The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV or COVID-19) has devastated the world economy and taken the whole world into its severity. All the major economies of the world are brought to a deadlock situation. Tourism is one of the worst affected of all major economic sectors. Due to the imposition of travel restrictions and slump in demand among travellers, the tourism sector is witnessing all-time low hit. Travel is standstill, fear is gearing up, and the future is uncertain.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a 22 per cent fall in International Tourist Arrivals (ITAs) during the first quarter of 2020. It could decline by 60-80 per cent over the whole year as per the latest report of UNWTO.
The UNWTO Panel of Experts Survey indicates the sign of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021. Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than the international demand, and within it, leisure travel is said to recover more quickly than business travel.
In the upcoming months, there is a sign of an increase in travel and tourism activities. Now, travel and tourism companies are focusing more than ever before on digital or social media channels to directly connect with their customers as part of their marketing strategy. No one had anticipated the way 2020 chucked out. Almost all the brands and marketers are making an adjustment to their original strategies to leverage business profit, customer empathy, company’s mission and vision and agility for building brand’s connection with the customers, even when they are at home during lockdowns and for this, they are giving more emphasis to various social media channels viz Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and the like. Customers behaviour has changed dramatically after the outbreak of COVID-19and will continue the same over the next few months. Skift (a media company that furnishes news, research and marketing services for the travel industry) used BCV’s datashows that 40 per cent of social media users are questioning on property and destination reopening instead of asking for cancellations. Penland analytics (a marketing research firm) says that organisations that opened well after a crisis and continue communications with its audiences see a 20 per cent increase in its brand value compared to those who reopened poorly. Building trust with the customers in the new normal is the first and foremost priority of travel and tourism personnel. Marketing personnel have changed their social media marketing strategies from building brand awareness to communicate about safety, from showcasing their product to caring for the society and community.
Driving demand in the new normal for the travel and tourism industry is the biggest challenge for the marketers. Alvin Jacobs, AVP-Sales and Marketing, Cinnamon Resorts, in the Maldives, elaborated a four-phase process for driving tourists to the destinations back. The first phase includes assistance for rebooking and refund, changing the social media content and monitoring real-time as extenuating negative reviews. The second phase encourages customers to share photos and to grant a two-week stay voucher with the promotion of health standards and safety measures taken by the brand. The third phase includes allowing guests flexibility on booking terms and plans to stay anytime until October 2021. The fourth phase would start when the destinations open up, and people will be able to travel to the destinations.
During a crisis, communication plays a key role for businesses to run and individuals to survive. In the plight of COVID-19, social media is playing a pivotal role for both companies and individuals. For leveraging travel and tourism, marketing personnel need to amend their existing social media marketing tactics. They must give more emphasis on building customer trust by providing adequate, accurate and timely information, ensuring them for their safety and security, enhancing customer service and satisfaction by responding to their complaints more sincerely and genuinely and reshaping their offering in a more customised way.
In a nutshell, travel and tourism companies need to revive their business strategies in such a way that more emphasis should be given on being empathetic and responsible rather than merely profitable. Social media serves this purpose by reaching out to audiences and ensuring their safety and security while offering travel offerings, customising travel plans, building trust by furnishing accurate, adequate and timely information.
(This article is written by Professor Sheeba Hamid, Coordinator (Master of Tourism and Travel Management), Department of Commerce, Aligarh Muslim University and Mohd Azhar, UGC-Junior Research Fellow, Department of Commerce, Aligarh Muslim University. The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the authors.)