International travel might be permitted again, but big challenges still remain for the travel and tourism industry. With safety rules (and the ever-changing traffic light system) still in place, levels of consumer doubt and confusion remain high, while staffing issues plague companies.
So, how are travel and tourism brands using marketing to get back on track?
Using communication to restore confidence
The vaccine rollout has ignited fresh hope for the recovery of the travel industry. This has been reflected in ad spend, with Pathmatics data stating that the travel category has more than doubled its digital ad investment since January this year, spending $480.6 million between the 1st May and 20th August alone.
However, with Covid variants still spiking, consumers are naturally reticent about travel (and its practicalities). According to an STR survey undertaken in July 2021, Covid-19 is still a major factor in whether or not consumers are booking trips, with 95% of respondents who have not yet booked or undertaken travel citing Covid as the reason why.
When it comes to overall barriers to travel, the survey found that the biggest include costly Covid tests and uncertainty around cancellations, as well as comfort-related reasons such as fellow passengers not following the rules, and Covid diminishing the overall experience.
Unsurprisingly, communication is a crucial factor for engaging consumers and instilling trust in travel companies. Not only this, but communication can be a crucial differentiator in maintaining customer loyalty, too. According to Braze’s ‘Ready to Take Off’ report, 34% of global travellers say they would consider booking with another company if they didn’t get the communications they expected.
Overall, we are seeing recognition of this from travel and tourism companies, with many using digital channels to educate and inform consumers on Covid rules. Skyscanner is one prominent example, with the company’s live interactive restrictions map providing an instant overview on current restrictions, as well as email alerts when rules change. The latter is particularly effective, as 43% of travellers in Braze’s report also say they prefer to receive travel updates via email, compared to just 21% who prefer a call and 16% who prefer texts or direct messages.
Implementing flexible tools and services
Alongside clear communication, brands are also prioritising new tools and services to actively support consumer confidence and aid flexibility in travel.
One example is Amadeus, which recently announced that it is to distribute Hopper’s fintech solutions to partnering travel providers, including its ‘Cancel for Any Reason’ insurance, which enables travellers to receive 80% of the ticket cost back for any cancelled flight, and ‘Price Freeze’, which fixes the price of a flight for up 14 days.
Research suggests that by offering this level of flexibility, consumers are more likely to bite the bullet and book. According to Hopper, 80% of travellers say they would book a flight if they could change or cancel the ticket without penalty. Similarly, a recent Discover survey found that 86% of respondents cited flexibility of cancellation policies as an important factor in booking a trip.
Another rising trend within travel is ‘travel now, pay later’ schemes, which are geared towards consumers who want to ease the financial impact of booking a holiday by spreading the cost over time. For travel companies and airlines, TNPL is becoming a strategy used to increase conversion rates – particularly among consumers who tend to just browse. As with retail’s ‘buy now, pay later’ options, the market is growing, with a number of partnerships between companies and big names in the travel industry. According to PYMNTS, Tripster has recently integrated travel-centric buy-now-pay-later service, Uplift, into its travel booking site, while Southwest Airlines and Universal Orlando Florida are also partners.
Offering incentives to support the vaccine roll out
The resurgence of the travel industry heavily relies on the vaccine roll-out, of course, and with many countries also adopting a two-vaccination policy in order for travellers to avoid quarantine, it has generated strong industry support.
In order to further boost vaccination rates, we are seeing airlines and travel brands support vaccination efforts, offering both general initiatives as well as more tangible incentives. One of the most high-profile examples has been Tourism Australia with the ‘It’s Our Best Shot’ campaign, designed to highlight how vaccinations will help tourism (and everyday life) recover in Australia.
As part of the campaign, Tourism Australia shared a toolkit to help other businesses industry spread the word, including assets for use across social media platforms.
Tourism Australia has launched a vaccination initiative called “It’s our best shot for travel” that encourages Australians to support the tourism industry by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. They have also developed a toolkit which is available here: https://t.co/xDn4PT6MqC pic.twitter.com/DDCWVRTSNI
— VisitSCcorporate (@VisitSCcorp) August 19, 2021
Elsewhere, companies are offering direct incentives for the public to get vaccinated. US tour operator smarTours has partnered with CVS this summer to launch a sweepstakes competition, enabling six vaccinated couples to win a trip to desirable holiday destinations around the globe.
Airline Qantas is also offering rewards for fully-vaccinated Australian customers, with Frequent Flyer members able to claim either 1000 Qantas points, 15 status credits or a $20 flight discount. Furthermore, members are automatically entered into a ‘mega prize draw’ to be in with a chance of winning a year’s worth of flights, accommodation, and fuel. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce reportedly described the scheme as a way of saying “thank you to Australians for stepping up and protecting themselves and others.”
Finally, in the UK, Lastminute.com has joined a government initiative to boost vaccination rates. Joining other companies to also offer incentives – including Deliveroo, Asda, and National Express – Lastminute.com is offering customers a £30 gift voucher towards a holiday abroad when they book their first or second vaccination through the NHS website between August 20th and August 31st.
Improving the in-flight experience
While vaccinations are helping to get the industry moving again, airlines are also enticing people back into air travel with improvements to the flying experience. After all, with additional Covid-related hoops to jump through – plus staffing issues leading to mass cancellations, in the case of the US – the current travel experience is proving to be more stressful than ever. However, some airlines are doing all they can to improve and enhance the experience once passengers are in the air.
United Airlines is one example, having recently rolled-out an option for economy passengers to pre-order food and drink for their flight five days before they travel. According to United, the decision to extend the service to economy passengers (and not just premium flyers) is “a reflection of the customer experience transformation underway at the airline.”
The airline is also positioning the pre-order service as an extension of its Covid safety protocols – enabling cabin crew to serve passengers without handling credit cards – as well as a bid to deliver a faster and more personalised service to customers.
This is not the only recent change to United flights, with the airline also implementing bluetooth technology into its Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, alongside the “industry’s fastest available wi-fi”. United says it will also upgrade its mainline fleet to this standard in future, meaning “more overall available seats in the market, more premium seats on each aircraft, as well as better entertainment, overhead storage and technology features.”
Elsewhere, American Airlines is investing in its in-flight entertainment with a new TikTok partnership, allowing passengers 30 minutes of free WiFi to watch TikTok videos. Once the 30 minutes are up, passengers will be prompted to either purchase additional WiFi or end their session.
While American Airlines has been criticised for removing its seat-back entertainment in the past – insisting that most passengers use their own devices instead – the airline has been heavily investing in its in-light streaming entertainment platform (which passengers can connect to via their own technology). This now includes a partnership with Apple Music, as well as free remote learning access with Rosetta Stone and Skillshare. Clarissa Sebastian, MD of Premium Customer Experience and Onboard Products, explained that “the importance of personal enrichment has grown over the past year, but so have the varying priorities competing for our attention.”
With airlines increasingly vying for the attention and loyalty of consumers, post-Covid, we could see many more making in-flight customer experience a priority.