Here we are in October 2020, and the novel coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on our health and economies. There have been nearly 8 million reported cases in the U.S. alone, including our own POTUS. Nevertheless, American travelers appear to feel more in control and less fearful of travel experiences, as a rising proportion report that they are in a “ready to travel” mindset, and 80% saying they have at least tentative trip plans right now . And while we remain nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels of travel, there is a growing openness to travel inspiration, although safety is decidedly a top priority in traveling consumer decisions. With the benefit of their more controlled points of entry, island destinations have been called upon to be leaders in the creation of safe travel protocols and the marketing of safe travel. They also have and continue to be enormously popular destinations (one-third of American travelers have visited an island in the past 3 years, based on the findings from most recent Coronavirus Traveler Sentiment Index). During our industry update on October 6th, Destination Analysts Senior Director of Research, Myha Gallagher, interviewed Leah Chandler, Chief Marketing Officer for Discover Puerto Rico, Erin Smith, Chief Information Officer for the Bermuda Tourism Authority, and Eduardo Elias, Product Manager for the Azores Promotion Board about how their respective destinations have adapted for travel in the time of coronavirus and what they anticipate for the future.
The following are key takeaways from this interesting and timely panel discussion.
– Island destinations have implemented various protocols in order to safely welcome and execute travel. The most common of these protocols is for visitors to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding the plane to the island and to present proof of negative test results.
– Visitors willingly comply with the protocols enforced by island destinations. So far, these island destinations have not experienced push back from visitors on the new and stringent COVID-19 protocols as they acknowledge and understand that such measures are for their own personal health and safety, as well as the health of the island population and economy.
– The residence and travel party size of visitor groups have shifted compared to pre-pandemic times. In addition to changes in where visitors come from, travel groups are now smaller due to government restrictions on travel from countries with high COVID-19 cases.
– Island destinations are cautiously optimistic about the comeback of cruises. As the cruise industry is significant, and arguably essential, to the economies of these island destinations, such destinations are patiently awaiting when cruises can safely return. Although taking a cruise continues to largely be perceived as unsafe among the general American traveling population, those who took cruises prior to the pandemic are far less likely to feel this way. In fact, over 13% of American travelers said they planned to take a cruise in the coming months. As such, some of these islands “are taking a very cautious approach to the gradual plan of resuming those fleet operations…we are optimistic that cruise industry and the ships are going to gradually return…in Q1 at this point.”
– The greatest challenge for island marketers, and perhaps all destination marketers, is getting the right message to the right people right now. These destination marketers are seeking to identify the channels with the “right people that are ready to take that trip” and “giving them a reason to push them over the edge to making that decision.” Additional challenges island marketers face are restoring consumer confidence to travel and pushing consistent messaging around coronavirus-related safety protocols.