Desperate for dollars, travel brands ramp up fall campaigns
It’s not an easy time to be a travel brand, but marketers are hoping that pent-up demand, coupled with the flexibility of new work and school structures this fall, could lead to more bookings. To that end, several brands are unleashing fresh marketing this week.
Some of the new work acknowledges that few are traveling at the moment, but that demand is still present for future trips—when restrictions lift. Other work hits on how new lifestyle arrangements could lead to more domestic travel by car, for example. Earlier this week on the “Marketer’s Brief” podcast, Jen Young, co-founder and chief marketing officer of RV rental site Outdoorsy, said that bookings for roadtrips are on the rise, a trend expected to continue through the holidays.
The new commercials follow a steep decline in ad spending by travel brands amid coronavirus lockdowns and consumer safety precautions. Travel and tourism brands spent $1.9 billion on ads bin the U.S. between January and June of this year, a drop of 54 percent over the same period last year, according to Kantar. However, demand picked up a bit in the summer months, according to Kantar, which noted in a recent report that during the week of July 27, 74 percent of consumers said they are more likely to avoid non-essential travel, compared with 87 percent the week of April 3. In addition, consumers clicking on paid search travel ads is also on the rise—Kantar reports that such clicks rose 800 percent from April through July as consumers shopped online.
Travel brands are hoping to get their business, or at least remain top of mind when travelers do decide to book.
On Monday, Expedia debuted “Stop Motion. Start Traveling,” which included a commercial that followed a couple imaginatively recreating travel scenes within the confines of their apartment. Brooms become diving boards and linens transform into a mountain. The campaign, which uses stop-motion design to create the scenes, is the latest from Team One, Expedia’s agency-of-record within Saatchi, which has worked with the brand since 2018.
Similarly, Hotels.com, which has not pulled back from marketing during the pandemic, is at it again with a new Captain Obvious spot from CPB. In the 30-second commercial, the spokesman revisits his past 2019 “BC before-COVID” self with the dire message about 2020. “Let’s just say it gets a bit dramatic—there’s no toilet paper, no hand sanitizer or sports… oh and trips were canceled,” he says before urging viewers to use free cancellations on Hotels.com as no one knows what the future holds.
The campaign comes as travelers, wary of cancellation fees, book directly with hotels and airlines. Brands have been urging travelers to book direct for years, which has squeezed online agencies like Hotels.com, Expedia and Travelocity, which have also faced pressure from a growing travel bookings business by Google.
In recent months, there has been an increased interest in booking directly during COVID-19 because online travel agencies have stricter cancellation policies, according to Kristin Moody, associate VP at Analytic Partners, a marketing and measurement consulting firm, who notes that “brand-direct has recovered the quickest given the perceived higher connection to the provider itself, generating greater confidence in safety and sheer availability.” On Expedia’s website, for example, it promotes “Free cancellation and no change fees,” but such terms are only for those reservations that “qualify,” the site reads. An Expedia spokeswoman did not return a call requesting comment. Hotels.com says free cancellation with "most hotels" on its site.
The key for many consumers when it comes to travel appears to be flexibility, a concept vacation rental site Vrbo is laying into heavily in its new campaign, its first from CPB, which was named AOR earlier this year. The Expedia-owned Vrbo has a new commercial that shows a family enjoying time at the beach, even while the mom works on and off. “When work can happen anywhere, why not take it somewhere that works for everyone?,” a voiceover suggests.
The new campaigns come on the heels of a travel campaign from the U.S. Travel Association and 75 travel brands that was released in early September. “Let’s Go There” encourages consumers to start thinking about planning a trip.
Beleaguered airlines have also been making changes. United recently said it was cutting 16,000 jobs, while Spirit Airlines is trying to upgrade airports with social distancing measures. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines said this month it was eliminating change fees on both domestic and international flights for all tickets except its lower-priced “Saver” fares.