One of the key focuses of this year’s Skift conference was the impact on travel from geopolitics and natural and man-made disasters, less than a week before the largest mass killing in U.S. history.
Skift Co-founder Rafat Ali opened the conference asking whether travel has entered an age of “permanxiety” and if so, what does that mean for tourism growth?
“Terrorism. Privacy wars. Extreme weather...” Ali rattled off a list of events that have grabbed the media and travel community’s attention in the last few months and years, unaware of course of the carnage soon to be experienced in Las Vegas.
“There is so much that permanxiety is the new shared social experience of the world,” Ali said. “Hyper connectivity and social platforms” might be adding up to a “permanent frenzy,” he added. “Travel is where permanxiety shows up in a concentrated form.”
Suppliers say people will still travel
Glenn Fogel, CEO of the Priceline Group, believes travel is so strong a salve, that even with negative news, travelers will still travel. He noted that despite the devastation to southern Florida and the Caribbean, this winter “people will go to different parts of the Caribbean. Because we are so global, these things even out over time.”
“I’m less optimistic than I was nine months ago, but still cautiously optimistic,” said Christopher Nassetta, Hilton president and CEO, during a main stage interview. “Notwithstanding all of these things, North Korea, healthcare, etc., travel continues to chug along at a reasonable pace. Despite all of this noise, the economy is doing okay. People who study these things would suggest we are not racing to the moon, but things have the potential and are likely to get incrementally better.”
Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD, believes many of the Caribbean nations impacted by the two successive hurricanes will be back, “much quicker than most people realize.”
“We’ve already seen it. The first ship was back to Key West,” a day before the Skift conference, Fain said. “Guests say there is almost no sign” of Hurricane Irma’s slamming into the destination on Sept. 10. “People really came together to help each other and recover from this.”
Fain is optimistic even for Puerto Rico. “Tourism will come back very quickly, because they see the importance of it to their economy. In the long run, all of the focus, insurance money, government money” will help the country rebuild, he said, and “Puerto Rico will be much stronger in a few years.”
Travel as antidote for anxiety
During his opening presentation, Skift’s Ali posed an optimistic question to the audience: “Is travel an antidote” for permanxiety? While strife might always be present in the world, most conference speakers answered yes.
The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board launched a global advertising campaign (”Everyone is Welcome”) in April centered around the anxiety created by the debate over U.S. immigration and travel visas from successive attempts by the Trump administration to ban certain travelers.
Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, said his organization has been hearing from travelers that perhaps tourists were not as welcome as they had been in years past — which resulted in the campaign. “We wanted to touch the hearts of people from around the world,” he said.
The country of Colombia has also had to overcome traveler anxiety, said Julian Guerrero Orozco, vice president of tourism at ProColombia, the country’s travel marketing arm. Decades of violence and news resulting from activities by the nation’s drug cartels had scared travelers away, even after the Colombian government signed a “truce” agreement with the cartels in 2016.
“We don’t hide from the fact that Colombia used to be a dangerous destination,” he said. The very first advertising campaign addressed the issue head on. Called “The only risk is wanting to stay,” the marketing program was well received and introduced tourists to the news that Colombia was changing.
The Colombian government worked closely with public and private entities throughout the country to host familiarization trips and attend trade shows to get the message out.
The nation of Jordan also faced traveler anxiety, but approached solutions a different way – by honing in on the travelers most likely to visit the relatively peaceful Middle East nation.
Because of Jordan’s location in a geopolitical hotbed, the country has been “forced to always be on the defensive. That takes away a lot from communication with the world, when you are always trying to rebut media coverage,” said Lina Annab, Jordanian Minister of Tourism.
Instead, Jordan mined social media data to understand who might be interested in traveling to the country. “We narrowed down our target to understand what type of demand there was, what were our points of competitiveness,” and focused Jordan’s resources marketing to that specific group.