The pandemic dramatically reduced travel volume, but it also fundamentally changed leisure travel in terms of consumer behavior.
A recent eMarketer survey found that 20% of Americans were planning a “staycation” in their local area, while 33% said they weren’t planning to vacation at all.
In order to figure out who’s in the market to travel at this moment and where they’re likely, marketers will have to shift focus to the top of the funnel, where audience development capabilities are key.
If you don’t have an audience, build an audience
Marketers understand the value of first-party data, but many travel organizations, especially those promoting specific destinations, don’t have access to that kind of information.
Nevertheless, all travel marketers can build audience segments by articulating the criteria of the ideal traveler.
Begin with local audiences
The pandemic has turned vacations into a hyperlocal experience.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told The Associated Press a few months ago that 30% of the company’s bookings are within a 50-mile radius of the traveler’s home.
For traveler marketers, the message is clear: leverage location data to qualify leads in your immediate area.
Filter leads using past behavior
Where you’ve traveled in the past remains one of the best indicators of where you’ll travel next.
If you previously flew thousands of miles to vacation in Hawaii, for example, you’re still part of that "fun in the sun" audience segment. But the question becomes, where’s your closest “beach” experience?
By layering past behavior on top of location data, travel marketers can identify prospects that are:
- geographically relevant
- likely to seek out a similar or specific experience.
Get creative around audience segments
Travel marketers don’t usually target specific occupations, but right now they should, because the pandemic has changed work - and by extension life - for nearly everyone.
Health care workers, for example, are certainly eager to get away, but perhaps, also more sensitive than the general population when it comes to safety precautions.
Meanwhile, those work-from-home white-collar professionals probably desire a change of scenery, even if they end up taking a “working” holiday.
The point is, defining the audience is equally impacted by a prospect’s lived experience at this moment as it is by their typical vacation preferences.
Travel may be different right now and local conditions are certainly an issue, but social media is a good additional data point for monitoring the mood and interests of people who have a destination, location or attraction in mind.
Even destinations that are severely restricted at this moment benefit greatly by keeping the conversation on social going, because eventually, those audiences will begin to enter your funnel.
Reboot your media mix
As you rethink the audience, it’s also important to rethink your media mix.
Travel marketers should incorporate a digital audience activity score to determine where audiences will engage and how best to allocate media dollars in a fragmented media environment.
CTV is the fastest-growing channel in terms of consumption, but it’s important to follow up with retargeted digital ads as well as mobile.
Linear TV, which is largely about branding, and declining in terms of consumption, might be the best place to reach audiences with low digital activity scores. Scoring digital audience activity also reveals which prospects aren’t online at all, and must therefore be reached via traditional media channels like direct mail.
Finally, while search has historically been the industry’s go-to tool, marketers should use this moment to right-size their media spend to reflect the fact that search is often most useful at the bottom of the funnel.
Now is a good time to adapt
Across the board, marketers are being asked to do more with less.
That’s especially true in travel marketing, which has seen an unprecedented drop in revenue. Now that leisure travel is slowly starting to return, marketers must speak to consumer concerns while monitoring changing conditions.
In that context, it’s impossible to justify a single wasted marketing dollar.
If there’s a silver lining to this moment, it’s this: with the vast majority of travel options severely restricted, marketers no longer have to fan out and promote with costly strategies that can’t be measured.
Instead, they can focus on leveraging audience data and pushing it into areas where they can measure, test and experiment.
In other words, your prospects are in your backyard, and that’s where you need to put your attention, media dollars and operational resources.