Travel Marketers Look Ahead Toward Recovery 

By Jennifer Andre, Senior Director of Business Development, Expedia Group Media Solutions

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When the pandemic hit, every marketer and advertiser was left shell-shocked, and none likely more than those in travel and tourism, which nearly came to a halt. Marketers were left grappling with how best to navigate and adapt amidst a constantly changing landscape, including figuring out when it was responsible to resume travel advertising.

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The pandemic greatly affected advertising budgets and resources, which forced teams to do more with less. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. media spending in the first half of 2020 was down 19.1%, compared to the same period in 2019, according to media-spending data from Kantar. More specifically, airlines, hotels, and other travel categories were down more than 50% in the first half, with spending topping out at $1.9 billion combined, compared to the just over $4.1 billion spent in the first half of 2019.

It may have seemed easier to sit on the sidelines and ride out the challenges, but to successfully weather the last year, marketers had to roll up their sleeves. The majority were forced to shift strategies and adapt content and messaging based on the changing environment and consumer needs – this required a level of flexibility and agility never before seen in travel. Here are ways that marketers can continue being flexible, and appropriately move forward in light of ongoing uncertainty.

Be Informed by Data

Data should always be the foundation of marketers’ work, though it becomes even more critical during times of adversity and uncertainty. Through data, marketers can better understand changing consumer behaviors and expectations, helping make more informed decisions and staying top of mind with consumers for future travel consideration. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve been closely monitoring Expedia Group’s first party data and sharing insights into global traveler intent and demand, which showed domestic travel searches on the rise and booking windows shrinking. Understanding travelers and their motivations is critical to recovery efforts and this can’t be done without data and insights.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), for example, is no stranger to this constantly changing landscape, using data to identify when and how to best encourage and welcome back visitors. The LVCVA launched a campaign on Expedia.com at the end of May 2020, and continuously evolved its strategy based not only on campaign learnings, but also from available data and insights into current traveler behavior. The ability to also turn the campaign quickly on and off was critical, given the destination’s changing guidelines as well as COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine mandates from other regions, which leads into this next point.

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Embrace Digital Platforms

The shift to digital platforms accelerated during the past year. Other platforms such as print and television are not as nimble, making it harder to stop on a dime and adjust given the changing landscape. Many ask whether a certain type of placement or format has emerged as more popular during the pandemic, but what remains important is digital distribution and continuing to connect with consumers through all types of advertising solutions and formats, whether display ads, social or video. Our recent research shows that travelers are turning more to online sites, including online travel agencies and destination sites, for reassurance and to get all the latest pandemic information, further emphasizing the importance for travel marketers to embrace the digital transformation that is happening throughout our industry.

Lean into Partnerships

For brands that were greatly impacted, or working with limited budgets, they had to adjust their strategies and think creatively about how to best extend their investment. Collaboration and strategic partnerships have always been an effective way to help drive demand, as well as incremental business, and has only increased this past year. Through co-op campaigns, brands can come together and pool resources to extend their investments more effectively – like in this ‘Top 10 Winter Sun Destinations’ campaign from 10 hotel brands across the Caribbean and Mexico. Marketers are reevaluating partnerships, focusing now on fewer, higher performing collaborations.

Continue to Engage, Inspire Your Consumers

The good news for travel marketers is that while travel may have stopped, dreaming of travel hasn’t and consumer intent is still there. According to monthly intercept surveys across Expedia sites, since last April, the largest percentage of people visiting are dreaming about their next trip, even as the percentage of active travel shoppers increases, meaning that destinations and travel brands who may still have borders closed should continue with campaigns so they can stay in front of consumers for future consideration. If a brand isn’t doing that now, someone else is and will be better positioned to capture that demand when consumers are traveling again. Finding ways to continue inspiring travelers who are still dreaming through informative and inspiring content, as well as engaging with those who are ready to travel with rejuvenation-themed content, which research showed is a top reason for travel during the pandemic, is one way to do this.

The status of COVID-19 continues to fluctuate, making it difficult for advertisers to look to the future and invest in digital marketing right now. However, travel shoppers are actively dreaming of future travel and want to be inspired, so marketers should continue to shift their strategies, initiatives and creative based on evolving traveler behaviors and preferences, including the importance of health and safety information and other considerations that will increase their confidence to travel.

As we continue through this recovery phase and see demand pick up, those advertisers who invest in digital now to capture that demand early will have a leg up over those who sit out and lose share of voice during this very important period.

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