As it is difficult to motivate tourists to travel during current tough times, maintaining the destination image is critical for DMOs to keep tourists’ engagement and inspire them to visit their destination in the future.
Destination marketing is the process of communicating with potential visitors to influence their preferences, travel intentions, and ultimately their final destination choice. These activities are also considered as joints to convey outstanding values, visions, and competitive factors of the destination. Therefore, destination marketing activities always need to be maintained to stay connected and attract tourists.
Before Covid-19, the main goal of destination marketing was focused on inspiring and motivating tourists to visit and participate in experiences at the destination, aiming to attract more tourists to the destination. However, in the current pandemic context, when people cannot travel freely as before, this goal needs appropriate changes. Instead of calling on tourists to your destination, it’s important to focus on reminding and maintaining the destination image in their minds. Thereby, even though tourists cannot travel now, they can have imaginations of the destination, which inspires them to explore the destination in the future.
Why is maintaining the destination image so important now?
At any given time, destination marketing in general or maintaining destination image always plays an important role, which is to increase the competitive advantage for the destination. The goal of most destination marketing activities is to promote your destination over the alternatives, by highlighting what makes it unique or what makes it worth visiting.
However, since the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the global tourism sector to stagnate and all destinations are almost back to the starting point. And now, when the situation is not completely controlled and still complicated globally, being outstanding only in the uniqueness of the destination, the attractiveness of experiences or the inspiration from other tourists becomes very limited. Calling tourists to travel amid the pandemic is also inappropriate and difficult to do. In addition, this context also poses a challenge for destinations because the tourism market will become much more competitive even if it recovers. The return of tourists depends largely on the ability to control the pandemic as well as the management policy of both the depart and arrival destinations. Hence, previous key markets may completely disappear, and instead, many destinations will focus on a few customer segments that are slowly showing signs of recovery from the pandemic. Even destinations in the same country will compete more fiercely to welcome domestic tourists when most international arrivals are stalled. So the question is how to increase the destination’s competitive advantage in this time?
The answer is adopting and focusing resources on maintaining the destination image. Destinations that do not stop and regularly update destination information, photos, reach and interact with tourists from afar will arouse their curiosity and desire to visit in the future. Specifically, hygiene and safety are being pushed to the top of the influences of tourists’ travel choices during this period. According to a World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) report in September 2020, 69% of tourists consider safety and health measures an important factor to trust in a destination brand. Besides, 80% of tourists are also concerned about quarantine policies when traveling. Therefore, updating information and images of safe destinations along with a transparent policy regularly and effectively now will help tourists have a good impression and build trust, thereby increasing competitive advantage over other destinations.
In addition, the pandemic has not made the tourists’ desire to travel lost, but only making their needs pent-up. Tourists still have a need to travel again. According to a Skyscanner report, during the peak period of the pandemic from February to August 2020, tourists around the world still tend to search for destinations and travel information. Although the search for international trips declined, domestic destinations had increased search rates compared to 2019. Major markets in the Asia-Pacific region such as South Korea and Japan all had sharply increased rates of domestic trip search between April and August 2020. Hence, DMOs’ efforts to remind tourists of the destination at this time will inspire them and help the destination to become the first choice to travel when tourists have the opportunity.
Source: Skyscanner, 2020
For tourists who have visited the destination, the messages and pictures of the scenery and activities at the destination will remind them of their past memories. This will encourage them to visit and experience these activities again. With the pressure and anxiety caused by the pandemic, many tourists want to find relaxing and comfortable moments from past travel experiences.
In addition, as mentioned above, new markets that control pandemic well are also the target of many destinations. Maintaining the appearance of the destination image will help arouse curiosity as well as a desire to explore experiences at the destination in the future. Among various choices, the destination which appears with the right message and frequency will easily capture the attention and interest of tourists, giving it the advantage to convert to actions and choices when they prepare for their next trip.
So how to maintain the destination image during this time?
In the current context of restricted travel and direct interaction, leveraging online trends and applying technology will be the best options to reach out to tourists and maintain the destination image. Through technology and utilizing online communication, stories, images, and destination features will be easily imagined and remembered by tourists.
Trends of online and technology are familiar in recent years, however, when all offline communication is difficult to apply at the time of the pandemic, the role of online communication is becoming more and more essential than ever. Leveraging those trends is almost a must if destinations want to reach out and stay connected with tourists.
In this digital revolution, consumers are increasingly relying on technology, using online and mobile platforms to find travel recommendations and inspiration. Besides the destination’s official website, social media is also a popular communication platform today. A 2020 survey by GlobalData found that 44% of tourists increase their time on social media. Hence, destinations pioneering in creating engaging, creative content as well as updating safe, clear, and accessible messages will build trust, empathy and attractiveness from tourists.
Many destinations in the world such as Malaysia, Australia, Portugal, Ireland, Norway, … have conveyed the message of “travel later” through campaigns on online media channels throughout 2020 to remind tourists to stay safe. Most campaigns use familiar and impressive images of the destination to create a short video with a message that always welcomes future tourists to remind and inspire. These videos are also posted on multiple platforms from websites, youtube, Facebook, Instagram, … to reach diverse audiences. Besides, Bristol (UK) has built a communication campaign based on the foundation of local tourism businesses with the name #BristolTogether. In this campaign, not only DMO but businesses, city residents have joined forces to create much new content from articles to videos from many different perspectives. These contents are widely shared in both the official communication channels of the city tourism authority and the social media of the participating individuals and businesses, thereby spreading the message more widely, helping tourists explore the city’s attractions and experiences at home.
In addition, one of the technology trends that destinations can capture to maintain their image is virtual tours and VR & AR travel experiences. This trend has emerged in the past few years in the tourism sector, and in this time, it has an advantage over ever. Virtual tours and VR & AR travel experiences can help tourists experience the destination at home and partly address pent-up travel demand. Moreover, the virtual travel experience can be an inspiration for tourists to choose the destination to explore more with real experiences in the future. However, according to Ms. Elizabeth Linder, CEO of Beautiful Destinations: “The key to these virtual experiences is to ensure that locals are part of the stories and ecosystems.”
In China, for example, Bespoke Travel has launched a series of programs that allow tourists to participate in local virtual experiences, including a tour guide and talks via Zoom. The Maldives has designed a dedicated website for virtual tours, in which tourists can explore many corners of the islands from beaches to resorts. Many countries also take advantage of this trend to give tourists pictures of famous attractions such as Austria with campaign #AustrianHomeStories, Oakland (USA) with campaign Oakland From Home, etc. Many national parks and more than 2,000 museums from around the world, in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute, have also transformed digitally into an online store of experiences through virtual reality.
Although existing pandemic control measures pose many difficulties for travel, it does not mean that the need for travel or communication activities for tourism has stopped. Maintaining the destination image and inspiring tourists at this time is an important step to motivate them to return to travel as well as increase the competitive advantage for the destination in the future. In the race of returning to welcome tourists, destinations with the right strategy and maintaining actions in the meantime will be potential next destinations for tourists.