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Summit 2020 series: rebuilding the travel industry, when travel is not an option

Next in our Summit 2020 blog series – which focuses on the theme of innovating through a crisis – we’re looking at how the travel industry has responded to the pandemic. 

While every industry has been affected by COVID-19, it’s fair to say that travel has been one of the hardest hit. As country after country began to close its borders, earlier this year, and photos of empty airports became a regular feature across the media, non-essential travel – tourism – was very suddenly switched off.

Cassandra Theocharous

Written by

Cassandra Theocharous
Marketing Manager
29 September 2020

For many in the sector, initial hopes of being back in business within a few months soon faded and it became clear that tourism, as we know it, would be very different in future – and that the travel customer experience would have to radically change to make it possible at all.

Tourism Tasmania’s story

At this year’s virtual Squiz Summit, Tourism Tasmania’s Head of Channels, Nikki Brew, explained the full impact that COVID has had on the state. “Tassie is a truly unique place. It’s a state with 20% world heritage protected wilderness, the largest and weirdest private museum (MONA), and it’s a producer of all types of world bests – whiskey, honey, leatherwood, oysters and beef. As a result, tourism is our lifeblood – it accounts for 10.4% ($3 billion) of our gross state product and 15% of our total employment”.

That was last year – pre-COVID. Brew quickly contrasted these stats with the current situation: “The numbers for international travel are grim. Last year, 1.4 billion people travelled for leisure – since March, arrivals have fallen off a cliff and stayed there”.

“Short-term stunts won’t cut it”

Despite Tasmania, like many tourism-dependent regions, being shaken to the core by COVID-19, it’s also given Tourism Tasmania a chance to completely re-think what future travel experiences could look like. Brew shared some inspiring examples from across the globe of socially distanced travel experiences that have tackled the problem in uniquely creative ways; from a Lithuanian airport that converted its runway into a drive-in movie theatre, to the Swedish hotels that have turned their rooms into private dining spaces, or the Faroe Islands, where users can virtually control a real, camera-wearing tour guide, instructing him where to go in real-time.

“Ideas like these are key to getting cut-through in a cluttered, post-COVID marketplace” Brew explains, “But we also need to go deeper and think about how we can rebuild the industry in the long-term – short-term stunts won’t cut it”.

Brew’s point is clear – while fun ideas make for great, shareable stories, they don’t solve the question of how to get local tourism – and the economy – up and running again. Instead, the organisation needed to come up with an entirely new approach; to create experiences that were both COVID-safe for travellers and viable for local businesses.

Identifying the problem – the design thinking approach

In order to identify the heart of the problem, Brew and her team adopted a design thinking approach. “Design-thinking is inherently user-focused”, Brew explains. “It fosters creativity and lends itself to challenging assumptions. It blends creativity, intuition, analytics and science, and puts people first”. Brew then launched into a full breakdown of the five stages of design thinking and how these were applied to help formulate a strategy for re-building the customer (in this case, both travellers and the local community) experience.

The first step in the process – empathy – is critical, as it’s the point at which the human problem is identified; it is this that will become your guiding light for creating a true solution, Brew points out. The empathy stage is also the best point at which to engage with your customers directly, so Brew and her team took the opportunity to approach both travellers and the local community to understand their key concerns. “A common thread was how we could get travellers back to the island”, reveals Brew. “Having a moat can be both a blessing and a curse, and logistical questions around reopening travel connections came through loud and clear – but we soon realised that these were a symptom of the bigger underlying concern of safety. The real problem was: How do we rebuild our industry with travellers who are improving the wellbeing and vibrancy of our communities, not just making an economic impact?”.

Creating a solution – Travel Well

Brew posed a question to viewers: “Think about your favourite travel experience. What was it that made it so special?” The answer, more often than not, involves people. “A good travel experience depends on a lot of factors, but one of the most important is social engagement – interactions with locals and forging connections with people”, revealed Brew. Through the design-thinking approach, the organization created a solution called ‘Travel Well’ – a mutually beneficial, sustainable and safe approach to tourism – and began mapping out the priorities needed to create a Travel Well culture that could revitalise Tasmania’s tourism trade.

Comprised of four key areas, Travel Well became Tourism Tasmania’s answer to safe and viable post-COVID tourism:

- Safety - Easy, real-time access to critical information has become more important than ever in minimising anxiety and worry for travellers; in fact it, can become a deciding factor in the trip, more so than price or brand preference, Brew reveals. With this in mind, providing travellers with fast and accessible travel information was identified as a top priority.

- Environment – Known for its natural beauty, Brew revealed that flight shaming was an issue for travellers, pre-pandemic. “To tackle this, we’re looking at initiatives such as a digital tool that calculates a traveller’s carbon footprint and suggests socially responsible measures to offset this during their trip e.g. helping with a community garden during their stay”.

- Culture – With social distancing directly impacting the extent to which tourists can interact with locals, Brew revealed that her team were considering more creative digital approaches to bridge the gap – such as ways in which to ‘gamify uniquely Tasmanian experiences’ or encourage behaviours that enhance local culture, rather than interrupt it.

- Community – Supporting the local community is equally important as helping to bring tourists back to the island and, on this basis, a key concern for the team was how to encourage tourists to ‘buy local’ during their stay. Ideas such as on-ground app prompts, to influence purchasing decisions, or gamifying and reward purchasing habits could help to revive trade in a contactless way.

As it becomes increasingly clear that COVID restrictions will be in place beyond 2020, sitting tight and hoping for a return to past travel conditions is not an option. “We know that our future traveller is going to be different, have different needs and pain points”, Brew concludes. “As we try to rebuild our industry, our key to surviving will be to adapt and learn in an agile manner – we need to be able to provide choice, give assurance and forge meaningful relationships with our travellers. Our visitors won’t just travel to Tassie – they’ll contribute to Tassie”.

To see more from Squiz Summit 2020, visit Alternatively, for more information about how Tourism Tasmania and Squiz are transforming the customer experience, check out our full Discover Tasmania case study.

Cassandra Theocharous

Written by

Cassandra Theocharous
Marketing Manager
29 September 2020

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