UKINBOUND CEO ON HOW TOURISM BRANDS CAN STAY HEALTHY DURING CORONAVIRUS
3 March 2020
As the Coronavirus sweeps through the world, the tourism sector is caught up in a fast-moving, turbulent period of disruption and economic uncertainty. Quarantine regulations, travel bans, and transport and event cancellations are all having an impact.
Kallaway caught up with Joss Croft, CEO, UKinbound for his advice and insight for the tourism sector on this rapidly accelerating situation. UKinbound is the trade association that represents inbound tourism – the UK’s sixth largest export industry and third largest employer.
Kallaway: What would you say is the current risk level to the UK tourism sector of Covid- 19?
Joss: For most individuals, we would say low risk - if you’re not likely to have been in contact with anyone who has been to any of the infected areas, you’re maintaining personal hygiene and you're following official guidelines as closely as you can. Individuals need to follow official Government advice.
But for business, the risk is significant. Previously, when there has been either a terrorist attack or disease outbreak, such as Foot and Mouth Disease or SARS, we have seen a decrease in the willingness of customers to travel internationally.
What role has UKinbound been playing in providing advice and support to its members?
As a trade association, we are very well connected to Government, so our members are assured that we can pass them the most up to date, correct information, based on official advice and not hearsay or, perhaps, media speculation.
Do you feel that the media reporting of the situation is accurate and responsible?
Yes, but I wish there was more focus on elements such as the recovery rate. As a general rule, though, I think the media have been pretty even handed in such a fast-changing situation.
Can the tourism sector learn any lessons from the other crises that you mentioned, such as SARS or terrorist attacks?
I guess the first lesson is, know that it will pass. I’ve been working in the industry since the late 1990s, and I’ve seen a succession of various incidents or disasters that have affected tourism, and particularly from a huge market like China, where its Government sees outbound travel as part of its demonstration of China's global, modern credentials.
And when the crisis passes, the sector needs to be in a position to be able to respond to that pent up demand. So, for example, there was a very quick recovery after SARS.
The tourism sector is hugely resilient and we will recover from this. Try and stay positive.
How would you advise those destinations reliant on Chinese tourism, to adapt to these challenging times?
Firstly, review your market and understand if you’re able to diversify to attract others. Who else might be relevant for a product that you might previously only be using in the Chinese market? How about flipping it round to focus more on business rather than leisure travellers? Perhaps you could develop more of a daytime rather than an evening offering? Look at who is still travelling - who is still consuming. Then adapt to suit their needs.
What could the domestic tourism sector do to attract those visitors? Who might have been planning international trips but may be stopped from travelling now?
When the market is ready to go, make sure you're in a good position to be able to get a slice of that pent up demand - whether that’s making sure your website is up to date, spending time on your marketing collateral or ensuring that your comms plans are in place. I’ve heard of hotels who are pulling forward some of their refurbishment plans, trying to make sure that when they’re ready to go, they’re got their best foot forward.
Existing customer relationship management is vital, too. Are you communicating to existing customers who can’t travel, that, when this is all over, you’ll be looking forward to seeing them? When they are able to travel again, make sure you're top of mind, that they’re reassured they’ll be receiving a world-class welcome and experiences. We know those people who feel welcome are more than twice as likely to recommend a holiday or destination to those who don't.
Also, if you’re not getting quite as much international or domestic frequentation as usual, this is an ideal opportunity to be looking at areas such as staff training and resources in general. If business is falling, what can staff be doing instead of contractors? Are there opportunities to revisiting a strategy where you can use staff, for example, in a Corporate Social Responsibility capacity, and then develop them accordingly?
And, start thinking about your ‘Lessons Learned’ planning now so you can capture your best practice strategies and responses on an ongoing basis, for future incidents. History tells us there will always be a future incident.
Do you have any final, practical advice for tourism businesses, navigating their way through the current climate?
In terms of operational admin, check your insurance and make sure you’ve got business interruption clauses which also include notifiable disease cover. If you haven’t, it’s worth looking into it.
You may think that I’m bound to say this, but it is a good time to join a trade association. In times of hardship, you get trusted advice, best practice policies, insight and communications, so you can stay abreast of the situation and plan properly but so you can also know what your competitors are up to as well. Many trade associations also offer free legal advice. They are a support network of your community. And they lobby on your behalf, encouraging the government to have recovery marketing plans in place, when we’re ready to go.
Kallaway advises world class tourism brands on reputational issues and runs consumer public relations campaigns to increase market share. For further information contact Kallaway on +44 (0)207 221 7883 or email firstname.lastname@example.org