Marketing
moves

As tourism emerges from its pandemic pause, destination marketers are deploying fresh ad campaigns that speak to a changed travel landscape. Part 2 of a two-part report.

Illustration by Visual Generation/Shutterstock.com

Illustration by Visual Generation/Shutterstock.com

With the pandemic subsiding and travel restrictions falling, a full 73% of American travelers plan to take a vacation in the next six months, MMGY Travel Intelligence said in a new report. 

Vying to be top of mind as those travelers decide where to go, destinations from Colombia to Thailand are launching new and refreshed travel campaigns. Deploying star power, leaning into partnerships or turning to social media influencers, these cities, countries and continents are showing that while they may have been closed to travel during the pandemic, their marketing machines were revving up new ideas and concepts.

The common thread? The world and the way people travel has changed. And this is not your 2019 marketing campaign. 

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Liam Neeson is coming for you…

The absence of U.S. travelers during the pandemic was painful to Ireland, and it affected far more than just travel businesses. The year before Covid, the broader economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland benefited when the island welcomed 1.7 million Americans, whose combined spending power posted $1.9 billion in exports.

Tourism Ireland is hoping to revive that revenue stream with a multiprong marketing campaign that is the most ambitious it has ever launched. And chief among its initiatives is the release of a new IMAX film titled “Ireland” narrated by the actor Liam Neeson, the island’s “global presenting partner.” The film celebrates the history, music, culture and arts of the island.

At a screening of the film in New York in March, Tourism Ireland’s CEO, Niall Gibbons, said the country is so confident that 2022 will be a year of strong recovery that its marketing budget was raised by 65%. 

Skellig Michael crag is one of the locations featured in the Tourism Ireland-sponsored IMAX movie “Ireland” narrated by actor Liam Neeson. (Courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

Skellig Michael crag is one of the locations featured in the Tourism Ireland-sponsored IMAX movie “Ireland” narrated by actor Liam Neeson. (Courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

Skellig Michael crag is one of the locations featured in the Tourism Ireland-sponsored IMAX movie “Ireland” narrated by actor Liam Neeson. (Courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

“We know from our research that there is significant pent-up demand to return as soon as possible,” he said. “We also know that there is significant competition. Our campaigns need to punch though the noise and create an immediate desire to visit.”

A visual theme that appears in most Ireland promotions is a round green button, the green signifying both Ireland and “go!”

The green-button campaign will reach across online platforms, network TV and streaming services, targeting key gateway cities and priority markets, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Dallas. A parallel effort is aimed at the trade. The goal, said Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland’s executive vice president for North America and Australia, is to deliver 600 million impressions to reach 92 million people.

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…and so is the Queen

Across the Irish Sea, VisitBritain teamed up with British Airways in a three-year partnership to develop and promote a campaign titled “Meanwhile in Britain.” 

The multimillion-dollar, multichannel effort will, according to a press release, focus on attractions “curated by experts who are embedded into the fabric of British culture, challenging perceptions of the destination and the journey that awaits travelers on their next trip.”

VisitBritain predicts tourism won’t recover fully until late 2023 or early 2024. To reach even that goal, it believes it will have to both work hard and partner creatively. VisitBritain executive vice president of the Americas Gavin Landry, referencing “Meanwhile in Britain,” said that “working with British Airways amplifies our reach.”

British Airways’ Tom Stevens, left, U.K. trade commissioner Emma Wade-Smith and VisitBritain’s Paul Gauger announce the “Meanwhile in Britain” campaign. (Courtesy of VisitBritain)

British Airways’ Tom Stevens, left, U.K. trade commissioner Emma Wade-Smith and VisitBritain’s Paul Gauger announce the “Meanwhile in Britain” campaign. (Courtesy of VisitBritain)

British Airways’ Tom Stevens, left, U.K. trade commissioner Emma Wade-Smith and VisitBritain’s Paul Gauger announce the “Meanwhile in Britain” campaign. (Courtesy of VisitBritain)

As in Ireland, American visitors are particularly coveted in the U.K.’s drive to recovery. U.S. visitors are Great Britain’s largest inbound market, and in 2019, 4.5 million visitors added $5.5 billion to the economy, ranking tourism as the third largest export.

The tourist board believes Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee and its attendant festivals and celebrations will be a draw, particularly for tour operators who put together packages for U.S. guests.

The “Meanwhile in Britain” campaign comes shortly after the launch of a different international campaign, “Welcome to another side of Britain,” which focuses on cities hit hardest by the absence of international visitors.

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Berlin is open and waiting

VisitBerlin, like other European destinations, finds it must address potential visitors’ concerns about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and uncertainty about whether the conflict may spread.

“I want to invite everyone to come to Europe,” VisitBerlin CEO Burkhard Kieker said at a luncheon for journalists in New York. “We have to raise the flag of democracy, freedom and tolerance. Raise the flag so it’s seen in the Kremlin. And this will only happen if we keep meeting. Don’t hide in your foxholes.”

Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin, says that visitation to the destination should return to 2019 levels by 2023. (Photo by Thomas Kierok)

Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin, says that visitation to the destination should return to 2019 levels by 2023. (Photo by Thomas Kierok)

Burkhard Kieker, CEO of VisitBerlin, says that visitation to the destination should return to 2019 levels by 2023. (Photo by Thomas Kierok)

Kieker said that visitors today will see “thousands and thousands” of Ukrainian refugees but that otherwise daily life is “absolutely normal.”

Three years before the pandemic began, Berlin overtook Rome as the No. 3 most-visited European city (London and Paris are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively), and the luncheon was part of a three-city U.S. tour that stopped in New York, Washington and Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest festival.

A public-private organization, VisitBerlin received subsidies from both the city and federal government over the past two years. “Otherwise, we would have gone bankrupt,” Kieker said. “Twenty percent of people who live in Berlin are dependent upon tourism to some extent. We realized, among other things, that our arts and culture aren’t sustainable without visitors. Most of the people attending our theaters and music halls are not local residents — 70% to 90% are visitors.”

The organization also partnered with an airline, in this case United, which launched a six-times-weekly route from Newark last month that alone will bring 160,000 visitors from the U.S., Kieker said. United promoted the route in a newsletter to MileagePlus members, in its onboard magazine and in a joint social media campaign.

The CEO said that visitation should return to 2019 levels by 2023, though meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition business will likely take a year longer.

“Berlin is back, Berlin is open, Berlin is waiting for you,” he concluded. 

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Japan is closed and waiting

And for destinations that are still closed, marketing is an even greater challenge. In 2019, over 1.7 million Americans were among the more than 31 million international arrivals to Japan. It’s closed to leisure travelers today, but it doesn’t want to be invisible to them. Last month, Mikio Mori, the consul general of New York, invited travel journalists to his official residence for dinner and to learn about the Ainu indigenous people, who live on Hokkaido island.

After a brief welcome from Mori and Michiaki Yamada, executive director of the Japanese National Tourism Organization, Naomi Mizoguchi, a documentarian who made a film about the Ainu, spoke about their unique culture and provided travel information about how to visit cultural Ainu sites on Hokkaido.

Documentary filmmaker Naomi Mizoguchi, wearing traditional clothing of Japan's indigenous Ainu people, demonstrates how to play the Ainu mukkuri mouth harp at an event organized by the Japanese National Tourist Board. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

Documentary filmmaker Naomi Mizoguchi, wearing traditional clothing of Japan's indigenous Ainu people, demonstrates how to play the Ainu mukkuri mouth harp at an event organized by the Japanese National Tourist Board. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

Documentary filmmaker Naomi Mizoguchi, wearing traditional clothing of Japan's indigenous Ainu people, demonstrates how to play the Ainu mukkuri mouth harp at an event organized by the Japanese National Tourist Board. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

Yamada said that although only some business travelers and students are currently allowed in, visitors are not required to self-quarantine if they have received booster shots and arrive with a negative test result. The situation, he said, is “gradually improving.”

“It’s a challenging time for destinations like Japan,” he said, “but Japan is getting ready to welcome international tourists. We want to keep the relationship.”

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Thailand refocuses

For some destinations, the travel trade is key to its plan to jump-start tourism. 

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) came to New York to wine and dine the trade at a Thai restaurant, hoping that the agency community will help it achieve its new “quality over quantity” strategy and increase its share of long-haul travelers.

TAT introduced its “Amazing Thailand” marketing campaign in 2015. For 2022, as part of a plan to revitalize and transform its tourism sector, it introduced the “Amazing New Chapters” campaign, which envisions more sustainable and responsible tourism that has a more equitable economic impact. 

“We don’t want to do the same thing that we did before,” said TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn, adding that the 40 million visitors who went to Thailand annually before the pandemic created “some negative impact.” TAT’s new plan is to bring half as many visitors but achieve 80% of the 2019 economic benefit. For that to happen, per-visitor spending will have to be about twice what it used to be. 

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, speaking at a luncheon for travel advisors in New York. (Courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand)

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, speaking at a luncheon for travel advisors in New York. (Courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand)

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, speaking at a luncheon for travel advisors in New York. (Courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand)

“So we have to focus on quality more than quantity,” he said. “This message, Amazing New Chapters, is the beginning of a new era in Thailand after Covid-19.”

TAT also hopes to increase the number of U.S. and European travelers to make up for the loss of short-haul markets, such as China, Korea and Japan, that remain closed. 

Thailand itself only recently opened, but Supasorn said that throughout the pandemic, it has tried to stay top of mind with its travel advisors, tour operator and airline partners. Now that people are ready to travel, it is hoping those partners will help drive sales among high-spending travelers looking for sustainable experiences.

Thailand’s strategy shift toward sustainability as tourism restarts is not unique. Brent Rivard, chief marketing officer for Internova Travel Group, noted that quite a few destinations are taking the reopening opportunity to reset their focus and goals.

“Pre-pandemic, many destinations were struggling with overtourism — either on a macro level like in Venice or Barcelona or on a micro level with specific attractions or capacity limitations, such as Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica or Uluru in Australia,” he said. “Now, as tourism restarts, many destinations are more focused on sustainable tourism and are looking to rebuild with the right type of traveler versus just pure volume. Some of that is reflected in the type of campaign they are putting in the market with more of a focus on the experience of travel and less on mass-market tourism.”

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Colombian caravan

Colombia’s marketing arm, ProColombia, sent a convoy of six LED-screen-clad trucks around midtown and lower Manhattan for 10 hours on March 23, pausing at 15 well-known locations, including Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station and Macy’s, before settling in at Times Square.

The trucks are part of a larger marketing drive that includes events and influencer campaigns on three continents, many done in partnership with Disney, whose latest animated film, “Encanto,” is about a rural Colombian family and its magical house.

LED-clad trucks caravanned through Manhattan to promote travel to Colombia. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

LED-clad trucks caravanned through Manhattan to promote travel to Colombia. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

LED-clad trucks caravanned through Manhattan to promote travel to Colombia. (TW photo by Arnie Weissmann)

The convoy was a success, with shots of the “Colombia Caravan,” many featuring images from the film, amplified beyond the Big Apple with the hashtag #WishingToBeInColombia, resulting in 402,017 impressions on Instagram and Twitter. 

The company Street Metric estimated that the truck convoy was seen by 300,000 to 350,000 people in New York.

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Australia goes big

Farther-flung destinations are marketing to the U.S. in a different way, trying to seize on what they see as pent-up demand for big trips after being home for so long. 

Chris Allison, acting general manager of the Americas for Tourism Australia, said that its “Don’t go small. Go Australia” campaign is meant to entice travelers to “think big” now that Australia has reopened to travel. 

“The messaging nods to the fact that, whilst many people are able to travel again, some are opting for shorter trips closer to home. Their worlds are getting smaller, when in fact what they need is a big, epic holiday to dust off the stress and angst of the last two years. And that’s what Australia offers.”

Marketing a major international destination that remained closed longer than many others was tricky for Tourism Australia, which had to carefully consider the timing of the campaign launch. Allison said the organization wanted to be ready to go as soon as there was a firm border reopening date, which didn’t happen until Feb. 21. 

The “Go Australia” campaign launched in mid-February on social media, television and billboards, to reach travelers on a global scale, Allison said. New marketing angles focus on changing traveler preferences, emphasizing, for instance, Australia’s “wide open spaces.” And the new campaign lets people know that, although Australia’s been closed, it’s been evolving. 

Tourism Australia launched ads in Times Square in February. The “Don’t go small. Go Australia” campaign is intended to tap desire for bucket-list travel. (Courtesy of Tourism Australia)

Tourism Australia launched ads in Times Square in February. The “Don’t go small. Go Australia” campaign is intended to tap desire for bucket-list travel. (Courtesy of Tourism Australia)

Tourism Australia launched ads in Times Square in February. The “Don’t go small. Go Australia” campaign is intended to tap desire for bucket-list travel. (Courtesy of Tourism Australia)

“Our goal is twofold: First, we want to remind people of the amazing iconic experiences, such as the Great Barrier Reef, awe-inspiring Uluru and the Sydney Harbor Bridge,” he said. “In tandem, it’s important to highlight new tourism experiences, refreshed cultural attractions, major events planned for 2022 and beyond, as well as accommodations that have opened.”

That message has resonated with advisors. Helen
McCabe-Young, senior vice president of marketing for Virtuoso, said that the most compelling messages remind people what they’ve been missing and gives them a “this is my bucket-list moment” sense of urgency. Tourism Australia’s campaign, she said, does this “exceptionally well.”

“It captures the imagination and reminds the traveler that there is so much more to see and explore now that the country is opening back up,” she said. “This matches the consumer mindset, as well. We’re finding that Virtuoso clients are no longer putting off those dream trips. ... They are planning and splurging on those ‘big’ trips, staying longer and buying up.”

Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.

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