If you’ve been in the travel space for long, you know that travel is resilient. The industry has persevered through 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, regional weather devastations, and so much more. As we endure the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, one thing is for certain, the hunger for travel still remains, and when it is safe to do so, travelers will be out in droves. As a travel marketer, ensure you’re doing what you can now to be prepared.
To help, we put together 10 traveler trends to keep at the forefront of 2021 advertising. These trends were developed from conversations we’ve had with our customers around the world on what’s working for them, as well as findings from our partnership with Phocuswright.
Trend #1: Set proper expectations. Even the most seasoned travelers are uncertain right now. Those last-minute bookers who hopped on a weekend flight and only reserved their hotel after they landed are now doing extensive research beforehand. First and foremost, they need to know if you’re open, and if so, what does the experience look like when they arrive? Did they book with the perception the pool and restaurant on your property would be open only to discover they’ll be spending their time in the room?
Key takeaway: Update your profile everywhere. It’s not enough to get your hours updated on your website–consider social media, your Google My Business profile, and all other sources a potential customer could get more information.
Trend #2: Expand beyond cleaning. Hotel and attraction marketers we’ve connected with tell us that while it’s important to showcase all that you’re doing to keep guests safe and maintain thorough cleaning policies, you’ve got to go beyond that to encourage the booking. Solid cleaning policies are now the expectation, so what sets you apart? Do you have an amazing mixologist at your bar? Create a video featuring them making a cocktail in their mask.
Key Takeaway: Your unique offerings are everything right now–highlight them with your ad copy and website.
Trend #3: Reach Out to Past Guests. As you may have personally experienced when booking travel during the pandemic, you tend to gravitate toward destinations, hotels, or attractions you’ve already visited. New places can pose a greater risk, as you don’t know what to expect. Use this opportunity to target and engage those that have been to your website, stayed with you, or visited your attraction before.
Key Takeaway: Your prior guests are open to hearing from you. Make sure your data is in good shape on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, and use that data to send your message.
Trend #4: Use Value-Adds and Discounts. Our survey revealed that the economic fallout of the pandemic is causing decreases in trip budgets. Respondents identified discount pricing as the top incentive for booking directly with providers. But you don’t have to run your standard discount advertisements right now, get creative! Think ideas like: “Book 3, Receive 1 Free”, “10% Off With Local Drivers License”, or “Book Now, Receive a $50 Resort Credit”.
Key Takeaway: To incentivize travelers to book directly on your website, direct cost savings are key.
Trend #5: Offer Flexible Bookings and Cancellation. While we’ve heard this frequently since the pandemic hit, the data from the survey further proves it–flexibility is playing a more important role. Travelers are wary that changes in the severity of the pandemic may result in cancelled trips and lost investment. Around 70% of respondents said they would only book a trip with flexible/rebooking options. Cancellation without penalty motivates travelers to book directly on hotel or attraction websites. Try out: “Book knowing today and everyday, we won’t charge a cancellation fee” or “Change dates any time and enjoy the same rates”.
Key Takeaway: With travelers craving these flexible booking options, no cancellation fees can be a prime motivator for booking directly.
Trend #6: Go Digital, Go Mobile, Go Multichannel. Global COVID-19 driven digital adoption rates have covered decades in days. 40% more consumers are using social media, much of which happens on mobile. Sojern data reveals that travel bookings are accelerating on mobile channels across all travel categories since the pandemic began. And what’s more, these consumers are using multiple channels along with devices to dream, plan, and book travel. On average, Sojern customers that advertised on three channels: Facebook, SEM, and display, saw 2X conversions.
Key Takeaway: Travelers are using multiple channels and devices–ensure you’re optimizing for mobile and activating campaigns on multiple channels.
Trend #7: Leverage Local Partnerships to Drive Demand. A Co-Op Marketing plan is a great solution to stretch your marketing dollars, scale out your messaging, and ultimately aid in a faster recovery. Most often we see a DMO establish the Co-Op, as they have a good handle on which businesses can participate. Attractions, hotels, and local DMOs can then pool their marketing dollars to test new digital strategies and ensure messaging is aligned.
Key Takeaway: Marketing budgets are tight. Working with a company like Sojern to activate a Co-Op marketing plan can help you get more out of those dollars and drive incremental visitation to your destination or direct bookings to your hotel and attraction websites.
Trend #8: Drive Demand Using a Portfolio Approach. We’ve highlighted the importance of direct bookings, but COVID-19 brings new challenges that may require adopting a portfolio approach. Business travel isn’t coming back anytime soon. To replace groups and conferences, you need multiple channels to drive leisure travel, which means working with Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as well as driving direct demand. It’s ever-important to stay in rate parity which helps convince guests that your website presents the best value, thus driving them to book directly.
Key Takeaway: While direct bookings are the ultimate goal, now is a time to capitalize on those OTA relationships as well. Work closely with whomever manages the rates to ensure you’re in parity.
Trend #9: Connect Creatively With Customers. With travel marketers everywhere trying to capture the attention of travelers dreaming and booking, test out those out-of-the-box ideas for your ad creatives to get your message in front of potential customers. Some unique offerings we’ve seen? ‘Work from hotel’ and ‘Schoolcations’ promoting people to work and learn remotely.
Key Takeaway: Working with a partner like Sojern, you can A/B test creatives, try HTML5 (interactive ads), or test dynamic ads that adapt content and promotions specifically to each user. Sojern does all the above ad creatives free for our clients.
Trend #10: Prepare for the Cookieless World. While online advertising today uses “cookies” to target users and track advertising performance, these third party cookies will no longer be active in 2022. Businesses are shifting strategies to implement “hashed email” identifiers, which allows you to continue marketing to users, but with a focus on privacy. With hashed emails, it’s crucial to activate your first party data with data-safe companies to effectively market in the new world.
Key Takeaway: The cookieless world will place a greater reliance on first party data. Give your customers a reason to sign in to your website when they visit it (special offers, discounts) to create a direct relationship with them.
Watch the 10 Traveler Trends for 2021 Planning webinar here or download the slides.