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Travel ads take off after delay

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The beleaguered travel industry is finally starting to pump some money back into advertising, reaching out to business travelers with new ad campaigns as the economy slowly recovers.

Most travel companies, including airlines and hospitality providers, pulled or drastically cut back on their advertising in the aftermath of 9/11 as they weighed the impact of the terrorist attacks on their business. The recession and cutbacks in corporate travel budgets only worsened their situation. But now, as businesses recover and travel is starting to pick up, marketers are looking to stimulate business.

American Airlines, British Airways and Radisson Hotels & Resorts are just a few of the travel and hospitality companies that have launched major ad campaigns in the last month aimed squarely at business travelers.

"We have seen an increasing number of promotions this year aimed specifically at business travelers," said Jared Blank, travel analyst for Jupiter Research. "The consensus seems to be [business travel] has bottomed out, and we are seeing the first signs of improvement."

However, Blank added, "It’s still a long way from where the airlines and hotels need it to be."

First ads since mid-1990s

American Airlines debuted its "I Fly" integrated campaign on Sept. 15. It marked the first time since the mid-1990s that the carrier has launched a major campaign for business travelers, said Rob Britton, director of advertising for American Airlines.

"We have been advertising pretty substantially about more room throughout coach for a few years, but this is the first time we have spoken to business travelers for a number of years," Britton said.

The campaign, developed by Temerlin McClain, Dallas, includes TV and print ads that show the benefits of flying American for business, including the carrier’s extensive network and large number of flights.

TV ads are running on cable channels including CNN, ESPN and A&E, and print ads are running in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek.

"Our budget was reduced rather substantially after 9/11, and the trend has been downward since then," said Britton, who declined to disclose the airline’s overall ad budget or the campaign budget. "We’re about as down as we can get."

British Airways’ flat beds

Last month, British Airways launched a campaign for its Club World flat bed service, with a tagline of "Sleep better in business class." TV and print ads were developed by M&C Saatchi, and online ads were created by itraffic, a subsidiary of Agency.com. The campaign is aimed at international business travelers.

British Airways has been promoting its Club World service for the past three years, but, like other airlines, its advertising was significantly affected by 9/11 and the economic slump.

"We were in a cash-poor environment, and we had to be prudent," said Amy O’Kane, manager of marketing services for British Airways North America.

She said British Airways pulled all its advertising after 9/11 but returned with ads targeting leisure travelers about six weeks later.

"We felt it was important to keep a presence," O’Kane said.

British Airways’ ad budget is up this year over last year, she said, but she declined to disclose details of the overall budget or the budget for the latest campaign.

"We feel it’s critically important to stimulate travel with our business customers," O’Kane said. To do that, the airline is focusing on the benefits of a comfortable sleep and illustrating business travelers riding in comfort. Previous ads focused more on the product than on the passenger.

O’Kane said the use of online ads has been an important part of the company’s strategy, since research found 95% of its customer base is online every day.

"It is incredibly important to allow us to expand our reach and find people at work," O’Kane said.

British Airways print ads are running in Forbes, Fortune, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Online ads are running on theeconomist.com, The Wall Street Journal Online and ft.com.

Radisson’s ‘own way’

Radisson Hotels & Resorts, a division of Carlson Hotels Worldwide, also launched a campaign last month targeting business travelers. The $5.3 million effort was developed by Bolin Marketing, Minneapolis, and has a tagline of "Stay your own way." The campaign is aimed at frequent business travelers who want to control their hotel experience.

Print ads are running in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Fortune, Forbes and BusinessWeek. TV ads are running on national broadcast and cable networks, as well as the CNN Airport Network. It is the first time in three years that Radisson has used TV ads.

"That was mainly a budget issue, with the whole economy being down," said Carla Bormes, director of brand strategy at Carlson Hotels Worldwide. She added that 9/11 had a significant impact on the hotel group’s advertising to business travelers. "Because business travelers were so affected, it certainly impacted the amount of advertising and the way we advertised," she said.

However, she said, "Now we see early indications of business travel starting to rebound. We’re putting more funds toward this very important audience," and she confirmed that Radisson’s ad budget has increased this year over last year.

Other hotels in the Carlson group, including Country Inns & Suites, Park Plaza, Park Inn and Regent International, are continuing to advertise in USA Today and regional print publications.

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