How travel industry players can build brand desirability through digitised experiences
By Nishant Kashikar
As we bid farewell to a year of stalled vacations, makeshift home offices and muted activity, marketing in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry has been anything but subdued. Moreover, amongst the many obstacles and changes brought about this year, advertising and marketing professionals witnessed an industry-wide makeover and an undressing of the traditional. Because 2020 has proven to be a year of change and adapting to the terms and conditions set by Covid-19, a majority of brands and companies are pivoting away from their default means of marketing and shifting to virtual and digital marketing. Among those major changes that have arisen as trends themselves are an emphasis on social distancing, the lessened use of experiential marketing and adoption of safety protocols.
As in the case of other sectors, the pandemic has left a lasting and industry agnostic impact, rewiring the workings of a multitude of companies and brands. In lieu of tourism marketing, the travel industry was among the first sectors to register the impact of the pandemic and continues to experience the aftereffects as well, much of the industry relies on a day-to-day prognosis of the virus, which is prone to frequent changes and as such determines the sentiment of potential travellers. With the introduction of air-bubbles and the reopening of borders, there is a rising excitement to travel again from the ‘revenge traveller’ segment. However, not everyone is immune to the changes brought about by the pandemic, as such mass downsizing and reduced working capacity has forced a number of consumers to reprioritize their expenses and necessities. Such factors and the residual uncertainty surrounding air travel poses another challenge that the travel industry will have to overcome before regaining normalcy.
Therefore, in order to maintain brand awareness and desirability, National Tourism Organisations, and travel aggregators have re-strategised destination marketing by building brand equity and resonance through digitised experiences and providing a virtual escape to those attractions and destinations that may remain inaccessible for a prolonged period of time. Despite the lack of travel activity globally, there is a steady interest and growing demand from travellers, who have had to pause and defer their travel plans, for virtual experiences that can be enjoyed in the safety and seclusion of their homes.
Looking ahead, we can expect 2021 and the subsequent years to come to serve as an extension of the year gone by, wherein digital avenues and tending to the needs of hyper-conscious consumers will become the norm. These emerging trends include the following:
Advocacy and influencer marketing
The role of influencers has gradually expanded over the years, finding a presence in nearly every sector and proving to be a fruitful and effective means to reach wider and more diverse audiences. With much of 2020 spent indoors, the relevancy of influencers has grown as people spend more time on social media. In line with this, brands can market their services or products to the networks and viewers of such influencers who will serve as a reassured and trusted source of inspiration.
Utilising content marketing
Moving away from experiential marketing and out of home advertising, brands will look to diversify and set themselves apart through the use of content marketing, to broadcast their variety of offerings in a more unique and distinguishable manner.
Virtual and augmented reality
Rising in popularity as a safe and easily accessible way to maintain engagement with consumers and serve as an attractive and interactive promotional tool, VR and AR will likely remain on retainer as a versatile means by which travellers confined to their homes can explore new destinations and replicate in-person events through livestreams without the concern of crowds.
Heightened use of social media and OTT platforms
With a large population of people choosing to maintain caution when venturing beyond the home and focusing on social distancing protocols, consumption and use of OTT material and social media platforms has seen a dramatic increase. As such, these channels have become promising avenues for brands to address and attract potential consumers, thus falling in line with the rising dependency on digital marketing. Also, with the internet boom and its growing use in regional tier 2 and 3 markets, there rests unbridled marketing potential in vernacular content.
Looking ahead, 2021 holds a lot of promise for marketers to raise their standards and push themselves to excel, following a year of challenges that brought out the very best in marketing innovation and creativity.
The author is country manager- India and Gulf, Tourism Australia