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While some travel sectors such as airlines have virtually eliminated U.S. national TV advertising because of the coronavirus pandemic, there are some companies that are outliers in that they quickly pivoted their spots, or keep running the routine ads at the risk of brand damage.

ISpot.tv, the U.S. television advertising analytics firm, looked at March national TV advertising in the United States through the 22nd of the month, and found that:

  • Airlines were all but absent from U.S. TV as of March 11.
  • Online travel agencies including Hotels.com, Trivago, Expedia and Travelocity (all Expedia Group brands), Vuelosymas.com, and all others saw their TV advertising fall 67.5 percent to $17.3 million on 9,000 airings during the period.
  •  Cruise lines had been on pace for a larger-spending March in 2020 than the same month in 2019, but in the March 15-22 period spent just a little more than $28,000 on TV ads.
  • Hotel brands spent $13.6 million on TV ads through March 22, but just $1.9 million in the week ending March 22.
  • Theme park U.S. national TV ads fell 42.7 percent to $10.6 million, including only $3.8 million since the National Basketball Association suspended the season March 11.
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    One notable exception to the going dark trend was Hotels.com, which pivoted away from a routine vacation/rewards ad such as My Dream, which last ran March 23, to its Covid-19 social Distancing ad. It depicts Captain Obvious washing his hands, and ends with the message “Just Stay Home.”

    “We didn’t feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment,” said Hotels.com spokesperson Jennifer Dohm. “For the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.”

    Hotels.com is on pace to spend more on U.S. national TV in March than it did during March 2019, when it spent $9.7 million, according to iSpot.tv estimates. It spent nearly $3 million on TV ads, with the majority on reality TV and movies, from March 11-22.

    Meanwhile, sister brand Expedia.com, was still running its For Everyone TV ad on Friday, for example. Expedia didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    A source close to Expedia said its ad buys are almost entirely wound down with a few short-term exceptions.

    Get the Latest on Coronavirus and the Travel Industry on Skift’s Liveblog

    Booking.com, which competes with Expedia and Hotels.com, appears to have suspended running U.S. national TV ads at the end of January, although it has a new chief marketing officer trying to improve its brand advertising so going off the air isn’t necessarily totally coronavirus-related.

    Choice Phasing out ads

    In the hotel arena, with many iconic properties such as the Hilton New York Midtown and newcomers like Public New York suspending operations, Choice Hotels “was the only hotel brand really showing up on national live linear TV by the latter half of the week  (March 16-22), picking up impressions largely on Fox News,” according to iSpot.tv. Linear TV has no navigational capabilities such as do on-demand movies and TV.

    Choice Hotels was still running this TV ad, Our Business is You, Family Time,” as of Thursday. The ad hypes up family time at its Comfort Inn, and the advantages of direct booking for all Choice brands.

    Choice Hotels was the biggest spender, $2.6 million, among hotels on U.S. national TV through March 22, according to iSpot.tv.

    “Like many in our industry, we’ve been reevaluating our marketing plans and have pulled back our advertising spend across the board at this time,” Choice Hotels said in a statement. “This includes cutting national TV for our master brand campaign, “Our Business is You,” for now. It takes some time to de-traffic ads, which is why you may have seen one yesterday.”

    Skift also noticed Sandals Resorts running ads such as One of a Kind, touting its over-the-water villas in the Caribbean at a 65 percent discount as of Wednesday, although this could have been a local, not a national TV ad.

    “Sandals has gone dark and has not placed any ads,” said a spokesperson. “It’s possible there could be some backlog, aggregated from a cable network because it’s a consortium and not a national buy.”

    Airline spending actually increased 73 percent to a modest $660,000 March 1-18 before they ceased almost all advertising a week earlier because of the pandemic, isSpot.tv stated.

    “Delta did a push around Super Tuesday,” iSpot.tv stated, but since then there have been mostly local ads from Allegiant and private jet outfits.

Photo Credit: Hotels.com's Captain Obvious in its COVID-19 Social Distancing TV commercial. The company pivoted its advertising because of the pandemic. Hotels.com