Airbnb recently funded a digital campaign to promote tourism to destinations that President Trump allegedly referred to as “s---holes.” The money was used to promote the company’s listings in Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. In a series of tweets, Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky shared photos of destinations in Haiti, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Morocco. One Chesky tweet said, “2.7 million guests from Airbnb decided that countries in Africa, El Salvador and Haiti were beautiful enough to visit. When we embrace the world, we see its beauty.”
That campaign and those tweets were cited by Rafat Ali, founder and CEO of Skift, the travel intelligence platform, as a reflection of a need for travel marketers to be aware of and reactive to global events. “No longer can you just show a beach and hope people will book your resort, “says Ali. He says that marketing is not just a communication through the usual channels but a way to put a face on a brand — and that face might mean taking controversial positions.
Ali notes that travel is by its very nature open-minded about its outlook on the world — around issues like immigration. Of course, he says, marketers have a product to sell and need to balance their messages. He thinks Airbnb did a good job of straddling that line, as have other companies like Marriott that have entered the political fray.
Some travel segments have been more vocal than others, says Ali, noting that airlines have tended to stay away from those issues because they have other types of global agendas. For instance, they have been aggressive about restricting access to the U.S. market by carriers from the Gulf states.
In the annual Skift Megatrends report for 2018, Ali wrote that “Travel is the most progressive expression of human curiosity. It behooves us to take on more active roles on behalf of our right to travel and the future of the travel industry. 2017 was the year the travel industry began to take on a more active role, a new role it is awkwardly embracing. It’s also a new role worth celebrating.”
Being active on those fronts may be, as Ali says, “table stakes” now but marketers still have to focus on their own products, and he believes that the key to that will be the in-market experience, the actual consumer experience at the hotel, on the ship, etc. “Marketing will get customers there the first time but you won’t get them back through digital marketing. You will get them back through their experience.”
Ali agrees that travel sellers are in a good position to maximize on a trend to looking beyond the purchase of physical things to achieve satisfaction. That is one trend that he sees as having staying power, others being food and multiple uses of public spaces like hotel lobbies.
Still, Ali believes those product-oriented messages must be delivered within the context of the broader world. Whatever their political inclinations, it’s important that marketers be aware of what’s going on and act with that climate in mind. If it ever did exist in a political vacuum, travel no longer does.