Win or loss? – An Autopsy of COVID19 Tourism Safety campaign Slogans

From opportunistic, to inclusive, cooperative and sometimes irresponsible messaging, COIVID19 tourism safety campaigns spoke volumes to those who cared to listen.

When COVID-19 pandemic decimated tourism, destinations were on the lookout for information on awareness and action, to guide appropriate response. Given the global scale of pandemic spread and impacts, the most credible information for tourism, would be coordinated from global level. Indeed, tourism researchers, professionals, and organizations working at international level, engaged tourism stakeholders through research, learning webinars and even campaigns. With the increasing need to access information and get a richer understanding, those sharing information had defined objectives for their communication. Often, the underlying message that they put across was that of safety in travel during the pandemic. Nonetheless, others were simply following the herd, i.e. engaging audiences because it was now a routine established by others.

Perhaps, the most wide spread and easily memorable of public information on COVID-19 communication in tourism, were the campaign slogans for safe travel. Three notable ones, sequenced as the situation of COVID-19 unfolded in tourism are; I am tourism strong, a campaign slogan just at the onset of COVID-19 induced tourism crisis;  Travel Tomorrow by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), launched when the industry was amidst turbulence; and  Together in Travel by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) came in shortly afterwards, and closer to restarting of tourism. These campaign slogans addressed a global audience in tourism, aiming for message efficiency across diversities in their target global tourism stakeholders, when giving account of COVID-19 in tourism. Were these accounts all about economic concerns, given that in the pandemic, much focus for tourism has been on economic consequences? Besides loss of business revenues, and sharp decrease in tourist arrivals, there are notable social outcomes from the pandemic, affecting people in tourism. An analysis by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, shows that the pandemic affects all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most likely, the pandemic has put the world on slow pace or off track to reaching SDG targets. Tourism comes in on goals 8, 12, and 14, which have synergies linked to achievement of SDG targets in almost every other goal.

Since the aforementioned issues affecting tourism are constant across stakeholders, it is expected, that the accounts in campaign slogans will pass closely related messages across the board. In reality, the campaign slogans have interpretations that drift apart, in other aspects, apart from their message inclination to health concerns by encouraging safe travel. For both #TravelTomorrow and #TogetherinTravel, their safety message emphasized restricted mobility, while #IamTourismStrong was about resilience. The slogans time outlook is contrasting, WTTC takes a retrogressive look at travel time to look behind, while UNWTO’s slogan is anchored on ready plans ahead. Travel Tomorrow is about post ponding travel, to a future date when it is safe to travel, whereas Together in Travel is about keeping alive the travel spirit by sharing memories of travel.

The slogans have differences in their target audiences. I am tourism strong, is individualistic, focusing inwardly towards tourism businesses and professionals. Being the first of the three, this slogan aimed to raise immediate awareness of what the pandemic’s concern should be for the industry.

#TravelTomorrow, is instructive, speaking solely to the traveler. Its priority population is traveler, that is why it emphasizes on issues important to traveler, i.e. to postpone travel. This is to some extent a relief to those whose ready travel plans were disrupted by COVID-19. Similarly, businesses would be relieved to postpone, and not necessarily cancel entire bookings. The slogan has a call that is actionable, with clear information of responsible behavior, Travel Tomorrow. Its message is specific to behavior of traveler.

#TogetherinTravel has precision addressing the traveler, at the same time acknowledging the wider tourism community. The undertone in this message is that cooperation is key, in coordinating response plans. It scores big in showing compassion, caring out loud in the slogan, as a smart way, to bring people together to jointly produce better outcomes in efforts to address COVID-19 induced crisis. The sense of togetherness provides strong motivation to act. Togetherness also creates a common ground between the engaging parties, and thereby allows for trust and persuasion. Just like #TravelTomorrow, #TogetherinTravel is specific to behavior, and gives actionable call to keep alive the spirit of travel. It additionally pays attention to community context, thereby allowing for inclusion in its response plans.

How were these slogans embraced by tourism stakeholders? We posed this question in our online survey, and here are the results:

Tourism has had several campaign slogans to #safetravel as part of response to #COVID-19 pandemic. Some were seen as biased to segments of interest groups. Which of these do you think was most inclusive and embraced by all?

#I am tourism strong – 12.8%

#Travel Tomorrow – 57.4%

#Together in Travel – 29.8%

Our respondents felt that Travel Tomorrow, was the most inclusive and embraced by all.  We attribute the popularity of the slogan to its timing. It came at a critical stage, when tourism was right in the middle of turbulence, and therefore remained in people’s minds for long. The launch of virtual tours across destinations came in tandem with the slogan Travel Tomorrow.

Perhaps the most opportunistic campaign slogan came with the safe travel stamps. What would have been a novel idea to reassure  travellers as tourism restated, was watered down to a PR stunt. How else would you explain the stamp being given to countries that had denied existence of COVID19? It is no wonder that this campaign faded in minds of travellers and industry as soon as the press releases were issued and celebrated. Through this campaign, tourism organisations have usurped the powers of World Heath organisation, who have a mandate to declare places COVID19 safe in collaboration with national governments.

Due to the dispersibility and easy memorability of campaign slogans, they remain in people’s minds as a repertoire to inform appropriate response. They should therefore have the right cues to building back better and deliver on any promises made. Popularity can make a campaign slogan to be embraced by all. Being inclusive, allows a slogan to connect different actors to effectively address the pandemic. Without these critical features, a campaign slogan gets worn out in a short time span, or gets lost in the crowd. This is typical to campaigns that simply follow the herd, i.e. are launched due to peer influence with no clear campaign objectives.

September 12, 2020

Nairobi , Kenya