How travel brands are reconnecting with consumers

Marketing takes on new directions

In terms of messaging, much of the marketing focus has been around families and gathering people together who may have been apart due to the pandemic. MMGY’s Reid says a lot of current travel is driven by matriarchs or patriarchs who have enough money to book vacations with younger generations. Travelocity’s recent campaign focuses on multi-generation households. Laura Molnar, head of brand marketing at the online travel agency, told Ad Age that Travelocity is refocusing its strategies in order to better address families and Latino families in particular.

Similarly, Hilton just added a new feature called Confirm Connecting Rooms by Hilton. It allows families or groups that want to stay in adjacent rooms to ensure that arrangement when they book, rather than waiting until they check in, which put more risk in getting side-by-side accommodations.

“As so many folks are getting back on the road—whether revenge travel, pent-up travel—it’s the same idea that it’s been too long since we’ve seen those in our lives who are most important to us,” says Hilton’s Weinstein .

As activity has picked up, a lot of marketing has taken a “seize the day” tone, encouraging consumers to travel now, since the pandemic has taught us that the road ahead is not always predictable. Both Hilton’s and Travelocity’s recent campaigns promote such immediate actions.

Brands are also exploring more purpose-driven marketing. The coronavirus gave many consumers time to reflect and think about their values ​​and what they expect from companies—with travel, a lot of brands are now concentrating on sustainability. A recent survey conducted by MMGY found that 15% of active leisure travelers say a travel service provider’s focus on sustainability and environmental considerations “greatly impacts” their travel decisions. In addition, 83% of such consumers said they are open to changing travel behavior to reduce environmental impact.

“For a couple of years, sustainability has been a part of the lexicon in travel marketing, but it’s full-on now,” says Reid. “People want to lean into purpose and values ​​in the way they’re communicating recovery.”

Last year, Delta Air Lines said it would be committing $1 billion to become carbon neutral. In April, the airline highlighted its sustainability strategy in a video for customers.

Early this year, the Colorado Tourism Office debuted “Do Colorado Right,” a campaign designed to promote good COVID-19 behavior around its state, such as staying home when sick and wearing a mask. The push featured local Colorado celebrities such as “Bachelor” contestant Ben Higgins and fashion blogger Esther Leach. Yet while the campaign was at first about the coronavirus, it has been extended to tap into sustainability and purpose.

“We knew ‘Do Colorado Right’ had the potential to expand well beyond COVID,” says a spokeswoman for the Colorado Tourism Office, noting that this summer, the campaign launched a new push. “We focused on messaging to help mitigate overcrowding in the parks, address proper disposal of trash on the trail, and to promote the hiring of local guides to experience Colorado’s backcountry.” The campaign will continue through fall and winter with messaging around low-impact travel and ways to care for Colorado, she says.

Lasting changes in consumer behavior

Even when the pandemic is far in the rearview, experts expect some of its effect on travel, and consumer behavior, to be long-lasting. The length of stay is shifting, for instance. With many employers now offering flexibility around office work, some consumers are changing travel patterns from a short traditional weekend of Saturday and Sunday to also include Friday and Monday, days they could work from a hotel instead of from home.

“Now you have US consumers with all this flexibility around how they can travel,” says Reid.

Brands are adjusting their products accordingly. July, a two-year-old suitcase purveyor based in Melbourne, Australia, recently added a lighter carry-on product for longer-weekend use, according to Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Athan Didaskalou. A direct-to-consumer brand, July launched in the US earlier this month and is spending $2 million on marketing this year to establish itself here.

“We are basically setting ourselves up to capture some of that demand,” he says. “We think people are going to be traveling more than what they were prior.”

Yet while leisure travel is seeing a strong rebound, business travel has been lagging, and many expect the shift to be more long-term as employers recognize the value of digital tools such as Zoom and other video conference systems. Some travel brands have recognized the shift and are adding new products in order to get ahead of it. In June, Tripadvisor launched Tripadvisor Plus, a subscription service costing $99 a year in members receive discounts on flights and hotels. The service also offers concierge support around trip planning in a special offering called Tripadvisor Text. Members are able to connect with travel agents.

“The idea is that people’s travel behaviors are going to change because of this connection to business travel changing—the idea of ​​the ‘road warrior accruing the points to get the upgrade’ is likely never going to return,” says Lindsay Nelson, chief experience and brand officer at Tripadvisor. “So the genesis of Plus was ‘How do we allow you for $99 to get that savings, the perks, the upgrades, but not necessarily spend 50 nights in a Marriott on 50 business trips?’”

Brands are also thinking differently about repercussions for trip changes. While many travel operators adjusted their cancellation windows and added more flexibility around bookings during the pandemic—and brands such as Hotels.com highlighted free cancellation in a campaign this past spring—experts expect such offerings to disappear. Hotels and airlines can’t plan well from an occupancy and revenue perspective if all consumers have the option to cancel. However, Phocuswright’s Jong says flexible booking may instead become an extra benefit.

“It opens the opportunity for flexible booking to be a perk, be part of a loyalty program or a specific credit card, knowing now how important flexible booking can be to some customers,” she says.

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