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Miguel A. Gonçalves photo

Miguel Afonso Gonçalves
Copywriter e Travel Blogger

Covid-19 arrived, and the world stopped. Catastrophic scenarios have flooded our ideas, expectations and lives. The less negative side has never really been explored. Is there really no hope for tourism? How can tourist brands adapt to the new reality?

Miguel A. Gonçalves photo

Miguel Afonso Gonçalves
Copywriter e Travel Blogger

Covid-19 arrived, and the world stopped. Catastrophic scenarios have flooded our ideas, expectations and lives. The less negative side has never really been explored. Is there really no hope for tourism? How can tourist brands adapt to the new reality?

The sharp drop in global tourist demand, around 70%-80%, returning to levels not seen in 30 years

Throughout the year 2020, tourism has been the target of thousands of news articles and commentaries, in newspapers, televisions and social networks. One of the economic sectors that has contributed the most to the post-crisis economic and financial recovery is currently experiencing one of the most troubled periods in its history.

The sharp drop in global tourist demand, around 70%-80%, returning to levels not seen in 30 years, sets a very reserved prognosis for the short- and long-term future of the sector (OCDE and OMT data).

One must remember that among the entities affected by the pandemic, in addition to the people who directly or indirectly live from the sector, there are the brands that work in this market and its recovery will depend on their vitality. Therefore, we are going to talk about them and try to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic can be the ideal opportunity, to rethink the brands, their offers and the communication of the tourism sector.

A new demand

The level of restrictions, the weak response to virus containment or the time-consuming recovery of the aviation industry are some factors pointed out by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) as crucial for the recovery of the sector

To date, Portugal has shown to have the capacity to reinvent itself time after time to remain as a top of mind tourist brand in the international tourism landscape. Part of this strategy was based on a follow-up of consumer demand motivations and the subsequent constant redefinition of products capable of responding to demand, as evidenced by the multiple awards and distinctions on the most acclaimed stages of the industry – see the case of the World Travel Awards, which even in the 2020 edition awarded Madeira as “the best island destination in the world”, Lisbon as “the best city-break destination in the world” and the Algarve as “the best bathing destination in the world”.

However, the unexpected and new global context has redefined the motivations that lead to the search for a destination. The level of restrictions, the weak response to virus containment or the time-consuming recovery of the aviation industry are some factors pointed out by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) as crucial for the recovery of the sector, but the main influencers of the area – whether respected institutions, specialized magazines or bloggers – list many other examples that will generate new trends in tourism demand in the near future. What are these trends and why should tourist brands be aware of them?

Domestic or proximity tourism

Health security and ease of returning home will become crucial criteria in the consumer decision-making process.

In the last decade we have witnessed the true power of social networks and escalating media driven by these tools. So-called influencers have an increasingly evident preponderance in consumer buying behaviors – from microinfluencers to macroinfluencers.

In Portugal, there was the #EuFicoEmPortugal (IStayAtHome) campaign, led by the Association of Portuguese Travel Bloggers (ABVP), in partnership with tourist agents, municipalities and with an echo in the media, whose primary objective was to appeal to the continuity of tourism activity, although with a clear focus on domestic tourism, or internal tourism.

In the months, if not years that follow, the geographical factor will become more relevant than it used to be. Why? As we have already mentioned, in view of different and unpredictable restrictions, health security and ease of returning home will become crucial criteria in the consumer decision-making process.

So, to what extent, is domestic tourism already being a driver of the tourist recovery? The image, presented below, illustrates well the reality that can already be identified.

dados do turismo doméstico

The overall response has been unequivocal. The vast majority of people believe that domestic tourism is already being, at least partially, the main driver of regeneration of the tourism industry.

A launch pad for new products

The end of mass tourism, as we know it, is a prediction by the World Tourism Organization itself as a consequence of the pandemic

If we have already seen that domestic or proximity tourism is an indispensable driver for the sector’s recovery, how can tourist brands adapt products to the main needs of consumers?

In recent years, the main tourism products tended to create mass tourism movements, partly assisted by instant and media exposure on social networks. Therefore, it is certain that city and cosmopolitan destinations such as the major European cities and capitals will continue to be successful, as a result of the recently developed work.

However, the current rules of social distancing have opened space for brands with rural tourism products, nature and off the usual circuits to have a platform to launch themselves into the industry. Moreover, the end of mass tourism, as we know it, is a prediction by the World Tourism Organization itself as a consequence of the pandemic.

This market crash allows us to buy time to build truly differentiating brands – something often pointed out as not well known in the strategic orientation of many tourist brands before the current situation.

How long do the brands have to reinvent themselves?

cenário do turismo em 2021-2024

Regardless of the time it will take for tourism to recover, the estimate presented above by the World Tourism Organization foresees a period of at least two and a half to four years that brands will have at their disposal to adjust, renew, create consistent tourism products and efficient communication strategies, so that they can give a careful and prepared response to the new requests of consumer demand.

After all, as bloom consulting’s 2019 City Brand Ranking study exposes, “increasingly the brand of a country, region or city, is an asset with tangible or intangible value that requires strategic management (…)”.

In fact, there are conditions to rethink brands and their communication and marketing strategies. On the one hand, for many brands, the range of potential consumers will spread to other segments. On the other hand, other tourist brands will have to remodel the tourism products they offer to respond to the new needs and desires of consumers.

The possibility of the tourist chessboard changing significantly in the coming years is real and as always, it will be the brands that best adapt to the new circumstances, which will be one step closer to success.

*The author of this article uses the old spelling agreement.