How to Go Beyond Discounting to Attract Repeat Local Visitors

21st October, 2020 News and Updates,Opinion Pieces

Our most recent webinar in the Tourism Alliance Resilience Webinar Series focussed on the domestic travel market and the importance of deploying a strategy that goes beyond discounting, for a more sustainable approach. Our panel consisted of industry veterans as well as new entrants, who shared some significant and immensely insightful learnings from their experience of engaging with the domestic market.

The panel for the discussion included:

Outlined below are some key learnings and top tips to help you devise your own successful marketing and product strategies as you target domestic travellers over the next few months.

Key Learnings Over the Past Three Months

There was a notable spike in booking demand as soon as the lockdown was lifted in June 2020. This was possibly instigated by pent up demand and heavy discounts offered by local properties. However, we are now beginning to see a decline in the number of bookings – data shows a 36% decline in bookings from June to August 2020.

What we also see is that discounting has worked for properties during this period, with many having an uptick in weekend bookings. However, the million dollar question is, how sustainable is a discounting approach if we are to depend on the domestic travel market for at least a year before we can expect foreign travel to return to pre-COVID levels. The reality is that the tourism industry needs to survive on domestic travel for considerably longer than we initially anticipated. Therefore, there is no doubt that businesses need to look at what they can do, in addition to discounting, if they are to survive this difficult period.

We believe that the following insights will be helpful for local tourism operators who are looking to expand their domestic marketing strategy and drive new business.

8 Tips for Targeting Domestic Travellers

1. Target Your Existing Local Client Base

A number of tour operators and hospitality providers already have a local audience base that they engage with, and this base is your low-hanging fruit. These clients already know your brand, your product and service standard, therefore you have to put in less effort to convince them and spend less to reach them. If you have not built a local customer base, use this time to do so. Put in the time and effort to understand what the local market wants and how your products and services can cater to them.

Examples from Our Panel:
Jerome states that the Jetwing Group attributes 25% of its overall audience to the domestic market. The group has always considered the domestic market as important, and has made an effort to cater to this market with special offers and packages. The Jetwing Room Rush promotion is one such local strategy that the organisation has been running for the past few years, attracting repeat local customers who have become loyal supporters of the brand.

According to Rajiv, Classic Sri Lanka has seen great interest for local tours and excursions from their existing Sri Lankan customer base, which has helped the organisation get off to a great start post lockdown, with up to six fully booked tours organised every month.

2. Segment the Domestic Market

The local tourism industry often has a mindset that the Sri Lankan audience is one homogeneous entity. This is why the general strategy used to target the domestic market is based on discounting. The message is usually – one night, full board, double sharing.

The reality is that as much as we spend so much time and effort crafting products and offerings, as well as the right message for foreign audiences, we need to similarly invest time and effort to understand the many segments within the domestic market. Tailor making packages and messages for different segments within this market has never been more important.

Examples from Our Panel:
Niranka points out that the amateur photography interest in Sri Lanka is increasing significantly. The online demand for semi-professional cameras has increased about 53% in the past two years. When you have the tools to identify that there is an audience that has this interest, you can really tailor your message and create a value proposition for this audience. Unfortunately, we don’t see that happening too often.

Additionally, between 4000-6000 Sri Lankans celebrate their anniversaries every month on Facebook, and there is a great opportunity for operators to develop a special offering and tailor a message to target this segment.

3. Personalise & Tailor Make Opportunities

When it comes to the domestic market, local operators have traditionally gone with standard options that are pre-made, off the shelf. Hardly any effort has been made to create opportunities specifically for local travellers.
Businesses need to think local and pay attention to the nuances and preferences of different types of travellers within the domestic market. Sometimes operators lose track of local sensibilities. What may seem like a fantastic opportunity for a foreign guest might be pretty ordinary for a Sri Lankan. Understand the value that the local audience will place in that offering, and then communicate it clearly to the audience.

Currently, we see that certain services, experiences and properties that were limited to the elite few (foreign) are more widely available to the local guest. The domestic market possibly has more options when it comes to travelling in Sri Lanka than it ever did before. Ask yourself what you can do to personalise the travel experience for this audience.

Examples from Our Panel:
Dilshan states that Ceylon Haven looks at personalisation in myriad ways – from tailor made menus for each group to special amenities based on the needs of the individuals within the group. Every conversation that a potential client has with the brand is a personalised one, with an effort being made to understand specific requirements and cater to them.

4. Curate Experiences & Use Expert Hosts

The Sri Lankan audience sees value in a well organised, interesting, hosted experience that is specially curated for them. Operators who have been curating different types of experiences that are appealing to multiple segments of the audience are seeing results, with continued demand from local travellers. Expert hosts also add value and help fetch a premium price for an experience.

Examples from Our Panel:
Rajiv states that Classic Sri Lanka has not felt the need to offer discounts for any of its tours, as there is a steady demand from the local audience. So, the team has been focussed on curating varied experiences that have an appeal for different types of travellers, and ensuring that they are hosted by experts on the subject matter. The audience for a Classic Sri Lanka safari tour to Yala National Park can be segmented as serious enthusiasts who want to travel to a park every month, casual travellers who want to experience it through the eyes of an expert, kids who are probably heading to a park for the first time. Even though a general tour group may have a mix of all three types of travellers, the team makes an extra effort to personalise certain aspects of the experience to suit the needs and expectations of the travellers. Rajiv himself hosts many of the wildlife tours conducted by the company, adding a special edge to the experience with his expertise.

Jetwing too has created two types of experiences for local guests who visit its properties. Jerome explains how the group has developed specific experiences for each hotel, which allow guests to immerse themselves in the special brand of hospitality offered by Jetwing. Another interesting offer being promoted by Jetwing is a curated tour of one or more destinations, hosted by Hiran Cooray. The response for these tours has been phenomenal, indicating that having a recognizable and expert host makes an experience that much more attractive to a local audience. If your organization does not have its own popular personality, you can consider partnering with a third party to elevate your offering.

5. Productise and Add Value

As businesses compete for the rather limited domestic audience base, those who put in the time and effort to develop the right value added products and communicate them effectively will find themselves with a larger slice of the pie. Productising, or creating a value-based product or service that targets specific traveller segments is going to be critical for local operators if they are to attract repeat customers and drive business.

Examples from Our Panel:
Niranka shares the following example to demonstrate productising in a practical sense. When the team at Antyra worked with a client who wanted to promote a property as a romantic destination they helped the client develop productised offerings with a key proposition and a value added call to action. The productised offering was then communicated to a specific audience who were in a relationship and who seemed more inclined to purchase bundled packages. The response was immediate, and went from no bookings over a three-week period to almost nine bookings a day.

6. Keep Evolving and Innovating

Trying different things to engage with customers is important in order to encourage repeat business. Since tourism operators are going to have to look to the domestic market for business for a much longer period, they have to start differentiating their offerings and marketing strategies to motivate travellers to return to their properties and patronise their tours.

Examples from Our Panel:
According to Jerome, when Jetwing realised that its Room Rush offer was not getting the traction the company expected, the marketing team realised it had to look at a different way to attract customers. The company then introduced a ‘limited time’ offer which allowed customers to book at a slightly lower rate for two days, a ‘book against the clock’ offer which created a sense of excitement and urgency, and a ‘book now’ offer which gave an additional discount for upcoming weekends if bookings were low. Additionally, Jetwing also introduced combo offers where guests could stay at two properties, long stay offers, and pet friendly stays at select properties.

Rajiv also believes that it is important for a business to keep innovating and introducing something new to attract customers. He points out that since Sri Lanka is such an amazing country, there is so much to discover and explore. His team encourages guests to have different experiences, and visit different destinations, so that they keep returning. Even if it’s a wildlife safari, there are different areas of the park to explore, different animals and birds to see. The team uses its expertise, skills and knowledge to create something new that their clients can look forward to.

7. Story Tell and Communicate to All Segments

Today, much of our internet usage is via our phones, leading to an engagement model of micro moments. We may spend four hours of the day online, but it comes in incremental moments – 10 minutes standing in a line, 20 minutes during the work commute, 15 minutes before going to bed, etc. As a result, a brand’s ability to grab the attention of users and engage with them has become increasingly more challenging. With that in mind, we have to start removing the guess work, and the probable associations people could build if they had half an hour to think about it, and really productise our offering and our messaging.

Spend time crafting a tailored message for the domestic traveller, tell them a compelling and evocative story to convince them why they should book their holiday with you instead of your competitor. Look at social channels to create awareness and target specific audiences.

Examples from Our Panel:
Both Classic Sri Lanka and Ceylon Haven have not used traditional media to communicate with customers during this period. All advertising and communications have been via social channels including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

8. Be Proactive – Chase After Business

All members of our panel were vehement about the fact that tourism operators need to actively go after business during this period.

Emphasising that hotels should not wait for business to come to them, but should chase after it, Jerome suggests that there are many arenas such as local FITs, expats, corporates, as well as local travel agents that hotels should target for business.

Rajiv believes that it is important to create your niche, be it wildlife, adventure or culinary. Identify what you are good at, curate great experiences, and actively go after customers.

Dilshan is confident that if a young brand like Ceylon Haven can build a demand within the local market in such a short span of time, others too can achieve success if they put themselves out there.

As Niranka highlights, the domestic market is not large enough for everybody. So, those who succeed will be those who do all they can to go out and bring in the customers, instead of lamenting the loss of business and living on a prayer.