As countries across the globe push to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, there is a strong interest and, indeed, industry pressure to reopen and to revive the tourism economy.
Oftentimes, when the need to resume normal activities and reclaim jobs arise, the question about what can destination brands do, to encourage the system and make it workable again also arises.
Tourism is one of the world's major economic sector. It is the third-largest export category after fuel and chemicals, and in 2019, it accounted for 7% of global trade. For some countries, it can represent over 20% of their GDP and, overall, it is the third-largest export of the global economy.
Tourism is one of the sectors affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dreaded virus has negatively impacted economies, livelihoods, public services and opportunities on all continents. Export revenue from tourism fall by $910 billion to 1.2 trillion in 2020. This had a wider impact and reduced global GDP by 1.5%.
The sector support one in ten jobs and provide livelihoods for millions in both developing and developed economies. In some small island developing state (SIDS), tourism has accounted for as much as 80% of export while it represents important shares in both developed and developing economies.
With the development and rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, owners and handlers of destination marketing brands are already preparing for the challenges of a post-COVID-19 economy. Also, Analysts are already looking into how the sector can contribute to post COVID-19 economic recovery.
A study carried out by Bloom Consult, a destination marketing consultancy firm, revealed that almost half (46%) of respondents who will travel for leisure purposes indicate they will choose a destination other than one originally planned/reserved prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Giving his insight on this issue, a Hotel Management Consultant, Isaac Okpanobi said; it's important to give priority to the locals before engaging potential visitors. In some cases, he continued, it will be about amplifying what a place has always been well known for, and is considered part of the DNA of a choice place."
According to him, "different places have different sets of criteria for a framework that constitute destination sustainability, noting that, its key to involve local businesses and residents because ultimately, it will impact them the most."
However, in other instances, this presents an opportunity to reposition or pivot to suit and look for narratives that the local needs, creating meaningful differentiation which in turn drive premium pricing. In addition, differentiation is another factor of destination sustainability, because it is much more difficult for other places to replicate.
A study carried out by Bloom Consult, a destination marketing consultancy firm, revealed that almost half (46%) of respondents who will travel for leisure purposes indicate they will choose a destination other than one originally planned/reserved prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this study does not indicate that they will give priority to national destinations over international ones.
The data collected, shows that adjusted tourism offers that reflect the new reality, as well as effective governance, are key to destination appeal right now. In other words, if the global public perceives the government of a country to have managed the crisis well with a secure health system, 53% of tourists' will desire to visit the destinations, however, it must expect to make adjustments to their offers, based on their performance during a pandemic. 39% would like to enjoy less crowded or different destinations than accustomed to, with a good hygiene programme.
All these indicate that the handlers of destination marketing brands should monitor their brands. That's the reality between positive and negative perceptions of destinations based on government response to the crisis. The average global response to the COVID-19 crisis is 1.8%, which means in order to neutralise one negative perception countries need 1.8 positive perceptions.
Given the devastating effects on multiple levels, the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not expected to be short-lived. Therefore, destination brands must develop tourists offers according to the new needs of tourists. In addition, they must work with the government to establish a strategy that will ensure a good reputation for the country.
Speaking on this issue, a Marketing Analyst, Ibrahim Omale said; "handlers of destination marketing must avoid price competition as a distinguishing factor to attract tourists post COVID-19. Less crowded tourist destinations and a better healthcare system are tourist's main concern”. He added.
According to him, "there will be a need to redesign and redefine tourism. Tourists behaviours and preferences must have changed. The product offer must be adapted to the new expectations and needs of the tourist. The brand strategy must ensure the destination is attractive and safe. Tourists will look for new destinations with great hygiene programs and less populated. This is an opportunity for smaller destinations to attract tourists as well, creating a balance in the sector and prevent crowds from gravitating towards the traditional places."
Previous tourist strategies should also be reviewed, as they may have become obsolete. The goal is to ensure a sustainable and long-term approach to show the public that the destination is prepared for any unforeseen event" He noted.
He further stressed that "destination managers must broaden their scope of influence and data. Government action is at the heart of how destinations are perceived and plays a leading role in promoting them."
Continuing, he disclosed that destination managers must monitor and measure perceptions of government actions, activities and policies. These perceptions influence the preference of tourists when choosing a destination. It's also important to include secure healthcare in their offers and inform concerned tourists as this will become increasingly valued.
Government and handlers of destination marketing can start by evaluating their brands, measure their digital identity to prevent any future damage, should a crisis occur. The brand strategy should consider information for its immediate response.
It is also essential that destination marketing brands have a theme or plan that is ready to adapt, analyse and respond to a new crisis. Overcoming fears and uncertainties will be the deciding factor for tourists post COVID-19.