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Nicholas Hall

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From Millennial Travelers to Terrorism, Nick Hall on the Challenges and Changing Face of Tourism

Sojern, the world's leading performance marketing platform for travel brands, puts more heads in beds and travelers in town for its clients worldwide. Sojern is a provider of a data-driven traveler marketing platform that utilizes programmatic buying and machine learning technology. Sojern partners with travel companies to collect anonymized (non-personally identifiable) traveler profiles. Sojern has been partner with the Digital Tourism Think Tank for the past two years and they were fortunate to host Nick at Sojern’s UK office to talk about the changing face of tourism and travel. Here is part one of that conversation:

We’ve seen that terrorist attacks influence travellers’ decisions to visit various places. This has happened in traditionally more unstable countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, but recently this has impacted countries like France and most recently, Belgium. How have you seen tourist boards and DMOs cope with these issues and how can they help recover their tourism economy more quickly?

Obviously the immediate response should be up to governments and to their forces to ensure that these events are curtailed. When these events become more frequent and extremism gets out of control, it can completely eradicate a tourism industry. You see it with Egypt, where the tourism industry is virtually non-existent as a result. You can also see the hugely damaging effects that terrorism is having in Turkey. From a tourism perspective, it’s really important for those countries to get on top of the situation, because tourism may not recover if it continues.

Destinations definitely have an important role to play as a communicator in times of crisis. As digital is an immediate medium, they can get information to people very quickly through social media and through their websites. Many tourist boards are putting a lot more effort into crisis preparation and contingency plans so that they are prepared to actually deliver key information if and when something occurs.

What’s really good is that we haven’t seen tourist boards exploiting the problems in another country to draw more travellers to them. One country may be the beneficiary of problems happening in another, but nobody wants to exploit these tragic situation. As destinations, there is a desire to compete on the quality of the product and that’s it. People still want to go on holiday, and those places will change depending on what’s going on in the world.

We’ve got a referendum here in the UK 23 June to determine whether the UK will stay in the European Union. Are tourist boards talking about this and what has the reaction been?

In Europe this isn’t something that tourist boards are discussing, they don’t really feel that this issue relates directly to the work that they do. In Britain it’s a bit different, I think that the tourism industry in general recognises the risk that an exit vote would have, and I think the overwhelming majority feel concerned about this possibility.

Besides these geopolitical events, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing tourism boards?

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Destinations need to transform to put digital at the heart of their activities. Digital marketing is more accurate and effective, it’s easier to measure, it’s more adaptable and you get better results than you would with traditional media. This one of the biggest challenges because tourist boards are traditionally government-run organisations, even today there are many which are a mix of public/private. Moving government organisations to a more nimble, business-like, entrepreneurial model can be difficult to do with those existing bureaucratic structures in place.

What is your favorite example of a tourism board embracing digital marketing?

There are quite a few good examples. I hear all the time that tourism lags behind other travel verticals, but I don’t agree. Some of the very best examples of great campaigns come from the tourism industry. The trouble is that it’s an industry with different levels and budget disparities, so some tourist boards can, sort of, fall behind of course. But on the whole, this is not an industry that lags behind in innovation.

Tourism Australia, for example, is always 10 steps ahead of everybody. They’ve just launched a site dedicated to 360 degree videos of Australia, from underwater diving through to walking with kangaroos. Tourism British Columbia in Canada always stand out as one of the best. They always want to be first to experiment, but they do it quite strategically which is important. They aren’t just to doing trends for trends’ sake.

Here in Europe, Wonderful Copenhagen, as a city tourist board, are really innovative. They also understand the generational trends. They know that the millennial market is very important for them, and they’ve developed campaigns and content to better win this market. I think they also understand the need for very well-targeted ad campaigns to raise awareness and to retarget interest. That’s a level of understanding that most tourist destinations don’t have at the moment.

What do you think tourism boards can do to appeal to millennials and baby boomers?

In general, tourist boards feel much better positioned to appeal to baby boomers from their traditional marketing tactics. The idea of creating a more traditional product offer, be it a tour, an experience, a five-day package, this is something that’s quite easy to understand. The tour operating partners, sales channels and methods are already well established.

We often focus on the fact that millennial travellers are fundamentally different, but baby boomers are also changing. They’ve adopted digital, like everyone else. They may not be the first to adopt a new trend, but they follow them. The trends that are driven by the millennial traveller, this more immersive, experiential content, is not irrelevant to the baby boomer market. Destinations need to understand that the millennial market is now at least equal in size to the baby boomers for some destinations, if not greater.

 

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