Using digital data to adapt to a changing travel landscape

written by Tim Lawrence, Head of strategy and planning at iCrossing UK


Even before the outbreak of COVID-19 business models all over the world were being challenged, disrupted by growing consumer power and choice, technology adoption or regulation. For most business leaders, ‘change’ has been on the agenda for a while. According to McKinsey, before the coronavirus pandemic 92% of business leaders thought their business models would need to change given digitisation and this pace of change is reflected in how hard it is for brands to maintain long term success; the average age of companies listed on the S&P 500 index is 22 years, down from 61 years in 1958.

COVID-19 sped many trends up, demonstrated by research company, Mintel, when they reviewed how many of their 2030 predictions have come closer to fruition. One change is that naturally consumers have turned to digital alternatives to physical experiences: 54% of people globally watched more streaming services since the start of the pandemic, 52% watched more videos online (Source: Global Web Index Coronavirus Survey Wave 5th July 2020) and across 20 categories the number of people who now purchase most/all products online has increased between 45% and 100% (Source: McKinsey).

Some will revert to prior behaviour post-pandemic, however new habits are being learnt. Importantly COVID has created a global ‘life event’, breaking traditional habits and giving the opportunity to re-assess our choices. From new ways of buying, new brand choices, new websites visited, and new retailers used. 71% of UK consumers and 73% in the US have exhibited a new shopping behaviour since the outbreak (Source: McKinsey COVID Pulse survey).

As we move from national lockdowns into whatever comes next, consumers will display different behaviours and priorities to those they had before and criteria when choosing travel destinations may change, even from those consumers you already know. New behaviour poses brand new questions and there is no playbook so we all must learn along the way.


How digital data can help

In a changing landscape with fewer success paths to follow, digital data can keep you in touch with changing consumer sentiment and inform budgeting and messaging. Digital consumer data tends to be gathered at scale - in the thousands not hundreds, and collects actual and not claimed behaviours - uncovering what consumers really think, and most important of all can be provided in near real time.

Sources such as search trends, social listening, site analytics as well as various online panel-based surveys can provide a quick gauge of changing opinions, at a time when opinion can change overnight. Some questions these might be able to answer are: is demand coming back; where are new travellers coming from; what are their concerns; and how can we re-assure them?  

Re-opening with tact and understanding crucial issues is vital to getting travel back on track and these digital data options can give travel destinations the insight needed to change messaging to be more effective.

For those that can adapt there is opportunity; from Wyoming and West Virginia selling their remoteness to nervous travellers, remote controlled tours of the Faroe Islands, to virtual food tours of Jakarta. Those who can read consumer sentiment and create appropriate messaging can still succeed in both the short and long term.

At a time when travel was impossible, Cape Town Tourism understood that with the world taking a year off from holidays, travellers would still be looking for inspiration for when they can next travel and Cape Town – a long haul destination for Europe, could be a special place to visit. Cape Town Tourism launched a campaign with the theme “We Are Worth Waiting For!” to keep the city top of mind of those who will — eventually — be able to travel again.


Image from Cape Town Tourism's campaign, #CapeOfGoodHope #LoveCapeTown


How the Welsh Government has used  digital data to inform marketing

At iCrossing, we have worked with the Welsh Government for eight years providing digital marketing services for various departments including generating tourism (Visit Wales) and Foreign Direct Investment (Trade and Invest). During this time, we have worked together to evolve our communications to become data and insight led.

In 2018, we transformed Visit Wales’ media approach to put cultural trends at the heart of media buying. Through insight work we identified three cultural trends – Nostalgia, Mindfulness and Experiences - not things, and created segments audiences to target aimed at changing perceptions of Wales. This campaign increased demand for Wales online by 28% compared with pre-campaign, and in the first nine months of 2018, the official UK tourism surveys reported a 15.9% increase YOY in trips to Wales vs. the UK benchmark of 3%.

During COVID-19, our work evolved further, and we regularly provided Visit Wales with insight reports to inform of changes in consumer travel sentiment this led to a campaign with Public Health Wales where we connected our insight tools to programmatic digital display media campaigns. This allowed public health Wales to keep on top of COVID-19 conversations and, where necessary, respond automatically to changes. For example, in July, when public conversation moved away from testing and more towards returning to work, our tool reacted, reallocating budget from our ‘testing’ line-items to ‘keyworker’.


Out of change comes opportunity

Change might feel constant at present but for those who can adapt and stay in touch the opportunity remains to connect with consumers in a deeper and more effective way to get the travel industry back on track.

At iCrossing we do Change as Usual and specialise in helping our clients adapt to constantly evolving landscapes. While on the surface the challenges that COVID-19 has ushered in can be daunting, they are giving all of us the opportunity to reassess how we have done things and shape the future now.  


Tim Lawrence will be speaking at City Nation Place Global on the 12th November. Find out more here.


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How search insights can help prepare your tourism strategy for domestic recovery

Creating the trans-national heritage tourism model of the future | Interview with Ivan Eskildsen, Tourism Minister for Panama

Six tips to be more cost-effective as a place brand and marketing organisation

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