Hotels and tourist destinations: branding in times of the coronavirus.

Let's take a brief look at how this health and economic crisis has been managed from the tourism sector.

We live in liquid times, an environment #VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Days in which the few certainties that still sustained us are shaken by the appearance in our lives of the COVID-19. We cannot yet foresee all the consequences, but what seems clear is that this pandemic is going to mark a before and after in the history of humanity, more than 9/11 or the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the crisis that devastated the world economy. Suddenly everything is unknown and a single certainty invades everything: fear and paralysis. And yes, in some aspects it is time to stop. Let’s take a brief look at how this health and economic crisis has been managed from the tourism sector.

That' s how it all started: first cancellations

The advance of the disease since its appearance in China caused, as it approached Europe, an incessant trickle of cancellations that threw the sales expectations of all tourist destinations and hotel chains to the ground.

In that context, many brands reacted positively and were able to understand the needs of customers at that time and connect with them: they made efforts to communicate the health measures being taken; relaxed non-refundable fees; facilitated changes in booking dates; and paid particular attention to building confidence and added value for those tourists still travelling.

Other brands opted for a price cut with the aim of stimulating sales and running the risk of breaking out of the market, a strategy that is not valid when the problem we face is one of deferred demand, and which also adds the risk of compromising one’s own positioning. We all know how easy it is to lower prices and how difficult it is to raise them again.

The truth is that tourists do not travel by force majeure and will not travel even if the price is better. And now less so, after the measures adopted by governments, which limit movements, have forced the closure of establishments and the confinement of citizens to prevent the spread of the virus.

Clearly, in this situation we must adopt another strategy, stop thinking about selling, about an immediate return. It would be better to wait for better times. So what do you do?

The current situation: closure of establishments and suspension of activities.

With the halting of the activity comes panic, understandable from the human side. The uncertainty of the duration of this whole crisis, the not knowing how long we will remain with the establishments closed and the sales stopped, makes the caution in the investment very understandable and to contain the expenditure in everything that is dispensable. Income ceases, we stop machines, we stop investment in branding, we stop projects and we wait. The question is:

do you really believe that your brand is worthless?

It is tempting to think so, especially if we understand the brand as a simple logo, as mere communication. But this is the best time to remember that a brand is much more than just some colours, some typographies or the photos we choose to promote an offer. Our brand is our main tool for BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, for connecting concerns, creating bridges, for listening, generating conversation and interest, links and PREFERENCE between us and our clients, our employees and collaborators.

It is about being close and transparent, inwards and outwards. This is the ideal time to be close to your people, to make that purpose that moves you a reality (if it is not already, which it should be…) and transform it into actions that escape opportunism and permeate your stakeholders; to generate content that connects with those issues that in this context are relevant to your audience (What are they worried about now? What can you contribute from your position?) and to strengthen those relationships even more. It is time to TALK more than ever, to show that you are with them “the hard way”, that you are there to sell (when you can sell) but that you are there to spend this drink together and to contribute what you can. And the vehicle to do so is your brand.

What’s your alternative: silence and letting that relationship you’ve worked so hard to grow go to waste?

¿Y después?

Well, yes, there is an afterwards. We cannot see it now, but sooner or later this crisis will pass. We will manage to control the virus and the borders will reopen, the planes will fly again, the sun will shine again and we will all feel like going out to enjoy it.

We will want to travel, live new experiences and leave this nightmare behind, and we will do so with those marks that have bothered to keep that relationship alive that we had previously, those that have been able to show their most humane, most empathetic and most constructive side throughout this crisis. Those who knew that this was not the time to talk to us about views, pools, spas and offers and went on to speak to us from the heart, to reassure us and accompany us in the afternoons of isolation, in the nights worried about an uncertain future in which it was difficult to sleep.

The rest will have disappeared from our hearts… and from our wallets.

Pero aún hay más: el nuevo consumidor turístico

We will come out of this crisis changed, we will not be the same. Important changes are coming, and we must be prepared to remain relevant in that context. It is urgent to rethink the capitalist economic model of infinite growth, and we discovered an opportunity to differentiate ourselves and also to contribute to the sustainable development of our environment through the model #BusinessToSociety: companies that generate profit, but actively collaborate in their environment.

The new generations of consumers have long been demanding new models of product and consumption, and tourism is not exempt from this trend.

Millenials, zetas and silvers are active, informed, demanding, know what they want and above all how they want it. The tourists of this new paradigm have already overcome the initial phase of tourist development in which we were all looking for a well thought out product, a renovated hotel, a spacious room, sea views… The product has already achieved a homogeneous development with a guaranteed quality standard. Those tourists who were looking for an action trip have climbed one step in their particular Maslow pyramid and now have other concerns and needs.

We are now in the middle of the development phase of experiential tourism, where visitors are no longer so concerned with what but with how: they are looking for authentic, sustainable, value-driven, active and participatory destinations and experiences. They do not want to be spectators, they want to participate, to be part of it, to integrate themselves in the destination, they become knowmads

In this new scenario, do you think that we can continue to link our hotel brands to a speech based on product attributes? Do you think that we can continue to bet on a strategy based only on price?

Stopping to get a boost

This forced stop is the ideal moment to reinforce the relationships that we already have created as a brand, but also to redefine our strategy,

rethink whether we are where we want to be, whether we are perceived as what we are, whether what we are is competitive in this new paradigm that is coming.

The leading tourist brands are positioning themselves on the third step of the pyramid. Iberostar and their Wave of change leads the movement of hotel brands with purpose, brands with values that respond to the new interests of these new travel and hotel consumers and that manage to be relevant and connect with the concerns of new generations of travellers, who relate to them. They have become a reference in this sense in the sector. They propose a transforming experience, a journey that goes beyond relaxation, rest and indulgence, which invites you to rethink your way of understanding the world and the need to develop in an environmentally sustainable way.

Do you remember that Iberostar where our parents stayed? Now it is the Iberostar where our children want to stay, the same ones who push us to recycle every last piece of paper, who spend whole afternoons on the beach collecting plastics in their cast-making bucket, or who have a picture of Greta Thunberg in their rooms. They connect with her vision of caring for the environment, the sea, and they want to be part of it. 

Iberostar’s rebranding raises an authentic and real reason that comes from the property and that impregnates all the areas of the company, is cross-sectional and is progressively being taken to all areas of the business. It is the brand’s leverage, it has set them apart from the rest, and it has become the centre of the story.

It also creates an internal culture of change and progress, and has a magic ingredient. That trick is that it poses a why and gets a why: to rejuvenate the brand and the customer portfolio. It has totally changed the perception that many younger people had of the brand, and that means solid business for another 50 years How much would you pay for something like this for your hotel brand? That’s the power of branding.

Therefore, this time of standstill and closure is a precious time to prepare, to review and adjust the positioning you want to have in the market, to reorganise and segment your portfolio more effectively, to rethink the relationships you have and want with your employees, with your clients, and in short, to be prepared so that when this happens, you are in the first positions of the new starting line.

The day after the end of the quarantine you will all open your channels and go out again to sell. Do you want to be one more or do you want to differentiate yourself from your competition and provide an extra value for which they can choose you? Do you want to continue fighting for price, or do you want to have arguments that justify your rates? Do you want to be recognised by your brand and book directly on your website, or do you prefer to continue leaving commissions to intermediaries? Do you want to have a purpose, an identity, a value proposal that supports your strategy and a story that serves to communicate it and that helps you add value to complementary products to generate more cross-sales and upgrades? Do you want to have a united team that believes in the project, that stays and does not look for other horizons, that rows with you in this new context, and that also transfers that brand to your clients, generating a differential experience? Well, if I were you, I would, because what you don’t do, your competitors will.

In short, like everything else in life, you have to give and then receive; sow and then reap. Take care of your brand now and your brand will take care of you as soon as this passes. And right now branding is the best fertilizer and the best vaccine.

Pilar Domínguez
Pilar Domínguez
Directora creativa y especialista en branding
Mandarina Brand Society Mandarina Brand Society

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