Anna Slater, senior global industry director of Travel at international media platform Teads, offers advice on how to help lookers overcome their hesitancy and become bookers
The UK isn’t alone as a nation full of uncertainty when it comes to travel at the moment.
What list is that country on? Is there a travel corridor? How many tests do I have to do? Can I afford these tests on top of my holiday cost? Will I have to isolate when I get back?
These are questions we have been asking for months and it seems with every step of progress we encounter a new roadblock creating more ambiguity.
Despite all of the confusion and the resulting hesitancy, people are consuming a lot more travel-related content than during 2020’s summer of uncertainty.
In fact, the Teads Media Barometer which compares content across the UK’s publishers shows there has been a 99% uplift in travel related content when comparing this years’ peak (week commencing July 12 2021) to the summer peak in 2020 (week commencing July 27 2020).
What’s even more encouraging is this has increased by 110% vs the pre-pandemic peak in early 2020, showing there is a huge appetite for travel amongst Brits.
So, there is plenty of interest from consumers for travel brands to engage with, especially ahead of next year when we can expect travel to rebound in a big way as more of the world (hopefully) opens up.
What can brands do to get consumers to move from research and consideration, to taking that step and booking the long awaited return to travel?
Be in it for the long haul
One of the things that COVID has changed is how responsive brands need to be to align with the needs of consumers.
Travel has always been a customer-first industry, with travel brands needing to demonstrate a strong duty of care to their customers, but this has now increased after the challenges of the past year and a half.
And whilst speed of response to market is still critical, it can’t be done at the expense of long term planning in order to build trust.
Consumers have suitcases full of pent-up demand and nervousness, in equal measure, about taking that much needed holiday.
The brands that fully service customers – from enquiry right through to their return home – will stand out from their competitors in a very busy marketplace.
Our research shows 24% of Brits would be more likely to book a holiday through a brand that promotes safety and flexibility.
So being able to engage with, and capture, that 24% will be the difference for a lot of businesses.
Hence, brands need to not just provide peace of mind but inspire confidence for travel to consumers as we can’t forget the customers who value more guidance and support throughout the booking journey after a turbulent 18 months.
Brands must remember that loyalty has always been built on great customer service, trust, and flexibility – now more so than ever it’s essential not to turn your back on these values.
With this in mind, brands should avoid capitalising on any overwhelming demand and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
Whilst some will look at prices to stay in Cornwall over the summer as an opportunity for short-termism, you may burn a lot of good will very quickly if you follow that path and jeopardise that potential lifetime customer.
This reset is an opportunity to create new consumer habits, if businesses engage with customers in the right way now it is possible to create loyalty long into the future.
Refuelling your marketing funnel
After 18 months of reactionary messaging, it’s well worth an analysis – and possibly refresh – of your marketing mix.
Your marketing funnel has no doubt been disrupted, but don’t be reluctant to return to upper funnel advertising because you’re worried about not converting consumers who are hovering in the ‘consideration’ phase.
It’s the right time to go back to marketing essentials to help people re-engage with your brand as even some of your more loyal customers may need to be made ‘re-aware’ of your presence.
Finding new customers will be even more challenging than before as the previous traveller profiles used for targeting don’t exist in the new era so brands need to start from the bottom up to identify who their new post-pandemic customer is.
These customers have spent 18 months ‘online’, and with 54% of Brits intending to maintain or increase their online shopping habits over the next month, shopping around has become the new normal making the travel path-to-purchase even more complex and it’s essential to own the conversation from the start. The importance of brand marketing today should not be ignored.
When it comes to Covid confidence, marketers should also look outside of immediate travel factors when considering how to execute their strategies.
For example, our research shows that travel content consumption has doubled since the announcement of non-essential retail reopening this year.
Here you can see a clear correlation between consumers feeling less worried about changing policies to help them inform how they’re planning their holidays.
Understanding, and blending in, all of the factors that are affecting a new consumer purchase journey will help unlock a huge potential rebound for the whole travel sector
Of course, it’s all well-and-good discussing the ways to keep consumers happy and how to market to them, but there are obstacles facing travel brands that you aren’t in direct control of: the government’s traffic light system and threats of a new variant or outbreaks. This is why, going back to the idea of ‘flexibility’, brands have to remain agile.
With consumer uncertainty surrounding travelling abroad rife, domestic travel remains most popular with Brits looking to take a trip this year according to our research, with only 18% of Brits planning to venture abroad.
Hotels are still favoured over any other kind of holiday accommodation, with 30% of the population planning to stay in a hotel this year.
So hotel brands will need to ensure they are still providing flexibility and easy cancellation options to capitalise on that desire, as well as providing assurances around things like hygiene and safety. Much like when it comes to dishonest hiking up of prices, it’s not a time for clickbait conversion spots.
The agility of brands and their ability to ‘pivot’ have been clichés that have been worn to death over the course of the pandemic.
But they’ve become a staple of pandemic vernacular because there’s no getting around that’s exactly what brands have had to do. We have seen the aviation sector rally together to become cargo carriers, transporting life-saving equipment all over the world.
International tour operators have already started operating domestically to capitalise on this staycation market. Sometimes it’s not all bad and great things can be discovered during times of adversity.
No business has avoided disruption, but those that embrace the new world will undoubtedly reap the opportunities that arise.
Brands still need to have a strategy in place to weather the storm should things change again.
But, whatever that strategy is, it’s critical that travel brands do what they do best, to serve customers in the best way possible.