Travel and tourism marketing during Covid-19 - practical tips to consider

Tourism is one of the UK’s biggest industries, and the recent Coronavirus outbreak is having far reaching impacts on the industry. The situation is fast moving. Advice that works for one company may not work for others and advice that is relevant at one moment in time may well be irrelevant in a matter of hours. Whilst the situation that a global tour operator faces may be very different to that of a UK campsite, it is also true that government restrictions, customer anxiety and significant disruption are common to all in the industry at the moment.

In this article, we’ll run through 6 digital marketing techniques to help you navigate through the crisis, assuming of course you are still marketing in some shape or form.

To help members of this industry work through their plans we are making our senior team available for free consultations on a first come first served basis. We think it's the right thing to do to help the industry. We have extensive experience in crisis management, travel and tourism marketing, so please contact our MD, Paul Honey on for details.

Be flexible for rapid change

The Coronavirus is impacting the travel plans of everyone. There are frequent changes to where people should and shouldn’t visit being announced, countries closing borders, and spaces where people congregate closing. Making sure your channel campaigns are set up to rapid adjustment is vital to staying reactive not only for the temporary pausing of campaigns, but also for reactivating should the situation change. If you manage your campaigns internally then you can probably manage this adequately, but for agency managed accounts, it is a good idea to make sure you have service level agreements that work for your business at this time. If your campaigns include multiple destinations/properties/attractions etc that could be independently affected by restrictions, reflecting a geographic/property/attraction hierarchy in your campaign structure will ensure it’s easy to turn elements on or off, or move budget to areas as necessary. You might also be able to avoid turning off some elements, by getting prepared now with good knowledge of how these various elements are performing. Even in normal times, we find variations in how different people convert, and adjusting keeps campaigns efficient. Most channels allow you to report by age, gender, device, user location, etc., each of which might show variations in performance as situations evolve. This can take valuable time to analyse when you need a speedy decision, so doing analysis now to understand whether performance change is universal, can help you make adjustments quickly as profitable returns come under pressure. Another great way to be ready for rapid change, is to do the thinking early where ad messages and creative change are concerned. Your travellers may be feeling uncertain, and have additional questions about how changing circumstances will affect them. Making the choice about which information to share and how to reassure is a decision you can make now. Even if you don’t yet know the fine print of the message, you can prepare principles and agree a sign-off process for a fast turnaround when you need it. And, if you know that you’re doing great things behind the scenes in the interest of your clients, you could even consider how this could become a campaign message, broadcasting the steps you are taking in a positive way. No travel company will come through this event unaffected, and grabbing the initiative might make all the difference between success and survival in the coming months. If you make use of remarketing lists for your campaigns, make sure you are segmenting these appropriately so that the right messages can be displayed to the right audiences. It can be helpful when facing this situation, to match a response to a number of different possible scenarios. The scenarios below are a start point for your planning, and can be readily adapted as you see fit.

A. Demand is reduced, but all destinations remain open

In this scenario, it’s all about being efficient. Identify the strongest and weakest elements of your campaign, and adjust to maximise the return from your spend.

B. Many destinations have severe restrictions

In this scenario, you’ll be looking to optimise performance, but you might also be pausing some elements or updating ads with alternate messaging, e.g. ‘Book for 2021 with confidence’, etc.

C. Times are tough, need radical reductions

This is when the preparations about who your core audience are and which elements really work become so valuable. Now you can be decisive in which elements to cut as you trim back budgets and prioritise for every last sale.

D. Cancellations are increasing, what do I do?

Marketing isn’t all about new bookings, and during a crisis, retention and reduction of cancellations can be equally important. Plan how to use your marketing channels to deploy reassurance messages, and make sure you keep your website updated to ease the pressure on contact centres.

E. Assess opportunities

Within the market there may well be opportunities in the weeks and months ahead if you act appropriately. Letting potential customers know that you have things under control and are open for business could be a good tactic to win business. You can also use the opportunity to reinforce your brand values and your value proposition as you build up remarketing lists.

F. Get ready for recovery

Lastly, whilst the present moment might be dominated by challenge, it will have an end and customers will want to travel again. Look forward to the next season, or to when people start travelling again, and see how you can be best prepared.

Choose the right channels

Users can spend months researching holidays, seeking out tips or, especially in the context of Coronavirus, trying to understand how their plans might be affected and for how long. This won’t all be done in one place, so being present across a mix of channels can maximise your chance of success. Given the lead times and production costs of traditional media, we’d recommend a more digital-first approach where campaign creative can be amended quickly and campaigns can be rapidly adjusted to suit market conditions. Depending on the type of holiday the user is looking to book, research tends to start anywhere from 1 - 4 months before booking. City breaks and staycations may only require a shorter period of research, but for more substantial breaks such as tours, resort holidays or cruises, this may start up to 4 months prior to booking. Right now, focus may be shifting even further ahead. It’s therefore crucial that your brand is there at every step of the journey, be it on search, social or video platforms. It’s also really important that you play to the strengths of the channels that you do employ. For example, social channels are really powerful tools for driving discovery and providing people with travel inspiration. According to Facebook*, nearly 30% of us rely on social media for our travel discovery, so if you have high quality image or video assets which can be used in ads, or really interesting content about destinations that your company services, don’t neglect this research phase of the travel journey.

Understand your audience

When you’re looking to connect with your target audience, it’ll really help if you can understand what it is they’re looking for. For instance, when creating content that will appeal to potential customers, you may want to talk to your sales agents. The call centre is often the front line for user experience and these experts will know all the most popular questions and roadblocks that potential customers have when researching holidays. And, in uncertain times, the most common doubts and concerns will be reaching these teams too, so for a fuller understanding of your customers, ask your agents. You can also review analytics and search query reports that will highlight information your users are really looking for, and matching this up with a content plan can provide an ‘in’ to their decision cycle. You might find a load of activity that you don’t feel you can service (virus advice, for example), but the knowledge will be useful in refining your campaigns. You’ll also want to make sure that you have a good idea of when exactly your audience is likely to be looking – i.e. make sure that your brand is in the right place at the right time. Both seasonality and time of day can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your campaigns, and the messages that you might want to put out. A good example of this would be how you might want to target users who do research during the commute. Users may not convert whilst on the bus or train, so remarketing to them later, or directing them to tailored content can maximise your opportunity during these hours.

Target effectively

Your most valuable users are going to be those who have previously engaged with you and your website. It’s vital that you do your best to make the most of retargeting audiences further down the funnel, but don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Someone who has browsed 5+ pages researching holidays on your website is much more qualified than a user who has simply bounced off your homepage. Segment your retargeting audiences so that you can tailor messages and prioritise budgets to where they’ll be most effective, and don’t forget to make use of social profile retargeting to keep those who have engaged with your social media pages updated with your brand’s messages. If your website has a FAQ, cancellation information, or pages about the Coronavirus, you might make audience lists from visitors to these, so that you can serve (or not serve) ads to them in the appropriate way.

For your prospecting efforts, platforms like Google Ads allow you to adjust bids for in market audiences, meaning that you’re able to increase the efficiency of your campaigns by bidding higher for people who the engine has determined might already be in the travel buying cycle.

Additionally, you can make improvements to your audience targeting by understanding when being close to the relevant departure point (airport, port, station, etc.) leads to higher conversion rates. If users are too far away from these points to make holiday plans practicable, they’re likely to find an alternative means of travel which is more convenient. Predicting and analysing this behavior can help inform your bidding strategies and campaign targeting, which will ultimately drive greater overall efficiency.

Be easy to find and buy from

After investing months of research into holiday plans, you’ll need to convince your potential customers that choosing you is the right decision, and that they have made a safe choice in these uncertain times. Primarily, users need to be assured that their experience will be frictionless and risk-free, which is why it’s vital that you invest in trust signals to help seal the deal. Encourage reviews from your recent customers to show off the great experiences they’ve had, and when negative reviews come in, be proactive. Engaging quickly to resolve issues can help to reassure prospective customers that your business cares about its customers, and would happily step in should issues arise in the future. You’ll certainly need a Coronavirus response right now, being transparent about how it might affect their purchase or steps you’re taking to help concerned customers. If people are publicly asking about it, a public response can go a long way to reassure your future customers as well. Similarly, don’t neglect ancillary travel platforms such as Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and Pinterest, which users will use to gather extra information such as reviews, travel arrangements, endorsements, and inspiration. Another useful exercise to help boost conversion rates is to shop like a consumer (or buy a user test) to compare your offering with competitors. From this you can learn where you lose out in the purchase funnel - be it on price, proposition, confidence, reviews, or other factors. It also goes without saying that as part of improving your purchase funnel experience, you need to make the most of mobile. A poor mobile experience is no longer acceptable, and is even more important in this vertical given the amount of time users are investing into research on mobile devices. Combining a good mobile experience with your best quality photo and video assets will help provide an optimal experience and really show off your products.

Remain restless

Once your campaigns are up and running and generating results, your job isn’t finished. Even more so at the moment, anything you planned for might change, and what worked last week, might not work next week, so you need to stay alert. Use ad platform analytics to tweak your audiences to find pockets of opportunity and areas of wasted spend. There are going to be demographics and user profiles who are much more engaged with your proposition than others, so examine your audience’s performance and adjust your budgets and bids accordingly. You may want to think about adjusting your approach for those who are young, old, male, female, parents, non-parents, and previous engagers, as they are all likely to behave in different ways. If, for example, your business sold luxury resort stays, you may find that diverting your attention away from younger users who are unlikely to have the money to invest in such a holiday would benefit your campaign performance. Or maybe, with disruption from Coronavirus, a promotion served to a new audience might fill in a gap, if your usual customers are staying away. Similarly, try to react to other fast moving trends - a celebrity endorsement of a destination or a TV travel show can generate a spike in demand. Or, when the Coronavirus passes, there may be a rush to get away, or simply a rush to get home. Be reactive to capitalise on these fast moving trends if there’s any crossover with your offerings, and you might just get the first mover advantage and come out on the upside after a difficult period for the industry. Find out more information about our marketing services.

*Source: Source: Travel Consumer Journey Study by Accenture (Facebook-commissioned online study of 1,094 respondents ages 18+, United Kingdom, July 2018)

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