Advice: Four tips on how the travel industry should be adapting its digital strategy during the pandemic

Chief executive of digital marketing agency Search Laboratory Chris Attewell shares his suggestions

Businesses across the country are being faced with unique challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there’s no escaping the fact the travel and tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit industries as a result of global travel restrictions.

With holiday cancellations, and a fall in bookings, many are seeing profits plummet and are responding by streamlining expenditure including cutting back on marketing budgets.

However, now is not the time to press pause on marketing. Here are my suggestions on the ways the travel industry can look at adapting to the ‘new normal’ of doing business during a pandemic to ensure a strong return when travel restrictions are lifted.

Adapt your messaging

With purchasing power taken away from consumers at present, focus your attention on the research phase of the buyer journey, rather than the bottom of the funnel stages. This means moving away from sharing deals, promotions and other sales messaging, which not only appears insensitive at a time when many are having their travel plans cancelled but is unlikely to get much traction as consumer confidence is low. Instead, look to add value to your customers and audience; within the travel industry this might include a mix of sharing updates on policies and where to find the latest travel information, and helping consumers research their next trip once travel restrictions are lifted.

It is important to be mindful that your content will appear among coronavirus-related posts on social media feeds, so make sure you are sensitive to the situation at hand and provide context to your posts. For example, sharing a beautiful image of a beach in Thailand can be made more relevant to the situation by accompanying it with a caption like ‘Where’s the first place you’ll visit when travel bans are lifted? This hidden gem has our vote’.

Assess your tone of voice

Getting your brand’s tone of voice just right during the pandemic is key; many consumers will be turning to travel companies for both practical advice and entertaining content, so it’s vital to strike the right balance.

When sharing practical updates about COVID-19, travel brands will be speaking to a broad audience: those whose existing holidays have been affected, those still hoping to make their trips, and potentially even those who may be stranded abroad and anxious to get home. You should adopt serious yet empathetic language to relay information; consumers will be anxious to know how they are affected as quickly as possible, and will want to know brands are doing all they can to help them.

With more time available to be spent online, consumers are looking for entertaining content to provide relief from what is happening in the world. Whether you are in a position to do so should be judged on an individual basis, remaining sensitive to your customers. Brands experiencing numerous complaints should work on addressing customer issues first before seeding out humorous posts. When you’re in a place to begin sharing more light-hearted content, be authentic to the brand you are and know your audience. If you are a luxury brand known for having a formal tone, now is not the time to share funny and informal content.

Honesty is key

Adopting an open and honest policy has never been more important. Acknowledge the current situation and be honest about any changes to policies and your approach to enquiries and bookings so that customers know what to expect when they need to get in touch. Be clear about the options your customers have in terms of refunding or rebooking trips, and highlight customer service waiting times; pin important information to your page and share useful links often. It’s also important to avoid using complicated jargon or an overly formal tone wherever possible – worried consumers want access to information without needing to decode unnecessarily complicated messaging.

Reassess your approach to PPC

With just 8% of consumers saying that brands should stop advertising during the pandemic and more people online now than ever, travel brands should avoid switching off all paid advertising where possible. Exactly how you need to adapt your campaigns is unique to your business, but some general advice includes:

  • Monitor the situation daily using tools like Google Ads and Google Trends to keep track of changes in search volumes
  • Keep an eye on conversion rates and cancellations to see if it is worth pausing paid activity
  • For generic (non-brand) campaigns, avoid the use of terms like coronavirus and COVID-19 so that your ads don’t appear when people are searching for travel updates around the pandemic
  • For brand campaigns, where people are searching for your brand name + coronavirus, make sure ads lead to the relevant landing page, e.g. if you have a page with all your coronavirus policies
  • Messaging for holiday booking queries should focus on 2021 as this is when people are likely to be looking. Highlight Atol and Abta protection and any free cancellations or date move policies you have in the ad copy.

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