Commentary

Destination Unknown: Travel Brands Amidst The Current Travel Climate

As we reach the midpoint of 2017, the U.S. dollar is strong, domestic traveler optimism is up, and the market is experiencing positive consumer sentiment. This after a new administration took the reins in January amidst an increasingly divisive political climate — and introducing a travel policy that temporarily restricted inbound travel for certain international travelers. This shot heard ’round the world reasoned protection, anticipation, and readiness; however, it also echoed sentiments of unwelcomeness and created an immediate (and costly) decline in U.S. tourism. But we have seen this before. 

The events on Sept. 11, 2001, shook our country, creating a ripple effect felt around the world. For the travel industry, it created a decade-long stagnation caused by stricter visa policies and inward-looking sentiments, which ultimately led to a $600 billion loss in tourism revenue.

In the wake of the new administration’s proposed travel policies, combined with a strong American dollar, the travel industry finds itself once again engaged in the same battles as early 2002; concern from tourists regarding safety, unwelcome sentiments, and our nation’s stability and rising vacation costs. With $185 million already lost in business travel bookings as of Feb. 8, and a projected 4.3 million fewer foreign visitors this year — translating into $7.4 billion lost revenue — it is imperative that travel brands take action in order to lessen the negative impacts of the situation. 

There are several positive areas the travel industry can focus on in order to minimize the effects of these negative global sentiments. 

Consider the relevance of your brand through greater audience understanding. 

First: understand who your audience is and the troubles they are facing. To do that, you need to do one, simple thing: listen. Evaluate what your target is saying both at home and overseas and find out where their sensitivities lie. What are their human values, and how does your brand connect with them? Where do your brand enthusiasts reside? How broad is your audience base? Perception is a powerful thing that can be hard to reverse—but by asking these questions and listening, you’ll receive insights that, if applied skillfully, can interrupt perception, reconnect with your audience and help them appreciate what makes your brand so unique. 

The importance of brand values and promoting in a consistent manner. 

People are looking for something to believe in. We’ve seen time and time again how brands that gain the respect of the public with a values-first approach can both inspire and grow. For travel brands that tap into consumer emotions and aspirations, this is an opportunity to communicate and reaffirm authentic brand values. This also might be a good time to conduct a brand audit and create absolute clarity on what these values are and how best to communicate them. 

Dig into what makes your brand truly distinctive. 

While a portion of today’s international traveler has concerns about the United States, there is still a large percentage whose opinion remains unchanged. They can separate a U.S. city or region from the U.S. national brand, or distinguish between politics and Americans’ general warm-heartedness. These distinctions provide each brand an opening to dive in and really differentiate themselves.  

Remember to focus on the region or city your brand represents; what makes it special?  Communicate how it differs from the nation’s brand. Of course, there’s also a reason why your brand exists, and someone who was passionate about creating it. The answers to these questions can be the key to what separates your brand from others. Additionally, it’s important to communicate your distinct attributes in an authentic, but not overtly political manner. Brands with especially large, mainstream audiences need to be more apolitical than those who are more niche. 

Remember, above all, why people travel: for fun, love, and adventure. 

The current political and economic climate undoubtedly calls upon the added skills of marketers to navigate through uncertain waters—but we have one great thing on our side: the positive force of travel in many people's lives and their desire to travel toward adventure beyond their borders.

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