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Back to the Future

The setting was again the rather arty and very comfy Electric Cinema in Shoreditch. Both the audience and the panel of speakers was composed, in the main, of travel industry and marketing folk. The topic was ‘The Importance of Brand in an Age of Insecurity’. And the debate at our Future Sessions was lively as we took a hard look at what it takes to succeed in difficult times.

Designate’s MD, Jason Triandafyllou set the scene by taking a look back at the last 18 months, with direct reference to the litany of harrowing, worrying and downright sensationalist headlines that the Great British Public has been inundated with.

Terrorism, humanitarian disasters, political upheaval and economic uncertainty have been dominant topics in the media, and yet, as ABTA’s own figures bear out, the Brits are still travelling, both domestically and overseas.

The winners in all sectors, and specifically in travel, are the confident brands, those not hiding when times are tough, but seizing the moment. Brands like Jet2 Holidays, brashly and effectively positioning themselves as a package holiday company you can trust, and Ireland, a destination boldly making a grab for a share of the staycation market.

Tim Davis, Vice President Brand and Marketing at Small Luxury Hotels, took up the theme of the crucial importance of Brand. Citing a general lack of differentiation in the hotel industry as an example, he made the point that too many companies are not following some basic rules that make for a successful brand: listen to your customers and hear both the good and the bad; think about what your brand means to them and their own identities; be consistent in what you say and do; be clear, honest and transparent; be confident; and be caring – look after them so that they come back!

Tim Williamson, Marketing and Content Director at Responsible Travel, challenged the very notion that we live in any more insecure times today than we have in previous decades. He made the point that we have lived with terrorism of one kind or another for as long as most of us can remember, we have faced natural disasters, economic upheaval and political turmoil and many other challenges, and life goes on. Or at least it does for those companies that have strong – and genuine – brand values.

The key to success, he said, was generating genuine trust in your brand, by doing things you mean, and meaning what you do. To general agreement from the audience, he pointed out that honesty is too rare a commodity in the way much travel product is described and marketed.

Finally, Yolanda Fletcher, Managing Director of PR and Marketing agency Cellet, shared her experiences of destination marketing in times of turmoil. She provided two contrasting examples of US destinations and their actions in the aftermath of 9/11. Nevada and Las Vegas took the brave decision to ‘stay open’ and led the way with the travel trade and the media to keep Brits flying. Missouri, on the other hand, stopped all marketing and advertising, and it has taken them 15 years to see any kind of tourism recovery from the UK market. Basically the lesson here being, don’t stick your head in the sand.

Have a look at the presentations here.

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