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Day 4 of X. Festival was all about trends, digital consumer behaviour, influencers and creators, engagement and content.  

Let’s recap on what we have seen on X. Engage.

Alex Herrmann, Director of UK & Ireland at Switzerland Tourism, gave us another daily dose of Switzerland.

Ben Shacham, Culture Trip, opened the day with an extremely insightful keynote, which summed up what happened in 2020, how consumers reacted and the opportunities that have been created. Can we make predictions on what might happen in the future? The path out of this nightmare will be gradual, not immediate. Some trends will stick: the need for outdoors will continue to be strong, as the virus won't just disappear and people's interest in this kind of experiences is likely to remain for many seasons. 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 it means restoring confidence. What impact the economic downturn will have on travel when we consider consumer spending? What about the way we live and work, the shift to remote working, the collapse of business travel and the influence of government stimulus? These are all factors we need to consider. Ben concludes with a ray of optimism, hopes and wishes: understanding and appreciation of all we missed about discovering other cultures, the value for the community and being part of the society we used to take for granted, such as culture and arts, are all parts of our world now and will play a role in the future.

Shuei Akahoshi, Managing Director of Kyoto City Tourism Association, has shared their experience with the recent digital transformation. Kyoto is all about culture, tradition, religion and sometimes it is challenging to combine this with tech and innovative digital tools. Kyoto City Tourism Association has done a great job in involving the industry and ignite a good dose of digital in the way the city is experienced. The first important step was to be able to change the mindset of business and associations, especially those who were not traditionally known to be particularly tech-savvy. Furthermore, the greatest effort was taken to ensure high standards of public safety by using technology. Working across In Real Life (IRL) and digital means has ensured a broader understanding of the industry and objectives, which will help when we will transition from digital experiences to IRL when travel will be possible again.

Then, we have been joined by Wendy Van Leeuwen, co-founder of Secret City Trails. She shared the thinking behind their organisation which offers a playful series of gamified experiences to discover cities through off-the-beaten-path walks. What she shared about engagement and digital experiences was absolutely relevant for the audience of X. Festival, who is re-imagine the product and experience design. Every human craves in-person human connections. Even when we discover more of our own city, humans are a big part of the stories of cities. It seems that right now, IRL human interaction will disappear or does not look relevant: often, we find ourselves not wanting to meet other people, interact with them, cook with them. However, ultimately, these experience will not disappear, they will come back in some way. Mass tourism, people going to crowded places will also come back. Yet, we have to think of an alternative more and more people can enjoy. That alternative includes a little bit of digital.

Dominique Audibert has joined X. Festival to bring the perspective of Whalar. She has presented different perspectives on the new role of influencers and content creators, which is going from being based on bare popularity to focusing on their responsibility with the audience. Moreover, the panel focused on the role of content creators in rebuilding and strengthening the destination's brand. People have spent more time at home, and, of course, the engagement rate on social media has gone up through the roof consequently. People are engaging with the content 2.5 times more than they used to. What does this mean for marketers? What is considered really authentic right now? Dominique has moderated a panel with two amazing content creators: Paperboyo and Melissa Legarda from Illumelation. There are a few key takeaways, that marketers can benefit from. It is really worth embracing consumer behaviour and reacts: this might mean changing the way we do marketing completely or adapting in, but definitely what is happening in the market cannot be ignored. This can be done by creating a true emotional connection to support, inspire and entertain. Even switching, it is important to stay true to the main values of the brand: remember authenticity always wins. It is also relevant to empower and trust your greatest asset and advocates. Finally, learn how to prioritise your community mindset.

Ashish Arya is the Global Head of Strategy & Marketing for Travel at Pinterest. His presentation was about how to spark interest in exploring a destination again. He brought to the table five insight-driven tips for all travel marketers that brands can embrace to inspire travel. The first tip is to help travellers imagine the future: you can promote an optimistic view of the future and ideal travel experience to raise the interest of the audience. Furthermore, you can commit to reassure safety and trust: if you build trust through your digital brand, you can more easily add the value of the IRL experience and convey a stronger message of safety. But also, learn how you can inspire travellers to boost demand: take this opportunity to shift your marketing focus further back in the decision-making process to the most important inspiration phase. The average traveller has more than 40 online touchpoints before making their final booking decisions and yet even with all these touchpoints, travel marketers are more focused on the last click before booking is made. But we can't afford to ignore all the steps that happen earlier in the process. It is highly recommended to move travellers from dreaming to booking. To do so it is important to reach travellers who are in a future planning mindset, driving the urge to make that dream reality. Finally, remember that passion can be used to boost personalisation. For travel, passions are key to drive relevance and engagement. As AFAR Magazine suggests, interests and passion drive where and how you travel and the experience you make on your journey.

To gather even more insights on consumer shift, we have been joined by Iva Kutle Skrlect, Global Destination Marketing Partner at Google. She explained that the pandemic has presented us with an enormous amount of data coming from a wide range of sources. It is worth keeping in mind that survey data does not always correspond to what people actually do: it needs to be corroborated with what people are really searching for and what is happening online. To get a fuller picture, when data are analysed and interpreted, research strategy should consider both these aspects. Looking at trend data, we can see that users want a relaxing experience and they care about safety but still expect deals and incentives. More than ever right now, people are conscious of the monetary value and motivation for travel. Whilst we are seeing a gradual increase in booking and searching for vacations, we also see searches intensifying on health and hygiene as well as recommendations for going off the beaten path alongside offers and deals. Hence, if you are considering what your strategy should entail as a service provider or DMO, it must include consideration of trends and insights.

One of the highlights of the day was without any doubt the contribution by Laurie Dempster, Digital Lead at Newfoundland & Labrador. The DMO has done an amazing job in creating consistent, strong and inspiring content, shifting from a foreign audience to residents. Laurie has revealed the secrets behind many of their campaigns and strategies that serve as a best practice and inspiration for any organisation. The success of any campaign lies in the brand itself: creativity, drawing on the DNA of what makes a destination special, the people and culture, the natural environment and history, perseverance, toughness, strength and characters. It is important to understand how this can inspire a resident audience and not just international travellers and are easily fascinated by a place they don't know. Locals already leave in the destination, so they already know what can be discovered better than anyone... don't they? So you need to think about the content as a mix of inspiration and information: they shifting from aiming at bringing people in and inviting them to explore to inspiring nostalgia, the surprising and unexpected. With a local audience, you need to stress that all the things that can be seen are within reach and now is the right time for staycation and backyard exploration.

We then moved the attention to one of the main channels DMO use to inspire and inform travellers: the website. We have listened to the perspective of Visit California, presented by Lynn Carpenter. She shared what the DMO has learned in the previous challenging months. What it emerged is that there is no "normal": the team at Visit California was aware of the fact that they had to run a public service announcement, yet at the same time keep inspiration at an all-time high, which meant adapting the message. With a polarised view on the pandemic, they decided to just deliver a message about staying safe, in a simple and fun way. "Staying safe means staying open" was a campaign meant to provide confidence: the videos were the result of a pivot in recognising what kind of messaging was really needed, based on what people were searching for. So keep the brand at the core, but inform and give people what they need to boost reassurance and confidence in a time of struggle.

Let's move to Europe and discover how Turespaña has worked on the website rebranding. Blanca Perez Sauquillo has presented the work their team has done to adapt their website to the needs of the new audience. Turespaña approached the website redesign process by, first of all, thinking about the importance of research to ensure that design reflects the needs of users. This included 6k surveys, user-experience studies and a benchmark of other destinations website. This is a complete and multifaced approach that, of course, increases the chances of success. The user research revealed that not everybody in every market was looking for the same things. The first lesson learnt is how important it is to adapt the content depending on the audience it is catered for. They also learnt how relevant deep personalisation is. For example, they looked for one of the biggest questions destinations have about their website: do all the content need to be translated? They realised that this is not necessary and provided all the different markets with the answers to their very own questions, rather than delivering too much for nothing.

We then went on a journey to the infinite and beyond, with Jason Swick, VP of Strategy & Insights of SimpleView. He suggests we all start thinking with an infinite mindset: how you did things before may not be the best path going forward so you need to learn to be more flexible. This is where adopting an agile approach might help adapt more easily to challenges. Make the most of your 1P/CRM data and email lists to better engage your audience and measure what really matters so that data can guide the marketing decisions. Finally, it is important to diversify your channels to reduce risk and more easily define opportunities to continually optimise and test to improve the desired outcome.

The day came to an end with Markus Berger, Head of Communication at Switzerland Tourism, who taught us to make an extra effort when engaging with influencers and content creators. He presented the work behind the Switzerland Tourism Influencer Summit, which is a robust way of enhancing the digital marketing strategy of the destination. He says that we will all overcome this disastrous time so it is time to think about the time ahead and be prepared. An influencer strategy can be part of the road to recovery. They established great relationships with the network of influencers who already participated in the summit. But where do they go from there? They involved influencers to take part in a content creation project, asking them to work on their strengths, for examples, specific tools or channels or topics. 

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