Bookended by the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, the last few years have been exhausting for the travel and tourism industry.
Throw in Brexit fall-out and general political and economic turbulence (at home and abroad) and it’s no wonder things have felt unstable.
But having been through a few booms and busts in the last 20 years, I feel optimistic for 2024. Why? Well, firstly, “change” has become “normalised” to some degree, which brings with it a certain amount of stability. And with stability, you can plan.
Secondly, inflation is projected to fall in 2024 and, in 2025, be close to the Bank of England’s annual target of 2%. Thirdly, it’s an election year and after all the upheaval of recent years there’s optimism about a national reset, along with increased Government investment – whoever wins.
And fourthly, my friends in finance, banking, and private equity tell me all these factors point to a cycle of growth over the next three or four years. A cycle further supported by an uptick in both consumer confidence and spending.
So how can travel and tourism organisations take advantage of this more positive political and economic outlook in 2024? Here are, in my opinion, three things they should focus on.
1. Measure First, Optimise Second
Over the last few years, travel and tourism marketers have become more savvy at generating revenue from digital comms budgets. This is partly driven by FDs getting more involved in marketing discussions and ROI calculations. Their scrutiny has encouraged a more data-driven, results-focused approach to performance marketing and measurement - (which I welcome with open arms.)
Also, we were all forced to become more digitally minded during the pandemic and this has stuck. I know plenty of 70+ year-olds as comfortable as I am with QR codes, Apple Pay, and shopping online. Digital has proved itself to be highly effective both as a marketing channel for businesses and as a tool to measure, in near real-time, marketing’s impact.
These days, it’s possible to know exactly how much you’re spending, who’s looking at it, who’s buying and what the ROI is. Even better, you know exactly which comms work, and those that don’t you can adapt, change, experiment with, and optimise – right there and then – for better results. Only digital allows this level of measurement and optimisation.
We know it works
We’ve seen amazing results with this approach for our clients. Check out how we helped the National Marine Aquarium increase footfall by 30% and generate over £2 million in extra revenue. Or how our approach boosted Willows Activity Farm’s revenue, visitors, and web traffic by 40%, 37%, and 23%, respectively, over just the summer months.
We can directly attribute these successes to first measuring and then optimising campaigns. Which begs the question: if you can’t measure the immediate effectiveness of a specific marketing activity, how can you optimise it? And if you can’t optimise it, why on earth do it?
2. A Fit-For-Purpose Purpose
Last November, at the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) Communications Conference, I talked about “Trends in Zoo and Aquarium Comms” and how important it is for BIAZA members to position themselves as conservation brands, not recreation brands.
It may sound counter-intuitive, and I’ll explain why in a moment, but interestingly the presentation after mine by Anna-Maria White analysed BIAZA members’ TikTok content. She found only 13% of it focused on conservation while 73% focused on recreation, even though many BIAZA members felt they did a good job communicating their conservation credentials. That’s a big discrepancy between perception and reality.
Deliberately on purpose
The reason why purpose has become so important for attractions is its increasing power to differentiate in a crowded marketplace, but also offer something else. For example, when I speak to parents choosing a family day out, they’re usually looking for something beyond “recreation” or “entertainment” for their kids.
Why? Well, for the same reason my ten, seven, and four year-old have Mr Beast, Pokémon, and Octonauts for entertainment. I want something more wholesome and more educational, especially if I’m paying £100+ for it. An attraction with a clear educational purpose gives me a good reason to visit on top of just “having fun” and I think many millennial parents, like me, share this sentiment.
So as we enter a new cycle of growth in the economy, now’s a good time to look beyond your attraction’s entertainment value to its purpose. Currently, I’m talking with three different attractions to generate £2m, £10m, and £120m of revenue, respectively. And each involves a big focus on purpose to attract visitors. But more than that, a strong purpose-led business can also unlock more grant and funding opportunities.
Who’s doing purpose well at the moment? The National Trust has imbued the idea of legacy and conservation into its comms. No longer does it just talk about why “X” is a great place to visit, it’s also adding value by talking about how your visit will help safeguard Britain’s nature, architecture, and history for generations to come. That’s the power of purpose in action.
Bletchley Park is another example. Yes, it’s a fantastic and memorable family day-out, but it also has a serious purpose-led mission – underpinned by its code-breaking heritage – and that’s to “attract, engage, and educate people from all over the world in order to inspire them…”. Or as Iain Standen, CEO, describes it, “ultimately, we’re teaching maths by stealth”.
In other words, it’s promoting STEM subjects (which are in decline in schools) to young people in a uniquely interesting way. By helping inspire the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians, Bletchley Park is also serving society. And in being chosen to host the first ever global AI Safety Summit recently, it will have burnished its credentials in this area further still. Again, that’s the power of purpose in action.
What’s your purpose?
Look hard enough and every attraction can find a purpose that resonates with the public. And destinations can, too. For example, if I’m looking for a European beach holiday, I can expect a similar experience and price choosing Turkey, Greece, Spain or Portugal. But if, say, Portugal focused on how it’s creating a more sustainable holiday experience, well, I’d be all ears, wouldn’t you?
And if you want to read more about how to find and implement your purpose, I’ve written about it here.
3. Playing The Fame Game
The last focus area travel and tourism businesses can focus on in 2024 is “fame” which, if managed correctly, can transform the fortunes of any attraction or destination. Of course, becoming famous rarely happens overnight, so think of any “fame strategy” as a slow burn three-to-five-year PR project.
A great example is The Tank Museum’s meteoric rise on the back of its weekly YouTube content. Last I looked, it had 665,000 subscribers and is, no doubt, raking in major advertising revenue, too. Not bad for a rural museum in Dorset.
Another brand that’s become famous, but via a different path is The National Marine Aquarium, which last year featured in Secrets of the Aquarium – a six-part BBC documentary. And as one of our long-term clients, I can tell you I noticed a real skip in the step of the whole organisation during my last visit. Fame, typically, has a wonderfully positive effect on anyone who comes into contact with it.
But you don’t need a TV series or your own YouTube channel to win the fame game. Other great examples of attractions investing in fame building are West Coker in Somerset, a major sail-making town for over 300 years. Bletchley Park hosting the first ever AI Safety Summit. And Trentham Monkey Forest which, as well as being a great family day out, is also earning a global reputation for its study of, and research into, endangered Barbary macaques.
Your claim to fame
So once you’ve decided what you want to be famous for, how do you go about it?
Here, I have three bits of advice.
1. Expand your sphere of influence – there are so many of them now. So why not create a group of ambassadors to not only extend your voice and messaging, but to also help communicate and amplify your purpose? Of course, it works both ways so the good work your organisation does also reflects well on them. It’s a win-win.
2. I’m a celebrity, get me in here – celebrities look for causes to support as most recognise their privileged position, but also their need to build their personal brand and profile. I’m currently working with three household names on cause-led projects, and it’s been easy to get them involved as ambassadors. Just clearly define your purpose (see above), create a shortlist of say 8-10 suitable celebrities, then reach out to them and see where it leads you.
3. Organic fame – this combines digital PR and press exposure. It's hard work and less predictable, unless you have money to burn in broadsheet advertorials, and takes a sustained effort over three-to-five years. But plan well, and it can significantly transform your organisation in the absence of any expensive investment in media.
The Last Word
So there you have it. Three focus areas for 2024, which given a bit of time and attention will positively transform your year ahead. While measurement/optimisation stand alone, purpose and fame very often go hand in hand, though remember that chasing fame is typically a much longer play so factor that into your strategy.
Either way, I know we’ll be developing these three strands for our clients this year to significantly grow their visitor numbers and revenue the same way we did last year.
In the meantime, all the best for 2024!
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