Peter Knapp on the Key to Success for Destination and Country Brands Post Covid-19

With a global ban on travel and countries being placed under lockdown, the tourism industry has been put on hold for the first 6 months of 2020. As the world looks to reopen its doors to tourism and travellers – a lifeline for many national economies – destination and country brands find themselves with the opportunity to position themselves as the place to visit.

Following this global pause, Peter Knapp – Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Landor – considers the key drivers for success as we enter a post-Covid experience of travel.

Peter, what will tourists be looking to see from country brands?

Historically, travel and tourism has been centred around a sense of adventure and experiencing something different from the everyday. But now, people are also looking for reassurance. They want to know they’re in safe hands and be certain that their  holiday destination of choice will look after them.

The entire travel industry, from tourism hotspots to the airlines that take you there, will therefore need to balance the paradoxical components of adventure and safety.

The tourism industry will need to find creative solutions to this need for safety that can dispel travellers’ fears. This may include reducing hotel and restaurant capacity or introducing visible and consistent use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). For airlines this could mean rethinking how they manage their airport lounges and organise queues at the check-in desk, or even how they arrange seating in their cabins.

What do you think is most important for brands to consider at this time?

The essential motivators for travellers will be trust, responsibility and most importantly safety. It is key that destinations demonstrate these. People want clear indicators from countries that they have a considered and secure approach to tourism, as well as reassurance that they will be safe and cared for throughout their visit.

Countries will also need to ask themselves, ‘what sets us apart from other countries? What’s distinctive and special that only we can offer?’

Not only does this genuine authenticity capture the fascination of travellers and offer the sense of adventure we crave, but it also creates a differentiated and compelling reason to visit your country.

How have countries already been adapting and innovating to the new normal of travel?

We’ve seen brands and countries responding in innovative ways to stay connected and engaged with tourists through this time. For example, S7, the Russian airline, has been offering its customers airmiles as a reward for not travelling and staying at home responsibly instead. It engaged with customers on a daily basis, offering 100 air miles for every day that customers confirmed they were at home, not only positioning itself favourably with its target audience, but also giving them something to look forward to and use once normality resumes.

Azerbaijan Airlines is another example of a travel brand influencing perceptions of a country through addressing the issues of the pandemic. It quickly deployed solutions to reduce passenger fears when flying and make them feel at ease, swiftly introducing PPE on all aircraft and creating safe and reassuring quarantine practices. These have led to the airline receiving praise for its responsible handling and caring treatment of tourists throughout lockdown and supported its image as a safe airline which can only help to encourage travel as lockdown eases.

VR has also been used to showcase country brands. From virtual reality scuba diving tours that let you to swim with Humpback whales in Antarctica or explore Indonesia’s coral reefs, to at-home hotel experiences that offer virtual yoga sessions, mixology classes and resort tours. Countries have been able to showcase their breath-taking highlights reels to people in their own front rooms, enticing travellers to experience it for real when normality resumes.

Do you think the type of holiday destinations people choose will change for future travel? If so, in what way? Which countries will be the winners, and which will be the losers?

We are already beginning to see an attitude shift when it comes to people’s post-Covid travel plans. The destinations that have effectively dealt with the crisis and have been seen to quickly act in the interest of traveller safety are likely to be the most sought-after destinations.

For example, pre-Covid, the UK ranked highly on aspects such as social responsibility and being trustworthy, whilst China ranked highly for being healthy and health-conscious.

These notions are now irrelevant as media response and coverage of the outbreak mean these countries are viewed as being ‘higher risk’ which discourages travellers. This means that countries will need to carefully manage their approach to safety and how they communicate this to the world if this is to be a driver of destination of choice.

What role can airports play in the recovery for country brands and tourism?

Airports can create a lasting impression on travellers – good or bad. It is the first and last touchpoint for a country’s brand and is crucial in conveying the correct message.

The pause in air traffic has allowed the industry to reflect on what is and isn’t working. The new challenges presented by the pandemic in the form of distancing and hygiene will now also have to be factored into the way airlines and airports operate moving forward.

Airports now have an opportunity to look at the way they are designed and turn them into part of the destination experience – something beyond a myriad of similar-looking shops and rows of plastic chairs, something more than a machine for processing people. Instead, airports can become silent ambassadors for a country and its people. What’s stopping airports from becoming more interesting, while also being safer and more culturally attune?

Are there any positive things you think country brands and the travel industry can learn from this experience?

Country and travel brands have been able to adapt and reinforce their ‘brand positioning’ by how they have responded to the crisis.

Take Italy, known for being ‘sensuous’ and ‘friendly’, according to Landor’s proprietary Brand Asset Valuator, which we use to understand how brands, including country brands, are perceived by others.

The viral images circulated worldwide of Italians singing arias from their balconies or performing open-air symphonies has underlined this view, potentially inspiring travellers to put Tuscany at the top of their list of post-Covid destinations.

Anything else you would like to add?

In the race to be the place to visit after lockdown, destinations will have to reconsider their perceptions of safety and communicate the steps they’re taking to showcase this. They will also need to create an authentic and unique reason for visitors to fall in love with their country, in order to establish themselves as the first choice for post-pandemic travel.

Thank you, Peter.

Connect with Peter Knapp on LinkedIn and find out more about Landor here.

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