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Where can we go on holiday this year? Should international travel be on our agenda? And when can we expect to make those all-important getaways?

These questions have been flooding our news feeds in recent weeks, following months of restricted movements. We’ve seen other countries begin to announce that they’ll welcome vaccinated UK citizens later in the year, and whispers of vaccination passports, although the debate is still out with these. There are some glimmers of hope as the UK starts to reopen its tourism and domestic travel is permitted. Pressure has been mounting to open the economy and so the UK government has laid out how they intend to reopen tourism and hospitality, in a safe and controlled way, over the coming months.

At Golley Slater we work with several destination brands and tourist boards and the one overriding challenge they face is striking the balance between promoting (and therefore helping boost the region’s economy) whilst ensuring the timing is right for the sentiment. Consumer confidence is not back to where it was, despite Boris’ roadmap, therefore brand messaging needs to be respectful of this unease and trepidation.

The impact that Covid has had on the tourism sector has been profound. That fact is not disputed. With the sector well and truly closed it has been one of, if not the hardest-hit industry.

What we have experienced from a media and planning perspective, is a huge impact on delivery. Changes in buying habits, the demand for domestic travel (aka Staycations) have remained buoyant, but that post-Christmas and early January period that is usually awash with travel ads, has sadly stayed vacant (if you excuse the pun). It seems most travel brands have held off running campaigns until they’ve had the certainties on when travel both domestic and international will be possible.

There is of course always one that will go against this grain. A well-known budget airline launched their recent campaign promoting bargain deals to Europe, destinations such as Spain and Greece, with a ‘jab and go’ campaign message. Needless to say, this campaign, which also featured groups of people in their 20s and 30s in various holiday scenes without masks or adhering to social distancing, prompted 2,370 complaints and resulted in the ad being pulled… in fact it ended up the third-most complained about ad of all time!  The ASA ruled that the advertising campaign broke the UK ad rules relating to misleading and irresponsible advertising and that the ads must not be broadcast again. Whilst travel companies like this airline absolutely have every right to run campaign activity, irrespective of what is happening in the industry, the campaign message needs to be respectful and reflective of this situation, using messaging that works tonally reassuring consumers that ‘we are here when you can travel’.

In addition to brand sentiment, destination brands also have a duty of care to the businesses within their jurisdiction to ensure marketing and promotional activity does not create wider problems for the local community. Many of these communities are tiny villages in rural locations with limited infrastructure to deal with large swaths of visitors in intense periods. They could quickly find services overstretched. At best this could impact on things like accommodation and restaurant availability, parking, road networks and public transport, at worst these small, localised communities could see increased cases of Covid – which is, of course, the ultimate unwanted visitor for the 2021 holiday season.

In summary, there are many factors that feed into the planning for tourism campaigns at the moment, not least the lifting of all the current covid restrictions, the timing of these, key seasonal moments, managing visitor numbers, and the brand sentiment that needs to mirror that of consumer confidence. One thing is sure though, our appetite to travel and have holidays has not gone away. We are all bracing ourselves for this day and longing for a break from the ‘home-desk’.

The trends we see for 2021 through the lens of Covid*, focus on re-emergence, and it is expected that while restrictions on peoples’ movements, social distancing and quarantine measures remain in place, growth of this sector will continue to be challenging for some time. Although this cautious re-emergence will push up the average price of holidays, the UK will still benefit from wary price-sensitive consumers who will opt for a domestic holiday. As expected, holiday brands that offer rural, remote destinations and self-contained accommodation will be the winners of this holiday season. With this in mind, it would be wise to expect that the flood gates of tourism for the 2021 season are about to open – if they haven’t already.

*Mintel – Domestic Tourism – Impact of Covid-19 – UK Report.