The course of the Covid-19 pandemic has proved impossible to chart. With coronavirus cases fluctuating and hotspots emerging one after the other, the travel market has found itself in a state of flux. In this ‘New Normal’, destinations have seen their plans to reopen to tourists frustrated by new restrictions preventing arrivals in their country, and even departures from their source market(s) or even both!

Nevertheless, as global vaccination levels rise and more countries open their doors to double-jabbed tourists or negative PCR travellers, the sector is finally showing signs of a full recovery.

For destinations hoping to benefit from the reactivation of travel, “Now is the time to act”, says Luis Millan, Market Research Manager at leading travel analytics firm ForwardKeys.

“Simply expecting tourists to return in pre-pandemic numbers as soon as they are given the green light to fly would be remiss,” he explains. “A sustainable travel recovery calls for a proactive approach based on relevant, up-to-date information.”

Ears to the ground, eyes to the sky

In the absence of reliable trends, destination marketing organisations (DMOs) and tourist boards must monitor the travel market more closely than ever, with a focus on four markers in particular: demand, restrictions, connectivity, and intent.

As a priority, DMOs should track demand in real-time to learn who is travelling and when. Comparing projected arrivals to figures from previous years and competing locations helps tourism boards to determine how far into the recovery process their destination has come. In addition, by monitoring demand alongside travel restrictions, DMOs can gauge the impact of these measures, creating a benchmark by which to forecast visitor numbers in any future periods of restricted travel.

However, travel restrictions are only one factor for tourist boards to consider when assessing the ability of their source markets to reach their destination. As Luis Millan explains, the Covid-19 pandemic has “reconfigured the wiring of the travel market”. In this period of extreme volatility, the routes, airlines and seat capacity that destinations had come to rely on are liable to change with little warning. To know who can travel when DMOs must keep a closer eye on air connectivity.

The Covid-19 pandemic has reconfigured the wiring of the travel market

Luis Millan
Head of Research

Even when travel curbs are in place, would-be tourists may reveal their desire for a foreign holiday by searching for flights online. Travel intent is a useful metric by which tourist boards can measure interest in their destination to identify and target, with strategic marketing, which source markets are most likely to support a rebound as soon as restrictions ease.

According to Millan, one European country did this to great effect. “Before opening to tourists after the initial lockdown, Greece was proactive in its communication,” he says. “It informed potential visitors of the timeline and conditions for reopening and, critically, stuck by its word. Such transparency helps to rebuild consumer confidence, which is what the industry needs right now.”

Know your audience

Restoring traveller confidence to pre-Covid levels will take time. Only when the pandemic has subsided, and the market has fully stabilised will recognisable patterns take shape again. Until then, DMOs need to understand how their audiences and travel behaviour are changing based on the prevailing conditions.

Millan suggests that they should consider factors including booking patterns – how restrictions influence lead times, for example – and the channels travellers are using to purchase their tickets. The profile of travellers and the trips they take are similarly important considerations.

“DMOs should therefore pay attention to the cities tourists are arriving from and in what group size they are travelling, as well as the duration and purpose of their stay and the kind of destination for which they are showing a preference. With the flexibility and agility to adapt to new travel and booking habits, tourist boards can optimise their marketing strategies and seize new opportunities,” says Millan.

The Keys to travel recovery

Tourism authorities can access all the insights they need to monitor and encourage their destination’s travel recovery using ForwardKeys’ Destination Gateway.

Specially designed to meet destinations’ data-analytics needs, this powerful yet intuitive tool democratises data, making it accessible to anyone working at a tourism organisation – whatever their level of data literacy or role within the company.

For instance, a research specialist can use Destination Gateway to find data for reporting activities, while a market expert can leverage the tool to anticipate and act on demand trends. The platform serves large DMOs with extensive research departments as proficiently as it does tourist boards for smaller destinations with fewer resources.

Destination Gateway comprises four modules: Performance, Recovery, Connectivity and Marketing.

Deploying frequently refreshed historical and forward data to reflect the evolution of ticket sales, Performance allows destinations to check the status of their destination and key markets based on current demand as compared with pre-Covid levels and competing locations.

Thanks to the module’s forward-looking capability, users can project performance for the six months ahead and adjust their strategy accordingly. The module also displays the origin of arrivals, depicting the proportional representation of individual source markets and revealing how this has changed since the onset of the pandemic.

As an extension to the Performance module developed in direct response to the pandemic, Recovery helps tourist boards to identify the markets showing the greatest desire to visit their destination.

This new feature draws on ForwardKeys’ Travel Recovery Index, which combines multiple data points on demand and supply to demonstrate the health of a market in the context of ongoing travel disruption. It also includes a ‘Benchmark’ section enabling DMOs to gauge interest in their destination against interest in competing destinations.

Connectivity, meanwhile, allows tourist boards to ascertain the source markets from which travellers can reach their destination – and in what volumes – based on the routes and airlines in operation as well as their available capacity.

Since the data is fresh and updated frequently, users remain informed and can adapt their planning to account for constantly changing supply levels. Analyses may uncover opportunities to tap into new routes, further exploit existing ones or drive negotiations with airlines for increased capacity.

With this level of insight – courtesy of ForwardKeys’ Seat Capacity dataset – DMOs can enhance planning and decision-making to expedite their destination’s reactivation.

Finally, Marketing offers in-depth data on the booking and travel patterns of specific source markets to a destination, illustrating how these patterns have changed since before the health crisis emerged. The module details source markets’ favoured booking channels, airlines, travel agencies and origin cities – as well as showing seasonality – to provide unique insight into the new travel landscape. This helps tourism boards to target the right profile of travellers with timely, well-placed marketing.

Following the data to a brighter future

In this era of unprecedented travel disruption and uncertainty, tourism authorities must do everything they can to support their destination’s sustainable recovery.

“This means paying closer attention than ever to demand and appetite for their destination, the ability of their source markets to reach it based on restrictions and connectivity and, when people book and travel, how exactly they are doing so. By following the latest data, tourist boards can help to ensure their destination emerges from the pandemic in a position of strength – and champions their way into a brighter era of travel,” ends Millan.



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