Keeping Rotterdam top-of-mind among buyers in the severely affected travel industry during a pandemic, and even managing to generate business, is quite an achievement. We spoke to Susanne Dahles and Fabian Lindner, the two-person team running the Tourism Board at Rotterdam Partners, about their hard work during these challenging times. As it turns out, they’re busier than ever!
We have been in lockdown for a while now, in new circumstances that demand a new approach to the situation. How have you been handling this?
The COVID-19 crisis forced us to get creative about how we could work with our partners to continue our existing activities for Rotterdam. In the first few weeks of the crisis, back in March of last year, we spent a lot of time talking to our leisure partners in the city, encouraging them to hold on. We also saw fairly quickly that the national market would recover first. For that reason, besides our efforts in international marketing, we invested our time and energy in mapping out the domestic travel industry and finding better ways to reach that target audience and inspire them. Those efforts have paid off.
In addition, we attend virtual international fairs together with our partners. This way we can still strongly promote Rotterdam as a leisure destination. Even in the current situation, working from home and not travelling at all, we still had to coordinate across time zones in a major way. Spending midnight until dawn engaging with the Japanese market during a webinar, or attending an online workshop all evening to give purchasers from the USA fresh inspiration about our city. Nothing was too crazy for us!
Are your efforts generating business leads?
Absolutely! Now more than ever, people are responding positively to how modern, diverse and spacious Rotterdam is. The city has always been like this, but that image is even more appealing right now, during Covid-19. This is very clear to us, especially during our conversations with people, and based on the interest that people express, but also simply in terms of the tangible requests we receive. The webinars and online trade fairs have already led to partnership agreements with various leisure partners, such as TUI Musement.
It’s also very motivating for us in the current situation to be working closely with our leisure partners. That’s how we ended up in a live online video call from the Schielandshuis at 5 AM, along with Paul Fitzpatrick from Bike & Bite, Brenda Kamphuis from De Rotterdam Tours and Jamie Sawbridge from Hilton Rotterdam, giving a pre-dawn presentation to Japanese purchasers. Purchasers have stated that the rapport between us and our partners during online events is perceived as extremely positive and professional. As a city, we are making a great impression.
You normally spend a lot of time travelling to promote Rotterdam, selling the city as a leisure destination within the travel industry. And suddenly it all stopped. What was that like for you?
It was a major adjustment for us at first, so we had to reinvent the way that we work. Our main strengths are in personal contact with people, inspiring them and sharing our passion and enthusiasm about our beautiful city, and of course creating connections. In the end, this period has enriched our creativity, and we are now very capable of selling Rotterdam as a leisure destination, even online. In fact, we are absolutely certain that the ultimate combination of face-to-face interaction and online contact will give the Tourism Board great momentum after the COVID-19 crisis is over. Resources for online meetings will make it easier to reach our target audience – especially our international contacts – on many more occasions throughout the year. That offers opportunities for even more frequent and consistent customer relations management.
Are you in frequent contact with the leisure partners in the city? How can you help them during this crisis?
We have regular contact with our leisure partners, including attractions, museums and partners who organise tours through our city. We enjoy brainstorming with them to discuss opportunities and possibilities to ensure everything will be well prepared when travel can open up again. And don’t forget the hotels. In recent months, we have been seeing more and more hotels taking a more active approach to the leisure market, or seeking ways to do so. We are always available to discuss ideas with our leisure and hotel partners and advise them on available opportunities in the national and international travel market.
What trends do you predict in the leisure market in the next few months and years?
Besides all the online events, we expect many trade fairs and workshops to resurface in a hybrid format, at least temporarily. And that online meetings with Travel Trade buyers will be organised more systematically and easily. As a result, we will be able to have more frequent contact and strengthen our partnerships. In the long run, that will accelerate our efforts to persuade travel companies to include Rotterdam as a destination in their product range. And that is our ultimate goal!
Other than that, the ability to book tickets online is a trend that had been relevant for some time, but is now more important than ever. That includes factors like time slots, hygiene measures, spreading out peak volumes, and sustainability initiatives like paperless ticketing. We already organised a webinar last year with online travel agent GetYourGuide, highlighting the relevance and potential of online ticketing for our partners. And we also include it in all the conversations we have on a daily basis.
How can your efforts contribute to the sector’s recovery?
The most important result that we can achieve for the city is ensuring that it is possible to make reservations for Rotterdam through Travel Trade companies, so tourists will visit the city, discover its delights and have a great time while they’re here. Our extensive network in the travel industry and the expertise that we can offer in our capacity as Tourism Board for the city can support all our partners in the recovery process.
What will city marketing look like after the COVID-19 crisis? Do you expect everything will return to normal?
At this point, we are anticipating a combination of physical, hybrid and online marketing and are very curious to see how online trends develop. During our talks with buyers, we notice an unprecedented demand for cities that are spacious by design, have lots of green spaces, and offer sustainable travel connections, such as high-speed rail service via the Eurostar and Thalys. That offers incredible opportunities for Rotterdam. Secretly, we do hope that the trade fairs will eventually be organised the way they used to be, since there’s really nothing quite like live contact and face-to-face conversation.
Everyone could use some encouragement right now. What would you like to say to the leisure partners in Rotterdam?
Regardless of how difficult it may be for each of our leisure partners, and how much everyone is mainly concentrated on the here and now, please do try to maintain a focus on the longer term. It is so hugely important to be prepared once tourism starts up again. We are truly convinced that tourism in Rotterdam will improve again. We are happy to help our partners prepare for that… so please feel free to contact us for advice and guidance on the national and international travel industry.
In closing: you know the city better than anyone. Could you share one hidden gem with us that everyone should discover once things open up again?
It’s not really hidden… Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is really worth a visit to enjoy a cup of coffee and the inspiring architecture. But the view is what truly makes it a gem. And that is still hidden, of course, since it isn’t open yet. We’ve had the privilege of taking a peek already, and believe us: you definitely want to see this!