The travel industry was hit extremely hard by COVID. International tourist travel dropped 65% in the first half of 2020alone. And for many companies, the response was to slash marketing budgets to counteract plummeting revenues.
Now, advertising during a time when customers physically cannot travel might feel counterintuitive. But in past recessions, companies that continued to spend on advertising through a downturn actually ended up outselling their competitors as the market rebounded back to normal.
For example, during the recession in the early ’90s, McDonald’s chose to cut ad spending while Pizza Hut and Taco Bell increased theirs — resulting in a 28% decrease in sales for McDonald's while Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’s sales increased by 61% and 40% respectively.
The main reason why advertising during a downturn is so critical has to do with “mind-share.” Simply put, staying top of mind with consumers helps you capitalize on the increase in demand as it rebounds, and advertising helps you do that.
However, you have to strike the right tone — otherwise, your advertising will work against you. To help you stay top of mind with consumers for when the demand for travel increases again, we’ve analyzed five examples of travel marketing content from the companies below.
1. Expedia’s “All By Myself” Ad Campaign
Expedia’s “All By Myself” ad shows a traveler having a series of bad flight and hotel experiences on their trip. Then a representative from Expedia (Rashida Jones) swoops in and saves the day by helping them find a better hotel and have a great time. The takeaway being (as Expedia puts it), “It matters who you travel with.”
Why Expedia’s Campaign Works
Expedia’s campaign is effective because it addresses a change in consumer values. For example, airlines are canceling flights because of staffing shortages, which disrupts travel plans for consumers. So consumers value services like trip insurance and support more when selecting a travel partner now.
As Shiv Singh, Expedia’s General Manager, explained it, “The travel space in some regards was more-transaction oriented [before COVID-19]. It was where you find the best deal, you go for the cheapest ticket. That’s changed now. People think about value differently.”
So rather than focusing solely on “getting away for a great price,” travel companies should also ensure their advertising includes messaging about the support they provide their customers.
2. Marriott’s “The Power of Travel” Campaign
In the first quarter of 2021, Marriott released a series of ads highlighting what travel means to people. For example, the ad above shows families and friends reuniting in their hotels after long periods of time away from each other (presumably due to COVID-19) with the idea that “Travel Makes Us Whole.” Other ads in the campaign highlight similar themes, such as how Travel Makes Us Daring and how Travel Makes Us Open.
Why Marriot’s Campaign Works
Right now, consumers want to know that companies care about more than selling them a service or product. As Mark Beal, an assistant professor at Rutgers University—New Brunswick, explains, “they want to see actions and messages from companies that communicate a higher purpose at this time and deliver a service or product that will benefit individuals, communities and the greater society.” Marriott’s campaign does this by addressing motivations for travel many consumers are likely feeling right now to inspire them and connect with them.
To market successfully to consumers at a time when travel is difficult, inspire them with content that connects to their thoughts and feelings about travel.
3. A TikTok Influencer’s “Staying at a Disney Hotel During COVID-19”
Have you stayed at a hotel yet? #disney #hotel #ThatWitch #FallDIY #travel #florida #travellife #traveltheworld #fyp #luxury #learnontiktok #education
In this video, a TikTok influencer showed their 1.2M followers what it was like to stay at a Disney hotel during COVID-19. While walking through the hotel, the influencer explained and showed all of the rules and precautions Disney took to keep visitors safe when the risk of infection was high.
Why Leveraging Influencers Works For Brands
Research from Discover shows that consumers are currently more concerned about their health and safety while traveling than the price they pay. Reassuring travelers that precautions and safety measures are in place to protect them should be a top priority for any travel-related brand.
However, the reason this particular video is so powerful is that the reassurance comes from a third party rather than Disney itself. Some studies show that up to 93% of consumers ignore ads but 82% of consumers are highly likely to follow the recommendation of a micro influencer.
For travel brands, there are two lessons to take away from @followmeaway’s video. First, craft messaging that shows travelers the steps you’ve crafted to keep them safe. Second, leverage peer-to-peer marketing tactics like micro-influencer and referral marketing to help connect with consumers and earn their trust.
Extend Your Brand Reach With Influencer Advocates
Let your influencers create new customers. Learn how to access their followers and drive customer-led growth.
4. Las Vegas: “When you’re ready, we’ll be here”
This ad from Visit Las Vegas features shots of the neon lights and skyline with a voiceover explaining how Vegas’s top priority is the safety and well-being of those who visit the city. And that “when you’re ready, we’ll be ready” to host you, Vegas’s “biggest star in town.”
Why This Vegas Tourism Ad Works
Vegas ads are normally flashy and risque. But this breaks that trend and takes a more sensitive, heartfelt approach that addresses consumers’ situations and concerns, which helps capture their audience’s attention. It’s patient and recognizes that maintaining a positive relationship with travelers using empathy will result in more sales when people can travel again than being promotional would.
5. Intrepid Travel CEO’s Open Letter
In this honest, heartfelt letter, Intrepid Travel’s CEO, James Thornton, addresses the challenges they face and the actions the company is taking to make things right for customers whose trips were disrupted by the pandemic. He also acknowledges the company’s mistakes in a human way, taking responsibility for the shortcomings and connecting customers back to the company’s mission and beliefs.
Why This “Letter From the CEO” Works
Human connection was a struggle for many consumers during the pandemic. By taking the time to craft an original, vulnerable message that connects consumers to the company’s purpose, Thornton helped his company retain its customers trust in trying times:
By connecting the values of your company with the actions you’re taking to provide better services and products to customers in trying times, you’ll earn their loyalty and trust.
Lead With Empathy
As the examples above show, the key to building effective marketing when demand is down is by meeting customers where they are rather than promoting services or deals. If you can address what’s going on inside your customers’ minds with your marketing, your company will be better positioned to capture the business of consumers as they begin to travel again.
Extole can help you build a referral marketing program that drives customer advocacy and loyalty — learn more here.