No one is exactly sure how and when the travel industry will emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. With travel brands constantly pivoting messaging due to last-minute travel restrictions and ever-shifting health and safety protocols, planning for recovery can be a major challenge.
During these uncertain times, travel companies should be reconnecting with travelers in authentic ways and rebuilding their brands while also driving and capturing early demand. Travel brands need to recognize that recovery is starting at the local level and then expanding into regional, national, and global phases – but because the trajectory of the pandemic is in constant flux, this progression isn’t happening in a linear way. As such, agility is key.
REBUILDING YOUR BRAND
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, two in three people surveyed say the way a brand responds to the Covid-19 crisis will impact their likelihood to buy from that brand in the future. Given consumer perceptions about health and safety, loss of trust after customer service issues during the onset of the pandemic, and fears associated with cancellation and change policies, many travel advertisers are managing negative brand perceptions.
When the pandemic forced Etihad Airways to ground flights, the airline’s global social media manager, Shefali Vyas, knew it would be critical to communicate with guests as quickly and efficiently as possible, which meant speaking to them where they were already seeking information. “We did this by utilizing Facebook Messenger for our social-first customer care, as well as through tools such as Facebook Notes, which were used to mimic information on our website and updated on an hourly basis,” Vyas said.
It’s also important to empathize with customers’ unmet wanderlust that’s been building since the pandemic began. People are dreaming of the first trip they’re going to take when travel restarts, so it’s important to position campaign messaging accordingly.
People might be traveling closer to home at first, but they will want to get out and explore. Build anticipation and show them some of the experiences waiting for them when restrictions ease. In addition, as customers begin to travel again, it will be important to highlight flexibility in booking policies as well as the health and safety measures that have been implemented to protect travelers.
PREPARING FOR GEOGRAPHIC REEMERGENCE
Understanding how people will emerge from the pandemic and begin traveling again is critical when planning campaigns. As travel restrictions ease and people become more confident about the safety and reliability of traveling, they will start exploring again.
Local activities closer to home will be most accessible to travelers. Pivoting to messaging focused on local and regional travel activities can help brands align with customer travel preferences and boost sales, as in the case of GetYourGuide, an online travel agency for tours and activities.
“This summer, as travelers were taking their first cautious steps out into the world, our data showed that they were starting to book activities closer to home,” said Emil Martinsek, chief marketing officer at GetYourGuide. “So we pivoted our social media strategy to work with influencers who promoted local activities on Instagram Reels and Stories, and we updated our product recommendations to inspire locals with domestic experiences. Thanks to our influencers and attraction campaigns, we observed an increase in sales of local travel experiences in Germany and the UK.”
Road trips have become an increasingly popular way for travelers to take advantage of local and regional travel opportunities. According to Skift Research, 67 percent of Americans polled in July said their first trip since the beginning of the pandemic would be by car.
Hospitality brands that already benefit from local and regional drive markets are well positioned to serve this increased demand. Choice Hotels maintains a large footprint throughout the U.S., with more than 4,000 hotels located within one mile of an interstate exit.
“In August, nearly one-fourth of our revenue came from customers who traveled less than 25 miles to a hotel, a sign that more guests just want to get out of the house while staying closer to home,” said Sarah Searls, the brand’s chief customer officer. “Our hotels are located in the right markets to capture growing demand from travelers who are often choosing to drive to their destinations instead of flying.”
As travel advertisers build campaigns to connect with local travelers, they should consider messaging that focuses on what’s important to their customers. In addition to highlighting low gas prices and the relative safety of the private automobile experience, as Choice Hotels did in their “On the Road Again” campaign, brands can also consider tapping into the desire to reconnect with loved ones or to support local small businesses. Use a test and learn approach to understand what resonates best.
Once the pandemic subsides in certain regions, customers are going to start venturing farther from home, but full global recovery is going to take time. Travel lockdowns and border protocols will continue to fluctuate until a vaccine is widely available. In the meantime, staying agile, responding to changing customer sentiment, and leveraging data to deliver the right messages at the right times can help travel advertisers weather the storm.
“We pivoted quickly in May, building a new data-driven strategy and reactivated our Facebook campaigns to geo-target our content at regional levels, said Matt Meisner, VP of Digital Marketing for Luxury Escapes. “Leveraging our internal analytics, integrated with Facebook’s targeting and optimization algorithm, we were able to prioritise the right message to the right audiences showing travel intent across Facebook’s platform. We’ve seen very strong booking volumes in the past few months; the desire for an escape, or even to plan a future escape for next year has never been higher. I think we’ve proven a good point that even during times of heavy uncertainty, with a careful data-led targeting strategy it almost never makes sense to stop engaging with customers.”