We are more 100 days into the Covid-19 pandemic and the situation is still uncertain and fast-changing, but the one thing that is clear is that in uncertain times we still need to focus on long-term recovery planning, despite fast-changing short-term circumstances. Debbie Hindle, Four Communications chief executive travel, reveals the results of research that could help tourism businesses reshape their future.
“One of the problems we face in tourism marketing is that places are created and influenced by many factors including communities, culture, lifestyle, environment and commerce, by developers, tourism boards and government. Too often, travel strategies are created in isolation by just some of these organisations without collaboration or sector knowledge.
In the past four weeks we surveyed more than 50 place leaders including property developers, investors, tourism boards, cultural organisations, government authorities and NGOs from the USA, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. We undertook the research as part of an initiative to launch a new service called Place+, which brings together sector experts across travel, property, retailing, culture, wellness, social purpose and sports.
They majority of our respondents said that the biggest barrier to recovery was ensuring planning delivers better and to the long term rather than the short term. Other major concerns for placemakers include weak economies and consumer spending (54%) and being prepared for a second wave of Covid-19 (52%). Four in ten place leaders are also concerned about balancing safety and the need to protect livelihoods and a third said lack of funds and investment would be a barrier to growth.
These complex barriers mean the vast majority of leaders we spoke to are rethinking prior assumptions and looking to new models for the future. Seven out of 10 are already considering innovating as a result of Covid-19 and a further 16% said maybe. Just 6% didn’t know and 4% weren’t planning to innovate.
Two thirds said they were actively looking at the innovations in sectors outside their own which had given them ideas for the future including virtual trade shows, virtual property show rounds, virtual trips and digital art commissions.
Physical innovations being considered included new ways to use outdoor spaces, to plan the flow of people, tracking crowds and demand management, creating new authentic experiences.
To help with recovery planning we also undertook analysis of research of more than one thousand consumers in 11 countries including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Spain, UK and the USA. It was carried out by Global Web Index at the end of May.
This analysis has identified three consumer trends that will be important for placemaking strategies for the future:
1. Shared concern for the future It’s absolutely striking that two thirds of consumers in 11 countries say that reducing their carbon footprint and impact on the environment has become more important since Covid-19.
More than half said they want brands to act in more sustainable ways since the pandemic. Other surveys back up this heightened awareness and concern for our future. In the UK two thirds of people say lockdown has increased their awareness of green spaces for wellbeing. Across Europe the desire for greener cities has come to the fore with one YouGov survey finding that three quarters of Europeans want more public spaces allocated to walking, cycling and public transport. In the Middle East and Africa research carried out at a virtual conference by WWF found three quarters wanted to reduce food waste, improve consumption habits and invest in local food production. So, we as placemakers need to be driving the agenda for a sustainable future even harder in our recovery planning.
2. Consumer caution Global consumers are emerging into a new normal world with caution, wanting facilities and services to be available but expecting to use them less frequently. For example, our analysis has shown that while two-thirds of global consumers said it was important to them that sports leagues and competitions resume, only around a quarter expect to go back to large venues such as sports arenas, cinemas or music festivals quickly. The most reticent cautious consumers surveyed were from some of the first-affected countries such as China, Italy and Spain with only a fifth of people from these nations expecting to return to large venues quickly. There appears to be more optimism in the MENA region. Recent research by McKinsey reports that 60% of UAE residents expect to resume visiting concerts, movies and other events at the same level, or more post-pandemic.
There is also more consumer optimism about shopping worldwide. Half of consumers in the 11 countries said they expect to shop again quickly. The most positive nations were Australia (68%) Germany (63%) India (61%) and UK (60%). A quarter of all Germans said they expect to shop again immediately. In MENA 64% expect to visit a physical mall at the same level, or more than pre-crisis, once the situation has subsided.
So we as placemakers are re-opening but also understanding the need to manage a new normal with smaller audiences for some time to come.
3. Anticipating expenditure Each place needs to understand what, when and which people are intending to start spending again. Our analysis of GWI research shows that travel is the delayed major expenditure that all nationalities expect to spend on first (25%) followed by clothes (17%) and flights (10%). Major items like cars, home appliances, home furnishings and personal electronic devices will be the first thing bought by 7% of global consumers.
While domestic and local travel will be a priority for the majority of consumers, some markets are already showing signs of interest in long-haul travel. The nations most likely to travel further include Germany (18% say they are considering a long-haul journey), USA (16%), Canada, Australia and Ireland (15%) and UK (13%). The nations least likely to consider long-haul travel are China (5%), Italy (6%) and France (9%).
Our proprietary Mapper360 placemaker and persona service evaluates genuine digital conversations and posts to understand who is expressing such interest worldwide. For example we’ve identified a younger pre-family female audience looking to enjoy girls trips to reconnect and explore with close friends. So we as placemakers need to understand our consumer audiences and understand who will do what and deliver value to our places.
Despite all the immediate uncertainty, the destinations and organisations that take the long-term view now, who innovate, collaborate and work hard to understand their customers and build a long-term strategic and sustainable vision for the future, will be the ones who survive and thrive.”