The tourism industry is fighting through all a myriad of challenges to reopen borders, kickstart tours again, and get back to business. If ever there’s been a scrappy industry that refuses to die, the tourism industry would be it.
In all seriousness, though, the collision of countless factors recently convinced a lot of folks to embrace local travel — a trend lots of analysts predicted in spring 2020 when COVID-19 swept around the globe. It’s nearly 2022 now and many people in high-income countries are vaccinated.
Yet, given the current state of affairs, I wouldn’t be surprised if people continued to cut back on international travel and prioritized domestic travel.
Today, we face COVID-19 variants, a looming climate crisis, civil unrest, and violent weather events. People were signing flight-free pledges prior to 2020, and now even more climate-conscious consumers are questioning whether it’s ethical to fly. Though COVID-19 vaccines offer a buffer of protection and peace of mind, ongoing restrictions, unpredictable closures and cancellations, and expensive tests add increased stress and financial limitations. Additionally, many people have spent the past year broadening their understanding about inequities and racism, and travels that were at one time carefree and comfortable now might seem particularly privileged, frivolous, and wasteful.
It’s safe to say we live in a volatile world — but also one that is more hyper-aware and tuned in to reality. And though people are eager to travel, staying home looks awfully appealing.
If the domestic tourism trend is here to stay, it’s time for destinations to rethink their long-term domestic tourism marketing strategies. It’s also time to appreciate the value of local travelers and help them fully embrace their backyards.
Here are several tourism campaigns leading the way.
One of the tourism industry’s biggest challenges going into 2020 was overtourism. Too many people were heavily clustered in just a few select places, creating bottlenecks, unpleasant spaces for local residents, and conditions for inappropriate behavior.
But this city-centric problem isn’t just a tourism issue. We are creatures of habit, and nearly 60% of people live in cities. Think of your own neighborhood and routine: How far from home do you travel every day? How much of your life is built into a routine? And, how much is there to explore if you step beyond those daily, urban boundaries?
Gothenburg, Sweden, isn’t an unusually large city, but its tourism board has actively encouraged people to move beyond the city center with its Next to Gothenburg campaign since April 2019. I interviewed a representative from the tourism board in early 2021, and she told me this strategy was intended to disperse travelers across a wider geographical area throughout the entire year and promote activities beyond the city center, but it’s also meant to encourage more domestic travel.
Similarly, the Azerbaijan Tourism Board’s Adventure is Near campaign targeted domestic travelers. Recognizing people weren’t interested in being in enclosed places and longed for nature, the campaign encouraged “Azerbaijanis themselves to discover the rich and diverse offerings of their own country, from the prehistoric petroglyphs of Gobustan and the Sheki Khans’ Palace, to hiking in the Caucasus mountains and the ever-burning patches of Yanardag,” according to an article in Skift.
Embrace a Sense of Wonder
There’s something about international travel that beckons to people. Perhaps it’s the total and complete unknown in comparison to that daily routine toward which we tend to gravitate. The good news is that domestic tourism can seed that sense of awe and surprise that people seek.
With strictly closed borders, New Zealand still has to rely on domestic tourism. A survey early in the pandemic indicated 84% of Kiwis said there was somewhere in New Zealand they wanted to go but had never visited. With this information in mind, the tourism board launched its Do Something New campaign to help locals experience their country with a renewed sense of discovery.
The key message — that now is the perfect time for people to tick off their close-to-home bucket lists — resonated with travelers. A March 2021 survey indicated 75% of Kiwis traveled domestically over the past year, and respondents rated their experience an average of 8.7 on a 10-point scale.
Embrace Local Pride
Despite DMC’s best intentions to position their destinations as perfect and ideal in comparison to others, the truth is that every place is flawed. That’s not a bad thing. It’s simply the reality of the complex world we live in. But instead of shying away from the complicated intersections of people, culture, and place that have helped shape a destination’s uniqueness, lean into this. Using domestic tourism as an opportunity to unravel these quirky and messy bits is an opportunity to seed a sense of pride.
Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign emphasized “unexpected adventures” and a chance to “explore somewhere new.” However, it also unscored the value of supporting local tourism businesses with special discounts and activity guides for families.
Canada took a different approach with its recently launched, two-pronged domestic tourism campaign focused on people rather than places. The Heartbeat of Canada video featured 10 Canadians working in the tourism industry and reflected an optimistic vibe set against a harmonious “heartbeat” of sound. Additionally, a postcard campaign encouraged residents to download, write, and mail a message to someone they love on the back of a beautifully branded Canadian postcard. Nothing seeds a warm, squishy feeling quite like a handwritten note to someone you love.
Embrace a New Story
One of the good things to come out of the recent past is the recognition by people of privilege that they need to learn about and reckon with the structures of racism and colonialism from which they’ve benefited. Tangentially, that also means this is the perfect time for destinations around the world to surface and amplify the often silenced stories that shaped them.
It’s been a breath of fresh air to see lots of socially focused tours receiving more exposure and getting more traction. The Meaningful Map from Tourism Cares is the most recent example of a tool available for independent travelers interested in planning more interesting and honest trips that embrace a new story.
Unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a destination campaign specifically focused on sharing oppressed, untold, and unheard perspectives. Top-down financed campaigns aren’t likely to expose and promote the violent, ugly parts of its history or the dark, cast-aside corners of its community.
Yet, there is a huge opportunity for destinations to acknowledge their complexity and invite domestic travelers to embrace a new story. The question is, which will be first to do it?