Like the thousands of empty suitcases gathering dust under beds around the world, the travel industry has been truly grounded by Covid-19. Many consumers have either canceled or decided against going on a holiday that was already booked. And who can blame them? When it comes to safety, uncertainty is a deal-breaker, no matter how good the duty-free, onboard film selection or the lure of sunnier climes are.
But the headlines don’t tell the full story. Nor do they do justice to the resilience of consumers and the travel industry as a united force going forward.
As travel restrictions begin to lift, we’ve been talking to marketers from brands including Virgin Atlantic, Eurotunnel, and National Express about how they’ve navigated and harnessed change in the face of adversity – sensitively and creatively. And their comments reveal pockets of optimism and opportunity.
The return of consumer confidence?
The good news for travel brands is that many of us are yearning for a holiday following several months at home. Mintel found that when asked ‘What are you most looking forward to doing once the current social distancing measures are relaxed?’, consumers answered ‘spending time in person with friends and family’ (56%) followed closely by ‘getting away on holiday’ (30%).* And it’s clear to see that confidence is returning. According to Travel Weekly, upon the announcement that travel restrictions in Europe will start to lift from the 6th of July, TUI reported a 50% week-on-week increase in bookings and 80% by lastminute.com. The take-out for brands? It’s OK to start talking about booking now for summer.
When it comes to health and safety, people are looking to the travel industry to lead the way through action, rather than words. People are bored of hearing the same regurgitated reassurances, time and time again. Many of the brands we’ve spoken to have had to change everything overnight to keep up with the ever-evolving government guidance. Travel marketers must be explicit about how the new rules impact their customers.
Avoiding the fear factor
If ever there was a need to escape reality, it’s now. Allowing customers to relax (but not too much) will be key. One brand that’s found a simple solution to help with this is Etihad Airways. By opting for a less surgical design for their PPE, whilst still prioritizing optimum safety, they’re finding the balance between being COVID-secure and avoiding the fear that often comes as part of that. Savvy brands will avoid generic sterility and remember they’re dealing with real people, communicating and acting with warmth and humanity.
The need for the familiar
With such uncertainty and the possibility of a ‘second wave’, it’s hardly surprising that many brands are experiencing a shifting to focus on domestic travel. Whether it’s revisiting old childhood memories or discovering brand new destinations locally – there’s a lot to be said for staycations and the nostalgia they offer.
Similarly, people are trading in adventure-packed holidays and the thrill of the unknown for destinations that are familiar and ‘safe’, the places they’ve visited before.
Travel brands should consider opportunities to rekindle nostalgia, offering the familiarity of past destinations, with a fresh twist.
Play to your strengths
Travel brands have been finding smart ways to play to their strengths recently, and some have even taken the opportunity to remind customers why they exist in the first place.
Take Eurotunnel for example. Travelers can drive onto their freight and arrive in France without having to be in close contact with anyone outside of their vehicle. Their USP has never been more appealing or relevant.
If your brand or product has a genuine point of difference, make sure you let people know.
Flexibility is key
As commercial flights have experienced an overwhelming drop in passengers, airlines have repurposed their routes to deliver much-needed supplies and packages around the world, keeping pilots in the job and providing essential distribution. Smart travel brands will explore short-term changes to their business models, looking for new potential revenue streams.
Holidays play an important role in reconnecting people. And right now, it’s that human connection that we’re lacking more than ever before. Travel enables us to make memories and make friends for life. Longer-term, travel brands will do well to focus their marketing on these emotional connections, reminding people what they have been missing.
In it for the long haul
This isn’t the first time the travel industry has been majorly affected by global events and likely won’t be the last. This time, both safety and economic barriers have come into play. To turn it around, brands will have to find new and creative ways to provide a solution to both of these hurdles. Only then will we see sunnier climes for the travel industry, once again.