The “New Normal” you say … Really?

Olivier shares a photo of Wuhan Water Park Festival in 2019 and 2020, a striking similarity of a crowded water park with no sense of a 'new normal'.

What we see right now is that this is definitely not the new normal, when we see such eye-watering drops in figures. So if we try to anticipate what the 'New Normal' is, when everything is driven by supply and demand, is very risky. The truth is that travellers today are trying to adapt to the situation and that's an always-changing picture.

"To look at what the 'New Normal' is, we have to look back to where it all started."

Olivier shares a photo of Wuhan Water Park Festival in 2019 and then 2020, a striking similarity of a crowded water park with no sense of a 'new normal' or any change in circumstances.

What we see right now is that this is definitely not the new normal, when we see such eye-watering drops in figures. So if we try to anticipate what the 'New Normal' is, when everything is driven by supply and demand, is very risky. The truth is that travellers today are trying to adapt to the situation and that's an always-changing picture.

We've all witnessed a sudden enthusiasm for domestic travel. What this shows us, if we look at the data today, is that people visit places they can go to, and tomorrow they will visit places they want to go to. So instead of trying to reinvent a completely 'new normal' which is really exciting, there are also some tactical choices that can pay back quickly.

  1. Play with sentiment data
  2. Deliver experiences expert today
  3. Engage with faces of the destination

If we think about 'playing' with sentiment data, it's very important to understand what are the tactical quick wins that anybody can benefit from. Since the start of the pandemic tourism took a really hard hit from early to mid-march with incredibly negative sentiment. This has since been contrasted with a strong increase in positive sentiment, driven by stories, emotional campaigns, hope for a vaccine and other factors, but this is constantly pulled back by lack of clarity, reputation on handling the pandemic and other issues related to how it is managed.

However, in any crisis, there is a chance to look for the opportunity. Olivier points to Peru as a destination that has turned the tide very quickly, from early March with negative sentiment around tourists being stranded and trapped to a strong resurgence driven by fans of Peru voicing positive sentiment as real ambassadors for the destination. The reason they have recovered so fast is because they have created a unique positioning on many key drivers, concentrating on niche pillars coupled with strong organic word of mouth which is powering positive sentiment.

Just one example of restoring sentiment where the net sentiment score grew 82 points was the welcoming of a single visitor for whom they opened up Matchu Picchu and created an incredible story around this, completely shifting the negative perceptions of the past.

Another example is France, where identifying the need to address negative sentiment related to the French Alps was addressed with new campaigns to revive the image, celebrities sharing optimism around the destination and anonymous fan videos which were successful in going viral and creating a hugely positive image for the destination. This all shows us how important it is to be tactical in how we respond to sentiment, especially negative sentiment, by addressing it head-on with content.

Olivier reveals that 4 in 10 travellers simply don't book today, because they're worried that they won't have the full experience.This doesn't mean they're going to a competitor or choosing an alternative, they simply aren't booking because they aren't convinced the experience will meet their expectations. So Olivier's message is to not try to predict the 'New Normal' but to learn from the millions of TripAdvisor reviews that he and his team have monitored from what others are saying online.

We can see that people today are talking about how 'safe' they feel or how 'quiet' places are or how well 'queuing is managed' in the post-covid travel experiences that people are enjoying today. However, this is juxtaposed with quite the inverse, thousands of people complaining about the quality of service, the standard of food, the closure or lack of services all 'caused by COVID-19'. Whilst consumers understand that the industry needs to adapt, they also, at the same time, have limited time for poor service.

So one of the biggest problems emerging in Europe and the US is the drop in guest satisfaction and it is a clear priority for businesses and destinations to address. There are on the other hand a number (smaller) of those who reopen whilst prioritising guest satisfaction, with lower numbers of guests and more determination to serve them exceptionally.

Lastly, looking at the 'faces' of the destination, we can see the importance of keeping residents happy with tourism post-pandemic. These problems which existed before the pandemic showed us how dire the situation had become and now when surveying residents as destinations open up once more we can see that locals and their attitude to visitors are one of the biggest factors contributing to visitor satisfaction and sentiment.

What is positive to see post-covid is that only 6% are actively protesting against tourists, with so-called 'tourism phobia', but there is the extremely positive sentiment towards tourism generally, recognising how important it is as an industry and contributor to recovery.

As a destination, if you are to hone in on one particular demographic, we can see that Millennials, somewhat surprisingly, are more hesitant to welcome visitors, with also higher levels of tourism phobia, perhaps pointing to issues relating to housing affordability and other concerns such as sustainability.

Despite the optimism, there is a growing trend towards those expressing a wish to see a cap on international visitors, with concerns around issues related to the negative impact of tourism. Residents are clearly showing that whilst they want tourism, the economic benefits and the positive impact of culture and leisure and what it brings to a city to return, there's also growing concern around things like cleanliness infrastructure and crowding - which has a different meaning to before with concerns about social distancing.

To put that into context, ten people packed in a bar can now contribute to the concern and negative sentiment around overcrowding, whereas before it had a whole different meaning for residents of cities.

What Olivier shows us is that communities can accelerate reputation rebound. New York stands out as a great example of a city which has suffered greatly from a very negative impact, with people referring to it as 'apocalypse' owing to the poor way in which the virus was managed. Here, the tourism board of New York & Co responded very positively with messages which served to turn sentiment around completely, resulting in a hugely positive sentiment score today.

So in conclusion, as tempting it is to flirt with the 'New Normal', we need to be thinking about the 'Now Normal' and respond tactically. We need to identify where demand is and respond where opportunity emerges. The truth is that perhaps now is not the best time to rethink your strategy, where there is no stabilisation or predictability as to the long-term impact of the virus.

Stewardship today is the most valuable way of predicting and addressing tomorrow. Consult and involve your stakeholders and start to address the issues, turn the page and manage your destination going forward.

Key Takeaways

Published on:
December 2020
About the contributor

Olivier Henry-Biabaud

Olivier founded TCI Research in 2010 as a way of combining his passion for travel with his 20+ years’ experience in research and data intelligence acquired in global companies.