As borders open, how are travel marketers cashing in on pent-up demand? | Marketing
On May 2, New Zealand re-opened its borders to 60 countries after nearly three years of locking down itself from the external world, due to the Covid pandemic. While the country had among the most sweeping border shutdowns worldwide, it slowly re-opened its borders after this enforced hibernation.
Like many other tourism boards and travel brands globally, Tourism New Zealand found itself returning to the drawing board and expanding its marketing spend as borders reopen. It spent the past two years trying to keep its tourist spots such as Milford Sound and Mount Cook fresh in the minds of domestic tourists, but in the the last couple of months Tourism NZ adopted a more aggressive stance with its marketing strategy.
“We previously focused on long-term brand building when our borders were locked down,” Venessa Chen, regional consumer marketing manager, Asia, Tourism NZ, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “We have now shifted to short-term demand-generation as we have gradually re-opened our borders.”
To do this, the travel board is now focused on lower-funnel activity to encourage tourists to confirm their plans to travel to the antipodes, and is spending significantly on key markets such as Australia (its largest source of tourists), India and Japan. China, a key market for NZ, remains closed off due to a resurgence in Covid cases, but Chen remains confident of the market opening. “We think the recovery will be slow initially, but we expect the industry to grow rapidly once the market stabilises,” Chen added.
An example of lower-funnel activity is Tourism NZ’s collaboration with airline partners to run tactical campaigns to drive conversions. It also activated its ‘Messages to Singapore’ campaign activities in lower-funnel media (planning and booking), targeting and remarketing enabled digital media, and performance media such as search, travel review and booking sites.
Chen said that the tone and messaging the board uses has evolved from ‘inspirational’ and ’emotional’ to a more CTA-(call-to-action)-led, quick tempo and activity-focused messaging to excite travellers to start planning and booking a holiday.
Prior to closing its borders in March 2020, Tourism NZ had a two-prong approach comprising of long-term brand building and short-term demand-generation. Now, with the borders open, the organisation’s immediate focus is short-term activation, aimed to drive the industry’s recovery.
Tourism NZ is not the only travel organisation or brand in APAC to restart their marketing activities after a near three-year lull. Across the region from Australia to India and Philippines to Korea, different boards and brands are busy once more with a range of marketing activities.
“Now that international travel has resumed, we are dialing up our conversion-focused activity and driving urgency,” Brent Anderson, regional general manager, South & Southeast Asia, Tourism Australia said. “We have switched our focus towards brand and partnership activity that will support the essential aviation recovery and increase bookings, with an inviting and reassuring tonality.”
Tourism Australia has been ramping up its conversion-focused activities by working with airline and distribution partners. It is also targeting audiences who are intending to travel beyond neighbouring countries and have an existing interest in Australia, as well as those who have a propensity for above-average trip expenditure.
For example, the board launched the third edition of its ‘Discover A Great Deal More’ virtual travel fair in the region that ran until May 15. Travellers could browse offers on flights, hotels, tour packages, car rentals and exciting experiences in Australia, with mixed travel validity of up to March 2023. Then, in Indonesia, Tourism Australia extended relationships to bank partners and in Malaysia, travel agency Apple Vacations launched its first group tour departing to Australia post-pandemic.
Elsewhere, The Department of Tourism and Tourism Promotions Board in the Philippines launched an outdoor, press, and online campaign devised by BBDO Guerrero (see image above), to promote 10 top destinations in the market. The campaign highlights the re-opening of these popular locales. Another campaign, Colours of Mindanao, highlights the diversity of tourist offerings in the region.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore has pledged $500 million to support tourism recovery (in addition to $1.5 billion already committed), led by its SingaporeReimagine campaign. The government is wooing tourists from around the world, launching tailored marketing programmes in markets such as India and Japan to boost tourism in the market.
Eleni Sardi, group brand director of TBWA Group Singapore, noted that Singapore Airlines started taxiing for the take-off in tourism back in October 2021, with its ‘Look Forward To Seeing You Flying Again’ campaign. More recently, the carrier launched several tactical campaigns going out on digital media, informing international travellers of the expanded network, and reduced (and eventually removed) testing protocols.
“We have been using SIA’s Facebook and Instagram channels to inspire travelers in diverse ways – whether it is to help them reconnect to the things they love, or relive the classic in-flight experience of hearing the captain’s message to passengers to ‘sit back, relax, and enjoy their flight’,” said Sardi.
Tourism Malaysia, next door, already kicked off a six-city road tour to India and is also wooing tourists from Europe as it eases entry requirements such as testing and quarantine. The tourism board has over 100 promotional marketing activities planned through the year and has revived its Malaysia Truly Asia tag line.
Three-and-a-half decades after it launched the ‘I still call Australia home’ theme by Peter Allen, Australia-based Qantas has chosen the reopening of borders to relaunch this song. Featuring prominent Australians including Kylie Minogue, Ash Barty and Hugh Jackman, this spot by The Monkeys aims to stir up the both the national pride at managing to reopen the borders and highlight the emotions around family and friends reuniting.
In contrast, Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer, Asia Pacific, Marriott International, spent the past two months traveling around the region, gauging the pace of recovery and demand for hospitality services in APAC. “There is clearly strong pent-up demand specifically for leisure and longer stays,” he said. “We are moving our marketing to more upper-funnel— destination and brand campaigns to inspire travel.”
The hotel chain, which has nearly 700 properties in APAC, recently launched its Le Meridien APAC brand campaign ‘Nouveaux Horizons‘ starring supermodel Barbara Palvin and expanded its Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy campaign in the region.“With travelers more conscious about where and how they spend their money coming out of the pandemic, we see impact travel resonating across demographics,” Buiring added.
As the situation evolves, branding and content play a critical role since the opening of the borders, said Ber Han Ong, senior client manager, Media Group, Dentsu Singapore. “The path to conversion … has a heavy reliance on research, especially on entry requirements or new attractions within the destination country in these two years,” he added. “Therefore, the marketing mix now revolves more around branded content and working with direct partners for local relevance.”
Switch to upbeat language and content
Marketing and agency executives contend that the travel and hospitality industry will need to quickly change its language and focus to make this revival stick. “Tourists want to feel welcome at these places and not be reminded of the difficulties of the past two years,” said Anish Daryani, founder and president of M&C Saatchi Indonesia. “They want campaigns that are optimistic and upbeat.”
However, it may be too early for the travel trade to be too cheerful with their marketing strategy in APAC. For one, key markets such as China continue to be locked out for international tourists, while others such as Japan aren’t yet open to tourists and Thailand is still undergoing a spotty recovery from the pandemic.
Supporting the industry
Tourism New Zealand’s Chen contended that marketing from her employer and other boards around the region would also need to support the stricken industry before it can reignite overtly optimistic campaigns. “We need to re-educate and re-energise a lot of our trade who have faced a challenging couple of years,” she explained.
Elsewhere, Tourism Australia’s Anderson said the outfit is continuing to strengthen its “Aussie specialist” network of operators.
“With conversion leading the recovery, we see the role of agents to support and provide confidence to consumers to travel again as a key strategic priority,” he added. “Driving demand to and through our in-market partners is critical for the long-term recovery of inbound tourism to Australia.”
In addition to support rebuilding tourism spirit and infrastructure across these markets, industry watchers also contended that consumers have become more conscious and cautious about their travel.
According to a recent Booking.com study covering 30,000 travelers across 32 countries and territories, 88% of Thai travelers said that they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, which is a 10% increase over what was surfaced through the company’s 2021 data. As travel steadily rebounds, over two in three (67%) Thai travellers said that the sustainability efforts of accommodations and transport providers play a significant role in their property and transportation decisions.
Buiring of Marriott, meanwhile, said that with the pandemic yet to fade away, the chain’s guests continue to put hygiene at the centre of their holiday-making plans.
“While we are marching ahead with our marketing executions, the situation continues to be dynamic and we remain mindful of local situations,” he said. “Our hotels are committed to the highest levels of safety and hygiene. We… continue to remain very optimistic about the travel outlook in the region.”