The travel industry is beginning to recover post pandemic, but it’s taking on an entirely new shape. Read on for the last in our four-part series on changing traveler demand and how to be ready for what’s next.
Days are getting longer, weather is getting warmer, and spring is in the air — and, with it, thoughts of spring travel. After Omicron bungled many a holiday plan, travelers are now cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 rates continue to decline.
U.S. COVID hospitalizations have fallen more than 80% from their January peak, and travel searches are on the rise globally. Searches for “international travel” have increased 300% year-over-year, and “spring break” searches have doubled. Meanwhile, 40% of Americans are planning to travel over the next four months, and 93% will take at least one leisure trip over the next 12 months — the highest percentage since the start of the pandemic.
The world has turned its attention to the grave situation in Ukraine, adding an element of uncertainty around what’s to come. But pent-up demand is fueling a desire to travel, and in the U.S., it’s being driven by seasonal moments like spring break and Memorial Day.
In our latest Travel On Air episode (access code TOA6PCW), we shared some insights about rebounding seasonal demand. Let’s take a look at what’s driving travel this spring and how marketers can make the most of the resurgence.
1. Travelers are wide open
While loyalty once reigned supreme, more than a third of today’s travelers show a willingness to try new brands. That means marketers have a unique opportunity to win undecided customers. Delivering value can help convert travelers who are still on the fence about their flights, hotels, and experiences.
And the time to reach them is now: 61% of those traveling within the next four months will begin their research a month or more in advance. With 50% planning trips for spring break and 41% for Memorial Day Weekend, these major travel moments are fast approaching, and brand-agnostic travelers are waiting to hear from marketers.
2.Viewers want an escape
At the beginning of the pandemic, safety and flexibility were everything. Now, they’re simply a given, according to an analysis by Google’s Creative Works team. With customers feeling confident that brands will deliver on the proper protocols, marketers can pivot to focus on something far more enjoyable — the escape.
“Travel has understandably played it safe over the last two years,” says Creative Works global business lead, Jeff Miner, “but… there’s a bigger, more expansive story out there for those willing to break from the status quo.”
To take the escape route, brands should create video and audio that fully immerses viewers, whether through a nostalgic song, the sound of crashing waves, or dynamic visuals that feature a stunning destination. Long-form ads are performing particularly well right now on T.V. and mobile since they lean into this immersive experience and take viewers along on a journey.
That’s not to say that marketers shouldn’t mention flexible booking or contactless check-in, but they no longer need to lead with them. This gives marketers the opportunity to include branding elements once again (opening with a prominent logo, for instance), something that has been missing almost entirely since the start of the pandemic.
3. Travel is more meaningful
Perhaps it’s a grandparent meeting their grandchild for the first time or a couple finally taking a long-delayed honeymoon. Whatever the case, travel just means more today. People are putting more thought and effort into each trip, and brands that meet travelers’ emotional intensity can create deeper connections with them.
For Alaska Airlines, for example, that means highlighting promotions and fare sales that tell a brand story. “Whether it's leveraging a partnership like Disneyland… to celebrate some of their newest rides or doing ‘Swell Deals,’ based on the surf level and reducing the fares if the surf went up, we always try [to] find a unique story to add to our sales,” explains Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines Managing Director of Marketing and Advertising.
Bowman also leans into first-party data, launching a “Work from Hawaii” campaign, for instance, once her team noticed that customers were starting to work remotely. By owning their first-party data, brands can create campaigns that resonate, showing customers they care and creating that deep emotional connection that helps boost sales.
4. Case counts impact demand
When it comes to travel today, COVID case counts trump typical seasonal trends.
“In 2021, we had very high demand for travel all the way through fall, which is typically a low-occupancy period,” explains Michael Lowery, executive vice president and general manager of consumer brands at Apple Leisure. “We found that people wanted to travel as long as they felt comfortable that they wouldn’t get stuck in their destination by a positive COVID test.”
With case counts and travel restrictions constantly in flux, brands must take a nimble approach so they can focus their time and resources for the best results. Marketers should keep an eye on things like destination entry restrictions and hotel occupancy limits this spring and be prepared to adjust their strategy at a moment’s notice.
Additionally, Google tools like COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, Destination Insights and Hotel Insights will help marketers understand demand as we continue into the spring travel season.
5. The media mix is shifting
Just as demand is shifting based on case counts, so too is the way customers interact with brands. “As the travel industry continues to change, keeping up with industry trends on media consumption has been helpful for our team,” says Lowery.
With everyone spending more time at home, connected TV (CTV) has seen a surge in popularity, and the Apple Leisure team activated campaigns to capitalize on the trend.
“CTV is a very agile approach that allows us to ramp up and down based on market conditions, which is essential in the midst of a rapidly changing environment,” Lowery explains.
But, now that employees are returning to work and their normal commutes, Apple Leisure realized that it’s important to reach these consumers through streaming audio and terrestrial radio. Marketers who change up their media mix as conditions shift will be better able to meet customers where they are.
Being ready for the spring travel season means following the data.
Pay close attention to ever-evolving COVID trends, home in on customer needs, and deliver creative that builds an emotional connection.
With the right tools to track trends and automate bidding, marketers will be well-positioned for the spring travel resurgence.
Want to learn more...
Use access code TOA6PCW to watch the latest episode of Travel On Air, “Prepping for the Seasonal Surge."