Travel has always been a seasonal industry. Whether it’s families seeking out the perfect summer vacation, couples embarking on their honeymoons, or travelers of all demographics visiting loved ones during the holidays, these cycles are what marketers have traditionally planned around.
Lockdowns mixed with ever-changing travel restrictions completely halted travel, and subsequent recovery efforts have been thwarted by new variants. The past two years have upended predictable bookings - and anticipated media spend.
While holiday travel bookings were initially up, the Omicron variant has impeded recovery efforts as travelers worry about illness and new restrictions.
Now, travel marketers must weather these concerns on top of the normal January to March dip, and they must do so by making strategic investments, even as many are working on reduced budgets. And that requires an “always on” strategy to capture traveler interest and drive bookings any time of year.
Here are three ways to enable an always on strategy to beat seasonality blues:
Sustain the spend
Travel marketers have traditionally bought media in "flights," which are week-by-week purchases designed to support specific business goals or campaigns.
These flights are typically opportunities for marketers to make monetary investments when there is the opportunity for the highest yield or when they are trying to win out business over a competitor during the high season. These investments are much easier to make when marketers can bank on seasonal ROI, but what about during the slow season?
Currently, many marketers are working with a fraction of past budgets, which only fuels hesitancy to invest marketing dollars during the slow seasons. However, marketers can’t afford to turn off campaigns and spend nothing during lull periods. People are still traveling, just in fewer numbers.
This means marketers must sustain the spend, albeit more strategically.
Using a combination of first- and third-party data that they’ve collected or acquired through partners, marketers can be strategic about spending rather than simply buying a media flight. Creating more targeted campaigns will capture traveler interest along the path to purchase and help marketers make the right investment at the right time.
Focus on intent
Uncovering and understanding traveler intent is key for marketers to anticipate the needs and reason for travel. Data can help marketers understand the full scope of the buying journey and create more agile campaigns that target what travelers want now.
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Wants and needs have certainly changed since the beginning of 2020, and those needs continue to evolve, so marketers must take these changes into account while uncovering someone’s reason for travel. For example, February is a great time to take a ski trip or a quick Valentine’s Day getaway.
In addition to seasonal getaways, marketers can capitalize on increasing business travel demand. In the first two weeks of 2022, Sojern travel data shows that business travel is at approximately 68% of pre-pandemic levels compared to a pre-vaccine number of 23% in January of 2021.
Some travelers are taking full advantage of working from home so they can travel more, blending business and leisure trips. Not only does this trend require any destination to have reliable, fast Wi-Fi (and advertise it!), hotels may benefit by offering deals for extended stays.
Regardless of their reason for booking, travelers want flexibility, guarantees, and clear refund policies in the event travel restrictions change.
Test the message
No matter the season, testing will always be a critical part of any marketing campaign. A/B testing is a simple way to identify which images, copy, calls to action or other ad elements are working - and which ones aren’t.
For example, a recent A/B test revealed that ads that included a hotel room rate saw 12.5% more conversions than those that didn’t. Ads that linked directly to a booking page netted 12.5% more conversions than those that linked to a home page.
While these are just a few examples, A/B testing is a great way to uncover regional differences and what motivates travelers and drives them to book. Testing also prevents marketers from spending unnecessary dollars on ineffective ads.
Utilizing partner solutions is another great way for marketers to test and see what’s working without the budgetary risk. Last year changed up many commission models, and marketers are benefiting from more flexible business models.
For example, some partners offer pay-on-the-stay programs that utilize data-driven testing but only charge marketers once a traveler has completed a stay.
While the travel market is certainly uncertain, marketers must continue to push forward with always on strategies.
By spending wisely, focusing on traveler intent and testing messaging, marketers can optimize spend, appeal to potential travelers at the right moment, and drive bookings both now and in the future.