By Hjörtur Smárason, CEO of Visit Greenland
It’s coming to an end! Hopefully. The crisis that has put almost all destinations on hold. The big question is, what will be waiting for us on the other side? Because we will not be back to the world exactly the way it was. Every crisis calls for changes. Changes in the circumstances, changes in the behaviour and hence, changes in what opportunities lie ahead. What you need right now is a weather report for the upcoming tourist season.
What are people thinking? How have their values changed? This is the time for surveys to check the pulse of your clients, both previous clients as well as potential clients. You need to understand what worries them, what comforts them, what drives them. Remember though that people can also forget very fast so any trends that are current will have to be reevaluated in a few months time. Worries come and go. Some dreams are forever though.
Based on the data you have collected you need to build different scenarios for the future. The challenge with data however, is that it only looks backwards and previous trends might no longer apply for future predictions when everything is up in the air. You need insight, creativity and out of the box thinking to put this data into future context. Scenario planning is a very powerful tool to prepare for the unknown. You work with some of the most important variables, look at how it can play out differently and how markets and players are likely to react and impact the development of each trajectory.
Your job is to be prepared for each scenario so you are ready when one of them becomes a reality. You pack three suitcases so that once you know if you are going on a skiing holiday, beach holiday or a jungle trek you know exactly which suitcase to grab and are ready to roll. They are all prepared appropriately for each potential scenario with only minor tweaks needed, meaning you will have a clear first mover advantage.
Companies have closed down, downsized or changed strategies. Airlines have sold planes, cancelled routes and lost slots. It may sound devastating but you have to approach it like the lady in the GPS navigator when you miss your turn. Recalculating… People are looking for new destinations, new products, new solutions.
Agents are reshuffling their portfolio. Airlines are willing to be creative in finding new routes. This might be your big opportunity to build new sales channels, find openings into new markets and get new products on the table. Have all your feelers out and see what new opportunities become available.
Certainty in times of uncertainty
There will still be a lot of uncertainty as we open up. Will there be delays in the vaccination plans? Will there be a Covid passport that is accepted? Will there be new variations of the virus that force us to shut down again? Will the airlines or operators survive? Crucial to the success of the reopening is to remove as much risk as possible for the client. Change your cancellation policies so that there is no risk in booking right now.
It is much harder to back down from a booked trip then an unbooked one, even though there is no loss of money involved. Provide examples of security, such as state of the art health services, efforts to maintain distance, new rules around hygiene and other initiatives that your company or destination is taking, to make sure that the traveller will have a safe and pleasant experience.
Communications, communications, communications
You can not assume people know, or understand what the situation is, nor that the perception of the situation is similar in your guests’ home countries. What I have learned in dealing with crises of different sorts is how much of a difference communication makes. You can do everything else right but if you fail to communicate it, your crisis management will have failed. Even communicating when there is nothing new to communicate, is of importance and information in itself.
We saw it both in Iceland during the volcanic eruption of 2010 and Nepal following the earthquakes of 2015, that those companies that regularly updated their sales channels and network on the state of affairs had a much higher rebound rate than those who were silent and trusted on “official information” or simply that it would be enough to reach out once things got back on track. That is simply not how it works. As a destination you need to make sure of the following:
- One stop for all accurate, verified information about the state of affairs, upcoming dates and plans that are in place
- Regular updates to all external stakeholders
- Regular updates to all internal stakeholders
- And maybe most importantly, reminding all your internal stakeholders to update their own network so they can communicate correct information to their clients and make appropriate plans
That last point is the one that has the most impact on the direct sales and hence the actual recovery numbers.
A changed reality means changed behaviour. Both, the tourists’ behaviour but also your behaviour. It is not the survival of the fittest. No matter how much capital you have, if you do not adjust your business model to a new reality you will eventually run out. Those who survive are the ones who are the most adaptable. Take the data, analyse the behaviour and adapt your product portfolio so that it’s still attractive. The unknown is only scary if you don’t have the ability to learn fast and adapt to whatever may come.