The global pandemic triggered a near-total shutdown of international tourism to and from the UK. Although borders are starting to open and ‘tiers’ are being allocated on a regional basis, the outlook tends to change daily, making forecasting difficult. Needless to say, we are dealing with uncertainty and therefore should frame all that we design for as uncertain; anticipating many different futures.
Presently, the VisitBritain tourism forecast anticipates a decline of 73% on inbound visits and a decline of 79% in spending, equivalent to £60m a day. Inbound tourism numbers are expected to rise towards the end of the year, but these models are precarious.
Domestic tourism seems to be the saving grace of the tourism industry, even if it’s expected to recover gradually but unevenly across the country. However, the unpredictable local and tiered lockdowns, fear of new Covid-19 spikes in the short-term and general uncertainty about the experience of being in a place is a cause for concern for many visitors — and understandably so.
In this article, I want to explore the opportunities that digital placemaking offers the domestic tourism sector. I’ll look briefly at some challenges, some pre-pandemic sector trends and then shine a light on digital services that are being harnessed to support the visitor economy. I’m also going to introduce Calvium’s new digital placemaking solution – the Place Experience Platform – created to enhance the visitor experience of towns and cities, and support place-based recovery.
The UK’s Tourist Economy in Crisis
The UK could lose up to £22bn in tourism revenues in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, predicts the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). In the worst case scenario, three million jobs would be in jeopardy. This is the real world context within which place leaders and destination marketers are operating, and for anyone entrusted with supporting the local economy and place-based growth, this is a massively challenging time.
Challenges for Destination Leaders and Place Managers
With lockdown easing, the competition amongst towns and cities has become more intense. Winning the attention of a dwindling number of anxious domestic visitors and the few international visitors choosing to explore the UK is a daily challenge for destination leaders. Whilst trying to be mutually supportive as an industry, places in the UK are also in fierce competition with each other, as well as the other international destinations that have opened up.
As I stated earlier, we all have to accept that uncertainty is the ‘new normal.’ Therefore, place leaders need to invest in robust and trustworthy solutions that are also flexible and adaptable. When the context is uncertain, it is imperative to have viable visitor experiences that can be readily adapted to respond to ongoing flux. No more static printed resources, familiar campaigns or standard visitor products, nowadays the astute place strategist invests in the value of mobile-first digital delivery and digital placemaking.
Responsiveness was front of mind when designing the Place Experience Platform. I will talk more about the platform later in the article, but to give a brief overview, it is a digital placemaking solution for place professionals that provides a reliable way of delivering engaging and responsive visitor experiences swiftly, while, at the same time, enabling place managers to guide visitors around destinations as desired and provide up to date information when needed.
Visitor Pain Points
Before August ended, statistics from the Office of National Statistics revealed that 27% of adults were likely or very likely to go on holiday in the UK this summer. In fact, social distancing-friendly destinations like cottages, caravan sites, and holiday parks were booked up and many have taken bookings for 2021 at rates previously unknown.
Visitors clearly want to have a great time, but many are understandably concerned about safety and security when visiting a public place, especially since we’re all wary of not repeating the Bournemouth experience of this summer. Nowadays, tourists demand place assurance, which is why it’s important to give them confidence in all aspects of a destination. They research a place thoroughly prior to visiting, desire up-to-date information during their stay and want to enjoy themselves. A place that fails to deliver on these points, fails to attract or satisfy visitors.
With these challenges in mind, we need to play our part in inspiring people and encouraging them to spend time locally – making their experiences truly positive and memorable. Utilising digital technologies to attract visitors to a destination, help them plan their visit, show them around and provide meaningful connections to the uniqueness of places is a sure-fire way to revive the visitor economy. This can be achieved easily and quickly – with the right partners on board and a collaborative approach.
Pre-Pandemic Tourism Trends
Back in the days of mass tourism (2019!), we were seeing global trends that were poised to shift tourism’s trajectory. These trends are likely to become the norm for most destinations:
Overcrowding in tourist spots brings several issues like alienated residents, reduced visitor experience, unequal distribution and benefit, overloaded infrastructure, threats to culture and heritage, and damage to nature – for starters.
To minimise this, The European Travel Commission (ETC) began to move towards a ‘value not volume’ brand positioning as its marketing strategy for 2019. This strategy involved shifting from a demographic-based market segmentation to a behaviour-based one. Instead of emphasising specific destinations, the ETC started to highlight the experiences from each location, which would disperse tourist crowds more broadly based on their interests and attitudes. This approach is playing out in locations globally and is set to continue, probably spurred on by our recent context.
Environmentally Sustainable Models
As restrictions started to ease up mid-way through 2020, the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme, led by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), announced its renewed focus on sustainability for the recovering tourism sector to better prepare the industry from future crises.
This vision, supported by governments and the private sector, will support Sustainable Development Goals, national policies, and individual place sentiment. In line with the programme, six courses of action for people, planet, and prosperity were recommended, including social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, governance and finance, public health and circular economy.
Place and Localism
Destination strategies are changing. Instead of wooing potential visitors with picturesque images of people sitting by the beach as the sun fades into the horizon, tourism marketing is now focusing on destinations co-created by residents, the industry and visitors.
This is especially apparent in Copenhagen, as the city saw how mass tourism wreaked havoc on the quality of life of residents in cities like Venice and Barcelona. To lessen the effect of tourism once borders are all fully open, the Danish city came up with a solution that will benefit both visitors and locals.
Called ‘localhood for everyone,’ destinations in Copenhagen are encouraged to see visitors not as tourists but as temporary residents. They will be part of the community however long or short their stay is. This can be achieved through a five-point plan that includes:
- Enabling travellers, partners, and influencers to create shareable moments online
- Encouraging repeat visits
- Attracting new visitors from growing markets
- Co-innovation where industries work together
- People-based growth where the goal is not to increase the number of visitors, rather the value of visitors for all.
Place Services and the Rise of Booking Systems
People use digital technologies to engage with a place at all stages of the journey experience lifecycle. This has ramped up massively since the pandemic, so visitors expect to have more digital information and digitally-enabled services post-pandemic.
According to Publicis Sapient, during the third week of March when most countries began their stay-at-home orders, calls flooded company contact centres, with wait times for customers averaging over two hours. One airline even saw half of its customers’ calls unanswered. As visitors will only demand more digital solutions especially when resolving travel concerns, businesses will do well with streamlining digital customer touchpoints, especially for cancellations and rebookings.
Increased Digital Engagement With Visitors
Digital marketing organisations will continue to increase their digital spend considerably. With this, print investment is expected to go down.
As more and more visitors prefer to have updated information in real-time, print, by its static nature, will swiftly be out of date. Digital channels are much more responsive to change, especially since lockdown rules are changing regularly.
Digital Technology at All Stages of the Visitor Journey
With the increased reliance on digital technology, visitors expect to engage with the destination at all stages of their journey – not only as they plan a trip but when they are walking around their destination.
Walk With Me: St Austell is one such digital visitor product. Calvium collaborated with the Kneehigh artists and poet Anna Maria Murphy to create this location-triggered app that narrates wildly exaggerated stories and tales as visitors walk around the St. Austell Bay area. Alight is another location-based app from our team, only this time it gives users more insight into several pieces of sacred art across London, Oxford, Chichester, New York City, and Washington DC.
Both these mobile experiences have a two-pronged benefit. For visitors on-site, they have more control over the locations they will explore as they can see the trail they will follow right from the start. Meanwhile, these apps also have ‘armchair’ modes, which allow users to visit each city without leaving the safe confines of their homes – helping place managers to market their destination.
Place Experience Platform
Place managers need to attract visitors to their destinations and provide the circumstances for visitors to have a safe and enjoyable time. As we can see with the tourism trends, digital technologies are playing an increasingly important role in visitors’ lives and can greatly enhance their experience, which is why Calvium developed the Place Experience Platform – to provide great and personalised visitor experiences for a destination’s target audiences, now and in the future.
What is the Place Experience Platform?
Calvium’s new Place Experience Platform is designed for those entrusted with supporting the visitor economy. It comprises of:
- The Place Experience App which provides compelling content to visitors by combining wayfinding, storytelling, and real-time information about a destination
- The Place Management System which puts control of the visitor experience into the hands of place managers.
Place Experience Platform is a place assurance service that provides visitors with a ‘sense of place’ that can be aligned with that place’s unique marketing strategy.
Through wayfinding, storytelling and up-to-date information about a destination, place managers have the power to design and map trails that visitors can explore—potentially leading them away from overcrowded locations which can put their health at risk, damage the environment and cause strain in the infrastructure.
How Can Place Experience Platform Support the Visitor Economy?
Place Experience Platform is a visitor companion. The App helps people plan a visit and guides them around a destination, offering them entertaining content as well as more practical place-based information. Key benefits include:
- Supports economies of less visited areas by encouraging visitors to move around the location in a guided way.
- Enables visitor experiences to be changed easily and quickly, according to destination needs and growth strategies.
- Draws visitors away from bottlenecks that: cause long wait times and clustering, strain infrastructure and damage assets, thus reducing associated management spend.
- Simple, reliable and easy to use, putting control in the hands of place managers, thereby providing a responsive and flexible service.
Discover Salisbury Trails Visitor Experience
Salisbury Trails is the first visitor experience product to be released on Calvium’s platform. It was commissioned by Wiltshire Council to support the economic recovery and development of Salisbury. The app enables visitors to move around Salisbury’s streets and discover the city’s heritage, whether that’s locating off the beaten paths, exploring hidden gems, or following some fantastic routes for shopping, eating and drinking in the city centre.
Visitors hear stories about an attraction, read about it and see related images. They can choose to follow defined trails such as ‘Medieval Meanderings’ or ‘Witchcraft, Riots and Treason’ that present them with a range of related information while they walk around. The interface itself provides a seamless experience as the app has been expertly crafted with attention to detail throughout.
Discover Salisbury is available on the App Store or Google Play. Its content does not depend on an internet connection, allowing visitors to access it wherever and whenever they desire.
As part of Salisbury’s economic recovery plans, the Salisbury Trails app is a perfect way to share the heritage of Salisbury with visitors in compelling ways.
Shifting to Digital Experiences
Now is the time for place leaders to rethink visitor and tourism strategies, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned and so many more. We all need to take a radically different approach to how we relate to and respect the places we inhabit, whether as permanent or temporary residents. We need to develop a holistic approach to how we invite people to experience and understand our neighbourhoods and be part of our communities.
Digital placemaking is obviously a core part of any contemporary place strategy and as we’ve seen, there are myriad ways in which digital solutions and digitally-enabled experiences are enhancing people’s experience of places. The Place Experience Platform is one easy and simple digital product for place managers to use as part of their visitor offer, and it can be developed further for the unique conditions and context of a specific destination.
Seize the new thinking and behaviours that the pandemic has prompted alongside the tourism trends that were already in motion, and employ digital placemaking as the way to revitalise your visitor economy.