Travel is an industry that’s been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis. As airlines and hotels suffer staggering losses from shelter-in-place orders, consumers are being forced to reschedule trips and longingly wonder when they’ll be able to take their next vacation.
With many brands across verticals putting a pause on media spend in response to the current crisis, the travel industry has been no different. But if we look at brand behavior during the Great Recession of 2008, it’s been shown that brands who continued to spend on marketing and advertising initiatives from 2008-2010 remained the strongest, and also recovered the quickest after the recession ended.
Before putting together a plan for recovery, it’s important to also note how consumer behaviors are changing with regards to traveling in a post-COVID world. Public sentiments are shifting rapidly as consumers feel less safe and less likely to travel; however, a majority of them do look forward to changing that in the near future. Looking at a recent survey from eMarketer, almost 75% of U.S. adults surveyed in March and April said that their travel post-pandemic will only involve travel within the United States for the next year. 50-60% plan to stay in a hotel, and 36-45% also believe they will fly on an airplane.
Experts predict that recovery will start with local travel by car and then circle outward to larger driving distances, first only with family members and then a small group of close friends. The next anticipated phase will include shorter domestic flights, longer cross-country or international trips, and eventually group + business travel will resume. At this time, consumers will seek out travel brands that have shown themselves to be relevant and socially responsible during a global pandemic. How can this be communicated in an authentic and compelling way?
Now more than ever, travel brands can use content marketing as a means of creating digital connections with consumers while in-person activity is on-hold. This can be done by:
- Not going dark – companies have an opportunity to build trust among consumers through relevant and thoughtful content. Why not share deals and offers for future travel?
- Showing compassion – helping consumers change their plans and be flexible on terms. Communicate clearly what the brand is offering and don’t confuse customers.
- Leading the community – empower locals to become ambassadors for their home destination and share stories of how local people are helping one another during this trying time.
- Becoming the resource – introduce new ways to enjoy destinations and attractions via 360-degree images, videos or virtual tours of local attractions.
Based off of key learnings at the inPowered labs, we’ve uncovered a variety of thought-starters that travel brands can use to create content while also being a timely & relevant resource. Some of these include:
- Virtual travel and experiences
- Stories about local businesses helping others
- “Shop local” initiatives based on specific destinations
- Prepping for travel’s return
- Travel inspiration – movies, books, podcasts, photos and videos
- Coping with cancellation
- Road trips and local destinations
Two travel brands that are “getting it right” with their COVID-19 content campaigns are Visit Santa Fe and Marriott hotels. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing:
Santa Fe, NM
The tourism board of Santa Fe has been targeting leisure travelers with their “Dream Now, Visit Later” campaign. The goal is to keep travelers dreaming about Santa Fe so that it’s top-of-mind when travel can resume again. Content distribution has been a mixture of owned content across social media and their blog, as well as curating virtual experiences with local creatives, such as virtual artist studio visits and listening parties with the Santa Fe Opera. We’re putting Santa Fe at the top of our “to-visit” list not only for their unique content that does a great job at highlighting what sets this destination apart; but has also innovated to help the local community by curating virtual cultural experiences. They make this relevant content easy to access across platforms and post frequently (every 3-5 days).
Marriott Hotels have been amplifying a mixture of earned media from press placements, owned media with corporate comms statements from the CEO and a regularly updated blog, as well as paid media amplification behind their “We Will Travel Again” campaign. We give this big brand two thumbs up for their response to the COVID-19 crisis – they quickly pivoted their blog content to acknowledge the “new normal” and that while travel today isn’t possible, we shouldn’t stop dreaming about going places. They provide thoughtful, comprehensive and compassionate updates from their CEO, and make sure customers are informed on the brand’s day-to-day efforts to both help local communities as well as provide policy updates on their Bonvoy loyalty program.
While it may take some time for travel to fully rebound, brands can take this time to re-evaluate their digital strategies and start to develop a roadmap to recovery. Content marketing can be the vehicle taking consumers places, while they’re couch-bound for just a little while longer.