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COVID and travel trends

April 2021

EXPERIENCE partner Visit Kent is the Destination Management Organisation (DMO) that promotes Kent and Medway as an attractive destination to travel to and live in. It has expertise in marketing, development and business support in the visitor economy, and here, experts offer up the very latest insights into travel trends.

In the context of COVID, what are the likely short, medium and long term trends for domestic and international tourism?

The success of domestic and international tourism is fully dependent on the speed of vaccination programmes in the UK and France (and in key overseas markets).  Until the majority (or even entirety) of populations have been vaccinated and even with restrictions eased for the summer season and beyond – there is still likely to be nervousness amongst some visitors for the short to medium term about travelling both within the UK and overseas.

That being said – given the ‘roadmap’ for the UK - consumer confidence is clearly starting to return, with many tourism businesses and agents reporting a huge spike in bookings both overseas and domestically for late spring and summer. However, with the ongoing uncertainty about international travel, it looks set to be a bumper season for domestic staycations both in the UK and France, particularly in rural and coastal locations, which will significantly benefit the EXPERIENCE pilot regions.

What will visitors be looking for post-COVID?

There has been an increased emphasis on outdoor activity and on people being able to control their own environments.  We think that this will continue.  The pandemic has also been (and continues to be) an opportunity to raise the quality, sustainability and range of tourism products.  It will be all about new and contemporary visitor experiences.

‘Workations’ is also a big growth opportunity as long as destinations and tourism businesses can guarantee good wifi connections!  With many businesses reducing their office overheads and a growing demand from employees for businesses to start following the Virgin model ie  flexibility for employees to complete their work whenever and wherever they want – this could be a very popular way to combine both travelling and working for both domestic and international visitors. This could also help many destinations to lengthen their seasonality.

What are your 3 top tips for tourist-related organisations currently struggling?

To survive, tourism organisations have had to be (and need to continue to be) extremely agile and flexible in order to quickly adapt and respond to the latest information on what customers need and want (especially when designing experiences) and most importantly, they will need to be flexible in terms of payment terms and cancellation policies.

Use of appropriate and sensitive imagery is key – photos of large groups of people are not appropriate in the current climate and the overseas market will also be sensitive to images of ‘overtourism’.

Destinations and businesses need to be able to stand out from the crowd and ask themselves ‘what do we want to be famous for?’

What is Visit Kent doing to support these organisations/businesses as part of EXPERIENCE?

We’re supporting 125 businesses to develop new off-season experiential products which will appeal to emerging visitor demands. Businesses are needing to adapt and diversify to create new revenue streams in response to Covid-19 and this programme will support them to make these changes and take the new products to market. We know that almost 60% of domestic visitors select the experience before the destination so in order to support the recovery, we need to ensure that our destination has the unique and authentic products visitors are seeking.

The package of support provides businesses with 1:1 mentoring and training, product testing and market insights, content creation and photography, consumer marketing and support with distribution. Many businesses on the programme are new to the visitor economy so they will especially benefit from being part of the wider network to build partnerships and learn from others.