Only a few months ago it was looking like the pandemic was winding down and many of us in the tourism industry were cautiously optimistic and predicting 2022 would finally be better. Then Omicron. If you’re a tourism business owner, and you’ve lasted this long and read this far, you’re a survivor. So what does 2022 look like from a marketing perspective? Let’s look at the past two years and find a path forward
Yep, the dreaded ‘P’ word that we’re almost as sick of as covid. But here’s the thing, looking back at the past two years, at companies that have survived, and in some cases thrived, I’ve noticed most tend to share several things in common.
Most importantly, they’ve done everything they could to stay open and keep operating. Maybe the right word for that is ‘grit’. For most, that meant shifting to their local market, adjusting tour options and pricing, and taking advantage of government loans, grants and support to keep the lights on and employees on their payrolls. And now that we’re nearly two years in, they have the knowledge of what did and didn’t work.
As I write this with omicron raging and shutting down flights and creating further havoc, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and write 2022 off as well. But what I’m seeing so far in many parts of the industry, particularly in the luxury and adventure travel space, is offering a tiny glimmer of hope. Mass cancellations have not been happening, many guests are taking a wait-and-see approach and some people are still travelling. There have not been the heavy shutdowns of borders and forced quarantines as earlier on and some tourism businesses have been seeing a trickle of their core audiences now return.
Looking ahead, it seems a hybrid approach offers the best way forward: do what works for your local market while keeping things ready for your more profitable core markets as they slowly return, later in the year.
Start by taking a deep dive into the market that you’ve been serving during the pandemic.
“We found our local guests tended to be in their 30’s and preferred booking through facebook messenger,” says Heike Garton, owner of Discovery Marine Safaris, a BC-based whale and grizzly bear viewing outfitter. “Our usual guests were 50+ and came from overseas and never booked on facebook.”
Garton explained that this has required a big change in their marketing tactics and some new learning.
Other tourism businesses I know have found success in booking corporate retreats, weddings and other events, something they would have never considered before.
Spend the time to create some personas, as they’re known in marketing speak, for your new guests. Focus on the ‘problem’ you solve for them (or benefit provided) and think hard about how their customer journey may have been different from your core audience. If you’re targeting your local market, make sure to fully optimize your Google My Business listing as this is a key part of local SEO and in getting you found on Maps.
Once you fully understand the different audiences you serve, you can then begin to plan your marketing channels and messaging around them.
Nature experiences, wildlife viewing and adventure travel will be in strong demand throughout 2022. A large study by KOA showed that last year more people took part in camping, including many for the first time, than ever before. As travel comes back on line, people will be looking for way more ‘nature and escape’. At the higher end of the spectrum, adventure activities such as heli skiing, guided sea kayaking, fly fishing and stays at luxury eco-resorts are all seeing strong bookings. Escaping into nature has proven mental health benefits so make this a key part of your marketing. Use the right visuals and if necessary, tailor your tour products to take in more outdoor experiences.
And with all the continued uncertainty, if you can offer flexible booking options that will be a big incentive for guests to book your tour over your competitor’s.
I’ve been amazed at the number of media that have been travelling lately and that we’ve been hosting on client FAM trips. Travel writers tend to have a higher risk tolerance than other guests so if you’ve got space on a trip, consider inviting a journalist along. The benefits from good press coverage have a long shelf life and will be delivering returns for many years. I’ve also noticed many tourism boards and DMO’s have extra funding right now to help with FAM trips, so get together with a few tourism partners and organize a great press trip and reap the rewards during and long after the pandemic ends.