Open borders, open arms: The return of destination and travel marketing

Booking flights, exploring different cultures, and trying new cuisines – there’s not much that can compare to the excitement of travel. We take a dive into the world of destination and travel marketing to find out whether attitudes have changed following the pandemic, and how marketers are adapting to this new era of travel.

With borders reopening and the world collectively emerging from our places of residence, blinking in the light of this new era, travel and destination marketers are getting back to work. Although they never really stopped.

“[The pandemic] was actually a really busy time,” says Emma Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer at Tourism Fiji. 

“People kept saying I bet you have nothing to do [during the pandemic] but as a team we committed to being as helpful as possible and using our communication expertise to support the country through Covid.”

After more than two years of disrupted and restricted travel, it’s only natural that attitudes towards travel have changed, meaning that marketers have a wide array of new data and insight to work with.

One such organisation playing a big part in how the world views Aotearoa, is New Zealand Story.

This government brand agency is a joint venture of Tourism New Zealand, Education New Zealand, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign affairs, Te Puni Kōkiri and Ministry for Primary Industries, and exists to expand the nations’ reputation and value internationally through storytelling.

David Downs, NZ Story CEO, says the fact that Covid-19 has had such a global impact, everyone is coming out of it with the “realisation they need to reconnect with the world”. 

“Perceptions of New Zealand have changed a little bit and if anything, they have been more positive through the Covid years, but it’s subtle country by country.”

This means coming at this sort of branding from a slightly different angle, focusing on promoting New Zealand as a values-based country rather than just a beautiful place to visit.

“Globally we are getting research that tells us that people are much more aware of the value of human health and the value of care for the environment,” says David.

“That message has come out strongly for us, and very credibly for the country, so we’re leading with a △
values-based way of talking about ourselves. Our brand promise is that we are a place with innovation, but innovation for the purpose of building our care for people and place.”

This means incorporating kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and other core values from te ao Māori (the Māori world view) which NZ Story believes is applicable to the entire country. “We must strike a balance between what people already know about [New Zealand], but expand on that.”

This is obvious in NZ Story’s latest marketing tool – a film titled ‘Aotearoa New Zealand, Our Story’.

Directed by award-winning Rotorua filmmaker Mike Jonathan [Tainui, Te Arawa, Mataatua], the film “proudly celebrates the spirit of New Zealand’s Māori heritage”.

“We wanted to show that New Zealand is dynamic and has interesting urban environments, so we quite consciously put in things in about our cities, as well as messages about caring for the environment and harmony which, coming through the Covid years, really resonates.”

This values-first trend is happening around the world, however David believes New Zealand is leading the way.

This is partly because other countries have bigger budgets, he says, and can afford to be a “bit more in in your face”.

Instead, NZ Story’s strategy is leveraging off other people’s good will. “We aren’t going to be able to afford a billboard in Times Square like some countries are doing. [Instead] we must go out there and be authentic but unique at the same time. As Ernest Rutherford said: ‘We haven’t the money, so we’ve got to think’.”

As for Tourism New Zealand, the fundamentals of how it approaches marketing are staying the same, however the audience insight is looking a little different.

This new era of travel is uncovering new trends in terms of what audiences want. These include wanting more transformative and meaningful holiday experiences says Brodie Reid, Tourism NZ General Manager Marketing.

“The thought of a more frivolous holiday experience and trips have gone down the priority set,” she adds.

“From an audience perspective we are seeing a bit of a move to meaningful travel.”

This has been reflected in the latest Tourism NZ campaign ‘If You Seek’ which aims to showcase the more meaningful interactions and experiences available for those who immerse themselves in New Zealand as a destination.

It’s also important to take into account the audience and the types of people considering New Zealand as a holiday destination. “New Zealand is quite an active destination – there’s quite a lot to get involved in here,” says Brodie.

“We are not a flop and drop, go and lie on a beach for days type of holiday. What we are is a destination that allows you to have an immersive experience. Immersing yourself in the local culture, immersing yourself in nature. Getting out and amongst nature is one of the big trends coming out of the pandemic and that is absolutely something that we offer.”

Another destination marketing trend emerging is the shift away from putting the tourist at the centre and instead focusing on what travelers can offer the country they are visiting. “‘If You Seek’ is trying to connect with people on a slightly deeper level,” Brodie says.

“The research we have done with our audience found they want to really lean in and connect with a destination.”

To honour that, the ‘If You Seek’ campaign is designed to reward audience members who are prepared to engage a little more with it, embodying the key insight identified that is the more you give to New Zealand, the more it gives to you. Flipping the campaign to be about reciprocity rather than pushing the audience to visit.

“We took that from insight around our audience and what they are prepared to give of themselves when they come on holiday and how they are prepared to immerse themselves, and we tried to weave that through the campaign itself.

“When you interact with one of our pieces of content you are going to be rewarded for that. [We are] trying to get this behaviour of reciprocity, and the more you give the more you get back,” Brodie says.

Tourism Fiji has also shifted its focus to take into consideration changing attitudes towards travel. 

“We are seeing from our research that people want to travel to immerse themselves in other ways of life and experience different cultures. This research has come through really strongly, probably more strongly than we saw before the pandemic,” says Emma at Tourism Fiji. 

“Cutting off your options to travel anywhere has meant people are really desperate to experience different cultures.”

That’s why the next campaign, which will roll out over the next few months, will have a very ‘culture first perspective’, and will centre the people of Fiji rather than visitors.

“It’s much more about ‘us’ and that connection helps people understand more about Fijian culture. Fiji got through the pandemic really well and it was due to a combination of leaning into all the things that makes Fiji special. Fiji is really good at bringing people together, collaboration, community, resourcefulness and resilience. All those things helped us reopen successfully, but also all of those things are part of our brand and part of our DNA.

“We are really leaning into those things and talking about the special parts of Fijian culture as we approach our next campaign which is very exciting.”

As of September 2022, Fiji had reached 89 percent of visitor arrivals compared to 2019, and the country had welcomed 427k visitors between January and September. 

One area that has bounced back stronger than other parts of the market is youth travel.

Social travel organisation Contiki caters specifically to the age range of 18-35-year-olds, and have seen a huge influx of young people wanting to book their OEs or escapes.

Louise Levesque, General Manager – Brand and Marketing at The Travel Corporation, says this “pent-up demand” means the youth market has come back bigger and stronger than others. She says that consumer habits in this market have changed since the pandemic, with young people having had three years to plan their adventures. “Since the opening of borders, Contiki travellers seem to be choosing longer trips, or choosing to explore various countries back-to-back with the travel operator,” Louise says.

Contiki has also found that consumers are asking more questions and are more knowledgeable about the specifics of what they want to see and do.

“Contiki has seen an increase in pre-trip communication, with customers getting in touch on average six to seven times compared to three or four pre-Covid. But we’re finding once they’re on their trip they are enjoying the sites more and spending money at the destination.”

Marketing solely in the digital space, the biggest shift Contiki has observed is the shift to TikTok as an essential part of the marketing mix.

“Contiki work globally on partnerships with tourism boards and influencers to increase their share of voice in the TikTok space. An example is Tourism Ireland and our Contiki Movement campaign whereby we teamed up with the dancers of Cairde – a group best known for their videos on TikTok – who dance their way around Northern Ireland.”

Contiki’s 60th anniversary was also marked with the launch of a social media campaign featuring TikTok star Millie Ford, challenging her to ‘travel like its 1962’.

Responsible travel has also seen a huge shift especially among travellers within Contiki’s age range. In recognition of this, Contiki made the move to go carbon neutral in January 2022, which Louise says was a “momentous decision” and just one of the many milestones in Contiki’s journey towards sustainability. “There is a load of initiatives around reducing emissions and getting third parties to work with us. After that, we offset what we cannot reduce and invest in carbon capture initiatives.

“All initiatives are included in the ticket and there is no opt-in required. Contiki has chosen to keep its carbon neutrality offering simple and accessible, as the young generation views such features as a basic consumer right.”

As for the future, Louise says we can expect to see increased touchpoints with more confidence messaging to reassure travellers throughout the booking process, along with more inspiration content driven through multiple channels through partnerships with aligning brands.

Tourism Australia’s recent installment of its global There’s Nothing Like Australia brand platform ‘Come and Say G’day’ also embodies many trends identified above.

As Tourism Australia’s first global campaign since 2016, the team have taken the opportunity to use deep insight to drive attention, engagement, consideration and awareness to cut through a cluttered destination marketing landscape.

‘Come and Say G’day’ introduces audiences to Ruby, a souvenir Kangaroo, voiced by Tourism Australia’s Global Ambassador Rose Byrne and brought to life with CGI in a live-action short film called ‘G’day’.

Creative from Tourism Australia’s brand platform ‘Come and Say G’day’.

The platform aims to capture people’s imagination with a publicity and paid media launch strategy that rolls out like a major film release. 

The film follows the unlikely friendship between Ruby and a toy unicorn called Louie, voiced by Will Arnett who represents the international traveller, as they go on a big adventure around Australia.

The campaign also highlights Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, with multiple Indigenous Australian languages shared with audiences, and is backed by a new cover of the classic Aussie song Down Under which was produced in collaboration with Men At Work’s Colin Hay and up-and-coming Australian band King Stingray.

Susan Coghill, Tourism Australia Chief Marketing Officer, says the process of creating the platform “was a mix of planning, the right input, and then a little bit of magic and serendipity to come up with a great creative idea”.

But she says it’s not all about magic, and that marketers have got their work cut out for them as there are less long-haul travellers, and those that are getting back into it are tending to stay closer to home and make shorter trips.

“The pandemic was interesting because I think it made people realise how much they value travel. There’s also things people are nervous of about, whether that is health or wealth and that does make our job a little more challenging.”

Having come through this global challenge, the team also felt they needed to have a more universal welcoming message to the world. “We threw our borders open, and we wanted to throw our arms open too, and welcome everybody back to Come and Say G’day. 

“We found it’s time to move back to more consistent messaging, more consistent marketing and a more universal platform that will give us the multiplier effect, creating memories around the brand and continuing to build the brand, add new information, add new layers to the story.

“It gave us the benefit of consistency to build up those memory structures, but also the flexibility that could work in Eastern, Western, English and non-English markets.”

She adds that research has found that indigenous travel is also something becoming more prominent. “People have had this moment, this reckoning, and they are looking for things that matter more. The opportunity to connect with the oldest living culture in the world is quite unique.

“It’s incumbent on us to make sure [marketers] are presenting travellers with meaningful, worthy travel and holidays options. It isn’t just about the cheapest, easiest getaways anymore. It’s about having a meaningful break and the opportunity to connect with things that matter in life.” 

This article was originally published in the Dec/Jan 2022/23 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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