The entire industry has suffered as a result of the pandemic, but it has given many travel brands the opportunity to take time to re-evaluate their strategies. In some cases it has proved beneficial, resulting in more efficient campaigns, with many marketers imagining a more equitable and sustainable future. Our recent article ‘Accelerate Your Recovery: 6 Digital Ad Trends to Know’ shares more detail on which trends to be looking out for in order to drive successful recovery, as supported by our latest report with Skift. Due to the restrictions that have been in place on international travel, airlines are feeling the impact from the pandemic more than many other travel brands. However, we spoke to Elly Politou, Senior Executive Destination Marketing at Aegean Airlines, and she shared with us how a selection of these six trends have helped accelerate AEGEAN’s recovery for 2021 and beyond. Elly talks about the importance of partnerships and how the pandemic helped the team see the benefit of implementing more flexible plans based on real-time data.“The pandemic helped us see the benefit of adapting our strategy in line with real-time data. The more often you use data to drive marketing decisions, the more effective the algorithm becomes, learning and optimising as the campaign goes on. It is no longer us who sets the limits and most suitable target audiences, it’s better to let the data do the job.”Elly Politou, Senior Executive Destination Marketing at Aegean AirlinesBefore we get to the trends, here is some background on how business for Aegean Airlines looks compared to 2020. Last year bookings went down to almost zero, except for a small spike in the summer period when Greece was open for tourists. Then came a strict lockdown from the start of November, continuing on until March 2021, so bookings dropped considerably again. There have since been signs of recovery from May 2021 onward but it still varies on a daily basis. Elements such as the speed of rollout of vaccination programmes in Greece, decisions on lockdowns, and restrictions implemented by key origin markets impact the speed of recovery. With all of these hurdles in place, Aegean Airlines have been able to adjust their strategy based on real-time data, ensuring they are in the best position to recover when borders fully reopen. So which trends have Aegean Airlines been focusing on?
As with many travel brands, AEGEAN had to shift their messaging to have more of a domestic focus in 2020, and into 2021 as international travel restrictions remain in place. However, AEGEAN found that flexibility was key to creating a successful strategy, and that using data to make decisions proved imperative. This meant that they could adapt to the needs of the consumer, domestic or international, and be present when they were searching for their trips. “We analysed travel intent data on a regular basis and when a country opened its borders, we used promotions to target visitors from that country,” said Elly.Although one of the most noticeable changes in traveller behaviour was the shift to domestic travel, and promotions were a great way to try and drive travel from international markets, there were other changes that came as a result of the pandemic. Lead times got considerably shorter, travellers wanted more assurance that airlines were implementing necessary hygiene measures, and COVID-safety became a huge part of everyone’s travel planning. Many shifted their focus to less crowded destinations, travelling in smaller groups more privately. With all of this in mind, AEGEAN shifted their messaging to cater for these requirements, reassuring customers that they were ready to welcome them onboard when they wanted to travel again. However, where the message was adapted slightly to align with these new consumer needs, the ongoing goal remained the same. AEGEAN wanted to raise awareness of Greek destinations, inspire people to dream of and begin planning their next trip to the country, and drive travellers to visit when they could. This is now the key focus of their campaigns. Not only did AEGEAN adapt their messaging as a result of changing consumer behaviour, they also changed the way it was communicated. With shorter lead times, competition from other destinations and airlines, and consumers searching across multiple channels, it was important to get the message across effectively and as quickly as possible. Aegean Airlines combated this by creating ads with less images which meant the consumers got the message much quicker.
As customer needs change, so should the metrics destinations use to measure success. In a recent article Celine Chaussegros, Managing Director for Europe at Sojern, looks at some of the key metrics amid a ‘new normal’ for travel marketing. Using yesterday’s metrics in today’s travel market simply won’t work. Travel marketers have the challenge of finding new ways to deliver results and inspire travellers with limited budgets. AEGEAN used to have more fixed goals and metrics, but the pandemic helped them shift their focus to the areas that were driving the most demand, and adjusting their measurements to fit the needs of the campaigns. For example, during the pandemic they began to find that long term campaigns were much more effective than shorter campaigns. They began measuring their campaigns over six or nine months, rather than three. It was also important for them to use a real-time data-driven approach to target interested and engaged audiences. Elly told us “We were very flexible with our budget among countries and across channels. If the data showed that video worked better in France, we put more budget there. This was a huge learning as a result of the pandemic and has helped us build a more sustainable strategy going forward.” This flexible approach led to much better results, increasing bookings to Greece. With a move to brand awareness campaigns, Aegean Airlines changed their focus on measuring awareness in terms of impressions over the last 18 months. All they could do during this time was use messaging to inspire travellers to travel again, which meant their metrics had to change to measure for this. Now the country and travel is opening up again, they have started to shift towards measuring cost of sale to measure bookings.
One of the hurdles presented by the pandemic was the reduction in budgets and resources. Advertising budgets at the airline were cut by around 80%, meaning a creative solution was required. This is where collaboration was so critical for AEGEAN. Co-Op campaigns mean that resources could be combined to achieve a common goal. Elly said “Co-Op has been the main focus for us over the past 18 months. Our ongoing partnership with the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) allowed us to almost double our available budget. With the joint goal of driving visitors to the country, we could easily tie our messaging together and reach a wider audience than either of us could have alone.”
In addition to driving flight bookings, airlines, as well as all travel brands, need to focus on achieving sustainable business practices, which will capture consumer attention. 2020 caused many travel brands to think differently about their messaging and values as customer needs evolved. A stronger focus was put on sustainable travel, as many travellers started to become more environmentally conscious. Aegean Airlines already had sustainability in mind pre-pandemic, and the company was ordering new aircraft with the aim of reducing their carbon footprint, and reducing noise pollution. This has remained a strategic priority throughout the pandemic, and AEGEAN aims to change its aircraft to more sustainable models in under ten years. This is a step towards more sustainable travel, and travel marketers should begin to focus their messaging on these developments to engage the next generation of travellers.In summary, even though the industry is still recovering from the impact of COVID-19, there are a few key trends to look out for which can help you build an effective recovery strategy that is flexible enough to adapt with the modern consumer. Not all trends will impact each marketer in the same way, but it is important to understand them in order to give your brand the best chance of recovery. Aegean Airlines have been forward thinking, adjusting and optimising their strategy in line with the latest trends, making them a great example of how travel brands can prepare for a more sustainable future of travel. If you’d like to speak with an expert on how to adjust your digital marketing strategies, click here.