A graveyard of grounded BA planes at Bournemouth airport; a fleet of ghost cruise ships drifting in the English Channel, and abandoned seaside resorts. It sounds like a post-apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, but this was, in fact, the real-life drama playing out before our eyes as Covid-19 brought the travel industry to its knees almost a year ago.

From redundancies and furloughs to lockdowns and travel restrictions, it continues to be a bumpy road for travel – an industry that according to the WTTC contributed US$8.9 trillion to the world’s GDP in 2019 and, based on figures from November 2020, has lost US$3.8 billion.

But there is hope.

The vaccine roll-out is providing a much-needed confidence boost to the industry, evidenced by TUI reporting just last week that the over 50’s are leading the charge with overseas bookings. Similarly, easyJet Holidays claims to have seen summer bookings surge by 250% compared with last year.

However, it’s going to be a long-haul journey for everyone to receive the vaccine. That’s why many Brits – including millennials and families – are more likely to be staycationing this year, and the race is on to book a UK summer break with local companies reporting a year-on-year rise of more than 100%.

This means that 2021 – for many companies – will still be a transition period as the industry begins to get its wheels back in motion.

It is in this transition phase that communications has a critical role to play, and why important brand custodians must be invited to take the ‘fifth seat’ in helping to shape, and rebuild, recovery.

We know Brits are eager to get out and explore the world. But if brands don’t stay ‘honest’ with their customers, continuing to behave in ways that regain trust and retain loyalty, why should they book with you? (We’re looking at you, Airbnb)

Here are five areas where comms must play a leading role in helping to mitigate risk, manage reputation and support growth as we transition from pandemic to post-vaccine:

  1. Booking with confidence. Trust is more important than ever in travel. Holidaymakers are more inclined to book and rebook with travel companies who offer reassurances and security around protecting their money. ABTA identified in its Six Trends for Travel in 2021 report that people will return to familiar destinations that are old favourites, so brands must feel greater responsibility to protect these loyal customers. Many brands have launched ‘book with confidence’ offerings successfully, such as Hurtigruten and Original Cottages. However, the key here is ensuring that this is messaging is front and centre on your homepage and weaved continuously into all lines of comms.
  2. The three C’s. That’s clear, concise and consistent. It’s easy to over-complicate messaging or provide too much information when the situation is complicated. But if you don’t understand, or can’t be bothered to spend the time reading everything, then neither will your guests. Transparency and regular communication is critical and should be applied throughout the entire customer journey from the initial visit to your website all the way through to the moment they return home from their holiday. Tone of voice, language, use of visuals and applying the three C’s throughout are essential in securing loyalty from customers and future return bookings.
  3. Adapting to new audiences. Given the speed of the vaccine roll-out, businesses are going to attract new and unexpected audiences based on where people can travel to. In light of this, your communications strategy must be flexible enough to gain the attention of these new audiences – if you don’t operate in their space, they won’t book with you. Given that millennials are most likely to be staycationing in 2021 you should consider how you approach media titles frequently read by this audience and develop news and feature angles that will appeal to them. Similarly, rethink your social strategy to create content to publish on channels where your audience is spending their time. While this isn’t the moment to forget about loyal guests (as I’ve already noted), it’s important to understand what these new audiences might be looking for something a little different to what you’re used to offering.
  4. Don’t lose your long-term vision. Covid has certainly led to brands shifting short-term priorities and moving away from the strategies they set out just 12 months ago. While this has increased innovation, it is essential to not lose sight of your company purpose or long-term goals. One of the most important areas is not losing sight of sustainable initiatives such as reducing plastic that will last in travellers’ mindsets once the pandemic feels like a distant memory. If you can’t temporarily move forward with some of your sustainable initiatives, consider alternatives such as BYOW, supporting local beach clean-ups or engaging in community sustainability projects.
  5. Employees are ambassadors. Internal communications can often find itself at the bottom of the priority list, but your staff are critical in driving long-term advocacy. Now is the time to double down on your efforts – by engaging staff with your recovery vision, involving them in decision-making, and being transparent about the challenges, they are increasingly likely to broadcast your messages to their networks with an authentic voice.

For many leaders, engaging comms teams on business decisions right now will feel like ‘one more thing’ on a to-do list that never ends. We bet that the long-term winners and losers of the travel industry will come from how brands effectively use comms to ‘get it right’ right now, it’s a stakeholder worth including at the top table.