Crafting a clever, memorable and effective travel marketing campaign is a tricky business at the best of times.
Throw in a global crisis - you know, like the one we’ve been living through for the last eight months - and it can feel more like an impossible puzzle.
You’re balancing a (potentially) squeezed budget, shifting social mores, a volatile global economy, and consumers who are living through a difficult year, and may be more critical of advertising that misses the mark or comes across as insensitive.
Yet you’ve likely come across the advertising adage: “When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise.”
Numerous studies, spanning decades, have shown that companies which increase their spending during a recession increased sales both during the economic hard times and afterwards.
Frankenberger and Graham, two Oregon professors, studied 2,662 firms between 1970 and 1991 and found that those that advertised during a recession increased in value and saw improved returns on their campaigns for up to three years after the recession ended.
And according to marketing expert Johnny Hornby, when the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, businesses which cut their marketing budgets entirely took five years to return to the sales levels of those who kept spending.
Writing for Forbes last year, media consultant Brad Adgate highlighted four main reasons for this:
- A drop in the cost of advertising creating a “buyer’s market” for brands.
- A reduction in overall advertising allowing brands that do advertise to stand out more.
- The ability to project an image of stability during a turbulent time.
- The damaging effects of stopping advertising, with brands losing consumer “share of mind” while others are increasing their “share of voice” (and likely also their share of the market).
What do we know about 2020 in particular?
Firstly, a recent research report by Skift showed that nearly 90% of travel marketers had slashed their budgets. So the above conditions apply.
Secondly, there are new facets of consumer beliefs and behaviours to consider. They...
- Want things to return to “normal” but are concerned about the health risks (to themselves, their families and society at large) in doing so.
- May be critical of brands who are seen to be overtly capitalising on the pandemic, failing to acknowledge it, or promoting behaviour they see as unethical.
- Are keen to support struggling industries or their favoured brands, if they have the ability to do so.
- Are wary of their own financial instability, and so are unwilling to part with money they risk losing or which may take an excessive amount of time to be refunded.
Finally, we know that travel brands and companies have launched successful, Covid-era campaigns, so it can be done.
Several destinations have adopted a message of “enjoy from home, visit later”, such as Visit Portugal’s ‘Can’t Skip Hope’ video, Visit Britain’s movie recommendations, and Discover Puerto Rico’s virtual weekend.
Hotel brands have ramped up promotion of their health and safety credentials (eg Marriott’s launch of a Global Cleanliness Council) or introduced new deals and concepts (such as Accor’s ‘Hotel Office’, with rooms bookable by the day).
So what steps can you take as a small, medium or large travel brand?
If you’re directly impacted by travel restrictions (as many places are), focus on inspirational campaigns that keep your brand top of mind. Travel will return, and the brands that spend now will be the ones to benefit most when it does.
However, don’t ignore the pandemic. Be compassionate, take account of the fact that times are tough, and everyone is dealing with their own unique set of circumstances.
Find your unique voice during these turbulent times. Be human and relatable.
Remember that organic promotion on social media is obviously a great start, but is unlikely to be enough. With organic reach on social being only 5%, it makes sense to expand your reach via paid campaigns. Spend on social channels and advertising is crucial for getting your message out, as long as you spend wisely.
Tips for destinations
- Keep the inspiration on as usual but be mindful of not promoting travel against restrictions or against government advice. If potential visitors are not affected by travel restrictions upon entry then think about how to attract them while keeping mindful of other obstacles they may face.
- Give your audience a sense of what to expect; what facilities are open, what rules prevail, what attractions they can visit, etc. Be creative, feature a local restaurant, hotel or attraction and explain how they’ve adapted to make guests feel safe and welcome again.
- Highlight safety measures applicable in your destination. Medical facilities, rules on social distancing, dos and don’ts. Safety is without a doubt the highest concern in these times. This will give confidence and assurance to visitors and will help them plan better.
Tips for hospitality
- Amended your booking policy to be more flexible? Got extra safety measures to make guests feel comfortable and secure? Tell people about it!
- Make sure they also know about any changes in the availability of leisure or business facilities.
- If you have something exciting in the works for next year - a renovation, new package deal, entertainment or activity - now is a great time to promote it to give people something to look forward to.
Tips for tour operators and travel agents
- Emphasise the benefits that an experienced, knowledgeable operator can bring at a time when travel rules are changing constantly. Can you provide a human connection while people are sick of filling out impersonal forms?
- Lots of people had their fingers (well, wallets) burned this year when their travel plans were unexpectedly cancelled. If you hope to get them to make future bookings, they will need to know exactly what will happen to their money if they can no longer travel for a variety of reasons.
- They’ve also read about companies collapsing and the chaos going on in the travel industry this year. Think about how you can reassure them that your business is stable.
Airlines and transport companies
- People have never been less clear about what travel will involve and whether they should do it. Make sure they know everything they need to - are masks compulsory and for what ages, are they available on board, what is social distancing like, etc.
- Again, people are nervous about parting with their money. Think about how to build long-term brand loyalty through fair and transparent practices.
About the author
Manish is the founder of one of UK’s leading tourism and travel focused marketing agencies, Digital Dialog. He is also founder and chief editor of Travelbounce, a news website that helps travellers find essential travel information amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Manish has been helping tourism, travel and hospitality brands leverage digital channels effectively since 2012. Some of the clients he has worked with include Switzerland Tourism, Tourism Ireland, Atout France, Austria Tourism, Visit Wiltshire, Travelodge, Preferred Hotels to name a few.
If you would like to get in touch with Manish to discuss any of your marketing needs, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.