When travel returns, the focus needs to be on fun

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Anthony LaFauce
Anthony LaFauce

During the height of the Great Depression, then-nominee and future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt played the 1929 song "Happy Days Are Here Again" at the 1932 Democratic National Convention.

For several years, the song had been the unofficial hymn of those looking to repeal prohibition during the Depression. Singing about happiness during the worst financial crisis this country had ever seen may seem odd, but it was in fact a calculated decision to draw on positive associations with pleasant memories from the past.

Over the past decade, due to the increased use of social media and the lower cost of travel, tourism has seen a boom across the board. If the tourism industry wants to recoup the crowds of years past after the Covid-19 crisis ends, it's going to have to refine its pitch beyond commitments to health and safety and renew its efforts to market travel as fun.

Thankfully, we have the wisdom of our ancestors to guide us. In the 1950s, in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans ushered in a golden age of commerce, spending record sums on new homes, cars and, most importantly, travel.

Marketers in the postwar period in the 1940s and ’50s focused on the fun of travel, not its safety. Pictured, an advertisement for Martin Aircraft.
Marketers in the postwar period in the 1940s and ’50s focused on the fun of travel, not its safety. Pictured, an advertisement for Martin Aircraft.

The world was sick of bad news by the second half of the 20th century. The travel industry didn’t focus on safety or value. Instead, everyone from the local waterpark to the cruise lines of Hawaii promised "fun for the whole family." These advertisers knew that if you were traveling, you had already budgeted and done your research on what locations were safe -- all that was left was picking the most enjoyable destination. For most domestic travel locations, the same applies.

I already see signs of a boom in China. With quarantines lifted, tens of thousands of Chinese citizens are flocking to tourist destinations around the country. When America emerges from this crisis, there will likely be a similar desire to see the world.

After the initial round of movement restrictions are relaxed, the burden will be on the tourism industry to make customers want to pay for their experiences again. Yes, value and safety will be essential, but to motivate consumers to get back out into the world, the industry is going to have to return to selling fun, as it did during the 1950s.

Anthony LaFauce is senior vice president at the Clyde Group, a Washington-based public relations firm.

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