How travel and tourism marketers have harnessed data in a pandemic

A panel at this week’s ADMA Data Week 2020 event discussed the ways data is helping two tourism and airline CMOs navigate the extraordinary events of the COVID-19 pandemic

Real-time customer data and an ability to rapidly rethink marketing have been key elements for marketers in the travel and tourism categories as they've looked to manage in the fast-moving COVID-19 crisis.

During last week's ADMA Data Week, a panel discussion featuring the chief marketing officers of Tourism Australia and Qantas explored how both have managed the unprecedented crisis, which has shutdown travel and tourism. The panel was moderated by ADMA's Jenny Williams.

At Tourism Australia, CMO, Susan Coghill, said the recent catastrophic Australian bushfires provided a basis from which to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

“To say it was a blueprint is understatement, but there are learnings to take from bushfires to pandemic,” Coghill said. "We had invested in consumer sentiment analysis to guide communications and planning and established a structure for regular, rapid communications forums, roundtables, emails and webinars with industry to take that insight and feed into planning.

“We’ve taken those approaches from the bushfires and really amplified that into the coronavirus crisis, as well as taken a longer-term approach to understanding the impacts of the pandemic. And we continue to take in new information in the process."

This means continuing to pivot as much as possible and as frequently as needed, Coghill said. "Pivoting without the panicking, that’s the approach we’re trying to take,” she said.

“And with this global pandemics, we're seeing every single different type of crisis - SARS and the GFC - converging all in one."

The aviation business is arguably more used to external global events, such as weather, political, economic, natural and even bushfires, instigating a crisis situation for the industry to navigate, Qantas Group CMO, Jo Boundy, said. 

“The crisis response is a well-oiled machine, unfortunately. The difference with the pandemic is that there’s never been anything like this we could use," she said. "We adopted our crisis management approach, of course, but the hardest thing is there’s no real historic data you can use for a global pandemic.

“You can have a framework and a process. But there’s no previous modelling you can use to information making decisions during a global pandemic because there’s no real reference point."

Sourcing useful data in this fast-moving crisis therefore means data must be gathered on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, to inform decision making, Boundy said. “We’re having to interpret that in real-time. It’s having that volume of intel and having to interpret it very quickly and be very agile in responding.”

At Qantas, its voice of customer panel has provided particularly insightful during the last eight months of the pandemic, while a Frequent Flyer panel helps the brand stay in touch with the changing sentiments and needs of the customers.

“We’ve been asking them on a regular basis how they’ve been feeling about travel and that’s helped,” Boundy said.

Coghill explained this year has been about behaviour change and not building the brand or awareness. For Tourism Australia, the focus has also shifted to encouraging Australians to take domestic trips by approaching travel like they do when they take international trips. This means building Bucket List experiences and lots of extras to help support the industry.

“It’s about getting consumers to invest in a world-class trip here in Australia now,” Coghill said. “It’s about getting people to travel differently and it’s a rallying cry to support the industry and the economy and helping yourself with a much-needed holiday too."

Tourism Australia is also looking to tap into the sentiment of legacy campaigns, like the 1980s Paul Hogan ads promoting Australia, with its research showing the power of taking domestic trips is doing something for the country.

“The idea of taking a break for yourself, but also helping the country and the economy with that adds to that sense of shared recovery," Coghill said. "As a strategy, there’s some legacy with those Paul Hogan ads encouraging Aussies to get out and see their country and in a way we’re sort of picking up on that."

Coghill and Boundy also spoke about what air travel and tourism might look like after the pandemic is over. Boundy said customer feedback, not surprisingly, shows health and safety is paramount.

“It’s not anything new, but the current situation has highlighted these basic needs,” she said. “As an extension of that, service and care are really high on the list. The prevalence of technology is key here, and we’ve seen a shift in digital tools, like check-in with an app or digital wallet, biometrics and maybe getting rid of the passport that needs to be handled.

"The pandemic has forced us to move faster in this space and also customers are more accepting of these digital changes now. There’s now a real customer need for digitisation."

On the destination side, Coghill said customer research is starting to show people more interested in places with wide open spaces and less crowded attractions. She saw Australia well placed to appeal to those changing consumer trends, and also highlighted the way the country has been managing the coronavirus adding to its longer-term appeal.

The power of hindsight

Looking back to the start of the crisis and what tools would have been useful, Coghill said having a consumer sentiment tracker established would have enabled Tourism Australia to stay in touch with what’s been changing rapidly over the course of the pandemic. “It’s now established and we’re refining all the time,” she said.

“It’s the need to be agile with the values of who you are as a company and as a brand and delivering on that promise. Short-term decisions with an eye on the long-term.”

Boundy said it would have been having predictive models around how a pandemic works, or in other words, a crystal ball. “We have a good three-year plan. But it feels like every week we build a plan and then by Friday we have to throw it out and start again," she said.

"You have to get good at making short-term, reactive decisions, while having a longer term framework you’re working towards.

“We hear how the world of marketing has changed - the incredible use of technology and data - but this crisis shows how you need to be nimble. It’s not about having this perfect plan that is set in stone - that world is gone. So whether it’s a crisis or not, you’ve got to be constantly taking the data and insights to be able to get the outcomes you want for the customer and for the brand."

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia


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