For many COVID-weary travelers, hope is on the horizon as vaccines roll out across the country just in time for vacation season. Optimistic travelers are jumping online to book travel, according to a recent article by Debra Kamin for The New York Times.
It’s not just domestic travel that will receive a boost, according to a recent report from TripAdvisor. “In the U.S., more than a third of travelers (34%) surveyed say they are much more likely to take an international trip in 2021, once they have received the vaccine.” With promises of reduced penalties for last-minute cancellations and offers to redeem reservations at a later date, vacation, travel and hospitality brands are looking to boost consumer confidence and retain previously loyal customers.
To effectively connect, engage and convert consumers, travel brands need more than just compelling messaging across their digital channels. Re-engaging with consumers after reducing send frequency to email databases and rebuilding behavioral data in advertising platforms is top of mind as the cookieless era continues to force innovation in analytics and campaign measurement.
First-Party Data Can Help Understand Today’s Travelers, But Don’t Expect Travel Behaviors To Become Consistent Yet
“The 12-month near-total cessation of travel caused by the pandemic obliterated a tried-and-true source of behavioral data: bookings," according to Tedd Evers, CEO of TripTuners. “Without recent historical data, recommendations from even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence modeling will be outdated, a reflection of our pre-COVID hand-shaking selves.”
Travel brands that invested in the nurturing of consumers in their databases will have an early mover advantage, as they’ll have open and click data that can provide some insight with regard to consumer mindset. Mining internal website search activity and popular content, along with insights pulled from social channels, can also provide intelligence that speaks to today’s travelers.
With or without first-party data, travel advertisers should be cautious of assuming too much about consumers. Comfort levels with regard to travel are in flux, and consumer behaviors with regard to travel searching and booking will also continue to evolve.
Travel Brands That Offer Comfort Are Alleviating Consumer Concerns
While all travelers are different, most travelers are likely to have the pandemic on their minds as they research options. Policies updated for today’s environment – including cancellation flexibility and heightened cleaning services – should attract prospective travelers and make them more likely to take action.
Travel Cancellation & Postponement Policies Encouraging Bookings
Many cruise lines, airlines and hotels are trying to maintain customer loyalty and boost retention through reservation postponement policies. Although consumers want flexible policies and cancellation assurances for worst-case scenarios, prospective travelers are hopeful to travel and often comfortable with pushing trips into the future when necessary versus cancelling them completely.
“Hotels must continue to embrace flexible cancellation policies as people are still anxious about how the pandemic will evolve. This will continue to give potential travelers the confidence to book. To help assure bookings, many hotels now offer cancellation refunds in the form of a credit towards a future stay. This is likely to continue in 2021,” predicts Pedro Colaco, CEO at GuestCentric Systems.
A hospitality brand that remains connected to customers through reminders of travel credit available for future use can keep the aspirational interest alive through creative content. Offering virtual cooking classes with local chefs, property and nearby attraction updates, plus sharing positive local news, are ways to further extend psychological safety to valued guests while they wait for the right time to rebook.
New Safety Promises Reassure Travelers
Travel and hospitality advertisers should be focused on alleviating safety concerns with clear messaging about their cleaning and social distancing protocols and commitments to guest safety. Many major hotel chains have tackled customer confidence with campaigns such as Marriott’s Commitment to Clean, Hilton’s Clean Stay program, Extended Stay America’s STAY Confident program and Hyatt’s Safety First, Wellbeing Always promise. To be effective, the communication of these programs must indicate awareness of coronavirus concerns and health department recommendations and the actions taken to address these concerns. When successful, travel and hospitality brands are communicating their desire to prioritize guest safety and comfort, alleviating the need for guests to worry about their decisions to travel.
Whether connecting with prospective travelers via email or any other channel, understanding the mindset of today’s traveler is essential to connect, engage and convert them. But historical data, often leveraged in the past, may not be relevant today. Travel marketers will need to stay agile in the days ahead, keeping their eyes open to changing behaviors and quickly adjusting communications in response.
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