Written by: Rafael Gabrilian, Client Service Director, Action Russia
Despite the turbulent year for all of us, the travel industry has been hit undeniably hard. But what I love most about working within this industry is its unbelievable resilience. The travel industry is no stranger to crisis, but what makes this one unique is that there is no economic model or playbook to tell us when we can all continue our lives as globe trotters. Despite this, I am not alone when I say that I LOVE to travel, and I will travel far and wide again. This is something the travel industry has not lost sight of; travellers will be back in force. Travelling will probably look different, at least for some time, but the moment will come for a rebound and what travel brands did during harsh lockdowns and are doing now will determine their position at the starting line.
Within the Action Russia Hub, we are lucky enough to work with some of the largest and most innovative brands in the travel world. Together, we have been adapting our marcomms strategies and thinking how we can find solutions for the short-term while still maintaining our focus on the long term. Here are some ways we have been pivoting and preparing for what is NEXT, which in many ways is still unknown.
5 key take-aways
1. stay front of mind
It will be clear which travel brands remained silent during and shortly after lockdowns, and which continued to invest and find creative ways to engage their audiences. Having a relationship based on silence and minimal contact will make it much harder to reignite that relationship once the time comes to kick-start business to full throttle again. It is imperative that brands are human and authentic during “stay home” or “stay in your country” phases, as this will be remembered by future travellers.
At Action Russia, we have been supporting our travel destination clients with campaigns centred around the idea of “stay home, travel later” with feel-good videos and inspirational slogans. For instance, one of our clients, The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, received great engagement levels by sharing videos of bachata and merengue dances, tropical cocktail recipes, and even some home-based golfing classes on their global social media accounts. Action Russia then adapted these videos and images for Russian-speaking audiences and also shared them on the local channels during the lockdown, engaging with a wide audience of over 250K followers and reaching even more with promoted posts.
Another idea that we have implemented with The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism during lockdown, was a 2D game experience launched and promoted in partnership with a top lifestyle media group in Russia. The idea for this ‘edutainment’ project was to give our audience a chance to play the Super Mario-style game while learning about the gems of different travel regions in the Dominican Republic. The game was supported by two Russian influencers – a boy and a girl – who became the characters of the game and explored the Dominican Republic together with users.
2. acknowledge & embrace
With many of our clients, we have been creative in our approach of owning the reality of what is happening, while not letting it be a complete roadblock. Everyone acknowledges that we can’t take physical trips right now, but how can we flip that, so the traveller stays engaged? How can we still give people ‘an experience’?
An event planned for The Signapore Tourism Board, is a recent success story, as we hosted the first-ever Singapore Virtual Food Festival. Followers could almost taste the mouth-watering ingredients and recipes showcased virtually to Russian audiences nationwide via an integrated social media campaign. Telegram channels, influencer’s Instagram accounts and the Singapore Tourism Facebook page provided a tasty experience featuring secret ingredients in certain signature dishes, as well as cocktail mixing and live cooking streams and stories. The campaign also included the chance for viewers/ followers to win some exclusively themed hampers.
Russia was no exception in terms of the huge growth in traffic and interest in virtual self-improvement courses during lockdown, so we decided to capitalise on this. This is exemplified by recent work for our client, The Malta Tourism Board, as we showcased their product EFL (English as a Foreign Language) by developing a partnership with Russia’s leading online language learning service SkyEng. The idea was to capture the niche audience of people interested in learning English and inspire them to travel to Malta and have to gain a real-world experience of studying and practicing English. By promoting a dedicated landing page among the audience of SkyEng, we managed to raise the awareness of Malta’s EFL product and encourage future travellers to start planning their trips to the Maltese Islands. The co-promo campaign made it possible for one lucky participant to win a trip to Malta once the borders between the countries open again.
3. provide insights
As an agency, we decided to be proactive in sharing insights relative to Russia and CIS regarding COVID-19. We continue to do so via a micro-site. We provide weekly and bi-monthly updates on the situation in Russia and main CIS markets and in turn inform our travel brands about the Russian traveller. Our main goal is to provide easy to access information for our clients all in one place that is updated regularly, so as to keep our clients’ fingers on the pulse of the situation as they stay abreast on the real-time happenings impacting one of their most prominent audiences: The Russian Traveller.
4. look deeper at your competitive landscape
With your team, consider what your competitive landscape may look like in 2021-2022. It will
certainly be different to what you drafted in 2019. The long-term impact of COVID-19 is inevitable. Track and map shifts and changes within the landscape. Who will merge? Who will fold? Who is evolving and how? Where are the gaps? What new products does your brand need to compete? What signals are there that the travel business is picking up in certain markets and why? Consider dynamic segmentation of your messages as different customers/markets will evolve at different stages.
This way of thinking is especially relevant for destinations that don’t do mass tourism, but rather, concentrate on a certain niche and segment, like that the Monaco Government Tourist and Convention Authority, which Action Russia is representing for over 1 O years across the region. We knew from the start that our messaging should be targeted and precise. In 2019, Monaco launched a global ‘For You’ campaign with one core message, that every experience in Monaco is tailor-made and personalised. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the campaign’s messaging shifted to ‘Miss You’ with images and videos transporting travellers in lockdown to a desired perfect place, like riding a bike with your kid in Jardin Exotique or driinking a glass of champagne at the terrace of the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo. Also, virtual culinary master-classes from renowned chefs of the Principality and morning yoga sessions against the backdrop of landmark locations were shared in Monaco’s social media channels. These activities have been keeping travellers connected to Monaco.
Since harsh lockdowns have been lifted in Monaco, the campaign has gradually shifted to the ‘For More’ messaging, to highlight the safety and diversity of the destination with many
pre-planned routes and vacation options. In Russia, the campaign is going to be widely shared across different digital and offline media, on huge video screens in Moscow to adverts in glossy titles and advertising in premium business centers, with the aim of making the target audience feel the Monaco vibe again and travel safely once the flights resume.
5. wellness & health as a necessity and not a nicety
Considering how your brand can help safeguard the future traveller is also something to contemplate. All travellers will expect extremely high standards when it comes to their health and wellbeing. Before COVID-19, we saw an uptake in keyless hotel entry, digital check-in, mobile usage for passes to events and boarding passes etc. Now, there is a surge in no-touch technologies and mobile-first. What has your brand been doing and how often and well are you communicating this to your target audience? Maybe your brand’s solutions are not centred on technology but are more human-centric (e.g. different cancellation policies, easier customer service access, free PCR tests etc). Whatever it is, implementing certain tactics is great, but how are you building a genuine story around your brand’s COVID response? And how are they making a difference?
For Dubai Tourism, which Action Russia represents across the CIS region, the matter of safety and COVID response protocols was of utmost importance, as the destination was one of the first in the world to open to Russian and CIS travellers. Once the news about the open borders was out, and with the b2b sector being our client’s core target audience, we accelerated the flow of information to ensure that travel agents, tour operators, meeting planners and corporate clients were fully aware and up-to-date with all health and safety protocols. Aside from regular newsletters that were distributed throughout lockdown, we found other ways to share the messaging within Dubai Tourism’s Safety and Health toolkit. We facilitated webinars with key partners and stakeholders, and we hosted online expert round-tables and meetings, with the main goal of having every travel agent in the region updated and armed with all the necessary information about the safety and health guarantees for any Russian tourist travelling to Dubai.
Currently, the only constant for us all is change, that is not an easy mindset to adopt. But with each marcomms activity that we have been implementing for our clients at the Action Russia Hub we have seen a positive reaction, which in time, will lead to a positive return. It has also reignited our personal optimism as future travellers. I would encourage all travel brands to step back from the cycle of catastrophic thinking, and calmly forge an agile path forward. There are ways to confront the uncertainty through and beyond this crisis.
If you would like learn more about how to connect with the Russian traveller contact Rafael at [email protected].