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As North Americans leave home in bigger numbers this summer, after over a year of restricted movement, their mindsets and priorities have clearly shifted.
This changing outlook is what destination marketers will need to continue tracking closely using all available channels, from social conversation insights to traveler sentiment polls. Should they still lead with a safety message? Should masks continue to appear in the inventory?
Social media marketing agency Sparkloft Media’s new spring 2021 traveler sentiment report, to be published later this week and shared exclusively with Skift, reveals how North American travelers are ready to move on from the gloom and doom of the past 15 months of messaging.
“Travelers are ready to see images and content of people and groups together and activities that they maybe couldn’t do during the pandemic, people are ready for that tone that is a little bit higher energy,” said Gio Palatucci, director of research at Sparkloft Media, a social media marketing agency focused on the travel industry and using social sentiment research to define market trends.
Palatucci added that the kind of emotion and conversation that Sparkloft Media was seeing now is that while safety is important, travelers know it’s part of the logistics they will need to figure it out.
Tourism boards looking to attract those American household travel savings will therefore need to keep embracing an optimistic “back to normal” stance, while targeting the traveler’s changed priorities post-Covid and remaining agile to shift between changing pandemic conditions on the ground.
What are those changed priorities? Sparkloft’s analysis of social media conversations digs into references of “meaningful travel” — a buzzword that has dominated in recent months – and finds that it signifies different things to different audiences.
“It’s very personal,” said Palatucci. “So it could be checking that item off your list that you’ve never done before, maybe you’re coming out of the pandemic more sustainably minded and that’s very important to you.”
Sparkloft Media’s research shows American and Canadian travelers essentially have three priorities when it comes to meaningful travel in the months ahead: 1) hugs from friends and family and togetherness, 2) solo adventure as a form of “self-care” and healing, and 3) the “go big” type of adventure trip to make up for lost time for those who saw travel as part of their identity and are reclaiming it.
For the tourism marketers, these priorities translate into a range of messaging opportunities to capture these various audiences traveling over the next months.
It means pulling on the heartstrings with reconnection, or appealing to solo travelers with images of rich travel experiences, escapism, spontaneity and wide open spaces.
Palatucci added that the meaning of adventure goes beyond the rugged outdoors and includes special treats such as a luxurious hotel stay, or indulging in one’s passions and hobbies.
The latest campaigns from New York and Los Angeles offer good examples, focusing on emotion, vibrancy and highlighting the destination’s cultural strengths.
Another growing priority for travelers? Diversity and inclusivity.
An early glimpse at data from Expedia Group’s upcoming report “What Travelers Value in 2021,” which will release in July, shows that nearly two-thirds or 65 percent of the 8,000 global travelers polled on their travel preferences said they are more willing to book accommodations that have policies focused on diversity and inclusion.
Expedia Group defines the latter as “accommodations owned by women and/or people of color, as well as accommodations that are welcoming to the LGBTQIA community and travelers with disabilities.
Diversity and inclusion practices were also more important to travelers under the age of 40, with 77 percent of them influenced by a property’s inclusivity standards in booking — even across genders – against 57 percent of those over 40.
“With this new research, we wanted to understand more about how values are shifting post-pandemic and pass these insights along to our partners,” said Melissa Maher, senior vice president of marketing and industry engagement at Expedia Group, in a statement.
“Booking decisions based on inclusive policies and practices is a global trend – and the money travelers are willing to spend on accommodations that include these criteria speaks volumes. As such, we plan to repeat this research in 2022 and track changes over time.”
Respondents from Australia, U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and Mexico were among those who leaned the most towards booking properties embracing diversity and inclusivity.
Orbitz recently launched a search and booking mechanism for consumers to find accommodations that have signed a pledge against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual identity. Expedia Group said over 35,000 properties having opted in. The search function clearly indicates at the top: “Search LGBTQ-welcoming hotels.”
While the rise in conscious travelers continues to gradually shift the industry as it restarts, uncertainty still looms over travel this year, and consumer mindsets could quickly change after the summer.
“That is the value of being on social because not only can you very specifically target and segment your audiences, but also just the flexibility of the medium as well and being able to, you know, turn your advertising on and off select what platforms you’re on,” said Palatucci.
Tourism marketers can go from delivering health and safety information to the boomer travelers while choosing a bolder type of message for millennials or Gen Z based on location and interest.
“You can have a message out, you know, in the morning, that’s completely different as it was at night — and I think having that flexibility is still really key at the moment.”
And that’s the one thing tourism marketers know to expect by now.
“While all the research and trends are very positive, I think we’ve learned a lot from last year that we have to expect the unexpected.”