As the pandemic runs its course and we wait for vaccination roll-outs to bring the world closer to a return to travel, we haven’t been idle. Resilience is the way forward.
Something is always happening behind the scenes – in nature, in our cities, communities and villages, and many of us have tried something new or made adjustments. Our beleaguered travel industry has been hustling to fight back. And travellers are keen to know what’s new and what’s happening with you.
Regrowth follows the fire
Did you hear about the sea turtles nesting on the Thai island of Koh Samui for the first time in decades? The islanders are keeping them safe so they return next season. The natural world didn’t get the lockdown memo. Wildebeest continue their migration across the Serengeti, and in other parts of the world, nature has been hustling too, renewing itself, waiting to share its treasures with us humans. Thank goodness for live cams in the wild or zoos keeping nature lovers in the loop, whetting the appetite for what lies ahead.
But it’s the unusual that add new interest to favourite attractions and bucket list destinations – they don’t just create #FOMO but also appeal to a growing concern for responsible and sustainable tourism. Swans, seabirds and fish have returned to Venetian canals, now the cleanest they’ve been in 60 years thanks to reduced traffic. For the first time in 50 years, grazing Irish Dexter cattle have been introduced to Northern Ireland’s Giants’ Causeway to boost struggling wildlife, wildflowers and rare snails (they’ve been slow to join). In Ecuador’s Mashpi Reserve, the discovery of new orchid, magnolia tree and nocturnal tree frog species has landed this destination on a few more wish lists. And just when you thought the Big 5 were the only reason for an South African safari, the cute little pangolin was reintroduced to Zululand after a nearly 70-year absence.
Whatever is fresh and different in your destination, don’t hold out on the dreamers – be generous with your content updates.
Never a dull moment
What’s your story of resilience? You’re more than a trusted consultant or brand, destination expert or welcoming host. Past and future guests, clients-in-waiting, have faced down similar challenges. This pandemic unites us in a strange way – we want to celebrate each other’s survival stories. And it’s always a good idea to show your humanity.
Behind the accommodation scenes
Accommodation brands around the world have taken the initiative retraining staff on new safety protocols and how to guide guests throughout their stay. Some have become inventive out of necessity to attract guests in ways that might well outlive the pandemic. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s our pick:
- A Swedish hotel has turned hotel rooms into pop-up restaurants, where guests can dine in private, safely removed from other diners or staff.
- A Hong Kong hotel has been offering socially-distant movie-screenings for locals.
- A Georgian hotel group has pivoted to ‘agropreneurship’ with a focus on health, wellness and ecotourism – sourcing food from local farms and developing urban vertical farming projects to tap into those niches.
- An international hotel group has repurposed areas in their hotels to create co-working office spaces for locals or digital nomads wanting to WFH away from home – socially distanced, fully equipped with WiFi, snacks, meals and service on tap.
New hotels have launched, while others have done refurbs or trialed new attractions aimed predominantly at locals for now. A European hotel group reviewed and refreshed their product content for direct sales and third party websites, and within a couple of months, they’ve seen improvement in first-time enquiries. The key is to share new developments with future guests, putting their concerns first and bringing your brand front-of-mind.
Travel professionals getting inventive
We’ve heard the stories: of skills and hobbies turned into side hustles; about information, expertise and ideas shared; and about proactive pivoting in pandemic times. Like the tour operator capitalising on the home cooking trend by opening a high-end spice shop; or another operator taking keen note of local neighbourhoods where home owners have created verge gardens during lockdown, to incorporate them into guided tours for future inbound groups. This is a great opportunity for someone super knowledgeable about their area, with travel expertise and a bit more time on their hands, to explore offering hyperlocal tours.
Tour guides have begun offering virtual tours in their destination – Google Street View to the rescue! – strapping on a camera, providing commentary, even doing live events for travellers stuck at home. Some use this to market themselves for future tours or sell virtual experiences with a bonus offer of travel credit vouchers.
There’s the ITC using her sewing skills for made-to-order, custom face masks, which will become a unique value-add to client welcome packs along with antibacterial wipe holders, travel pillows and vouchers. Another travel agency hosts travel-themed trivia nights, inviting members of the public (existing and prospective clients) to talk travel, ignite wanderlust, and earn travel credits for future trips.
The entertainment must go on
Weather-permitting, we’ve seen wine farms taking art exhibitions outdoors, drawing visitors with free access, COVID-19 safety protocols in place, with picnics and wine to purchase and enjoy on-site. Breweries that have closed their taps to beer and ale to produce hand sanitiser, have a special story to tell of serving their community in a time of great need, earning some serious brownie points in the process.
Restaurants have tried all sorts, from offering home catering to virtual cooking classes or demonstrations, drive-throughs or retro roadhouse experiences. Meanwhile, Google has shown a marked increase in searches for ‘easy home recipes’ versus ‘restaurants near me’ during the pandemic, meaning there’s sustained hunger for online tutorials and expert tips from chefs. We’ve heard some heart-warming stories of support of supermarkets enabling local restaurants to sell meals from their deli’s. That’s a handy, collaborative option for properties to provide guests with restaurant meals served in the privacy of their hotel rooms.
What other folks have been up to
There’s been a surge outdoors to nature reserves and state parks for outdoor adventures, as activities in the open air, in remote or isolated areas, are perceived as safer. This has parlayed into an uptake in camping, glamping, self-drive car and RV trips. Accommodation suppliers can tap into this trend by highlighting parks, beaches, national parks, and similar open spaces nearby, for travellers unfamiliar with the destination.
Museums and other tourist sites in your area have also had to adapt opening hours and visitor capacity – investigate and advise your clients on the best visiting times to avoid crowds.
We’ve heard of industry leaders choosing to share their expertise and knowledge with industry newbies, mentoring new or small tourism entrepreneurs. Wetu has also hosted tourism students from local universities on training courses – the idea is to equip them with travel tech skills and develop the talent pool for our clients.
What to look forward to
For travellers keen to support the tourism trade in their favourite destinations, how will they know what initiatives have seen daylight during lockdown that they can pledge a coin to? There are instances where a lack of visitors has financially harmed the environment – with your ear to the ground, you are best placed to gather relevant, current info to share around.
Digital content has never been more important – whether you’re providing it or sourcing it, it should definitely be part of the hustle. Content collaborations lighten the load for a trade that recovers and resets together, and leaves nobody behind. It bridges the gap between what’s been happening behind-the-scenes and what your future clients and guests can look forward to.
Among the content types gaining popularity during this period of accelerated digitalisation of travel, the stand-outs are virtual tours, video, podcasts and mobile responsive content. There’s a lot out there but if your content isn’t visible and relevant, your brand won’t be front-of-mind. Content visibility and easy access also serve your trade partners with insider info, and help educate your agents how to best sell your products.
As a travel agent, tour operator or DMC, you could collate the top ten safe experiences in your destination, whether those are adventure (outdoor) activities or small group urban tours. Focus on mask-free experiences and don’t be afraid to adjust your language, considering that terms like ‘COVID safe’ and ‘social distancing’ feature largely in new travel searches. The same applies to accommodation products: deal with those concerns head-on and turn them into value-adds to hook travellers searching for their next trip, so they can comfortably shift focus onto your core offerings. You could do a ‘What we did during lockdown’ content feature, partly to reassure loyal clients that some of the things they love are still there, awaiting their return, and partly to create excitement around new, adapted offerings.
The pandemic has changed our industry for now – in some ways, forever – and exposed our resilience gene. Take courage from the positive. Take inspiration from the hustles and stories behind-the-scenes. Re-set the course of your recovery and invite your clients to tag along.