• Family at sunset

    Welcome back whānau! Top tips to get VFR-ready

It’s been a long road to get here, but New Zealand’s borders are finally open! As Kiwis wave goodbye to borders and wave hello to their friends and family after nearly two years apart, it’s time for us in the tourism industry to showcase our manaakitanga and provide a warm welcome back.

The VFR (visiting friends and family) market is a key audience to tap into, with Kiwis and their guests just itching to reunite and spend time together. It’s also well-timed with school holidays just around the corner – and with Easter and ANZAC falling on back-to-back weekends, there’s potential for operators to see a decent increase in visitor numbers.

To ensure you’re making the most of reopening, take some time to reflect how your marketing, website and customer journey meets the unique needs of the VFR audience – here’s a few handy hints to get you started.

Senior woman embracing and welcoming family at airport terminal after arrival. Senior man hugging her son on arrival to airport post pandemic.

For the past two years, Kiwis have been exploring their big backyard as they answered the call to ‘Do Something New’. Now, after hitting the road and experiencing the must-do’s and the hidden gems, they’ve become micro-influencers, and are some of your strongest brand ambassadors as they prepare to show off Aotearoa to their guests from around the world.

Your average VFR traveller has a more casual, less-structured approach to their trip. Relying more on their Kiwi host to scope out attractions and eateries, for them it’s all about strengthening their relationships, connecting with each other and spending time together – so have a think about how your attraction plays into this. Perhaps it’s bonding over an exhilarating thrill ride, experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime scenic flight, or tasting incredible New Zealand food and wine whilst overlooking some epic scenery.

And the audience isn’t to be underestimated – take our biggest neighbours for example. A third of Aussie residents have friends or family in New Zealand; and pre-Covid, a massive 74% of Australian VFR visitors also intended to travel around and enjoy a holiday while they were here.

Tweak your website copy

First things first, don your international visitor hat, and give your website a good sense-check. Make sure you edit any text that feels too domestic-focussed, and add a ‘welcome back’ message on your homepage or in your notification bar. Use emotive messaging that evokes feelings of connection and reunion; and cement yourself as a must-do family attraction, capable of welcoming groups of all sizes.

Ensure your imagery and video features families having fun together, and includes people from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds. Check over your FAQ’s with fresh eyes – do they tackle any group or international-specific questions, and adequately cover your Covid-safe practices? Mention any spaces you provide that groups can reunite in, like communal BBQ or spectator areas.

Finally, if you do offer special family pricing, group packages or special combos – shout about these and make sure they’re easy to find and book direct on your site.

Redwoods Treewalk

Review your ad strategy

Are you using paid media effectively to target the VFR audience? Google Search campaigns allow you to capture those high-intent visitors at the right time and place. Use generic campaigns with carefully-segmented targeting to reach those mid-funnel visitors who know they’re keen to have some fun – but just don’t know exactly where yet.

Facebook and Instagram offer a powerful, visually-focussed paid media solution. A currently-travelling ad (an ad that is served to an audience whose online behaviour shows they are away from home) can pique the interest of a potential visitor once they arrive in New Zealand, searching for something to do with their Kiwi rellies. Or, opt for a local, drive-zone campaign – this will pick up both a domestic audience as well as those hosting guests from abroad.

If you have an established e-newsletter database, send out an email to your audience celebrating the re-opening news too – reminding them of your brand and inviting them to visit again, and maybe offering a value-add to incentivise them to bring any international pals they are hosting.

Rafting in Rotorua

Offer a friendly welcome

Lastly, it’s time to throw open the doors! Here’s the part we’re sure you’re excelling at already – providing New Zealand’s world-renowned hospitality to your guests. The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived – let’s bring all of those long-awaited travel dreams and family reunions to life!

Want to pursue some targeted ads across social media? Keen for a keyword review to ensure you’re capturing what the VFR market is looking for? Reach out to Alex Dykman for a kōrero and virtual coffee, and let’s roll out the welcome mat together!

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