How domestic tourism can score high with the right messaging
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How domestic tourism can score high with the right messaging

How domestic tourism can score high with the right messaging

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic tourism has never had a greater opportunity to grow

Life is returning to normal in the UAE. A new type of normal.

Reduced international tourism and falling travel confidence around the world over the last 12 months has inadvertently opened a new door for the travel and tourism sector. But many in the industry have still not adapted.

The unpredictable nature of international travel restrictions has meant that the local travel industry needs to re-think how it communicates with a largely untapped domestic customer base. Hotels, destination spots and the F&B community at large, needs to revise how they present themselves because the sands are shifting.

Domestic tourism has never had a greater opportunity to grow. As restrictions ease, the focus on in-country tourism is at its greatest.

Last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched a new domestic strategy and promotional campaign to encourage the staycation sector. With more than Dhs80m set aside to promote that campaign, 2020 saw some significant success in the UAE. The industry’s growing focus on the domestic traveller market is, in no small part, driven by simple financials. By offering appealing tourism solutions to in-country residents, companies create the potential to convert unspent outbound traveller budgets from 2020 into vital local tourism revenues for 2021.

Global destinations of every kind need to showcase local experiences. By conveying a sense of heartfelt welcome, future visitors can become part of the story. It is essential that prospects are made to feel a connection to a place rather than simply looking forward to seeing it. The important message for all travel businesses here is: Stay human and stay authentic.

As residents of low-Covid areas are being actively encouraged to escape and enjoy the natural and cultural wonders on their doorstep, the industry must create, curate and communicate the benefits of travel if they are to attract and secure bookings from still-cautious audiences.

By guaranteeing that your customer’s health and financial concerns are addressed in the first place, and that a series of single click interaction opportunities satisfy user-curiosities as they travel through the sales journey, promotional outcomes can be optimised and costs per acquisition dramatically reduced.

To convert a cautious prospect to a confident visitor requires an end-to end, cross-platform approach to the customer communications journey.

Well-balanced destination marketing campaigns must integrate clear and up-to-date messaging regarding Covid-19 safety protocols, while simultaneously presenting a suite of market relevant travel products, each designed to offer exciting local escapes to travel-starved visitors.

The return to a pre-2019 travel and tourism environment is not necessarily what the market requires. Customers now expect more. Globally, hundreds of millions of annual holiday days have been postponed. Innumerable trips, tours and excursions cancelled. Planned flights to see loved ones in equally loved places have been missed due to quarantine restrictions. Cruise liners have been left empty as international custom borders close and customer demand sails to a full stop.

That the global general public is mentally and physically jaded is a massive understatement. But it is also an opportunity. The statistics tell us that experiential domestic or international travel can offer an inspiring and connected way back into the wider world. The focus on local identity is a strategy that enables destination brands to stand out at home – but once the major international origin markets open up, local offerings will fit travellers from these territories too. Travel experiences that connect guests to neighbourhoods will drive bookings, no matter where they come from. With travellers seeking enriching personal experiences, if travel companies want to succeed, they must deliver on these criteria.

Local visitors, if encouraged to explore their own countries of residence, have the potential to bolster what has been a damaging loss of earnings in key tourism markets globally this year. This is not the end of the story, however, If travel firms get domestic tourism right, it will serve as the launchpad for broader regional and international campaigns.

As Stewart Smith of Sojern.com told me at a recent briefing: “When we compare which origin markets are driving travel intent into the UAE, we are beginning to see more international markets taking the share of search events.”

“Domestic travel within the UAE continues to lead the way, accounting for 68 per cent of total hotel searches, [but] we’ve observed a notable shift with the United Kingdom now accounting for 2.87 per cent of total hotel searches.”

Domestic and international travel is still fluid. The recent suspension of the India-UAE corridor presents a real threat to the sector. But for those representing the tourism in the region, the opportunity, while delicate, is immediate.

Forbes Magazine recently suggested that there were less than ten low-Covid tourism destinations available for consideration, but from a booking perspective, the travelling public remains suspicious of every travel destination. Those that are safe today may be risky in the future, so the logic goes. This means that domestic campaigns that emphasise safety will be central to how the industry operates and the UAE delivers its robust message – and this will suit the international travelling public as routes re-open..

Israel’s addition to the top ten origin markets looking to visit the UAE in 2021 is a case in point. It clearly demonstrates how political will, cultural curiosity, superb in-destination experiences and Covid-safety messaging can activate new and exciting markets. On November 26 last year, flydubai began its historic first flights to Israel, with twice daily services between Dubai International and Ben Gurion airports.

Every travel brand must pursue this same ‘safety first’ communication strategy if they are to build visitor confidence over the coming months. Travel brands need to own and drive the right communications to their customers to raise this confidence that it is ‘safe to travel’ to their destination.

Combined, and these trends mean that tens of thousands of Middle Eastern tourists are beginning to enjoy stays in Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah – generating much-needed revenue for a travel and hospitality trade that has managed to endure a truly challenging year. But as good as the numbers are, there is still much more to be done in the domestic marketing space if local hoteliers are to secure the bookings needed to fill even a modest percentage of the emirates’ total available hotel rooms.

Tom Berne is the managing director for Crowd UAE 

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