It’s no secret the travel and tourism industry has faced some of the toughest restrictions and challenges since March 2020. It’s also had its share of success stories throughout the pandemic, thanks to a concerted focus on respect, collaboration, and rebuilding.
As a presenter at the annual summit for the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), I spent two days connecting with brands from across the province, discussing how they have successfully managed their marketing.
Using stories from the past to inspire actions in the future, many of the talks, panels, and workshops laddered up to three distinct takeaways that marketers across all industries can find useful heading into 2022.
1. Diversity and inclusion is the minimum: It’s time to focus on belonging
Like many industries, travel and tourism experienced a reckoning regarding its diversity (or lack thereof) in summer 2020. It spurred introspection about progress and where work needs to be done when it comes to gender, race, ability, and the overall representation of marginalised people in the sector.
In 2021, TIAO and Deloitte collaborated on the development and administration of a survey on diversity, equity, inclusion, and gender balance in the Canadian hospitality and tourism industry. The study was designed to provide a benchmark of the reality of the industry, identifying challenges and areas of opportunity.
While there are areas of strength — for example, there is often good gender parity in the sector overall — the study found that organisational cultural norms and industry bias still favour men in leadership roles. This indicates that percentages of women versus men often do not tell the full story of equity and authority.
Industry veteran, restaurateur, and cookbook author Trevor Lui pointed out in his fireside chat on the future of hospitality (and setting seats at the table) that there are stark differences between employing a diversity of workers and actually empowering them as decision makers.
“Diversity is getting invited to the party. Inclusion is getting asked to dance. Belonging is getting to choose the music,” Lui said.
Takeaway: It’s no longer enough to meet the DEI minimum. The priority needs to be on creating an environment where all employees belong, with equal opportunity to contribute and shape the future of their workplace and industry at large.
2. Brand awareness under the microscope
“You can’t market your way out of a pandemic, but you can market through it,” said Alison Migneault, director of marketing and communications at Tourism Kingston, a panelist at the summit.
She was articulating the importance of marketing as a method of remaining in contact with clients and stakeholders during difficult times, even when your instinct might be to go silent until the path forward is clearer.
Tourism Kingston did a great job supporting local people and local businesses in the early days of the pandemic, promoting virtual events and creative endeavours that leveraged its community’s skillsets quickly and safely. While the team at Tourism Kingston knew that marketing wouldn’t save it from the impacts of shutdowns, it certainly helped reinforce connections with businesses and Kingston residents, while remaining top of mind in anticipation of that fateful day of reopening.
Blue Mountain, in Collingwood, Ontario, had a similar experience. It got creative with its land and resources to produce a brand-new outdoor attraction, AGORA Path of Light, which brought visitors from all over the province when many of the most profitable lines of business were shut down.
Both brands reinforced the importance of marketing during “quiet” or “slow” periods, even beyond the pandemic. By not underestimating the importance of brand awareness when your full-fledged offerings are on hold, you lay the groundwork for brand loyalty and appreciation, and secure your position in the coveted “dreaming” phase of customer planning.
Takeaway: Marketing isn’t just about highlighting active deals and offers in-market. It’s particularly useful during your brand or industry’s “off season,” allowing you to remain top of mind for your audience while creating a long tail of awareness and consideration through compelling content.
3. Millennials and Gen Z are ready to spend again
When it comes to the demographics most ready to get back out and spend money, summit presenters were in agreement: Millennials and Gen Z are leading the pack.
Jon Bromstein, head of industry at Google, shared data in his tourism recovery presentation. It indicated that consumers younger than 45 years old are 26% more likely to book a hotel compared with consumers older than 45.
The two generations were also most likely to “revenge spend,” not just on travel, but on all sorts of purchases that have been put on hold for the past two years. Bromstein shared that the groups have a combined spending power of US$350 billion.
Chris Baron, senior vice president of Global Payments, identified Gen Z in particular as the group most likely to use “buy now, pay later” installment options when making purchases, refusing to let limited cashflow interrupt spending.
Data shows these younger cohorts are key target audiences to reach over the next few months. What works when it comes to influencing their purchasing decisions? “Authentic” digital content that puts real storytelling at the heart of marketing, according to Bromstein’s data.
In particular, video platforms can help drive decision making, with 70% of what he calls “next gen” travelers getting their planning inspiration from video.
Takeaway: Contrary to popular belief, younger demographics are eager to spend. This means marketing to consumers younger than 45 years old can provide a valuable return on investment — as long as you’re leveraging believable storytelling that will help the audience make informed purchasing decisions.