Should destinations brace themselves for a brutal summer?

Grant Thornton has published a report that forecasts 373,000 visitors to the Football World Cup in South Africa in June. That’s a drop of 110,000 from original forecasts.

The big question is, are fans waiting to the last minute to book tickets or is this a sign of the recession? Certainly political tensions in the country may be causing fans to wait and see before making a decision on a significant financial commitment. After all it’s not just the match tickets. Fans also have to take into account the cost of flights, accommodation and internal travel which can be significant distances. Grant Thornton predicts fans will have to fork out US$4,000 each. For a family of four, that’s US$16,000 for a summer holiday in a recession! Hard to justify.

But I believe that the poor ticket sales are a result of the global economic situation. And if I am right, destinations in South East Asia could be heading for a brutal summer.

I think that free spending Europeans will forego an international holiday and instead invest in a large LCD or Plasma TV and stay at home to watch the World Cup. If they do go away, it will be either for a short domestic holiday or somewhere in Europe. I expect Eastern Europe to benefit.

If I am right, what should destinations do to soften the blow?

Well the first thing is to curtail one-size-fits-all mass market TV advertising communicating the usual white sandy beaches, tropical blue skies and azure seas. There is simply no differentiation from other destinations. Consider this comment from Qualitative research carried out by FusionBrand in the United States earlier this month,

“Watching the basketball today and an ad came on for a destination with some really nice water/resort images. It was Malaysia. But is (sic) struck me that the line Truely Asia gave me the feeling that they were trying very hard to say, “us too”. It gave me the feeling of them saying “we’re just like the other (good things) in Asia”. But the images in the ad could have been in the Carribean.”

How confusing is that?

There is no time to build a communications strategy for 2010. If it hasn’t already been done, and at least 2 countries in South East Asia don’t have a plan for 2010, it is too late. But there is still time to develop an integrated tactical approach to activity based not geographic based marketing.

Thirdly, embrace social media, NOW. Start to engage prospects and those who have visited via social media. Redistribute resources, train staff and create teams to build relationships with consumers via Facebook, Twitter, Travelocity, Tripadvisor and others. Forget about the old global buys on CNN and the BBC. Creating awareness via mass marketing wastes valuable resources and anyway, consumers aren’t listening. Reinvest that money in engaging consumers.

Fourth, don’t ignore the traditional web. Make sure your website is as contempory as possible. If you are sitting back thinking, why do we need to change or improve our website again, we updated it two years ago, the Internet is fluid. Destinations need to be seen as dynamic. Singapore is on its third design (and best so far) in two years.

Develop a plan for your digital tactics and don’t forget basic web marketing tools like SEO and SEM.

Call emergency meetings with all stakeholders – representatives of the mayor’s office from all key cities, transportation companies, travel agents, tour operators, shopping malls, hotels and so on. Identify what each has to offer and work with them to develop an integrated holistic plan to leverage their attributes and match those attributes to the requirements of target markets.

2010 is going to be a bumpy ride for cities, states and other destinations. This is an emergency and it calls for emergency measures.

Otherwise the 30% drop in arrivals in South Africa will be duplicated around South East Asia. And without the attraction of a World Cup, they could be magnified, causing many destinations to have a brutal summer.

Your communications are critical.

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