Marketers will have to gear up for extremely short lead times to activate programs: Nishant Kashikar

Nishant Kashikar Tourism Australia

With marketing plans being replaced by contingency talks, travel & tourism sector took an unprecedented hit last year. Social Samosa talks to Tourism Australia’s Nishant Kashikar to understand how digital came to their rescue.

2020 was meant to be an important year for Tourism Australia with a plethora of activities planned, especially in regards to the cricket world cup. The authorities had created packages in partnership with airlines and local travel companies, keeping in mind the craze Indians have for cricket and Master Chef Australia. The pandemic caused a great dent in those plans, halting possibilities mid-way. However, it also opened up possibilities of communication and marketing. Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager — India & Gulf, Tourism Australia tells us about his organisation’s journey through the turmoil and the way ahead for them.

Looking back, how did things fare for Tourism Australia in 2020 in the face of the pandemic?

The year-gone-by has seen an unprecedented degree of ever-changing circumstances affect nearly every sector, and although travel was among the first to register the severity of the pandemic’s impact we have also been quick to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of marketing. 

As soon as the world went into lockdown, our primary objective has been to keep the lights on and keep inspiring our high-value travellers to consider Australia as their next holiday destination, as soon as the international borders open. Falling in line with a trend that has dominated the tourism industry this year and with digital mediums seeing incredible growth and rise in popularity, we broadened our virtual offerings by digitizing a wealth of quintessential experiences that allowed people from across the world to enjoy a slice of Australia from the safety and seclusion of their homes.

How did digital experiences and social media help you keep people hooked and hopeful? Could you tell us about some of the key campaigns?

To kick-start our foray into the virtual tourism trend, with special emphasis on the limiting nature of the pandemic, we released our ‘Australia in 360’ videos and ‘With Love From Aus’ campaign film, a video tribute to travellers, visitors, and the travel trade fraternity to encourage them to remain inspired and think of Australia once travel normalcy resumes.

We followed this by introducing the ‘Live From Aus’ program, a live broadcast that enabled travel lovers to partake in a plethora of peak Australian experiences, in real-time. Over 8.4 Million Indian viewers tuned in to catch-up on the live series. These experiences have also been archived on Tourism Australia’s social media pages for anyone to enjoy in the future and include everything from deep-sea adventures at the Great Barrier Reef and a night at the Sydney Opera House to intense morning workouts with Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainers.

For our most sought-after experiences like the march of the Little Penguins at Phillip Island, we boosted the launch of Phillip Island Nature Parks’ (PINP) innovative Live Penguin TV. The daily live stream is accompanied by the expert commentary of PINP’s rangers who also use the opportunity to interact and field questions from the audience as a means to replicate the onsite experience.

Most recently, we launched ‘Australia in 8D’, a collection of audio-visually stimulating experiences that harnesses the innovation of 8D technology and colour psychology to place viewers right in the centre of some of Australia’s most iconic destinations. The campaign received over 15 Mn views across Facebook and YouTube.

People were made plenty excited for experiences in Australia during the 2020 cricket season, how do you hope to ensure people are still interested in visiting?

As a host nation for big-ticket events like the ICC T20 World Cup and the Border-Gavaskar series, 2020 was earmarked to be a phenomenal year for the Australian tourism and hospitality industry. However, despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic we have been able to translate the loss of travel and visitation by avoiding stagnation and amplifying digital availability.

With social distancing and home quarantining becoming a common practice adopted across the world, we wanted to provide an escape from the redundancy of daily life through easy and accessible experiences. We were able to accomplish this by regularly communicating with our Aussie Specialist Travel agents across the country and through consumer-focused initiatives that showcased cricket and stadium attractions and through interviews with iconic cricketing personalities like Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, David Warner and Harsha Bhogle.

Also Read: [Interview] Neliswa Nkani on South African Tourism’s marketing plan for 2021

Do you feel marketers, especially in the tourism sector, would be more prone to think of a contingency plan than ever before?

The pandemic has in many ways paved the way for a more competitive marketing field, urging marketers to explore bolder ways to connect with their customers to build brand recall. In terms of contingency plans or a ‘Plan B’, while the revival of domestic tourism is gradually helping to re-stabilize the industry, international tourism is yet to see a similar vigour. For this purpose and given the fleeting nature of the field, marketers will need to be more agile and nimble in order to keep abreast with the demands and trends in consumer behaviour. 

Additionally, marketers will have to gear up to a) Start-Pause-Stop-Restart their campaigns; b) Will have extremely short lead times to activate their marketing and PR programs, and c) Should have the ability to pivot their campaigns and messages in case of any untoward incidents.

What does the marketing mix for 2021 look like for Tourism Australia? Are there any specifics from the marketing plan of 2020 that would be carried forward in 2021?

Australia is amongst those countries that have made distinguishable strides towards curbing all community and isolated cases of infection, and it is this strategised approach that will serve as a calling card for when international borders reopen, thus paving the way for ‘safety sojourns’. Moving forward, as observed in the year gone by, adopting a watch and learn strategy, while also regularly monitoring consumer sentiments and travel behaviour will take precedence until we can adequately contain the impact of the virus to a manageable degree.

In 2021, we will continue to invest our marketing resources in the below five areas: 

  1. Virtual reality and augmented reality: VR and AR tools and experiences have become a popular means by which people can explore new destinations, without crowding concerns, and will likely grow in relevance across sectors
  2. Social media and streaming services: The use of OTT streaming services and social media platforms has seen an exponential rise and is expected to grow, following the introduction of lockdowns and with a large per cent of the population choosing to remain indoors
  3. Regional content: Investing in vernacular content and facilitating collaborations with popular regional platforms has become pivotal to amass and scale brand appeal and recognition with diverse target audiences in non-metro regions
  4. Advocacy & Influencer marketing: In this era of growing scepticism, well-curated and emphatic influencer collaborations can help resonate with audiences due to the ‘human factor’, thereby adding authenticity to any product or experience
  5. Content marketing: Customers have a tendency to gravitate towards those brands with a message and a call to action they can identify with, thus increasing brand familiarity and reliability

Where would Tourism Australia invest the most for marketing in 2021? How will you measure RoI this year? Would the measurement differ from the years before?

We will continue to measure the effectiveness of our marketing programs by closely monitoring our:

  1. Campaign KPIs, including digital metrics and through brand lift surveys  
  2. Brand KPIs through our Consumer Demand Project research, that measures Australia’s ranking vis—a-vis our key competitors, across key decision-making attributes and holiday motivators
  3. Strategic KPIs which includes arrivals, spend and other tourism metrics

Our endeavour in the first year, once the borders open, will be to regain the lost glory and re-emerge as the fastest growing inbound tourism market for Australia and achieve pre-Covid results in the shortest possible time frame. We will also endeavour to maintain our top ranking amongst the High-Value Travellers across all key brand metrics and uphold the highest destination brand index that we have earned through our marketing efforts.

What role would influencers play for Tourism Australia in 2021?

At Tourism Australia, we have established a network of brand ambassadors from a diverse variety of disciplines and fields, known as Friends of Australia (FOA), who include renowned athletes, thespians, entertainers as well as culinary and wildlife personalities from around the world. Most recently, we readapted the tried-and-true interview to fit with today’s climate and facilitated virtual one on ones with Aussie cricketing legends including David Warner and Brett Lee to amplify destination appeal and desirability on the back of the Border-Gavaskar series, with various content platforms as well as premier lifestyle and travel publications. 

In recognizing the untapped potential reach, influencers have long served as a vehicle of attested promotion for Tourism Australia to demonstrate destination likability, which we have been able to channel through our partnership with national and regional platforms, and by leveraging the contextual media and PR opportunity presented by events such as the ICC T20 World Cup and the Border-Gavaskar series.

What are some of the most important marketing lessons you have learnt while braving the pandemic? Any message for fellow marketers in the tourism sector?

Marketing and advertising en masse have undergone and witnessed a transformation over the past year, in a similar vein the tourism marketing playbook has also seen a complete overhaul. In an ecosystem as dynamic as the one we currently dwell in, it has become essential to embrace change and readapt practices by remaining agile and nimble. For the destination, this implies a shift in focus from destination visibility and recall to building affinity amidst potential travellers to regular communications and information sharing via various outlets. It is now more important than ever to better attune brand messaging to complement today’s consumer, which can catapult a destination’s visibility out of stagnation and into inspiration. 

There is a light at the end of this tunnel and standing together in solidarity, we can achieve leaps and bounds more working together than we possibly could by braving the current of the pandemic alone.