Tips and Insights for the Travel Industry
One of the major economic outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is its impact on the travel and tourism industry. It is unsurprisingly the vertical most affected by the pandemic due to strict government regulations put in place in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, such as border closures and social distancing measures. The OECD has predicted a 60%-80% decline in the global tourism economy this year.
The imposed government restrictions and general health concerns have led to half of all Americans cancelling their planned vacations in March for this year. As a result, it is predicted that US digital travel sales will see a 44.7% decrease in 2020.
However, despite the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on travel and tourism, we have seen in previous economic downturns that the industry will recover once countries get a better handle on the crisis. At the end of the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, air travel and tourism quickly increased again after a period of decline. Even when international travel is low, we have also seen after the Swine Flu epidemic a trend towards increased domestic travel and staycations.
According to eMarketer, US sales will likely reach pre-pandemic 2019 levels by 2022, as people continue to conduct fewer international trips for work and for pleasure.
In Europe, although travel searches have significantly dropped since pre-pandemic times, there is a gradual uptick as countries begin opening tourism and businesses for tourism in recent weeks.
Tips for travel and tourism brands
Based on these economic historical trends, brands can adjust their short term marketing strategies to better align with consumer needs in the current reality by producing the right messaging, at the right time, to the right audiences. As more countries begin to open their borders for tourism, here are some tips for travel and tourism brands:
Promote local travel and experiences
Compared to other years, there is now much greater interest in domestic travel.
As soon as it was announced that lockdown restrictions on social distancing and hospitality would be largely lifted on the 4th of July, local UK tourist sites saw a surge in bookings. Holidaymakers are more wary of the difficulties caused by government regulations on international travel, as well as any potential health risks abroad. Furthermore, there is an increased sense of community as people look to support local businesses impacted by government responses to the pandemic. According to research from Deloitte, 59% of consumers in the UK are shopping more in local stores in order to support local commerce.
To align with this trend towards domestic travel, brands should promote local vacations and activities. This strategy also has the added benefit of helping local businesses thrive during these difficult times and helping to build loyalty from consumers.
Advertisers can encourage consumers to book travel by offering more flexibility. By incorporating flexible policies, such as zero cancellation fees, brands can generate future travel sales even if there are current restrictions or reservations on travel. Brands can also encourage consumers to postpone their travel rather than to cancel plans altogether. Holidaymakers are more likely to think about travel as they are given the opportunity to change their plans if needed. More than ever, it is important to use the right messaging at the right time. Short term call to action phrases, such as “plan your vacation” can encourage travellers to start to think about holiday plans. When the time is right, the call to action can become “book now”.
Build trust by promoting safety
It is important for brands to build trust in their relationship with consumers, especially during these uncertain times. In a recent study, WARC found that a third of Americans want to feel positive and secure from advertising during the pandemic. Furthermore, a GlobalWebIndex study of 17 countries found that 58% of individuals would feel confident travelling again when they felt it was safe to do so, over response such as governments lifting lockdown restrictions or government travel advice. The study also found that a large majority of consumers viewed brands more favourably if they show how they are contributing to pandemic relief efforts.
Brands can establish stronger relationships with their clientele by including informative messaging on how they are working to protect the health and safety of consumers. Imagery is also a way to increase a sense of security, by depicting open outdoor spaces and avoiding images of crowded areas.
The pandemic has also shifted the way consumers prioritise advertisers. Getting through the COVID-19 financial crisis requires adjusting to the consumer’s needs during this time. Brands that have shown that they understand and meet the newfound needs of potential travellers during the pandemic will be top-of-mind. By promoting local travel destinations, being flexible in the approach, and building consumer trust, the travel industry can continue its path to recovery.