Friday 3 July 2009

Another year and another travel health scare.

It’s as if the tourism industry didn’t have enough troubles. Everywhere there’s the spectre of recession. The strength of the Euro and the US Dollar, relative to Sterling has adversely affected tourism prospects in the Eurozone and the USA. Airline traffic has fallen in BAA airports by 11.3 % in March 2009 compared to the same month in 2008.
Destinations more dependent on international tourism are acutely aware of how precarious the situation has become. And yet………..
In the UK, householders with tracker mortgages are now much better off, and once the supply/demand equilibrium has been re-established, things will begin to get better for all of us. Recessions end when people get tired of feeling poor and begin to regain their nerve. One sign will be if the two months of March and April 2009 show encouraging airline traffic. Easter was in April this year, so by comparing these combined months in 2009 and 2008, we will cancel out the Easter timing effects.
There are a number of things you can do to mitigate the effects of the recession.
1. Keep in touch with past guests. Most hotels retain addresses and some actually keep in touch at Christmas and on birthdays. Co-ordinate a direct mail campaign with private sector partners and offer special “friends” incentives for them to revisit.
2. Encourage ex-pats to come home for a visit. Scotland has done this in 2009, but doesn’t mean you cannot do so too. Ask them to re-acquaint themselves with the culture, beauty and friendliness of their homeland. Special events could be held in the towns and villages, with local hotels offering special rates. The idea is thank these economic migrants for their financial support.
3. Promote your green credentials In particular, solar technology, re-greening of the towns, country and hill sides, reduction in carbon emissions, marine parks, successes in conservation and so on.
4. Develop your niche markets. Find ways of creating new reasons to visit. Cultural events like jazz festivals, yachting regattas, kite surfing contests, and special golf tournaments such as the ones organised by Dubai.
5. Work closely with private sector partners. Hoteliers, airlines, ground handlers, tour operators and travel agents. India offers incentives to visiting travel agents. Hotels are already offering additional free nights and ground handlers throwing in local excursions for free. Airlines can offer subsidised upgrades and everyone can be encouraged to do more.
6. More than ever, ensure that your country is kept at the forefront of prospective visitor’s minds. Ad spends on tourism products amounts to £441 Million in 2008. Maintain your share of voice and be relevant. Tell prospects that the country is beautiful sure, but emphasise its unique differences. If possible stress affordability. Say visiting is essential, not discretionary. Tell them that a holiday in your country is very special, not a commodity experience.
7. Mount an integrated campaign that joins seamlessly, press relations, above and below the line activity including on-line.
8. And don’t forget to have a well planned and well rehearsed crisis management programme in place. I hope you will never need to implement it.

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