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Trends to Guide Your 2021 International Marketing Plans

Go West Summit hosted a digital informational webinar highlighting the leading thoughts for the future of travel marketing. In it, I discussed current travel trends and five tactics that I think will help reboot international marketing in 2021. 

You can view the full presentation and Q&A here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAHDVM82OkQ

We faced a much different challenge in the outdoor tourism industry a year ago.

The summer of 2019 plagued national parks with overtourism—International and domestic travelers alike filled attractions past capacity, craning their necks for a glimpse of the scenery. 

Unbeknownst to anyone in the industry, this challenge would invert in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the world and dropping European air travel by a historical 97.1 percent on March 31. Suddenly, the once packed parks and destinations were empty. 

Photo Credit: Eurocontrol

This historic decrease in international travel is creating lasting impacts on the industry. Current flight data predicts that international travel will not recover to pre-COVID levels until 2024. Moreover, we should anticipate changes in travel behavior. Travelers will likely display increased health consciousness and a desire for meaningful trips to combat feelings of isolation from long stay-at-home orders. 

After observing the shifting behavioral desires for travel, we concluded that tourism will be different for future generations. It is time that we show the world how much we care.

As the world slowly begins to reopen, I compiled five tactics to effectively reboot international marketing for the changing future of travel:

Recognize International Marketing as an Integrated Process

Most international marketing models follow a linear, transactional process: A supplier or destination networks with tour operators, and tour operators connect with an audience that wants to book a trip. 

Alternatively, our GRIPS Methodology proposes a cyclical model that represents the interconnectivity of the travel marketing process. 

We find that effective marketing, or “Stories That Matter,” are developed by associating destinations with a unique experience that aligns with the needs of a responsible niche audience. Unlike the linear models, our GRIPS methodology is rooted in relationship-building across all levels of the process. Suppliers and tour operators work in conjunction to create unique travel experiences and provide concierge-like services to connect with the appropriate audience. 

Rebooting international marketing through meaningful connections shows care for the responsible niche audience, as well as the destination. The changing future of travel, and travelers’ growing interest in meaningful experiences, demands an integrated model of the international marketing process. 

Invest in Data

The digital marketing space is filled with data. While the sheer quantity of information can be overwhelming, it is worth it to identify the appropriate analyses for drilling down and segmenting that data into actionable insights. 

We’ve found that social listening allows a detail-oriented analysis of traveler conversations and sentiment. The granular insights show precisely how specific segments of travelers are speaking about a destination online. These insights provide the foundation for relevant content and help to identify promising international markets to tap into. This helps to create content that cuts through the noise and reaches travelers on a more personal level. 

Consider Your Brand as a Content Hub for International Travelers

Reaching international audiences begins with acknowledging their experiences through intentional content. This is as simple as translating content, creating itineraries beginning and ending at international airports in the U.S., and identifying trustworthy tour operators that will best enhance international travelers’ trips. 

The key to attracting international audiences is building a content hub that makes the travel planning easier for travelers. Audiences are far more inclined to make decisions and book trips if they see their needs reflected in the content.

Keep Up with Digital Changes

There are 3.96 billion active social media users worldwide. This is why digital marketing is so exciting and effective for reaching international audiences. However, digital spaces change rapidly, and so do consumer preferences. Without anticipating and preparing for change, these updates and shifts can become overwhelming and undermine digital content strategies.

The demographic make-up and device-usage on certain platforms are a few key variables to pay attention to. Currently, 99 percent of social media users access media on their phones, and Facebook content tends to reach primarily older audiences. Keeping track of consumer use of social media platforms and devices will help you to drive effective content strategies that specifically reach your target audience within their current preferences. 

Bring Back Travel Confidence

Of course, the greatest challenge with rebooting international marketing is reducing traveler fear after the global pandemic. To offset the general discomfort with travel, direct-to-consumer communications about pandemic safety guidelines must be extremely clear. 

Current airline communications exemplify clear implementation of safety measures that assuage traveler fears. In addition to communicating travel safety, it is becoming increasingly important to show travelers that they are welcome, despite travel looking a lot different than it used to. Emerging from the global pandemic into “the new normal” is unprecedented for everyone, and offering reassurance through safety and care will help to ease the adjustment. 

Rebooting International Marketing

We are standing at the precipice of a new era of travel. The global pandemic shifted tourism in a direction that no one could have anticipated, and now the industry is faced with rapid and necessary adaptation to our newfound challenges. While we work toward new stability, viewing marketing through an integrated lens, investing in data, building strong content hubs, staying up-to-date on digital changes, and reviving traveler confidence through reassurance will help to reboot international marketing in 2021.

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