News & Views

Cautious optimism in destination marketing: a view on summer travel

When France announced it would be openings its borders on June 9, it seemed like the travel industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as international visitors were checking ticket prices. One of the world’s largest destinations would be open for business again.

Well, sort of.

While summer travel in Paris may be possible for some, it’s a far cry from what we all hoped or expected. No one is scheduling a ticker tape parade anytime soon. Yes, some borders are open to vaccinated travelers, but while France and many other nations still lag behind countries like the U.S. in vaccination efforts, attractions and restaurants may be different than before.

While we celebrate many countries and cities getting back to normal – just look at the progress New York City has made in reopening! – we still want to maintain a cautiously optimistic tone in destination marketing as we speak about summer travel. We’re optimistic that things will be better this summer. We’re cautious in suggesting they’ll be better across the board. Many destinations are adopting a similar mentality.

Numbers Don’t Lie

First, it’s a matter of the global reality. Destination marketing professionals in North American and European nations need to look beyond their borders. Not everyone will have the vaccine this summer and the pandemic continues to rage in many places. Just in May, India, with one of the world’s largest populations, was setting record levels of COVID cases per day. While the U.S. may have brought down its levels, not every nation has followed suit.

As a result, the local and domestic travel we’ve talked about for so long are still mainstays, offering ample opportunities for destinations to focus on visitors from nearby states, regions, or countries. DMOs and marketers want to remember that just because some places are open, it doesn’t mean that travelers will all be flocking to head to them just yet.

As vaccine numbers increase and infections decrease, possibilities will open, but we’re just not going to be there this summer. Vaccinated travelers may feel invincible to go anywhere, but as destination marketers, we need to direct them towards the destinations where it seems most responsible. If researchers and organizations like the CDC tells us vaccinated travelers absolutely cannot transmit the virus, then that’s a different story. Until then, be mindful. We’re too close to beating this to risk it.

No, I’m not Scared. You’re Scared!

 Second, with or without vaccine, there’s still a lot of hesitancy to go anywhere. The unknown grips many of us who worry about spreading variants or other possible effects of travel. It’s not about our own safety, but about making things worse for others. While not all humans are quite so cautious, there are still plenty of families and non-vaccinated travelers who are happy to spend the summer more locally than in the before times.

For destination marketing professionals, that means continuing with the safety guidelines and messaging all summer long. Updated information on quarantines, vaccine expectations, testing, and all the important content we generated over the last year will still be vital to attracting visitors.

The pent-up demand has peaked, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that all North Americans are going to cram onto airplanes quite so quickly. One study from the Copenhagen Business School actually suggests people are in a state of post-traumatic stress that may hinder them from exploring as they would have before the pandemic. Sounds excessive, but the human mind works in mysterious ways.

For some, the idea of rejoining crowded pedestrian streets, theaters, restaurants, and museums is still just not appealing, or it feels wrong, and our destination marketing messaging needs to begin to chip away at that. It’s going to take time.

Moving Targets

 Thirdly, the summer is going to be a testing ground for many destinations, so it shouldn’t be indicative of what travel will look like in the fall. By the autumn, vaccine levels should be significantly higher and the return to “normal” will be more fully underway. Already, American universities are preparing to reinstate study abroad programs, for example, demonstrating how confidence in the autumn is rising. There is plenty of good news out there.

As we navigate through the summer, things will change, policy will evolve, and we’ll see how – if at all – vaccinated travelers affect the overall state of the pandemic. It’s the first time since the travel industry all but closed that the world will attempt to embrace international travel again. Perhaps vaccinated Americans in Paris will have no effect whatsoever on the COVID levels and we can all start booking our flights after our shots. Perhaps. Maybe. We’ll see.

Hence the cautious optimism. Things will get better, but to treat the summer as a free-for-all would be reckless and also a potential setback to all of the progress we’ve made.

Destination marketing pros must maintain this cautious optimism as well, to avoid a potential upset if infection rates skyrocket again. We can travel safely and responsibly this summer if we follow what scientists and experts say, but let’s not take our collective foot off the pedal just yet.

A trip to the beach this summer is in the cards. Some international travel, too. Going to Canada may even be a reality by the end of the summer for those in the U.S. But it’s not 2019, and it won’t be again for quite some time. If we all remember that, then perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised with the summer that many of us are about to experience, even if it means a few more tan lines around our faces thanks to our masks while visiting some beach we would have shunned last summer.

At this point, we’d take the weird tan over none at all.

Excited for the summer? There is potential to attract visitors – more than last year, for sure! Get in touch with DCI if you’re concerned about hitting the right messaging this summer. We’ve had our pulse on the pandemic from the start and are here to guide you. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about our destination marketing services.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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