After more than two years of enduring the global pandemic and stay-in-place guidelines, people value travel and personal time more than ever. As restrictions ease worldwide, travel is likely to experience a year unlike any before. Consumers are planning purpose-driven trips, prioritizing vacation time, and upping their investment in unique experiences. So how can travel companies best prepare themselves for the latest shift in consumer behavior?
I sat down for a fireside chat with industry experts–Alex Velazquez, National Director of Marketing at Westgate Resorts; Jordy Luft, Associate Media Director at advertising agency PETERMAYER; and Justin Hutchinson, Digital and Integrated Marketing Program Manager at AAA–to discuss travel trends and advertising strategies. They each shared their unique perspective on how advertising has adapted to the new normal, what trends are expected to stay, and what strategies are essential for future success. Here are 5 key takeaways from our conversation.
1. Top trend: taking time to travel
“With fewer travel restrictions, our members are looking forward to traveling and may actually be willing to spend more on their trip. And our partners are reaching out to us and wanting to get more exposure to members to capture the increase in demand. It appears the world is slowly returning to some normalcy, and the industry is rebounding.” -Justin
“We’re seeing a tremendous pent-up demand for travel. Our research department’s latest stats show that 90% of Americans have current trip plans, and 72% are dreaming about planning a trip in the past week.” -Jordan
“Usually, the number one barrier to travel is time. Now, all of a sudden, people decided, ‘I’m going to make time for it because time is precious.’ While some COVID volatility is happening, and travel prices are definitely going up, families are no longer putting off their travel dreams. The pandemic taught people that you’ve got to savor those personal moments and connections.” -Alex
2. Hitting the mark: messaging that mirrors consumers’ mindsets
“We keep a pulse on what’s going on in consumers’ mindsets: what’s motivating them to travel; is COVID or gas prices impacting their decisions? That, in turn, impacts our messaging. We showcase the diversity of attractions and attributes that each of our destination clients has to offer. We know that certain people are feeling more comfortable with outdoor activities, so we tout options like beach destinations. We’re slowly expanding our geographies for people who are willing to get on a flight.” -Jordy
“One of the most popular offerings right now is travel insurance. In times of uncertainty, our AAA members are looking for coverage. They want to travel, but they also want to have that extra security and peace of mind. So we’re using our messaging to inspire people to take a chance and plan their dream trip. In general, we allow the data to tell us which products and services are in demand. And we’re constantly optimizing our campaigns and pushing budgets forward based upon the demand in the marketplace. As always, we’re working with our agency partner, and Quantcast identifies areas where we can find members that are in the market to rent a car, book a trip, or go to a theme park.” -Justin
“A lot of business entities took the time during the pandemic to invest in themselves, whether it was renovating the resorts or renovating their marketing, so they’d be ready to launch advertising that took advantage of the new pent-up demand. Even if you’re late to that game, you’ve got to think in the context of: what are the things that people now care about? People are looking for beach resorts and less crowds with a ‘life is short’ mentality. Illustrating to them what experiences your destination offers is essential. Those who worked through the pandemic are now concerned about using their PTO before they lose it, so you can appeal to them with micro-getaways. And, of course, families have been cooped up. So if you’re not addressing those elements with your messaging, you’re really missing out on that part of your business.” -Alex
3. Moving marketing money to new mediums
“During the pandemic, people started to use their phones more frequently. At a restaurant, you might place an order online or scan a QR code looking for a menu. Or you would use social media or Zoom calls to connect with family and friends. And so we beefed up our social media plan with display campaigns. We also wanted to reach the pandemic ‘Netflix and chill’ type of person, as we all were spending more time at home and searching for new content on streaming platforms. We invested in a travel campaign for CTV, so we could reach those members during that unique time.” -Justin
“From our first-party analytics, we noticed that there was a 6-7% jump to mobile that shifted during the pandemic and has not gone back. So if you haven’t upped your mobile game, going digital both on the advertising side and your website, you’ve got to get that nailed down because nothing could be more important right now. We launched a multilingual site in Spanish for SEO purposes, rolling it out when there wasn’t as much at stake when no one was traveling internationally. And, lo and behold, we’re seeing visitors come in from the UK and from Spain, booking the Westgate River Ranch resort and rodeo, which was recently featured in Travel & Leisure and on the TODAY Show.” -Alex
“We have also been very focused on how the pandemic changed media consumption habits and whether those trends would stick. We’ve moved more money into digital and connected TV.” -Jordy
4. Creatively connecting with customers
“We’re big advocates of a multimedia full-funnel approach to inspire and engage potential travelers to come to our destinations. Video, whether linear television or (more and more) OTT, is a good way to showcase attributes and make an emotional connection. We’ve also put more money into native advertising to tell a much richer story about the diversity of attractions and things to do. This is supplemented by lower funnel tactics, primarily digital ones to connect with people while they’re doing their research and planning. We do have some low-hanging fruit tactics to reach tourists–once they reach that mark–messaging them with a special price or offer to create a sense of urgency.” -Jordy
“Right now, it’s about inspiring choices and traveling with confidence. We’re trying to reach members through upper-funnel tactics such as display, social, and CTV, using beautiful destination images.” -Justin
“During the pandemic, many revenue managers and hotels realized that distribution is a one-stop shop. If you put all of your eggs in one basket, like Expedia, and aren’t doing anything beyond price-type marketing, then you’re not building any kind of brand. That leaves you vulnerable to other chains that tell a narrative about themselves. You want customers to come back and stay with you because of your hotel brand. It’s not necessarily about price but about benefit in value, and that’s what we’re messaging. Westgate Resorts rolled out a simplified loyalty program that is about earning privileges instead of points. With Quantcast, we pushed enrollment for the loyalty program on display and via a number of advertising vehicles.” -Alex
5. Strategies for success
“It’s important to diversify channels, using data to identify market buyers, and to prepare for a cookieless world to be ahead of the game.” -Justin
“Access all the marketing weapons at your disposal and pick the right mix for a particular product. If you’re not building towards a more full-funnel assessment of what your marketing does, you’re missing out.” -Alex
“For digital advertising, I would encourage everybody to do two things. First, you should be testing and experimenting with your analytics teams to identify what is working. One of the reasons for PETERMAYER’s success is that we’re constantly exploring new ways to reach people–and there’s always new technology and new partnerships with digital companies to identify potential travelers. Emphasize what has worked historically, but also carve a bit out of your budget to test a new partner and new strategy. Second, you should be preparing for a cookieless world by testing cookieless solutions now with programmatic companies like Quantcast.” -Jordy
If you’d like to watch the entire fireside chat on-demand webinar, click here. You can also check out some of our travel case studies to see how companies can analyze customer behavior, optimize media spend, increase brand awareness, and identify new potential customers to gain market share and enter new markets.