorities overlooking key attractions and sites, like the Taj Mahal in India, or a museum like the Louvre in Paris or a heritage site like Petra in Jordan. How will they ensure physical distancing? Will they minimize numbers? How will they assure travelers that it’s safe to visit?
Therefore I always say communication. Take measures, promote your success and safety measures to gain the trust of your visitors.
DMOs should analyze and monitor traveler’s choices since they may change the destination they used to travel to due to the pandemic. Instead of going to crowded cities, they will and are already seeking less crowded areas.
A last note. A destination that is open now for tourists and travelers and Green should have a backup plan just if they hit it by a second wave. What should they do? How to act? Also, if tourists are stuck and cannot go back home, what is the plan?
Destinations, work on assuring me you are safe to visit. I want to have a relaxing time, not a stressful one. I’m looking for a Safecation.
”Adel M. AminTravel & Tourism Expert // Former Deputy Managing Director - Jordan Tourism Board