Stay or go – by Yas Island’s Matt Nelson

Yas Island’s performance marketing director, Matt Nelson, examines the marketing mix behind attracting both overseas and domestic tourists

By Matt Nelson, performance marketing director, Experience Hub, Yas Island

There has never been a more exciting time to work within the travel and tourism industry as we emerge following the global pandemic. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Middle East tourism GDP is forecast to grow at an average rate of 7.7 per cent annually between 2022-2032, three times the 2.5 per cent growth rate for the region’s overall economy, with travel industry GDP set to reach a mammoth $540bn.

This huge growth in the tourism industry is being largely driven by pent-up demand for travel. Consumers are desperate to make up for lost time and missed experiences, resulting in them being more receptive to new destinations and activities, whilst being keen to make the most of opportunities to spend quality time with loved ones. Now is the time for marketers to be bold and take risks to capitalise on the wealth of opportunities within the travel and tourism sector.

The tourism industry was one of the hardest hit during the global pandemic. Airlines were grounded, hotels were empty and an entire sector was in hibernation. Even as we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, travellers were still faced with confusing and sometimes expensive entry and exit restrictions and procedures, often with testing and mandatory quarantine. On top of this, consumer confidence was low. For many, the only saving grace was the staycation, and the restrictions and uncertainty that limited international travel drove staycation numbers like we had never seen before.

Following months of uncertainty, the marketing team at Yas Island knew that a daring approach was needed, and in summer 2021, we launched a bold musical staycation campaign, ‘Stayin’ on Yas’. Contrasting with the generic, marketing messages consumers had been hearing throughout the pandemic, the ‘Stayin’ on Yas’ campaign was optimistic and exciting and was the break people needed, giving viewers a glimpse of holiday promise and, most importantly, a taste of much needed fun. The campaign gained a huge amount of attention and engagement in the UAE and ensured Yas Island stood out in a cluttered market, making sure the destination was top of mind for staycations.

As we approach the second half of 2022, we are seeing international leisure travel rebound. The travel industry buzzword ‘revenge travel’ is coming to fruition, with consumers splurging on long delayed, bucket-list vacations as an antidote to the fear of missing out experienced by many during the last two years.

Consumers are hungry for experiences and ready to spend, but there is a battle for the consumer share of wallet. While we are getting back to ‘normal’, we are seeing an imbalance in the number of people dreaming of travel, the number actually booking, and the number of destinations, airlines, and hotels all competing for bookings.

To stand out from the pack, during the first half of the year Yas Island has leveraged celebrities to capture the attention of audiences.

Our collaborations with these celebrities are part of bold campaigns we created to make an impact for 2022 and beyond, which are already seeing strong results. ‘Yas Hai Khass’, a Bollywood-style epic featuring Ranveer Singh on an adventure through Yas Island, has succeeded in capturing interest and raising awareness of Yas Island across India. Our global campaign with Kevin Hart featuring him in the coveted role of ‘Chief Island Officer’ in a series of humorous films from around Yas Island has spurred interest and engagement in global markets. To launch such major campaigns with high levels of investment so early in the post-pandemic period was a risk but has already paid off by taking consideration of Yas Island beyond where it was before the global pandemic.

It is important to note that we are not yet operating in a ‘normal’ environment. Traditionally, when planning a marketing calendar and investment we would have usually looked to historical data and trends. While broad seasonal trends are still consistent, there has been a disruption in traditional dreaming, booking and travel patterns. At Experience Hub we are looking to model of short-term data to predict influxes in travel intent and quickly shifting marketing investment accordingly. Speed has been key to capitalise on opportunities as restrictions have been lifted across regional and international markets. Predictability will eventually return to the market; in the short term we have been forced to be market-driven rather than marketing-calendar-driven.

The other major impact on data has been the measures resulting from an increased privacy focus from the likes of Apple and Google. Consumers have more choices about the data they are happy to share and more transparency over how it is being used. Even though GDPR is a European regulation, the impact on profiling and targeting data is being felt across the Middle East as many of the sources of travel intent data, hotel or flight metasearch, for example, apply GDPR-level restrictions across their sites. Third-party travel data aggregators have for a long time been a staple in performance marketing media plans to target travel intent. While these aggregators continue to provide value, media partners who generate their own travel intent data are quickly gaining an advantage. Unless marketers have a handle on their own first party data, they will quickly feel the impact of the industry’s over-reliance on third party data.

Marketers who are data-savvy and use market data and consumer insights to their advantage to build bold, creative campaigns are those who will succeed in the brave new world of travel and tourism marketing.