Coronavirus 2020: How the aviation industry should respond

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the airline industry as Chinese travel collapses and travel restrictions are enforced, causing many airlines to temporarily cancel their flights to and from mainland China, until the coronavirus epidemic is contained.

Although the coronavirus has caused significant interruptions within Asia, the effects on the industry are expected to recover, and by establishing the correct strategies, impact within the China market can be minimised.

United Media Solution, a digital marketing-to-China agency, has researched and gathered valuable insights into how the virus has impacted industries and organisation’s marketing in China. UMS has been servicing airline brands for years, providing expert consulting services and strategic advice to help implement China strategies. UMS strongly encourages organisations to enlist the help of a professional body to address the below points.


Immediate Response

Correct use of platform

For Chinese outbound travellers affected by the outbreak, the airline’s official social platform should function for three purposes: information release, business trading functions and PR.

The release of timely, accurate and easily shareable information is crucial in ensuring Chinese audiences are aware of any policy changes, thereby limiting the number of customer queries. Organisations should implement an expert or professional to focus on China’s regions and effected routes to consistently broadcast messages and official announcements. This will greatly assist in boosting perceived brand professionalism and public opinion. When sharing these messages, extra attention should be given to their delivery within a Chinese context, as well as avoiding any “loss in translation” that may occur.

For some organisations, business trading functions such as the purchasing flights, applying for refunds and other booking related activities, are done directly through a Chinese social platform which integrates with their own systems. Although establishing this function can be costly, the long-term payoff and access to the Chinese market far outweighs the initial spend. For those organisations that do not have this closed loop ecosystem, it is vital they use this time to research how consumers behave on these programs and what benefits the users and organisation are gaining.

The airlines official social platform should distribute PR related campaigns and include reports and publicity on their response to the outbreak, such as the donation of money, resources, medical supplies or transport for charity groups. The publicity of these positive actions will greatly improve public opinion, so it is a good idea to identify how your organisation can assist in the fight against the virus in China. In addition, it is likely that uncertainty and anxiety may be aimed towards your organisation in the form of questions, and negative feedback if their questions are not quickly answered. It is crucial that more manpower be allocated towards responding to and monitoring this online verbatim, as well as redirecting traffic to your main channels where problems can be directly addressed and solved.

Monitor your audience

In line with this, UMS suggests that airlines assign a professional body to closely monitor and manage any negative opinion to appease effected customers and show social responsibility. This function should be 24/7, providing assurance and answers when your users need it most. Increasing the investment of social monitoring and researching emotional behaviours of Chinese consumers is also crucial in understanding your marketing environment. Look at your competitors, what are they doing, and how has their audience responded?

Express support for Chinese audience

UMS recommends that airlines share with their Chinese audience what measures they have taken to help prevent the spread of the virus and address Chinese passengers who are now unable to travel. This includes any disinfection measures, compensation plan arrangements and the sharing of sensitive, encouraging messages to those who have been affected by the outbreak. This will increase positive brand awareness while demonstrating that your organisation really cares about their customer base and the wider Chinese market.


Strategic response

UMS has published general strategic advice which is applicable for all industries during the outbreak. This can be accessed HERE.

Review your audience, shift your content

An estimated 50 million people are now on lock down in China, leaving many residents with more spare time than ever before. Unsurprisingly, majority of Chinese are curing their boredom online through social platforms, e-commerce and entertainment activities. This shift poses an interesting opportunity for tourism businesses to capture new customers and reach extended audiences.

However, before launching any new campaign, airlines must re-profile users. Through our regular target audience monitoring and client user profile research, without exception, almost all Chinese target audiences have changed radically. It is recommended to invest in a specialist or professional body to re-profile your audience and research user behaviour, expectations and their decision-making process. It is equally important to continue social monitoring during and after the outbreak to collect in depth data on decision making processes when a crisis subsides.

To reach your new audience, keep your content engaging. UMS research has found that “participatory” topics and activities such as creative mini games, and incentivised surveys are currently receiving a lot more attention and are being shared further across online networks. This creative content can greatly boost brand awareness and can “plant seeds” in the minds of Chinese for future travel destination options and educate the market on different offerings and services. If executed correctly, a well-designed mechanism can also predict user behaviour when overseas tourism recovers.

Use this opportunity to initiate topic discussions and distribute surveys to collect an in-depth data base on your audiences travel preferences and their decision-making process. This will serve as excellent supporting data for future campaigns or promotions, particularly after the outbreak when travel restrictions are lifted.

Use promotions to increase brand awareness

For scheduled promotions and discount events, there is no need to cancel or postpone them completely (unless directly impacted by the outbreak), but rather promote similar activities through creative combinations with social platform mechanisms. Promotional activities should consider attractiveness and shareability, such as last minute $1 special ticket vouchers, $1 special upgrade coupons or free tickets for a specific period where the margin of cost is very low. Through doing this, organisations can capture new audience data at a very low cost at almost no loss. This demonstrates a positive ROI and can boost brand awareness.

Finally, UMS forecasting suggests that the aviation industry will steadily recover after the outbreak but recommends that organisations have a strategy in place to restore consumer confidence. This may take some time, however, the released spending power of Chinese paired with their desire to explore after the outbreak will greatly assist aviation organisations get back on track.


Who Are We?

United Media Solution (UMS) is an award-winning marketing to Chinese agency. We are a full-service independent agency which specialises in digital and social marketing.

This article was created by Richard Zhu who leads UMS Establish team that provides China consultancy and advisory services. You can contact Richard via email: