April 8, 2020
It was Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin who once said: “There are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen.” And there can be little doubt that these past few weeks have felt like several decades for the travel and tourism industry as a landscape nobody could have imagined is now a reality.
Across the globe, destinations and countries are closed to overseas visitors; airlines have grounded either all or the vast majority of their aircraft, cruise lines have confined their fleets to port and hotels and resorts have placed their properties on pause.
Arguably, no market sector has been hit as hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as the tourism and hospitality industries. In the United States, 701,000 jobs were lost last week because of the virus and it is estimated that 50% of those jobs were from the tourism and hospitality sector. In the United Kingdom, the Foreign and Commonwealth office extended its advice against travelling overseas for an “indefinite period.”
The challenge for the sector is a horribly simple one. How do you keep the idea and desire to travel alive when travel is prohibited in such an unimaginable way?
If history has taught us one thing, it is that humans are incredibly innovative when times are at their toughest. And, with the Covid-19 crisis and all its challenges for the travel and hospitality sector, we are seeing travel professionals and travel brands showing incredible, innovative initiatives to keep the travel dream alive for many. It is known as armchair travel and it is surprisingly successful.
Many travel brands and destinations are working on the premise that if the travel consumer can’t come to us we will come to the travel consumer. This week Viking Cruises launched a digital platform in a bid to “bring the world to its guests” at home while the Coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the globe.
The cruise line said Viking.TV would “provide enriching cultural content and livestreaming video experiences from around the world”, with live content from “experts, cultural partners and notable individuals.” Elsewhere, Visit Scotland’s content team, working from their own homes, created a short film inviting previous visitors from near and far to share their favourite memories of Scotland. The heart-warming film asks people to dream about visiting now, but to travel later.
Switzerland’s tourist board decided to keep their destination front of mind by giving users on social media a slice of “Switzerland from afar,” stunning pictures and videos of the destination accompanied by hashtags like #neverstopdreaming and #staystrong to bolster morale.
The evidence now is that many tourist boards that have any experiences or attractions that can be viewed virtually, or if there is the ability to create content that could create this illusion, are using this approach to encourage future visits.
A great example of this is the Vienna Tourist Board who have a dedicated page on their website promoting virtual experiences in the city. The page states that: “You don't have to leave home to experience the sparkling magnificence of Vienna's museums and sights. Come with us on a virtual voyage of discovery through the collections and rooms of world-famous Viennese institutions like the Albertina, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace and many other extraordinary places”.
South African Tourism released a video showcasing the destination with the message, “Don’t travel now so you can travel later” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urnp9YJeDN4 which amplifies what they are saying on social media #MeetSouthAfricaLater in a bid to inspire visits at a later date.
Travel writers are playing their part too in this bid to keep the desire to travel alive in the hearts and minds of the travelling public currently in lockdown. Travel editor and commentator Simon Calder now does regular Twitter polls called “Travel Icons” asking people to vote on everything from best waterfall, to best rail journey, best island and best bridge.
Meanwhile, Conde Nast Traveller have launched Little Black Book which is an initiative to “shine a light on all the places we can’t get to right now, but which are truly special and globally gorgeous.” As part of the initiative, readers are invited to send in their best travel insights and most extraordinary experiences.
No one knows how long the Coronavirus pandemic will last or, indeed, what the post pandemic world will look like. But one thing is certain, destinations and travel brands can keep the magic and inspiration of travel alive for now – even if it is virtually, from the armchair.