At the moment, it feels like the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak could potentially decimate the global travel industry, and every day seems to bring bad news.
The International Air Transport Association is projecting that airlines could lose $113 billion due to the crisis in 2020. Ryanair has reduced international flights to certain destinations by 25%, while American Airlines has reduced its summer schedule by 10%. Hotel chains are reporting dramatic rises in cancellations, while major events are being called off daily, further denting visitor numbers in global destinations.
All of this is alarming, but panic or despair can’t be the most productive response. The question is, how can travel businesses weather this developing storm?
This is an area where content comes into its own, protecting brand reputations, maintaining links with customers, and positioning companies to emerge from the crisis at full speed. So let’s explore how that might work, and how content can help.
1. Show empathy with customers, and offer constructive support
First off, this isn’t a time for bombastic marketing or the use of too much humour in travel content. In fact, this isn’t really a time to be foregrounding sales campaigns at all. It’s a moment to play defence to and concentrate on retaining your position without alienating valued customers. It’s time to show that your brand is serious and concerned.
Companies that survive COVID-19 will be able to support customers with their (reasonable) concerns and show that they genuinely care. Proactive airlines have already sent out advisory messages to all passengers, informing them about steps taken to prevent COVID transmission, while savvy brands have been quick to show support for government containment efforts and to make donations to relevant charities.
2. Tailor communication strategies to local audiences
Localisation has suddenly become an even more important part of travel brand management. The virus is being experienced in multiple ways, depending on where people happen to be. For instance, Italy suffered the worst initial outbreak in Europe, while Spain registered relatively few cases.
What works in one country might seem alarmist or complacent somewhere else. So it’s a good idea to stay up to date about the situation in every region and tailor local content accordingly. Given the sensitivity of the issue, it would seem prudent to scale back content in heavily affected countries, taking extra care to avoid controversy.
During the COVID-19 crisis, using marketing channels effectively is going to be essential, both for defensive brand management and to position companies to emerge with conversions and future revenues intact.
Because of the vital need to provide accurate, useful information, some relatively static channels will be needed. For instance, company websites can include briefings about personal safety, international virus maps, WHO guidance, and whatever else is of use to customers.
A good idea might be to link this to magazine or blog articles, which explore how the crisis is being dealt with, and how your company is responding – putting a human face on your branding is absolutely key.
But more ephemeral channels are also important in this context. Events move fast during epidemics, and companies need to be more responsive than ever. Social media offers the ideal method to relay information about events as they happen, showing that you are on top of the crisis at all times.
4. Think about how to create quarantine-friendly content
Coronavirus is a human tragedy and an economic disaster, but it won’t last forever. And in the meantime, business must continue. That’s why travel companies should definitely think about ways to serve customers who are self-isolating to prevent transmission.
At the peak of the outbreak, millions of potential customers could be confined to their homes, dependent upon their computers, TVs, or smartphones for entertainment and communication.
Many will be thinking about post-crisis vacations, and there’s nothing wrong with delivering feature articles about summer or autumn travel, videos on luxury resorts, or destination descriptions to whet the appetites of travellers. People in isolation need a diversion, and entertaining content will definitely be well received.
This is another great reason to mobilise multiple channels. Social media will be busier during the COVID outbreak, and full of bored users who dream about escape. Without being crude or too aggressive, travel companies can reach out with sensitive articles or tweets, and possibly offset some of the losses from Coronavirus.
5. Accuracy is all-important
Finally, now is not the time to publish sloppy work that’s full of errors or – worse – fake news relating to COVID cures, dangers, or containment. You can guarantee that some travel firms will mislead customers during the outbreak, or lose huge chunks of their audience through poor information. Don’t be like them.
Instead, be transparent about the policies you have in place to deal with COVID-19, and how you are following official guidance. Highlight the concrete measures you have taken to prevent infection, such as hotel closures or flight route suspensions. And, if necessary, inform customers about what steps they can take to remain safe when using your services.
With the right skills, this can be done in an engaging, even entertaining way. But it’s a sensitive area, where poor communication can be hugely damaging. So, take care.
6. If you are uncertain, ask for support
At greatcontent, we’re feeling the COVID crisis just like our clients and the travel sector as a whole. But it’s also worth remembering that what seems like doomsday will eventually end, and result in a new dawn – and that may not be too far in the future.
We can’t tell for certain how the crisis will play out, but we do know that sensitive, information-rich content strategies can help. And it’s likely that intelligent use of content can help to maintain a connection with customers even while they self-isolate.
If you have any uncertainty about how to make it through the crisis, greatcontent’s team is here to help. Feel free to get in touch for advice about travel content strategies. It’s a challenging time for all of us, and one when working together to find solutions could make all the difference.
Text: Sam Urquhart