Comment: Time for travel brands to refocus

The post-Covid environment presents threats but also opportunities for destinations and suppliers, says Peter Knapp, chairman and chief creative officer of global branding consultancy Landor

Worldwide travel bans and country lockdowns completely stalled global tourism in the first half of 2020. As flights begin to take off once again, there is hope that the industry will be able to bounce back in the second half of the year.

However, with fears of a second spike very real, destinations still have a job to do in enticing travellers back. So how can tourist hot spots best appeal to visitors in the time of corona?

Safety first

Historically, travel and tourism has been about adventure – experiencing something different from everyday life. But now people are also looking for reassurance. The travel industry, from airlines to destinations, will need to balance the paradoxical components of adventure and safety.

The industry will need to create solutions – based on safety – that allay traveller fears. This may include things like reduced hotel and restaurant capacity and visible and consistent use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). For airlines this could include how they manage their airport lounges and organise queues at the check-in desk, or even how they arrange seating in their cabins.

The winners will be those that give the reassurance of a safe environment, whilst not losing the sense of excitement and adventure of travel.

Country brands and corona

The truth is, the destinations that have dealt with the crisis most effectively are likely to be the places where people decide to travel to again. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late for those countries hardest hit to make tangible changes now and show the world they’re open for business.

Some countries may have even reinforced their ‘brand positioning’ by how they responded. Italy is known as ‘sensuous’ and ‘friendly’, according to Landor’s proprietary Brand Asset Valuator, which we use to understand how brands, including country brands, are perceived by others. Images of Italians singing arias from their balconies has underlined that view and may have inspired many a traveller to put Tuscany at the top of their list of post-Covid destinations.

Those that had invested in building strong brands before the pandemic will also likely reap the rewards as they remain top-of-mind for travellers. A timely note to others that building their brand will pay long-term dividends.

Reframing the travel experience

The pandemic is likely to change the reasons people are travelling as much as it will change the frequency and cost people travel at. For destinations to bounce back, they are going to need to stimulate demand and tap into new drivers. As much as we’re looking for adventure, many will be looking to reunite with friends and family or get a break from the kids or computer screens. Meeting these new needs will be key to revival and brands who tap into these have a unique opportunity to steal share from competitors. Look out for new entrants too.

With reduced international travel, reframing brands for locals will take on much greater importance too. What will they do to make locals fall in love with their homeland? Getting it right can help cement the trend and deliver a new ongoing revenue stream.

Business travel may face the biggest challenge, needing to overcome new customer habits which appeared overnight and could well stick. Many may question the value of travelling and flying when video conferencing has demonstrated a lot of business can be done remotely. Corporate travel players will have to work hard to unlock the business travel line item in 2020 and may need to look to 2021. The impact on business class may even mean a rethink for airlines too.

The role of airlines and airports

The airline industry, by the very nature of its business model, has taken one of the biggest hits. Safety has always been a critically important issue for the airline industry. Without it, people simply won’t fly. Now, because of the pandemic, this is the case more than ever, making the airline industry a very challenging one to be in.

With planes grounded, it’s anyone’s guess who will be left standing at the end of all this and who might enter with a fresh offering. Those legacy airlines who invested in their loyalty programmes may well come out in better shape, but the nimbler low-cost players arguably built better brands and a nimbler operation, better able to meet the reality. One thing’s for sure, no airline can take their customer for granted any longer.

Airports too often provide the first and last impression of a country. However, they’re currently seen as a machine for processing people. The whole model needs to be reconsidered. Now is the opportunity to make airports something more special in the future. They could begin to act as an ambassador for the country and its people. For airlines, will this be an opportunity to innovate and extend their experience to the airport and own a bigger part of the journey?

Arrival time: uncertain

Travelling after the pandemic, whether that’s for business or leisure, will be centred around trust, responsibility and safety. Destinations will need to reconsider their perceptions of safety and communicate what they are doing for potential visitors whilst not losing sight of what it is that makes them special.

The entire category is going to have to work collectively to create authentic and unique reasons for passengers to fall in love with travel again. Those that do will have a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to gain share and prosper in what’s likely to be a massively changed sector. Failure to adapt will see many remaining grounded permanently.

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