Chinese Travel Companies Have Learned Some Critical Lessons On How To Communicate With Consumers Post-COVID—And Canadian Companies May Want To Follow Suit.

Few industries have been hit harder by COVID-19 than tourism and travel. With large-scale layoffs and continued border closures, consumers and analysts alike are wondering what the industry will look like when the pandemic is over.

Destination Canada estimates that, with borders remaining closed, the total tourism spend in Canada could decline by a third this year. The business community in Banff alone expects revenues to be 30% – 40% lower than last year, given that half the 4 million annual visitors to Banff come from outside of Canada. 

Canadians are already being encouraged by government leaders to travel closer to home this year. Tourism companies need to build on this momentum by shifting their summer travel focus from international to local/provincial.

However, such a transition is easier said than done. These organizations must convince a Canadian population that has largely associated travel with tropical beaches and European cities to spend their money and vacation days exploring their own backyard—at a time when many are looking to cut back on spending. Even the federal government has acknowledged the difficult road ahead and is redirecting $30 million in funding to help provinces and territories encourage domestic travel.

The Canadian tourism industry might take some pointers from the Chinese market. Tourism companies in China have been able to spark an increase in domestic travel in recent months by making two major adjustments to their marketing strategies:

  1. Shifting content to align with the domestic audience
  2. Altering delivery methods to get messaging in front of domestic consumers faster

1. Shifting Content: Chinese companies have found that domestic consumers do not respond to the same messaging that previously enticed international customers. Instead, companies have found more success focusing on promotions and price, positioning local travel as an affordable way to get out of the house. They’ve also emphasized cleaning and hygiene practices, generally making consumers feel safe about travelling.

Following this lead, Canadian companies need to tailor their communications specifically for a domestic audience. First and foremost, these organizations—local travel associations, chambers of commerce, hotels, resorts—must clearly broadcast the fact that they’re open. Consumers need to know exactly which ammenties are available in any given area before visiting. They don’t want surprises; they want predictability.

These organizations also need to promote any facilities or features that could help reassure travellers (“Our rooms include full kitchenettes, giving you the option to eat in or out”). Options will be important, and operators will want to keep in mind two types of traveller: those who want to fully participate and engage, and those less inclined to do so. Communication will need to take both groups into account.

Operators might also focus more on price, though generally speaking, post-COVID, it will be important to establish more emotional ties with consumers—for instance, messaging that highlights some of the positives of border closures (“How often will you get the chance to be one of the only people on the Victoria Terrace at Lake Louise?”).

And companies will want to reinforce all their messaging by highlighting the new “Stay Safe” cleaning and hygiene guidelines endorsed by all the major Canadian hotel chains in May.

2. Altering delivery: Getting collateral in front of domestic consumers quickly and efficiently also requires a different approach. Chinese tourism companies were able to speed up the process by diversifying their communication channels and focusing heavily on social media platforms like WeChat and TikTok.

While TikTok may not be the entire solution in Canada, tourism companies here should indeed be considering new channels as they re-think their strategy for getting to market  as quickly and nimbly as possible.

The ability to manage this transition and connect with Canadians in new ways will be vitally important to the success of Canadian tourism operators. Ideally, they want to take the lead on effecting change—rather than waiting for governments to do the heavy lifting.