It goes without saying that the world has started to seem a little smaller over the last year, with international travel grinding to an almost immediate halt.
However, with the recent positive news of vaccine programs and lockdowns lifting, travel companies have been inundated with eager holiday makers booking a much-overdue getaway to anywhere sunny – or just anywhere that’s anywhere else but their living room.
Besides looking forward to the future of international travel, however, it’s also important to look back and reflect on the learnings we, and the travel industry itself, can take away from the tumult that has been the past 12 months.
Lottie Norman, Global Head of Content, Brand, and Engagement at group travel company, Contiki, sat down with us to discuss the lessons learned and skills gained by the company over the course of the past year of lockdowns.
ICS: What have been the biggest challenges for you/your company over the past 12 months?
Lottie Norman: Ultimately, keeping momentum and positivity going in an ever changing environment. From adapting to new ways of working, to reacting to changing travel restrictions and border controls.
ICS: What has been the greatest opportunity for you/your company over the past 12 months?
LN: What we learnt was that when you remove travel from an audience of travel enthusiasts what you have left is an extremely resilient, creative community. A community of like minded and passionate individuals with amazing stories to tell. Stories not only about destinations, but stories about the experiences they've had and the places and the people they've shared them with.
2020 taught us all to really value and never underestimate the value of real world human connections. Never before have we been so hungry to escape our homes and digital screens and have fun and adventures with real people again.
This is great for a company like Contiki whose mission is to bring young people together to experience the world.
ICS: What changes has your industry experienced that you feel will carry on/accelerate throughout the rest 2021?
LN: Covid has made travellers want to make travel matter and benefit the communities they visit; they're very conscious on the impact of travel on the world and how they contribute to that. They want more off the beaten track experiences, more cultural adventures, and more wilderness & wellness experiences.
Young people are more conscious of their wellbeing whether mental or physical and are seeking ways to disconnect. In the era of social distancing, nature breaks are rocketing in popularity and this will no doubt continue as travellers are craving wide open spaces and inspiring views.
We are also seeing trends of remote working, gap years and sabbaticals which will lead to more people seeking shorter breaks to tag on to new ways of working.
ICS: What skills do you think you'll be using most during the rest of 2021?
LN: I think having a strong grasp of Data Analysis will be critical in 2021. Especially as the world reopens at different rates, it will be critical to understand what people are looking for, what they are concerned about and what information they need in order to be able to adapt digital marketing, content and media budgets to any behavioural trends and opportunities etc.
ICS: For those new to digital marketing in your industry, what are the key skills they should work on acquiring? What are the best tools/sources of experience?
LN: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are fundamental in todays world. Not only are they responsible for driving traffic to your website, they are also critical in identifying content creation opportunities and trends to influence product development. A great resource to up-skill in this space is Google's Digital Garage, a non-profit nationwide programme delivering free digital skills training via an online learning platform.
ICS: What are your tips for maintaining a work/life balance?
LN: It's definitely a struggle, especially when working from home. It's very easy to slip into the "one more email mentality" but I've realised it's critical to make time to disconnect and unplug. Taking time out to not look at a screen, whether that's listening to music or a podcast or picking up an old fashioned book, all help with the digital fatigue which comes from endless virtual calls.
In summary, it’s clear to see that Lottie believes in the power of positivity, and keeping up a level of optimism, even throughout a time where it seemed impossible.
However, most importantly, it’s vital to be realistic, especially when the travel industry was turned on its head. Companies and travel agencies had to become extremely aware and mindful of money and budgets more than ever before.
Companies like Contiki had to learn very quickly, and under immense pressure, how to invest in the right business and marketing strategies. However, these are skills that can be taken forward and utilised in a post-Covid society, and, as Lottie discussed, the pandemic has even produced a new type of traveller, borne out of remote working and changes to lifestyle.
Regarding what’s next, we can only wait and see in terms of what society we walk into when the pandemic is truly over, but we think this piece of advice from Lottie will go a long way:
"Play to your strengths. Don't try and be all things to all people and more importantly, don't be a dick!"