COVID-19 has continued to transform the travel and tourism industry and influence consumer needs and behaviours. Recent research by the BC Regional Tourism Secretariat found that only 25% of BC tourism firms are operating 'business as usual'. While some habits changed immediately, others continue to evolve and shift over time. It's important to keep up with as many of these changes as possible to help you best meet or anticipate consumer habits.
Consumers want more information
With so much uncertainty, consumers are looking to manage and mitigate risk as much as possible. For many, that means investing additional time in researching destinations and businesses in advance. Make it easy for consumers by highlighting your COVID-19 safety and business protocols clearly and easily. If possible, use video or other visual prompts to help visitors understand your protocols. While there are some broad safety measures that consumers generally understand (like the need to stay physically distant) each business has its own specific measures, which differ from place to place. Help customers by providing this information in advance (on your website, through consumer e-mails, or through your social media accounts), and then remind them when they arrive with clear signage on site. Many hotels, restaurants, attractions, and shops have reported increased phone calls due to increased consumer questions. Depending on your situation and if you are able, you may want to reallocate resources to assist with additional call volume from consumers.
TIP: Keep track of the questions you receive the most and prepare responses and post them to your website. Better yet, have members of your team quickly answer those questions on video and post them to your website or other digital channels.
Consumers are seeking different experiences
While some consumers still want to go to check out a destination's most popular activities and places, some consumers are looking for places that are going to be quieter or less busy. This is a great time to introduce or refer consumers to lesser-known activities and experiences. Before offering recommendations, start by asking a few questions to help zone in on the right suggestions for this particular customer. Are they looking to be closer to the action, or further away from people? Do they want a popular attraction or one that might be quiet where they can spend a longer visit with fewer people around?
TIP: Use your website or social media channels to share tips or some of your favorite recommendations. Highlight some of your team members' favorites or recommendations, too.
Consumers are requesting more flexibility
Again, with so much uncertainty, consumers are looking for flexibility in their trip planning and travel. Understandably, this can be a challenge as additional consumer flexibility may create additional operational considerations for businesses. With more and more travel happening within the province, travelers may be holding on to confirming their plans until the weather forecast becomes clearer or the dates are closer, and they may want to delay bookings or make changes to existing reservations.
TIP: Consider what flexibility is reasonable and that you can offer and clearly outline that to consumers. If consumers have a reasonable request, and you're able to accommodate it, you may be on your way to gaining a good review or repeat customer. If you simply cannot accommodate the request or offer flexibility, state the reason and offer an alternative if possible.
Consumers are booking some types of accommodations in advance, while others are more last minute
This summer saw strange and sometimes unpredictable consumer behaviours for accommodation bookings. Some types of accommodations saw longer lead bookings - including those with kitchenettes, multiple bedrooms, or proximity to other amenities, while others saw shorter booking windows or bookings happening day before arrival.
TIP: Ensure your online listings are current and that your website has as much detail and information as possible. You may wish to consider offering early booking incentives to help generate early bookings. Provide information on specific amenities that you have that may be of additional interest to travelers at this time.
Consumers travel times changed over the summer months
Short term rentals reported a longer visit duration while many hotels reported shorter visits this past summer. An emerging travel trend referred to as a 'flexcation' is changing how some consumers travel. These flexcation trips involve travel to a destination for a longer period of time in the shoulder or off seasons where they can set up for several weeks and work remotely while taking advantage of reduced rates. These consumers are seeking accommodation that provides the comforts of home, and experiences that allow them to explore neighbourhoods further. Those seeking a 'flexcation' may also be interested in specific activities and interests like mountain biking, skiing, or water sports to name a few.
TIP: Review your data and consider offering incentives for visitors to stay longer or plan a return visit. Outline additional amenities that longer-term visitors might find helpful like markets and services.
BC residents are more comfortable with in-province visitors
Destination Canada continues to poll residents' sentiment towards visitation across Canada. In mid-September, BC residents were reporting an increasing level of comfort with visitors from nearby regions or within their province, but decreased level of comfort welcoming visitors from other parts of Canada or other countries.
Health and safety is priority, but sustainability still matters
While COVID-19 is a key issue at the moment, PwC’s Canadian Consumer Insights 2020 report, which focuses primarily on the retail sector, states that “49% of respondents said they expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact, with the number of people saying they have no interest in sustainability dropping by half, to 8% from 16%, in comparison to 2019.”
TIP: Continue to profile your organization's efforts in sustainability and if possible connect them to your public health and safety plans.
What's the outlook for fall?
Steady in-province demand, but decreasing travel numbers
While still down year-over-year, currently British Columbia is seeing higher than national average numbers in terms of airline bookings, hotel occupancy numbers, and overnight visitation. However, it's important to note that British Columbian's intention to travel in the next 4 weeks has been decreasing. This may be attributed to higher daily COVID-19 case numbers or fewer travel plans in the fall. Currently, 31% of British Columbia residents plan a trip within the province in the next month. Again, while still below year-over-year levels, airline bookings are continuing with a positive trend looking at week-after-week bookings and is at its highest level since the pandemic began in mid-March. Visiting friends and family remains a key motivator for travel both within domestic and international markets. Travelers may be reluctant to confirm plans, however, as a majority of Canadians believe travel restrictions are likely or somewhat likely in the next three months.
We invite you to email us your insights or ideas on ways to adapt to changing consumer behaviours. By continuing to work together as an industry, promoting safe and responsible travel, we will forge ahead on the road to recovery. You can also update your Tourism Kelowna listing with your COVID-19 measures to keep visitors informed.
For more information:
For provincial information, industry performance and forecasts, check out Destination BC's weekly Research Roundup or find market intelligence on their Signals & Sentiments Dashboard.
You can also look up regional tourism research on TOTA's website, or national tourism statistics and research on Destination Canada's website.