Comment: Keeping the lights on in these dark times

Embattled travel firms must not lose sight of the importance of maintaining brand awareness and trust, says Designate partner Jason Triandafyllou

These are dark days indeed for many parts of society and the economy, and none more so than for the travel industry and the people that work in it and depend on it for their livelihoods.

The uncertainty is relentless.

After the collective national effort and the genuine sense of ‘we’re all in it together’ that accompanied the initial big lockdown, we had at least some hope that there would be a gradual unlocking and a staged resumption of movement, travel and life in general.

Indeed, initially this seemed to be the case.

Even if many countries were firmly on the no-fly list, either because of high infection rates or self-imposed isolation, travel corridors started opening up to destinations in Europe and beyond, offering some hope for travel companies and holidaymakers alike.

Then the ridiculously late and arguably entirely ineffective quarantine system was brought in, which only lately has become a bit more nuanced, if we take the example of selective Greek islands being put on the list. Regardless, the Sword of Damocles was once more hanging over foreign travel.

And now we seem to be making a staged return to a more heavy-duty lockdown, which may well include a stipulation banning non-essential travel within the UK – let alone travel abroad.

Not to forget that the pandemic is still raging across large swathes of the world, making many destinations off limits in any case.

The uncertainty just keeps building.

What are businesses meant to do in this climate? How are they meant to plan ahead, as 2021 looms large on the horizon, but no one yet knows what the rules of the game will be?

We think there are two things that every business can do, and this is particularly relevant to travel.

Live up to your brand promise

To paraphrase a great line, a brand is not just for Christmas.

If you have a genuine brand vision and a brand proposition which tells the world why it should choose you over your competitors, this is much more than just a marketing message. It should drive every part of your behaviour as a business, from how you treat your employees and partners, to how you look after your customers. And everything in between.

It is in times of adversity that real brand truths emerge, and how you handle this unprecedently difficult time, how you communicate and what actions you take, this will define how you will be judged.

Communicate clearly, be proactive, be considered, be polite, be understanding. Be human.

Customers want honesty, not unreasonably, but they also have a far better understanding of what travel companies have been through with Covid. They’ll be more forgiving.

They’ll want reassuring that trusted brands will still be there for them when they can holiday next.

Don’t hide behind your website, your terms and conditions, or your scapegoat industry partners and suppliers.

It is often when things go wrong that truly strong and honest brands win, by showing their customers – and their employees and partners – that they care about righting wrongs or mitigating a bad situation.

Good brand behaviour lasts long in the memory, and businesses that demonstrate this will be in a better place with existing and prospective customers when the time comes.

Have confidence in your brand

If you have invested in building a brand that stands for something, and that has a distinct place in the market, you need to tell people about it.

When others are fearful, silent and absent, you should be confident, vocal and present.

This is not controversial. There is nothing wrong with reminding people why you exist, what makes you a brand of preference, and the best choice for your target audience.

The turn-of-year period will soon be upon us, when the majority of travel marketing budgets are traditionally spent in order to book the lion’s share of the year’s business. Whatever you feel about the common sense of this habit, the next few months will be crucial.

Research shows real demand for travel in 2021, building by the day, and regardless of the current uncertainty, if you are going to have any chance of selling holidays next year, you will need to position your brand correctly and keep it front of mind with your audiences.

There is also plenty of research that shows that a downturn is when you most need to turn up the marketing dial.

When that time comes, when travel becomes possible in a broader and less restricted sense, it is the brands that kept their standards, kept their heads up and kept their lights on in the darkness that will win.

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