The COVID-19 pandemic has upended countless industries, with travel having the unenviable distinction of being one of the hardest hit. And yet, as an industry, travel has always proven resilient in the face of unprecedented national and global crises, and it will continue to do so. Already, travel brands are looking to the coming weeks and months and planning recovery efforts, even as questions linger.
Every travel brand’s experiences with and reactions to this pandemic have been unique. All have faced cancellations and dramatic reductions in demand, and this has caused many to reduce or altogether suspend advertising activity in affected regions.
As the industry recovery unfolds, it will manifest first in the reinstatement of certain marketing and advertising activities. Here’s how recovery-focused decision-making should flow.
Consideration 1: Timing
When it comes to this pandemic, timing is everything - and it’s also one of the most difficult-to-predict elements of recovery, given the varying degrees of action being taken around the world. But for travel advertisers, especially global brands, reignition and bolstering of campaigns will likely mimic the timing and flow with which campaigns were scaled back or turned off as COVID- 19 spread across the globe.
How far in advance travel brands ramp up their promotional activities prior to full anticipated regional recoveries (i.e., evidenced by stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions being lifted) will have to do with how the corporate business responded to the spread of the virus. The earlier you start showing that you are there for your customers during their time of need, the more likely they will keep you top of mind to return to you as business returns to normal.
For businesses and properties that have remained staffed throughout the crisis and are ready to receive travelers immediately, earlier ignition of marketing efforts will make sense. On the other hand, those that furloughed employees will have to ensure that they’ve properly reinstated and ramped up operations before aggressively seeking new bookings.
Consideration 2: Goals
This second consideration walks hand-in-hand with the timing consideration. In determining when and to what extent a travel brand should ramp back up its advertising and marketing efforts, you need to first be clear on your goals: Are you only able to ramp your marketing spend back up if you can do so at the same profitability level to which you’d become accustomed pre-pandemic? Or are you looking to get business flowing again even at a temporarily lower profitability rate?
For some brands, getting customers re-engaged with their brands, even at a near-break-even rate, will be worth the effort, especially for those full-service hotels with restaurants, spas and other ancillary offerings. This will enable them to get people back to work and encourage re-engagement with customers, many of whom will be eager to reestablish travel as a part of their lives again.
For many brands, winning long-term means getting customers back into their properties as soon as they safely can, even if the return on ad spend (ROAS) is lower than historical levels. For this reason, we’re already seeing some travel brands ramp up activity in Asia Pacific regions where COVID-19’s peak is thought to have passed.
Consideration 3: Regions
As noted, recovery in the travel space will happen geographically at the regional, country and point-of-interest levels. Different parts of the world, like Asia Pacific, are seeing their demand return sooner than others. Countries where COVID-19 struck hard more recently will see later recoveries, with the United States likely being one of the last to reopen fully for travel.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
Likewise, in large markets like the U.S., we’re going to see travel recovery staggered state-by-state, and even city-by-city, due to the vast variance in how hard each region was hit. Again, the ramp-up of activity will, in all likelihood, follow a pattern similar to the regional turn-off of campaigns. Given the variance in response worldwide, however, brands will need to stay tuned into the news as the situation unfolds globally.
A forward-looking opportunity for properties could be to events. Since the pandemic hit, regional and global events have been canceled or postponed. Many of those events such as the Indy 500 have started to name their new dates. It is important for properties to be active. By keeping up-to-date on local major events in the vicinity will allow you to see an uptick in traffic.
Consideration 4: Channels
As travel brands reengage audiences globally, they will also want to establish their channel priorities when it comes to achieving their short- and long-term goals. When demand spikes again, the need to shift share will be greater than ever. In ramping activities back up, the first thing brands should consider is staying active on their social channels. This is an audience who are predisposed to the brand and have a higher likelihood to engage.
It also helps to think about the sales funnel and phase campaign rollouts according to the channels most likely to support ROAS requirements immediately versus long-term. By starting at the bottom of the funnel in channels like affiliate or metasearch, which can capture immediate demand and get sales flowing, brands can reignite business and then begin to work their way up the funnel to activities like retargeting (mid-funnel) and branded display and TV (top of funnel).
While recovery in the travel industry is inevitable and, in some cases, already beginning, it could be a long road back to previous demand, ROAS and occupancy rates. As such, now represents a good time for travel marketers to be taking a step back and evaluating opportunities through a new lens.
In some cases, travel brands will find that publishers that have been equally hard-hit by COVID-19 fallout are actively offering advertisers incentives and making concessions, such as the reduction in the thresholds to participate in auctions. These opportunities can provide useful ways for brands to stay engaged with customers through this crisis without significant spend.
Beyond that, travel brands should also be looking internally to determine what improvements can be made now to improve ROAS in the future. This time adds a unique opportunity for brands to experiment with different advertising methods that they wouldn’t typically try.
Also incentive programs are likely to be available at the outset which will provide an additional reason to activate media. What changes can be made to a travel brand’s website to improve conversion rates? How can travel brands drive more direct bookings? Now is an excellent time to be refining operations in a way that will help your brand make the most of the coming industry rebound.
After all, the travel industry is resilient. The brands that position themselves wisely during this downturn have the opportunity to emerge stronger than ever from this challenging time.