In this exclusive interview with MarTech Vibe, Heather Redling, Head of Marketing, Badr Investment Group talks about the future of the travel industry in the Middle East
1. History has shown us that travel is one of the world’s most resilient industries despite the challenges it has faced in the past. How can travel brands in the Middle East succeed in a post-COVID 19 world?
Absolutely, people love to travel! If you look at international tourism figures from the past 20 years, post 9/11, SARS epidemic and the 2009 global economic crisis, the industry has been fairly quick to rebound, ranging from 5-10 months.
However, Covid-19 has triggered an unprecedented blow to the tourism sector, with current scenarios forecasting declines from 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals for 2020.
Currently, the Middle East is faring slightly better when compared to the global average, and I’m already seeing some positive signs this trend will continue. For brands to succeed in the immediate future, there are a few key things they need to do now.
- Find your new target audience (geographic and demographic) and find them quick. Your target markets will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, so when audiences are ready to travel, you need to be there, ready to shout before your competition does.
- When it comes to safety, find something you can own or is unique and above and beyond. But please stop telling me my safety is your priority and simply show me how you’re following the regulations mandated by the government.
- Finally, stay true to your brand but flexible everywhere else from policies to procedures and rates, ensure you’re making it easy for your customer.
2. How can travel brands better use social media to understand customer sentiment?
Now is a critical time to be focused on your social media sentiment. What are the customers asking before they come and what are they saying when they are there?
Use these insights to re-craft your story and focus on what is important right now to your customer. And don’t forget to share and collaborate with your operations.
3. Is this the perfect time for travel brands to shift their focus on creating better online experiences?
Unfortunately, I think it’s a bit too late but now is better than never. Brands with strong web visitation, a flexible website that allows for continuous content updates and modifications, a robust and active database and engaged social community are probably faring better than the brands that didn’t.
As teams continue to struggle with reduced human resources, being prepared to do the necessary changes quickly and easily is critical. This will also allow for more time to find creative ways to engage with consumers or develop alternative revenue solutions.
4. How will travel and hospitality evolve post-COVID-19? What actions can travel brands take to prepare for the future?
I’m not sure any of us know, but having that strong foundation in place is critical for surviving any crisis. If you have a strong brand, a strong team and strong communication platforms in place, it’s much easier to respond to whatever comes your way.
5. Three travel marketing trends that you think will shape the future of this industry in the ‘New Normal.’
- We need to remember the travel industry is about having fun and making connections. So we need to make safety fun and find innovative ways to connect people while social distancing.
- We’re going to be focusing on concepts, places and experiences that allow for natural versus enforced social distancing.
- Embracing even shorter booking windows than we currently see in the Middle East.
6. What have been your learnings through the pandemic? Both professional and personal.
Professionally this was a great reminder of how critical it is to be able to adapt quickly as an individual and as a brand.
I loved seeing brands that were able to maintain their brand spirit while having to adapt their messaging to safety and government regulations or even better, companies that have been able to adapt and make lives better by finding ways to bring their experience to your home.
Personally, I was surprised at how much I appreciated and was able to embrace the break.
In Oman, we are fortunate to be living in a beautiful and peaceful country which has undoubtedly made it easier for me to slow down and appreciate my surroundings.
We have, however, missed travelling as a family.
*as stated by the UNWTO https://www.unwto.org/international-tourism-and-covid-19
Heather Redling has 20 years of experience in the tourism and hospitality industry, spanning across 4 countries. She started her career as an Animal Training intern at the Walt Disney World® Resort followed by 10 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment®.
Most recently she relocated to Oman with her family where she is providing marketing strategy and support to several businesses within the Badr Investment Group.
Heather has Bachelors of Science in Biology from The Pennsylvania State University and an MBA and MA in International Business from Webster University.