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Anticipating Travel

If you’re longing for new spaces and places, adventures, memories, and sensations or just stepping out of your front door… you’re not alone. Can you remember how you felt when you experienced a new place for the first time?

Can you remember stepping off a plane in some exotic destination; all your senses stimulated at the newness of it all, wandering the streets of a European capital, touring galleries of masterpieces, eating street food, swimming in an balmy sea… At the moment we’re feeling that this experiential dimension is lost to us, but is it possible to rekindle this anticipation and excitement at home?

COVID-19 has severely affected all aspects of Australia’s travel and tourism industry, and we do not yet know when the recovery will come, as cases continue to impact life as we know it. International arrivals have plummeted as travel restrictions bite, and on the domestic front border concerns are making travellers wary. At a time of crisis for the tourism industry, is the “next normal” in our own backyard?

We travel to build memories, to connect with new people, and to see new places. It’s part of our culture to get out and explore the world. This desire drove 11.3 million of us to travel internationally in 2019. Has the travel bug diminished with the pandemic — we don’t believe so. Travellers are champing at the bit to leave home. There is a real opportunity for the travel industry to energise and inspire Australians to revisit the ‘oldie but goodie’.

“Don’t leave town till you’ve seen the country.”

Seen it all, been everywhere? A lot of us have this attitude which the tourism industry is working hard to change. There is a certain amount of cringe and boredom about our own backyard, the grass is greener and all that!

Let’s not forget all the fantastic things there are to see and do right here in Australia — there’s no way you have done it all. Australia is a big and wondrous continent, home to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, wildlife, and attractions. Our culturally diverse and storied landscape can offer all the grandeur, enchantment, and magic of an overseas escapade, albeit different.

The travel industry, however, needs to depend on more than just travellers’ pent-up demand, it has to contend with their stress related to compliance and personal safety. Reopening the tourism industry and managing its recovery in a way that is safe, attractive for tourists, and economically viable requires coordination at a level not seen before. It’s a time to act, not react, to reimagine and redesign.

The pursuit of safety, state-mandated border restrictions, and fellow travellers’ inconsistent compliance with safety measures can advance negative experiences and encourage risk-adverse behaviours. There has been a shift towards simpler experiences, such as weekend excursions, choosing to drive rather than fly, staying local, and choosing lower-cost travel and accommodation options (with refund security), thereby dampening overall recovery.

Travel companies need to excite and attract customers as well as reassure them. To achieve this the industry must focus on making travel better, not just safer, by taking an agile customer-centric approach and offering greater flexibility, authenticity, and personalisation. There is a certain amount of fatigue around “we’re all in this together”.

As travel companies redesign and repackage their experiences to address risks and anxieties related to the pandemic, they also need to recognise that the trends that existed before the crisis, such as the shift towards more sustainable, digitalised, and personalised journeys, have not gone away. Travellers are motivated more than ever by emotive campaigns that promote sustainability and wellness alongside landmarks and attractions.

There are four principles that travel companies need to bear in mind when designing new protocols and experiences to get travellers back out there.

  • Expedite choice and control. Empower customers to build their own itinerary using smarter, connected digital tools and make it easier for them to modify or cancel their plans. The ability to cancel a reservation 24/7, and recover their money now matters more than brand choice or price.
  • Create genuine, unique, and personalised human experiences. Travellers are drawn to places and experiences with a human face. The dominant preference remains for “boutique” experiences with personality and independence. Travellers are looking for new and authentic ways to explore and connect beyond brand eminence and superficial platitudes.
  • Listen. Travellers are looking for companies that can engage with their travel motivations to co-create distinctive solutions in an agile manner. Companies that collaborate with, rather than optimise against, other industry players in journey creation will win.
  • Reach, engage, and inspire. Companies need to refresh and update their marketing. You can’t think that by doing something once they will come — they won’t, expectations have changed. Focus on high impact actions, so no half-hearted or stop-start social media campaigns. Fast organisations out-perform others. This is not the time for small thinking — go bold, go now.

It’s been a bumpy ride for the travel industry but Australia is the home of the audacious campaign. Imagination, talent, and budgets must be harnessed domestically to aid industry recovery. China’s still-nascent recovery is indicative that domestic travel can return.

While the industry’s focus remains on border re-openings it may be missing a trick as frustrated travellers garner themselves to burst forth from sheltered isolation, their sights set on new experiences and memories. So with summer and the holiday season approaching isn’t it time to package-up warm-weather escapes, shake off the bikes and walking shoes, and market road trip adventures and bucket list destinations? The travelling public are waiting.