How has COVID-19 impacted Japanese travel brands – and what should they be doing now?

When COVID-19 sparked a global lockdown this year, it ruined the travel plans for millions of people around the world. It also dealt an extremely difficult blow to the travel industry.

We asked our Country Manager in Japan, Josh Wilson, how the pandemic has hit travel brands in the country, and what they can do to start rebuilding their business, gain market share and attract customers in the coming months.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the travel sector in Japan?

Like all markets around the world, COVID-19 has severely impacted the international and domestic travel sector in Japan.

Over the past few years, there has been a huge push from the Japanese government to promote inbound tourism, with a goal of 40million visitors in 2020.

The government wanted the Olympics to showcase to the world that Japan is a great travel destination. As a result, most travel brands in Japan were gearing up to capitalise on the influx of visitors during this time.

However, COVID-19 has led to the Olympics being postponed, and many travel brands have had to rethink their strategy.

As a result, the Government has shifted its focus towards the domestic market, and is now incentivising domestic travel with discounts via it’s “Go To Travel” campaign, which has presented new opportunities for travel brands.

How has that impacted your clients’ campaigns and planning?

It was no surprise that most of our travel clients either reduced their budgets or stopped advertising altogether during the initial stages of COVID-19. This was due to the weaker demand for travel and uncertainty about the future.

With global travel restriction in place and major attractions to Japan, such as the Olympics, postponed to 2021, travel brands could no longer plan and rely on inbound tourism.

What’s the biggest challenge currently facing travel brands?

I think the biggest challenge currently facing travel brands is still the uncertainty about the future of travel and inbound tourism. Without knowing when travel globally will be back to some sort of norm, and with the unpredictability of COVID-19, planning for the future is difficult.

To counter this, many of our clients have carefully thought about how to advertise during the pandemic, rather than after it. Many have done this by pivoting to targeting domestic travellers to rather than seizing all advertising activities.

Some of our clients have either pivoted to more domestic-led messaging or thought about how to advertise “with COVID-19” rather than “after COVID-19”.

How have you adapted to the challenge and overcome it to achieve results for your clients?

To help clients venture into a new audience they were unfamiliar with, we have used our audience intelligence capabilities.

A great example of this was one of our hotel clients. Their main focus was targeting affluent traveling family audiences in markets outside of Japan.

However, our data showed that there was a spike in domestic travel amongst business travellers who were looking at long stay plans, and also travelling youths looking for weekend adventures.

From here, we built a data and creative strategy to capitalise on these audiences, and as a result we were able achieve positive ROI and gain our client valuable market share.

What are the biggest mistakes travel brands are currently making?

I think one of the biggest mistakes travel brands are currently making is removing their brand presence all together, and not making use of their data for future growth opportunities.

It has been shown in the past that brands who maintain their presence in market during times like these usually come out the other side in a better position.

Paid media channels may not be viable for a lot smaller brands however they do have owned media that can still be engaging and used as a way to remain relevant.

Brands can also use data they’ve accumulated during these times with their owned media, particularly their website, to reengage with audiences via paid media once the international travel industry opens back up.

What can brands in the travel sector do to be successful post COVID-19?

I think there are two main things travel brands can do to be successful post COVID-19.

1) Re-engage with lapsed customers

Firstly, look at the data that you have on site and re-engage with those users post COVID-19. Many brands have spent a lot of time, money and effort on driving users to site.

However they are not able to re-activate those users as most brands have limitations with the marketing technologies – most of which rely on cookies, which are only really good for about 30 days.

Our clients have been successful using Crimtan’s ActiveID technology, a cookie-less solution which allows them to re-engage with customers who have shown interest in their services via display environments.

2) Use their lifecycle to drive incremental ROI

Secondly, Look at the lifecycle that a customer takes when engaging with a brand and have the data, creative and investment strategies in place and ready to go to once COVID-19 eases to drive incremental ROI.

What’s the future for travel brands?

It’s highly likely that COVID-19 will be around for a while, but so will people’s appetite for travel. We have already seen a spike in domestic travel intent, and with the government’s push for domestic travel this will increase the new potential opportunities.

It will also give brands whose main target audience is the international market more time to get ready, plan for the future and ride the wave of the Olympics scheduled for Summer 2021.

Want to know more about reaching new customers and growing market share in Japan? Contact Josh to learn more about how our data, creative and investment strategies can help.