It has been almost three months since travel restrictions were imposed worldwide due to the COVID-19 situation. During these months, the travel industry was heavily impacted, with many airlines and hospitality entities made to go into cost-cutting measures. However, there seem now to be a light at the end of the tunnel, with countries in Southeast Asia starting to ease up their social and travel restrictions.
In May, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said that the domestic tourism demand is expected to have a faster recovery compared to international demand in its World Tourism Barometer report. According to the responses of around 280 participants to its survey, 45% of the respondents point to the period of July to September 2020 for the rebound in domestic tourism demand and 25% expect this will be in October-December. Meanwhile, over 70% of respondents expect international demand to start its recovery only in Q4 2020 and mostly in 2021.
In Southeast Asia, the increase in demand for domestic travel is evident across different countries. According to digital travel marketing solutions provider Sojern, countries such as Malaysia, and Thailand are seeing huge increase in domestic travel demands.
Speaking to Marketing, Lina Ang, general manager, APAC at Sojern revealed that there is a gradual upward movement for domestic and inbound travel, after domestic travel taking a sharp dip due to the implementation of movement control acts across Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, hotel sector in Langkawi received 1,000 bookings from domestic tourists. Ang added this was over the weekend after the government’s announcement to allow the public to embark on domestic tourism activities throughout the duration of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) from 10 June.
Additionally, Tourism Malaysia conducted an online survey in April to assess Malaysians’ willingness and preferences when it comes to travelling post Movement Control Order (MCO). The survey found that many of the respondents said they prefer to travel domestically than internationally, and almost all respondents opted for hygiene and safety as the main priority in deciding to travel. The survey also found that 63.9% of the respondents intend to travel domestically with their families and relatives, and 32.1% of the respondents intend to travel domestically within one month after the MCO ends.
Indonesian travel marketing company Traveloka has also seen a gradual increase in the demand for staycation in the city since the end of March 2020, according to its internal data. This signals a positive progress for domestic tourism in Indonesian, according to its CMO, Dionisius Nathaniel. Serlina Wijaya, CMO of online travel agency Pegipegi, echoes that optimism in domestic travel, forseeing that travellers will first choose to travel in-cities and to nearby major cities typically for staycation purposes. These destinations would typically be reached using private vehicles through highways.
Meanwhile, In Singapore, Sojern found that most hotel searches were for check-in periods in June, and luxury hotels are also seeing a surge in searches among hotels. Ang said this could be due to Singaporeans being hungry to get out of their homes for a nice staycation. In Thailand, Sojern said it is seeing a big lift in domestic hotel searches, with an uptick in the months of June and July, and an “unusually high increase” in November. As of June, Phuket hotels have been allowed to reopen and dive and island tours were also given the green light to resume operations. Other areas in Thailand such as Pattaya and Koh Lanta are also seeing eased lockdown restrictions, and reopening of beaches.
Revving up communications
With domestic travel set to rise within the next few months, companies should look to increase communication with travellers to keep them informed and engaged for their travel planning. To push interest for domestic travel, Tourism Malaysia said it plans to organise public relations activities and social media promotions that will include the launching of domestic travel packages. It added that it will conduct town hall sessions by its Tourism Recovery Action Committee in order to make sure that the public is aware of its tourism’s direction and aspiration at the national and state levels. It will also ramp up communications by holding interviews for radio or television programmes. Additionally, Tourism Malaysia said it will intensify the promotion of domestic travel intiatives Cuti-Cuti Malaysia and Malaysia Truly Asia, and run campaigns together with key opinion leaders and social media influencers to promote domestic travel in Malaysia.
In a longer term, Tourism Malaysia plans to engage online collaboration with corporate companies to boost local tourism as well. This include launching of several e-travel platforms such as E-Consumer Travel/Trade Fair, E-Malaysia Tourism Travel Bazaar and E-Corporate Travel Bazaar that will be targeted for professionals in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry.
Travel marketing companies should also look to keep travellers informed about the changing circumstances in the travel industry as restrictions are gradually lifted. Paul Whiteway, senior director, APAC at Skyscanner, said it is speaking to thousands of travellers from around the world to understand their top concerns and attitudes about the future. It is also ensuring constant updated messaging on its home and search pages respectively, as well as posting articles on its site advising of restrictions and official sources of information.
Whiteway added that Skyscanner is working closely with all of its airline and hotel partners to ensure that it has the most up-to-date inventory on Skyscanner, along with details on flexible booking policies, so that travellers can make more well-informed decisions as they start to plan their future travels.
Meanwhile, Pegipegi has been ensuring it offers enough information in its product selection regarding hygiene aspects and potential other hygiene add-on that travellers might want to purchase for their use when they arrive at the travel destinations. Additionally, it also looks to communicate any additional information that people need regarding the hygiene and safety aspects during their travel and their stay, to give its travellers a piece of mind.
When it comes to communication during this period where travel restrictions are still in place, Sojern’s Ang advises travel companies to maintain the right tone when marketing. According to Ang:
Companies should highlight their featured offers in their ad copy and website, while making sure the message matches the tone of their current audiences’ circumstances.
It is also essential for companies to continue showcasing its business to keep future customers engaged. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are go-to platforms for entertainment during this period, Ang said. She also urged companies to use remarketing in order continuously engage its travellers when they are in the planning stage of their next vacation. This way, the company will stay at the top of travellers’ minds, and that would increase the likelihood of them coming back to the company to book their vacation when they are ready.
Another way that companies can remain top of mind of travellers is to improve their search engine optimisation strategy. According to Ang, using certain key phrases often and meaningfully throughout a company's website will allow its site to appear at the top of the search engine results page when travellers search for those terms. She also suggested using metasearch as a marketing channel to gain more direct booking share, to gain advantage over competiting travel planning websites. "During this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a good idea for businesses to continue to target these metasearch audiences that are actively searching for the best price, but are waiting to book their trips," she added.
Areas to highlight or play up in marketing collaterals
Currently travellers are yearning to quench their wanderlust, but they are doing so with caution. In Tourism Malaysia’s survey, it was found that almost all respondents said hygiene and safety as the main priority in deciding to travel.
Similarly, Traveloka also found that important considerations for its travellers include cleanliness and flexible booking condition when it comes to their accommodation. According to Nathaniel, there was increased demand in hotels that implement high hygiene protocols, and flexibility options such as free cancellation and reschedule or refund. As such, one of Traveloka’s initiatives launched in Singapore is to provide a CleanStay badge to hotels that obtain SGClean Quality Mark from the government. The CleanStay badge will reassure travellers that they are staying at the hotel that has a guaranteed cleanliness from the government.
Besides the concern of hygiene, Pegipegi’s Wijaya said customers will prefer shorter domestic trips as opposed to long haul ones.
Additionally, travellers will opt for outdoor scenic attractions and destinations, and will avoid crowded tourist spots.
As travellers gain more confidence they will start to travel slightly broader,Wijaya added. At a later phase, when the entire situation is more conducive for travel cross-countries - for example when the travel restrictions become less stringent, when airline and hospitality industries to resume a more normal operations with enough support from government, Wijaya foresees that travel to popular tourist domestic destinations and travel to international destinations will recover as well.
These trends are also reflected in Tripadvisor’s latest report which shows the road to recovery for the travel industry. According to Tripadvisor’s report, travellers in APAC are more likely to take a trips for three to five days, and 59% of the respondents said they would prefer to go somewhere off the beaten path versus a popular destination. Nature and beach destinations seem to be preferred by travellers, where they can combine relaxation with an environment conducive to social distancing.
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