Charles Mardiks, President at Mardiks PR, outlines what travel organizations need to do to make a comeback in 2021. He emphasizes the importance of patience and gradual planning. Charles also shares strategies that travel brands can employ to effectively communicate with their stakeholders.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CHARLES MARDIKS
DOUG: The travel industry has been among the hardest hit by the COVID pandemic. What are travel brands to do to try and bounce back in 2021 from a communications perspective? Charles, what do you think? What’s the first thing they need to do?
CHARLES: Well, I think they really need to just sort of take a deep breath as we go into 2021, even though 2020 has been, no doubt, the most difficult year for all of us in the travel industry. And 2021 looks to be when we’re going to see a light at the end of this tunnel. And with that being said, and with the vaccination on the horizon, I think the quick fix sort of mentality, thinking that this vaccination is going to be just sort of the light switch that is going to kind of go on, and we’re just going to return to complete normalcy is probably a little bit of a fallacy. And I think we’re going to have to, as we’re injecting this vaccination in our arms, we’re going to also have to inject a good dose of patience, because I do think we’re going to be wrestling with the in the aftermath of the pandemic going forward. I think we’re going to see that companies are still a little reluctant to spend the way they were spending previously coming out of this, because everybody is going to just be trying to sort of recoup what they lost in the past year. But I do think on a positive note that you’re going to see a tremendous amount of pent up demand for travel, and that things certainly when we get back to sort of the peak in spring and summer travel period of next year, I think it’s going to be a a whole new ballgame.
DOUG: Well, that’s good to end on an optimistic note, but I’ve been called many names in my time, but patient is not necessarily one of them. I understand you’re saying it’s not going to be a quick fix, but how do you counsel patience for brands that might be on the precipice because they’ve had such a hard challenge?
CHARLES: Yeah, well, I think, you know, it’s certainly a question of taking baby steps, and it’s not to say that brands shouldn’t be out there and be communicating because we need to be in the consumer’s mind. And there is a lot of planning that goes on. Travel is usually not a last-minute purchase for most people, particularly when you’re looking at leisure travel. And I think I’ve done a lot of work in the cruise industry over the past several years, and that’s a really good example, because cruise was probably one of the first segments of the industry to really be hit hard just from a public image standpoint, and what went on early on with some of the cruise ships that were stranded with passengers and thereby having to really halt operations. And so even this year, when there’s been little to no cruising taking place, you’re still seeing people planning and thinking about the future. And so, I do think it’s important for brands to be out there communicating to be reassuring people that it will be safe to travel again, and when that happens, we’re the company, or we’re the brand, or the destination that should be on your list.
DOUG: Yeah, we have seen brands sort of doing the “don’t forget about us, we’ll be here when you’re ready” kind of advertising, which makes a lot of sense because you don’t want to be invisible and then expect that business will come back when the opportunity is there. What are some other strategies brands can use that will be effective promoting the comeback?
CHARLES: Yeah, I mean, I think so much of what people need right now is reassurance, and reassurance comes in several forms. I mean, I think whether that’s including travel insurance as part of the package, so to speak, whether that’s really educating and communicating on health security, which is becoming kind of the new buzzword, and what you’re doing to ensure health security, and offering as much flexibility as possible. So, you’ve seen, obviously, the airlines, for example, waiving any kind of change fees. And just I think recognizing that people are… it’s going to like I said earlier, it’s going to be baby steps, we have to kind of lead people in. I also think that it’s not a one size fits all situation. There are travelers and then there are travelers sort of thing. Some people you kind of hear just in chatter with your friends and family, I’m sure I would never get on an airplane and other people would be like I’d never get on a cruise ship, I’m only driving to close to destinations. And another people are like the moment I can go, and I know it’s safe, I’m going, and many have already. You’re seeing travel, particularly in parts of the world that have assured people that it’s created a bubble and they’re testing pre and post, and that sort of thing, like Hawaii is a really good example of that, where people are going and traveling today. So, you can imagine as we start to move forward, that will only increase. So, I think, you know, giving a lot of reassurance, educating people on the facts and providing a lot of flexibility is really key.
DOUG: Charles, can you bullet point for us what would be the steps of a plan going forward for travel communications in 2021 in this time of uncertainty?
CHARLES: Sure. So, it’s really, that’s it, uncertainty is exactly the right word. And I think the uncertainty really necessitates creating a plan that has a lot of flexibility. So, we’re basically in sort of a crisis mode that has a long continuum. And you need to really plan for stages and have a plan that you can pivot on whenever you need to, because one day it might be that we’re having to mask continually, even after the vaccination, and another day, it may be that you don’t, or in a certain place you might need to do much more of a social distance situation than you might another. So, I mean, I think that it’s just a question of having a lot of flexibility and planning along the way with a staged sort of approach.
DOUG: So, it sounds like in 2021 travel communications is really going to be crisis communications. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your advice and thoughts.
CHARLES: Thank you, Doug. It’s a pleasure to be here.