Digital trends in 2021


In this update, Will Wright from DestinationCore talks to us about the digital trends we can expect to see this year.

Following my digital trends talk at the virtual National BIDs conference back in November, I have taken five of the key trends which I think will have the biggest impact for BIDs in 2021 and here, we examine them more closely and explore how BIDs should think about digital as we head into the new year. 

When referring to digital in relation to BIDs, it’s useful to think in terms of:

A digital (or virtual) representation of your physical BID. A space where your audiences can interact with you and your BID, in addition to (and not replacing) in-person.

Most BIDs have two strands of communication - with their businesses (B2B) and with their consumers (B2C). It has been shown that strengthened digital engagement will lead to higher levels of in-person engagement, with both audiences. With the world becoming more digitally connected with every passing year, and with the current COVID restrictions looking set to be with us for a few months yet, having the right digital communication in place is more important than ever.


TREND #1 - VIRTUAL & HYBRID EVENTS

Virtual events have come a long way in 2020. Mainly because there’s simply been no alternative.

Live events and festivals which celebrate the produce and goods that are synonymous with a particular place, or those which commemorate the unique history and heritage of a destination are fantastic way to bring visitors to a destination in their thousands. Without question, we all want to get back to being able to stage these types of events, and for many BIDs it’s vital to their continued success.

But what 2020 has taught us is that it is possible to broadcast events in the virtual space too, and that it can really work! Virtual and hybrid events – where the event has a physical audience, as well a virtual audience, is a great way to widen the reach of that event and connect with an audience that you might not otherwise have been able to.

How many BIDs do you think will broadcast their Christmas light switch on in 2021? And I’m not just talking about live broadcast on Facebook, but something with high quality production values which is as engaging for the virtual audience, as it is for those attending in person – reaching more people than ever before.


TREND #2 - ONLINE BOOKING

During the COVID-era people now have to pre-book for all kinds of things that traditionally you’d just turn up to – such as a table at a pub, a space in a car park or a ticket to a museum.

But even when we eventually move away from COVID-enforced pre-booking, the trend for online booking seems set to continue. In towns and cities that attract any type of tourist, the ability to book an itinerary that spans multiple types of business – attraction, restaurant, accommodation – will continue to be an extremely useful tool. Especially for consumers who want complete certainty from their visit. It’s attractive for businesses too, as it provides a level of certainty and can aid planning and appropriate staffing for busy and not-so-busy periods.

The good news is that linking together lots of different types of business into a single booking platform is already possible – the technology exists.

There is a Government and Visit Britain backed initiative called Tourism Exchange Great Britain (TXGB). It links together different booking systems into a single platform – from hotel and B&B booking, through to restaurant reservations and tickets to attractions. Plus, in 2021 they are set to introduce a marketplace which will allow retailers to upload and sell products directly through a destination website. This platform means that all your BID needs to do is integrate one single booking system into your destination website, and TXGB couldn’t have made it any easier.


TREND # 3 - AUTOMATION

Digital automation is one of those things that is perceived as expensive and only accessible for big organisations with big budgets. The good news is that the price point for basic levels of automation is lower than ever, and low cost doesn’t necessarily mean low quality when it comes to automation. 

At its most basic level automation as simple as linking together two or more technologies to save on duplication. Technology providers are making it easier to integrate different technologies all the time through ‘normalisation’ of data sets.

Think about a user signing up on your website, and their details automatically being added to the software you use to manage email distribution. That’s basic automation, and lots of businesses take advantage of these types of automation without even thinking about it.

A more advanced type of automation would be for a user to sign up on your website; for their preference details to be captured as part of the process, then for emails to be sent to them directly from your website without you having to manually create the email, based on their preferences. That’s an automated email communication chain.

To be successful automation needs to achieve two things:

(1)    (The most important) It should improve the user experience

(2)    It should save you time

BIDs are well placed to take advantage of automation services thanks to their existing software or technology solutions. A really quick win is to think about the different types of software and technology you use and investigate if there is a way to get share data that will both improve the user experience and save you time in duplication.


TREND #4 - INCREASED PERSONALISATION

“80% of customers are more likely to purchase from brands that offer personalised experiences.”

That statement is true if you’re communicating with either your levy payers or the consumers you are trying to attract into your BID area. Rather than B2B or B2C communications, I prefer to think of it as B2H ‘Business to Human’- it doesn’t matter if we’re in ‘business mode’ or ‘consumer mode’ we all prefer it when we’re treated as an individual.

Personalised communication creates greater engagement. For your consumer communications that means consumers are more likely to visit in the first place, and then spend more time, often resulting in spending more money. For your stakeholder communications, it quite simply means that the individual you are dealing with in that business is more likely to be engaged with the services you are providing – which, of course, makes the consumer experience better. The more stakeholders you have engaged in your services, the better the overall experience for consumers.

In short, a more personalised approach – which can be as simple as understanding each individual’s communication preferences - can make a big difference.

The focus on personalisation will continue to grow in 2021, but with an even greater emphasis on connecting with individuals in the digital (and physical) spaces they frequent. You can now communicate with consumers and levy payers on Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, and other popular communication apps. There are all channels which offer one-to-one communication – the most personal you can get. 


TREND #5 - THE DIGITAL HIGH STREET

For my final digital trend, we’re looking a little further into the future. Beyond 2021. It’s my belief that over the next three to five years we’re going to see the emergence of the “Digital High Street” - the convergence of the ‘digital destination’ and ‘physical destination’.

The digital high street, often referred to as a Smart City, has been on the watchlist for a while now, but we haven’t seen it emerge on a mass scale as it tended to be expensive to execute and the expertise to deliver such a major infrastructure project has been limited to a few individuals. However, as the technology has developed it has become more accessible, and with the UK government making budget available through schemes such as the Town Deal Fund and Future High Street Fund, I believe we’re about to see an explosion in digital high streets. 

A “Digital High Street” might include:

  • A town/city centre-wide reward scheme – where reward points can be redeemed for transactions at every business in the town/city centre
  • An app that allows users to personalise their town/city centre experience based on their preferences, or book a restaurant table or ticket to an event/attraction from their mobile phone at any location in the town/city centre
  • Augmented or Virtual Reality experiences that allow users to interact with the physical infrastructure (such as an art installation) in a town/city centre
  • The joining up of the digital infrastructure across a town/city centre. Imagine a live list of events being shown on a digital bus stop display, based on proximity of the location you are travelling to
  • The ability to plan, and book, your travel to a location in the town/city centre across multiple travel providers – train, bus, taxi etc. – from a single location

This is just a flavour of what’s possible. Digital high streets are no longer pie in the sky, they are coming. As a BID you should start planning now so you can be leading the journey for your location.

 

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