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Rekindling International Travel

Borders open, borders close, but destinations are eager to recapture the international travel cut off by COVID-19 in the past few months. While this year will not likely see a return to desired numbers, we need to think proactively about messaging to lay a foundation for 2021.

Resurgences of COVID-19 infections in places like Australia have put into question the so-called travel bubble with New Zealand, while the EU famously barred Americans and Brazilians earlier in the summer. There are no certainties with COVID-19. Still, people will begin thinking about traveling in early 2021, as we edge closer towards a vaccine, and destinations need to make sure they are prepared. Practical planning now can lead to great success in the future when less-prepared destinations are scrambling to figure out their next move.

What does a destination need to provide, to do, to accomplish before foreign travelers will confidently return? We have thoughts.

Safety and comfort

Vaccine or not, safety and cleanliness will continue to be imperative for destinations. Messaging that stresses safety measures taken by tourism attractions and hospitality businesses will help visitors know that you’re taking things seriously.

“But won’t a vaccine negate all of this?” you’re thinking. Well, yes and no. While an eventual vaccine will bolster consumer confidence, we cannot presume that a full and equitable roll-out will be in place, given the challenges faced by COVID-19 already. Instead, it’s safer to assume that people will be traveling before everyone is vaccinated, so safety is still essential to providing visitor comfort.

Travelers will want to know that things like temperature checks, social distancing, and even potential access to diagnostic testing will be readily available to them when in a new country. Also, with a case of bubonic plague discovered in Mongolia at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can never be too safe in warding off infectious diseases!

Clear quarantine and visitor rules

In line with being safe, it’s important to be clear about policies that will disrupt the international travel experience. Do they need a health certificate to enter your country? Are quarantines necessary? Will testing be mandatory and, if so, offered in the host country? How will all of these rules be enforced? What are the penalties? There are countless questions that will erupt as different cities, states, and countries reopen on their own terms.

Being clear on these messages also means communicating in multiple languages. Don’t rely on Google translate, which can flub meanings all too easily. Are you trying to attract Canadians? Have your policy page in French and English. Looking for Brazilian tourists? Get a Portuguese speaker to translate your rules. There will be new hurdles in place but it’s a destination’s job to help visitors jump them. If a foreign visitor can’t figure out if it’s safe to visit because a DMO resource page is only in English, then it’s not surprising if international travel doesn’t return quickly.

Certify and recognize businesses

When Portugal rolled out its “Clean and Safe” initiative to certify local businesses, it set something of a trend. Like an eco-friendly or a LGBTQ-friendly label, these certifications show that a destination is acknowledging the challenges and rising to them.

Communicating to foreign visitors (again, in multiple languages, see #2 above) will help show that your destination is a safer choice than those that haven’t invested in such projects. Your local government is likely already establishing some sort of recognition, so it could be a simple sideways step to apply it to your local tourism and hospitality businesses.

Be transparent with such certifications, as well. Visitors may want to know where the guidance is coming from, while travel journalists and advisors will also be interested to know how you established your regulations. Now is not the time to be stingy with information.

No more “stay at home”

There was so much successful stay at home messaging during the outbreak of the pandemic. It was clear what destinations prioritized: their own people and safety. That was important then, but as the numbers of cases recede and we need to turn that messaging around. It’s not as easy as saying, “We’re open again,” even if we think it may be. Yes, there is pent up demand for travel, but there’s also a lot of unemployment and decreased budgets that will force many to be much more selective about where they decide to travel.

Instead of simply telling people to come visit, your messaging needs to make better arguments because, let’s face it, every destination wants them to visit. What’s in it for the traveler? They can have a great getaway anywhere – so why your destination?

Supporting unique local businesses, engaging in sustainable tourism practices, pampering with a wellness retreat – it’s up to you. Destinations are going to have to innovate to be heard among the cacophony of, “Travel here now!”

Adapted to the new norm?

In the coming months as international travelers begin looking across borders, it can only help to stress any other particular advantages your destination has in this new norm. For example, if natural escapes are popular in your destination, stress their uniqueness under the guise of social distancing. Experiences where people feel like they can keep more than an arm’s length from other travelers will be of particular interest for a while.

Is your destination good for solo travelers? For families looking to reconnect in a new environment? Couples looking to get away for a romantic sailing excursion? Budget travelers to get a unique experience without breaking the bank? These sorts of inherently socially distanced experiences will help attract travelers who are looking to mitigate risk to travel internationally.

Remember when we could just travel? It’s been a while, but we’re getting back to it. If you’re eager to work through a plan to rekindle international travel in your destination, get in touch with Daniella Middleton at [email protected]. For 60 years, DCI has been helping destinations worldwide to attract out of town visitors, and the pandemic is just one challenge among many that we’ve overcome.

Written By

Daniella Middleton

Daniella Middleton is a Senior Vice President in the Tourism Practice, leading strategy and directing digital marketing strategies, influencer marketing partnerships, and MICE / business events marketing and sales.

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