Going Beyond Cultural Boundaries and Traditional Experiences

Ben Shacham shared the different phases of travel in the pandemic and specifically what the team at Culture Trip.

Culture Trip is a fast-growing global brand working in the travel space. They create inspiring content in the travel media space but also work as an OTA, providing unique and authentic experiences. Their difference is going deeper to find what it is that makes culture and travel unique and authentic - targeting 'culturally curious' travellers from around the world with a breadth of awards from marketing, content, product and business.

Ben Shacham shared the different phases of travel in the pandemic and specifically what the team at Culture Trip have been seeing in their dataset and how they are responding to the impact of the pandemic.

Culture Trip is a fast-growing global brand working in the travel space. They create inspiring content in the travel media space but also work as an OTA, providing unique and authentic experiences. Their difference is going deeper to find what it is that makes culture and travel unique and authentic - targeting 'culturally curious' travellers from around the world with a breadth of awards from marketing, content, product and business.

So jumping forward to insights. Why is content valuable? The content and readership are incredibly diverse spanning all countries in the world, even down to Vatican City. This wide-ranging set of audiences helps match with deeply categorised pieces of content, more than 80,000 in total. This content is categorised at a top-level into four types: inspiration, orientation, planning and booking. This effectively replicates the visitor journey through content and helps understand and place content according to 'triggering' interest with wanderlust content through to supporting booking with practical content.

All of the datasets owned by Culture Trip allow them to monitor the full impact of the pandemic, through every stage of the pandemic, from the initial shockwave of the pandemic through to the 'new normal' phase we are entering now. What has the team at Culture Trip learned through this unprecedented year and what actions did they take? This is an overview of the Culture Trip Playbook, but also how these actions came about from a personal perspective too.

So looking at January to November you see four lines corresponding to each of the categorisations of content. Back in January and February, life was pretty normal. The idea of crowded stadiums today seems just so strange, like life from another era, but this was normal and travelling to experience the world was also normal not so long ago. It's easy to forget this, as we get buried in the challenges faced today.

A typical January for Culture Trip meant high levels of traffic, a strong desire from users to get away and really high levels of intent showing across all planning content, softening towards the end of January as people book their trips. From a personal perspective, Ben explains that his last trip was to York but he wishes his 'last trip' would've been somewhere more adventurous such as New York, had he foreseen the global shutdown.

As Ben and his team saw the virus spreading, in Iran and in Ski Resorts, followed by local lockdowns in Italy with people singing from their windows etc. It started to become apparent that this was a bigger problem than first imagined. At first, bookings held up but as people started to monitor the situation, there was more avoidance than cancellation happening amongst travellers. When large events such as ITB Berlin and the Olympics were cancelled, the shock waves were far greater.

Culture Trip responded to this by creating an insights hub to respond to this quicker than news organisations and widely available data in the media. What became apparent is that if you have data and insights, you should share this with your customers. Sharing that knowledge is hugely meaningful and creates transparency and trust with your customers.

When lockdown hit, panic struck. Shelves were cleared, ships were quarantined in harbours, local lockdowns started to take place in March, followed by national lockdowns later in March. A warlike mentality spread with people clapping heroes of the hour - not soldiers but healthcare workers - and whilst all this happened, everyone was stuck at home.

One observation at this period is how obsessed people had become with the numbers. Ben points to the fact that World Monitor went from 5 million monthly unique visitors to more than 1 billion unique visitors. That's an incredible uptake in monitoring data on a mass consumer level simply unimaginable before. So what have Culture Trip seen when it comes to their data? Planning content consumption plummeted to 25% and booking content fell off the cliff. Hotels declined fastest, followed by home-stays and surprisingly hostels declined last. Orientation content declined slower than the rest, one can imagine because it has broader interest even during the lockdown.

Ben explains that the launch date for their new experience product was 23rd March, possibly the worst time imaginable to launch such a product. They saw however that inspiration content had actually increased, while the planning content had decreased. What was interesting here is that the world seemed to become more interested, not less, more curious to learn, read and discover places around the world - reinforcing our marvel to discover new cultures.

This led Culture Trip to launch a new initiative together with partners to explore the world, creative colouring challenges for families and a full set of discovery content in a content hub, fully curated and custom illustrated. They saw a huge interest in cooking and cuisine, which led them to launch online zoom classes teaching users how to create a local dish, with hundreds of bookings with incredible feedback and as lockdowns have lifted, this has continued to be a way to engage people.

Ben talks about his own experience of taking part in a home cooking class in Jerusalem and the incredible experience of discovering remotely the food and cooking experience together with his family from around the world. He describes this as one of the best things during the lockdown period and a lasting memory.
As people slowly started emerging from lockdown, the data showed some really interesting things. There was a clear gradual return through June, July and August of people's intent to travel shown through the consumption of booking data. Travel planning and intent were returning.

Digging deeper, we can see the same chart of travel intent, we can see however that the difference between interest in international travel and domestic travel really started to show a skew towards a rise in planning intent-driven almost exclusively by domestic interest. There was a huge surge in interest in what is classified as 'outdoors' content, way above pre-pandemic consumption, which makes a lot of sense given what we know about virus transmission, but the data showed this very clearly. So how did they react to this?

The first thing was to launch a series of outdoor content hubs for different destinations and markets according to their locations. They also designed, developed and delivered a road trip planning piece allowing people to enter their location and see what they might discover in 1, 3 and 5 hours by car. This really helped them to be relevant to domestic travellers and their needs at that moment.

They responded further to the change in demand, from showing which destinations can be taken advantage of with travel corridors and more detailed content on things like glamping, which were also showing increased interest.

So what about 'the new normal'? Well, the truth is, there's not much evidence showing that we are there yet. The further lockdowns imposed show that we are going back to how things were before, with similarities in what the data is showing us. The only reference point we can really look to is how people responded in the easing of the first lockdown, aside from that, there isn't really a reference point.

Aside from that, we can only look to China, to learn what happened there and the fact that they have returned largely to normal gives us much hope. Can we replicate that success? That's not easy to call right now with vastly different responses from governments.

Can we make predictions as to what might happen in the future? It's challenging, but we can try. If we consider the vaccine or even the fact that there will be many vacancies gives hope. However, this might not be a silver bullet - the path out of this nightmare will be gradual, not immediate.

Some trends will certainly stick. The need for outdoors will continue to be strong, as the pandemic won't just disappear and people's interest in this product is likely to remain for many reasons. A demand for 'micro-scapes' will continue, as people seek to get away when they find the opportunity to do so. Flexibility will remain key to succeeding, as this is key to restoring confidence.

The fact is that there is too much demand pent up which tells us that there is going to be a surge and return where destinations manage the pandemic well. We have to consider so many other factors however, what about the economic downturn and what impact that will have on travel when we consider consumer spending. What about the way in which we live and work, the shift to remote working, the collapse of business travel and the influence of government stimulus. These are all things we need to consider.

Ben ends with a ray of optimism, his hopes and wishes.

"Let's hope for a swing back along with a movement to appreciate and understand other cultures that we've been missing. Let's hope for a reinvigoration and a value for community and parts of society we took for granted, such as culture and arts. Let's hope that we see a huge support and preparedness of our healthcare response."

One thing we know - travel always bounces back. This is our challenge, an exciting challenge to react to and enlighten new consumers to travel the world.

Key Takeaways

1. If you have data and insights, you should share them with your customers. This means creating transparency and trust with your customers.

2. People have become obsessed with the numbers.There has been an incredible uptake in monitoring data on a mass-consumer level.

3. People have become more interested, curious to learn, read and discover places around the world and new cultures.

4. The interest in everything related to 'outdoors' is expected to remain.

5. A demand for 'micro-scapes' will continue, as people seek to get away when they find the opportunity to do so.

6. Flexibility will remain key to succeeding, as this is key to restoring confidence.

7. A surge in demand in returning to travel is expected for destination who managed and are managing the pandemic well.

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Ben Schacham

After studying at Oxford, Ben joined Pricewaterhouse Coopers, where he worked with businesses of all sizes — from fast-growing start-ups to FTSE-listed companies — on audits, transactions and accessing the capital markets.