Tourism boards stay visible with cool experiences and escapist content during pandemic

Switzerland also plays off the unabated desire to travel. PHOTO: SWITZERLAND TOURISM

SINGAPORE - Chef Dave Pynt plates a Fremantle octopus tentacle, which he had grilled over jarrah hardwood, as a film crew captures the action at his modern barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends.

The Perth-born chef also grills wagyu and marron, a freshwater crustacean, sourcing his air-flown ingredients, wine and the wood from Western Australia.

The video of the feast will pop up soon on the YouTube channel of Dynasty Travel - and one viewer will win a $500 meal at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant.

The idea is to give travel lovers a "taste" of Western Australia even though they are unable to visit now, says Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel.

For this artisanal treat, the travel agency partnered Tourism Western Australia, whose country manager Ava Ang has deemed it important to "plant the seed" of travel in Singapore - her second biggest international market after the United Kingdom.

About 100,000 Singaporeans visit Western Australia annually.

Dynasty Travel has also worked with the tourism boards of Australia's New South Wales, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand for virtual tours, live-streaming and the sales of goodies such as Croatian truffles and Korean snacks.

"We hope to keep our customers engaged continuously so that we can stay top of mind when travel restrictions are lifted,'' she says.

Transcend borders

The pandemic has curtailed journeys everywhere, but tourism boards are determined to transcend borders.

To keep their destinations visible and appealing to globetrotters, they customise experiences in the Republic or zoom in from afar with escapist digital content.

Destination brands have connected with Singapore residents wherever they are - at heartland bus stops, in green spaces and on omnipresent social media.

"Far-sighted players continue to build visibility for their destination brands during this unprecedented period of uncertainty,'' says Ms Reene Ho-Phang, co-founder of BrandStory, a strategic travel marketing consultancy.

Wasting no time, these destinations position themselves for the future, she says. "They are inspiring travellers in many creative ways, striving to put a foot into their travel bucket list, as part of their strategy to gain mind-share and benefit from the post-vaccine return of leisure travellers."

Going local is a popular way to bond with Singaporeans, as checks by The Straits Times with a dozen tourism boards show.

In December and last month, 106 posters and digital panels that evoke Spain's appeal were placed at bus stops from Sengkang to Scotts Road, and in the Central Business District.

One poster depicting a flamenco dancer was emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Stop Dancing". PHOTO: SPAIN TOURISM BOARD

One poster depicting a flamenco dancer was emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Stop Dancing".

The vibrant colours allude to brighter days ahead, says Ms Monica Sanchez, director for the regional office of Spain Tourism Board. "Never stop dancing to the beat of life, no matter how intense challenges can be."

An overarching message of the campaign is that "Spain will continue to wait" despite the uncertainty of travel, she says.

Going local

Switzerland also plays off the unabated desire to travel.

It partners the local travel trade, including the Travel Wander agency which inspired its clients to complete 24km on foot within 20 days recently, for its Ticino Swiss Virtual Challenge. Ticino, a Swiss region of alpine peaks and lakes, is an outdoor paradise.

More than 50 people signed up, walking or running in places like Sentosa and their neighbourhood.

The challenge lets Singaporeans "dream about Switzerland in a very active way", says Mr Oliver Guggisberg, project manager for South-east Asia at Switzerland Tourism.

"Travel Wander was also able to keep their clients fit and healthy and promote some existing Switzerland itineraries."

Monaco, too, created a link to Singapore in its online outreach.

The campaign presents Monaco in a new light. PHOTO: VISIT MONACO

In a video launched two weeks ago by Visit Monaco, 26-year-old Singaporean racing driver Andrew Tang cruises in a Ferrari on the Formula 1 track here and reminisces about his favourite moments on the Monaco circuit.

Titled Monaco From Home - A Small Country That Resonates All Over The Planet, the sleek social media campaign is being rolled out across 10 countries, including Germany, Russia and the United States.

Mr Benoit Badufle, regional director of the promotion bureau of the Principality of Monaco, says: "We wanted to stay connected with travellers all over the world to showcase our beautiful destination in new ways.

"The campaign presents Monaco in a new light, and allows our audiences to see unique ways in which our small principality has global resonance."

Global reach

Last year, Hong Kong welcomed 3.57 million visitors. PHOTO: LEGOLAND DISCOVERY CENTRE HONG KONG

With technology, destinations have a global reach, now more significant than ever as the pandemic stretches on and wanderlust spikes.

Hong Kong invited the world to a virtual New Year countdown, with fireworks lighting up Victoria Harbour. At midnight on Dec 31, it streamed a two-minute fireworks video with special effects that attracted more than five million views across all of the Hong Kong Tourism Board's social media platforms.

Like other tech-savvy destinations, Hong Kong has experimented with multiple campaigns stylishly.

Its popular Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival adopted an online-offline format for the first time. Thirty-four masterclasses were held over three weekends, generating almost 850,000 views from near and far. "Ah Yat Fried Rice" and craft beer and artisan cheese pairing were among the favourite classes.

These rosy numbers soothe some pain from the loss of tourists. Last year, Hong Kong welcomed 3.57 million visitors, a precipitous drop of 93.6 per cent from 2019. From mid-March, the territory had limited entry to overseas visitors and introduced strict quarantine measures.

Korean glitz

South Korea's campaigns, also glitzy, deploy the nation's K-pop soft power. PHOTO: KOREA TOURISM ORGANIZATION

South Korea's campaigns, also glitzy, deploy the nation's K-pop soft power.

Its recent viral Feel The Rhythm Of Korea campaign features cool two-minute videos fusing traditional Korean music by alternative pop band Leenalchi and contemporary performances by the Ambiguous Dance Company.

The videos are set in six cities, including the capital, Seoul, and the romantic port city of Mokpo, an emerging destination.

Complete with hashtags like #Ourheartsarealwaysopen and #Meetyoulater, the clips, released on YouTube by the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) to cheer up stay-home globetrotters and showcase South Korea, have garnered more than 300 million views.

There is also the ongoing Go Get Korea travel promotion and sale, and plans to put K-beauty, cooking and language classes online.

"The key message that we want to send out to Singaporeans would be that 'Korea is the first place I want to travel after the pandemic'," said the KTO office here in a statement.

Perhaps this is a done deal.

South Korea topped a Straits Times poll of countries that Singaporeans would like the Republic to have an air travel bubble with.

Last October, it was the favourite with 40.7 per cent in a poll conducted on Facebook, followed by Japan (17.7 per cent) and Thailand (16.9 per cent).

Hope amid pandemic

Other contenders for the hearts of travellers, such as New Zealand and Australia, may soothe anxiety during the pandemic even as they sate wanderlust by streaming the natural splendour of their terrain.

Among New Zealand's serial initiatives are a Spotify album of meditative tracks to calm listeners and a virtual Maori-style yoga session streamed live from scenic Glendhu Bay in Wanaka.

Maori-style yoga with Taane Mete at Karekare beach. PHOTO: TOURISM NEW ZEALAND

It also launched Messages From New Zealand, a video series where Kiwis from all walks of life, including children, share words of hope and care to remind their international whanau (extended family) that human connections matter, especially in a pandemic.

For a Singaporean touch, Tourism New Zealand worked with three citizens, including actress Xenia Tan, to record their video responses to the Kiwi messages and share experience of the country.

New Zealand, whose leadership won global praise for its handling of the pandemic, is ultimately conveying the idea that it is waiting to welcome travellers again when the time is right.

And when Singaporeans return, they will savour new experiences - for instance, fantastical film effects at a Weta workshop and kayak rides at steaming cliffs (see other story).

Brisbane, too, purveys hope.

Known as a Sunshine Capital, it embodied this branding with a "Virtual Sunshine" campaign. PHOTO: VISIT BRISBANE

Known as a Sunshine Capital, it embodied this branding with a "Virtual Sunshine" campaign. A live stream of the city's sunshine along the Brisbane River, backed by a playlist of local musicians, delivers a message of hope.

Ms Ho-Phang of BrandStory says: "The campaign also encouraged its locals to share their favourite sunshine moment in Brisbane with the world - a move that allowed the city destination to strengthen its connection with their fans on social media by spreading positivity through heart-warming, inspiring local stories during this time of fear and uncertainty."

Presenting a respite from unending pandemic news, Brisbane's Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary set up live cams showing cuddly koalas in their habitat. "Technology elevates armchair travel to new heights," Ms Ho-Phang says.

Inspiration, safety

A planet in lockdown has turned globetrotter Ivan Tan, 35, into an armchair traveller.

Pre-pandemic, the civil servant revelled in 10 trips a year.

But now he delves into virtual tours once or twice a week even at "unearthly hours".

The free tours, hosted by tourism boards and travel agencies, included a Western Front battlefield tour in Europe, Christmas markets in Germany and elsewhere, and coastal Tottori in Japan.

He won a bottle of wine last December when he went virtual sightseeing in Western Australia at a Dynasty Travel promotional gig.

Online jaunts are an escape for the travel-famished, he reckons. "They are a reminder that there are places not yet explored."

It is for such travellers that tourism players keep their destinations alive through fancy outreach, addressing suppressed wanderlust while positioning themselves for a burst in demand one day.

The ideal messaging layers inspiration with safety.

Ms Maria Elena Rossi, marketing and promotion director at the Italian Tourist Board, highlights inspirational content - for instance, branding Ravenna city, which is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the poet Dante's death.

But she also points out that Rome's Fiumicino Airport became the first in the world to earn the desirable Covid-19 five-Star Airport Rating from Skytrax.

Visit Monaco, while nurturing its luxury image, highlighted its safety focus that led to a "not-so-catastrophic summer season" with hotel occupancy rates topping 90 per cent on certain days in July and August last year.

Pandemic traveller emerges

Dubai has been open to visitors since last July and its vaccination rates are high. PHOTO: DUBAI TOURISM

The travel industry is mindful of the new "pandemic traveller", says Ms Debbie Flynn, global travel practice leader at Finn Partners, a New York brand-building consultancy firm.

This emergent traveller will decide where to go this year based on factors never considered before, from levels of Covid cases to quarantine requirements.

Costs will be weighted too. This is impacted by new requirements like testing on departure and arrival, she says, and also the risk of staying longer if quarantined due to illness.

One bright spot is that travellers live in hope, even if they have to start and stop plans this year.

A new TripAdvisor report noted that nearly half - 47 per cent - of travellers surveyed globally say they are planning to travel overseas in 2021. The figure for Singaporean travellers is higher at 61 per cent.

One in 10 Singaporean respondents have already booked an international trip for this year.

Dubai, even as it pushes out sophisticated campaigns, pictures itself almost in a "post-pandemic" zone, as it has been open to visitors since last July and its vaccination rates are high.

"The last quarter of 2020 aimed at creating bookings since the destination is open and safe,'' says Mr Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Tourism.

Avatar: Beyond borders

Many countries are still shuttered, however, so destination marketeers such as Ms Ho-Phang try creative tactics.

"BrandStory is recommending one destination that we are working with to appoint a 'virtual celebrity' for the first time ever, as its brand ambassador."

Luo Tianyi, she says, is a digital superstar in China with more than three million fans on social media. A product of AI technology, she is an avatar singer with a synthetically created voice harnessed from a mega-library of vocals.

Fans can be invited to join virtual journeys with Luo, Ms Ho-Phang says. "As a digital celebrity, Luo can circumvent travel ban restrictions.''

And so the inventive travel industry will uncover ways to stay top of mind, transcending borders one at a time.

Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

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