Marketing Travel During Covid-19 Crisis • Burt Systems Uganda

Marketing Travel During Covid-19 Crisis

Marketing Travel During Covid-19 Crisis

Marketing Travel during Covid-19 crisis

Marketing Travel & Staying Relevant During Covid-19 Crisis

Who knew that I could lazily sit back on my couch, fire up a blue screen and visit the grand canyon at the click of a button using Virtual Reality. People will continue to travel after the Covid-19 crisis is managed, the question is: how is marketing travel going to evolve for your travel brand to stay relevant in the industry, even when the crisis comes to an end?

Coronavirus is a human crisis beyond most of our scariest dreams – travel culture will be restarting and the way we approach travel marketing is going to reboot. 

Covid may live with us for a while but the way we travel is going to change and you should be ready to adopt. Data suggests that travelers are ready to hear about travel now, online travel searchers are beginning to rise slowly.

Your brand will be more important than ever in breaking through a cluttered market.

We also expect local travel to get a boost once travel bans are lifted. This is because we don’t expect international travel to normalise in the short run, given very few leisure travelers will be interested in traveling long distances anyway. While the current crisis is still unfolding, many have moved past the initial shock and are taking stock of how to survive and thrive in the coming months.

While this situation is very different from the SARS outbreak, the Great Recession and even the fallout we saw as an industry after 9/11, there are a few truths we can take away from all of those events:

  • While the timeline is debatable, the impacts we are seeing today will pass.
  • People want to travel, and our industry tends to spike quickly after a hiatus.
  • There are segments of people who look for travel inspiration in these situations.

It is important for marketers in our industry to recognize that while messaging, strategies and tactics must shift, the damage of going “dark” in marketing and communications at times like these far outweighs the short-term financial benefit. 

“In fact, the smart travel companies that we have spoken to last year have been holding marketing reserves for an eventual economic decline and were prepared to invest more heavily in targeting specific as the market showed signs of decline” Says MMGY’s COO, Craig Compagnone.

Empathy is as important as inspiration in message strategy

One thing we know is that businesses who continue to market, even during downturns, are in a stronger position when this turns around. Be ready for shorter lead times. People are already tiring of the virtual world and are craving physical connections like restaurant visits and other ways to socialize.

However, in the short term, people are online and they’re engaging with travel content. By reallocating your travel marketing dollars to digital channels, you have a tremendous opportunity to come out strong when this turns around. 

8 ideas for marketing your travel business and remaining Relevant to your customers during the Covid-19 crisis.

  1. Time to improve your website
    Mobile First
    Booking Functionality
    Email Capture
  2. Travel incentives and brand creativity.
  3. Maintain active audience dialogue
  4. Raise your SEO and Content Marketing efforts
  5. Narrow down your target audience
  6. Take your travel content on a virtual trip
  7. Embrace technology change
  8. Partner with other travel brands and professionals

1. Time to improve your website

If your financial position allows, use this time as an opportunity to stay engaged with your customers and prospects. Start conceiving recovery plans and strategize on what proxies can guide the best time to relaunch your travel website.

The time to plan for recovery is before the recovery. When digital activity rebounds and your competitors get back into the game, it will be too late to develop your online strategy like building a new website and more expensive to implement it. Use current great web design offers to retouch your online presence.

From mobile load time to navigation⁠—site structure, booking functionality to email capture, nearly any website can use an upgrade during low traffic.

Mobile First

Mobile should have been a 2020 priority even before Covid hit. 

According to Google research, 87% of travel planning happens on mobile and in the past year, conversion rates have grown 88% on mobile travel sites.

When moments of adventure travel hit us like an avalanche, we reach for the device nearest to us for answers—and that device is increasingly a smartphone. In the past year, mobile’s share of travel visits has grown by 48%, and, because mobile is helping people find what they want more quickly, time spent per session on mobile travel sites is down 7%, while mobile web conversion rates for travel sites have grown 88%*.

A mobile-first user experience is an absolute must these days and from an SEO perspective, there is consensus that search engines prefer fast loading mobile responsive websites.

Experiment with scrolling menus, drop-downs and other ways to package as much as possible into the mobile screen … which thankfully has grown over the years making it less daunting as it once was.

Booking Functionality

Imagine storming into the hospital emergency room and being asked to fill out a three page form first. How annoying is that to your psyche? That’s how many travel booking pages load.

Remove unnecessary entries that would make the booker hesitant, remove disruptive ads and information from the page (like blogs and ads), don’t ask for names first, make it a short and simple form for someone to fill out in less than 7 seconds.

Support contacts, follow up with informative emails for post-sales follow-ups. It’s not just about sending out a quotation and waiting for a confirmation. Provide ways for your customers to see into your process and be motivated to trust traveling with you.

Email Capture

In the time of crisis, email is key for proactively nurturing existing travel customer relationships. However, don’t overlook also having an email capture effort.

Even in times of slower activity, it is important to keep replenishing your email database. Make sure that your site makes it as easy as possible for anyone to join your email list, regardless of what page they are on.

First, many users may want to give you a better email to keep them updated (not the one where they send all their email subscriptions, but the one they actually check).

Secondly, there are likely new users you have not captured previously. People are working remotely more, many under reduced time arrangements and have more time to engage online.

And lastly, incentivize them with an offer or content to consume during the crisis like an eBook guide or travel experience story like this one. That will be sure to engage them and transact.

Investing in a website redesign will not be regrettable especially if you find a good modern website designer that understands the travel industry.

2. Travel incentives and brand creativity.

Relational memory: the ability to remember arbitrary associations between objects or events, has been used for years to influence human behavior. People relate more with brands that have been there during a big moment’s change. This is a time to prime travelers with your brand’s creativity so that when this criss ends, they can pick your offer easily from the crowd.

“Launching promotions for when people decide to travel again is another good initiative that can help you continue building brand loyalty.” Says Jenifer Philips, Smart Travel.

From lower rates and discounts to additions like personalized travel guides, a free night or spa coupon, offering promotions will incentive some travelers to choose your brand for their future trips. 

Thai Airways, for instance, is handing out free miles of up to three million to its members in a new campaign under one condition: they have to stay at home. We are also seen creative and emotional marketing campaigns from some DMOs making viable efforts to maintain awareness of the destination during the pandemic like Visit Britain, Discover Puerto Rico and Visit Philly (Philadelphia, United States).

Offering an experience which can be enjoyed whilst adhering to government travel restrictions is a fantastic idea, and is making the most of the current situation.

3. Maintain active audience dialogue

The first priority is to address current customer concerns. With that accomplished, begins the need for careful and persistent audience nurturing. 

When the COVID-19 crisis ends, you don’t want to start from scratch rebuilding your digital footprint and your brand’s online strength. To do so, to the extent resources allow, maintain presence dialogue through social, organic and paid channels.

Social is a great way to engage your audience beyond one way sympathy updates. While nice, they are every present and increasingly will not set you apart.

Organic search steps and site content optimization are worth considering as well. With the search engine results pages increasingly acting as a brand’s homepage, there is tremendous opportunity to capitalize on content that is becoming more relevant in today’s new normal.

Those companies that seize this chance to educate and empower users with helpful advice – how to travel smarter, travel cheaply, find hidden gems – empathetic content will keep their digital following through the hard times and beyond.

4. Raise your SEO and Content Marketing efforts

They may not be able to travel but travelers are spending their leisure time online, searching and browsing. The recent slowing of internet bandwidth worldwide is as a result of unprecedented online traffic.

Basically, SEO is optimizing your website’s pages based on search engine guidelines so that when a traveler searches for a relevant keyword, your content can be served on the search engine’s results page.

Content marketing and search engine optimization (which successfully work together) have long been known to to drive long-term travel traffic opposed to Pay Per Click (PPC) ads traffic that halts immediately when you stop paying.

Uganda travel companies are known to target search terms and ignore relevance and customer intent, which has influenced search engines to consider irrelevant search terms like gorilla ‘trekking’. Ignore the populus optimization that trick search engines and optimize for keywords that will actually get someone to enquire. 

Invest in producing quality and relevant content to the customer’s experience on your website’s blog. Optimize your website pages to rank individually, not just the homepage and get more powerful travel blogs and websites to link to your pages.

Use catching headlines and meta descriptions that entice a reader to click. Do not manipulate the search engines, and allow the user to enjoy browsing your website.

A good Content Marketing and SEO strategy will ensure long-term traffic to your website post covid-19 travel bans. But you should know that SEO takes time to bring results and there are no shortcuts. So get to it now or be obscured by the search cloud.

5. Narrow down your target audience

If your online marketing is very broad then it doesn’t speak to the needs of anybody. The travel market is far too large and diverse to reach effectively, tourism marketers use segmentation to better understand customer needs and allocate marketing dollars effectively.

Narrowing down your target audience helps you to identify a group and easily address their pain points and deeper emotional needs that drive their motivation and decisions.

Marketing to the masses that will ignore your calls to action is exhausting and demotivates marketing efforts. There are great advantages to be enjoyed in identifying which group of people you can serve best earlier on in marketing travel campaigns.

The first way most businesses will try to narrow and group their travel customers is through demographics. Demographics are the typical age, income, region, social status, more of a socioeconomic view of people. But what demographics fail to provide are motivations, needs, a specific identity to a typical traveler.

For example your travel marketing may approach it this way: That one of the demographics you want to reach are 30s to 40s middle-aged, maybe we call them DINKs: Double Income, No Kids. They’re from the United Kingdom or USA, college educated, they like the outdoors, they’re adventure seekers, and they’ll take two to three short vacations a year. That’s a demographic view of an audience.

To get through the Covid audience, you have to dive deeper into what they want out of a vacation. What are they may be looking for? And what emotional triggers will cause them to choose one vacation provider or one destination over another?

Create travel personas telling a story about a specific group of people. This will help you to connect your marketing in a very personal and emotional way to different groups based on their needs. 

You’ll develop your marketing according to the needs of someone who’s much more real than just a customer but someone who can rely on you to explore their travel fantasies.

6. Take your travel content on a virtual trip

To reduce the friction I’m likely to experience when I embark on planning a trip, I rely on the advice and assistance that travel experts provide online. And, judging from the sheer number of content creators who operate in this space, I’m not the only one.

With so many touchpoints to engage with, so many ways to facilitate and enhance the customer’s journey, and so many pain points your business can help them overcome, content marketing in the travel and hospitality field offers tremendous opportunities to build trust, create memorable moments, and add unique value for intrepid world explorers, road-weary business travelers, and everyone in between.

A travel marketing manager’s job involves a lot more than just posting some inspirational picturesque snapshots and telling tales of fun in the savanna. You face significant challenges when it comes to successful storytelling in this space, not to mention plenty of competition.

Growth in travel and tourism depends on your business’s ability to get people out of their homes (and away from their computers) and into the physical places in which you operate. But since the current situation compels them to stay home, you’ll focus less on what you offer as a business and more on compelling people to want to visit your location when travel is possible.

The use of beautiful photos of animals, waterfalls, and dreamy attractions has become ubiquitous – on both travel-related sites and consumers’ websites and social channels. Little distinguishes one destination from another. Travel marketing managers are good at telling people that we’re different, but not as good at demonstrating it.

People don’t book hotel rooms to motivate themselves to travel – they book them because they will be traveling. Focus your content experiences around the specific inspiration for a visit – like a business trip, a burgeoning interest in ecotourism, or a passion for world exploration – and you’ll take the first, critical step toward earning the loyalty of a niche audience that is well positioned to help your business grow. 

Despite the significant challenges, your tours and travel business has plenty of advantages when it comes to creating content. For one thing, your content has the power to put a world of travel experiences at the consumer’s fingertips in real and virtual settings during the covid-19 crisis.

7. Embrace technology change

The latest technology advances, which enable travel marketers to create “personalized moments that matter, brings up another reason it’s critical for tours and travel companies to revisit how they use technology to get bookings and serve their customers in this period and the future.

The travel industry is on the verge of an evolutionary leap, where the relationship between customer and brand is becoming truly real-time and relevant, according to the Deloitte report

The report predicts that increased adoption of technologies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, voice-response, and even cryptocurrency (and the user data they help generate) could help travel brands deliver joyful and uniquely personalized travel experiences – such as a push notification about a jazz show downtown sent to a hotel guest with a passion for live music or a special cocktail handed to a frequent business flyer as she boards her flight. 

Mobile Technology is undoubtedly the main player in the new ways of travel marketing. The cell phone has become our tour guide, travel agency, best restaurant locator, map, and more. It’s by our side during the entire purchase journey. In fact, according to TripAdvisor, 45% of users use their smartphone for everything having to do with their vacations.

Dive into latest technologies like Facebook Pixel to know who visits your website from facebook and how you can remarket to them, Google Analytics to give you the behaviour of your travel audience, Google Trends on what people search for, Customer Relations Softwares (CMS) like Mailchimp to signup, manage your online customers and serve them the right content, Augmented reality to serve the right customer the right content when they come to your websites.

The change in travel technology goes beyond improving processes or the tourist experience; it entails transforming the tourism system itself. Participating in making improvements to processes, customer service, relationships with customers, and the creation of new business models using current tech trends will naturally lead to benefits for the traveler, letting them simplify, and often enrich, the travel planning process during this period.  

8. Partner with other travel brands and professionals

Whether it’s an informal sharing and commenting on one another’s social media content, or a more formal arrangement, brands can help one another to boost visibility and gain more customers. It is also a good time to revisit your technology partners and see if there is a new need in your team that you could outsource. Trust other professionals and experts who can help you achieve your objectives. 

As we move into this next phase, people have adjusted to the initial shock and are now looking for diversions. Some have even started dreaming of their next vacation. The tours and travel companies that are timely and thoughtful with their travel marketing, will be best positioned for a strong return. 

And as part of your online engagement, your visitors may be searching for content related to your area as they browse trip ideas. 

At Burt Systems, we’ve spent close to 10 years helping tours and travel companies improve their travelers’ experience through travel content marketing, and now we want to help you Get Ready To Come Back stronger than ever during these difficult times. Engage our teams to point you in the right direction for free.

* Google Analytics, U.S. data from May 2014 to May 2015

Burt B.
Burt B.
The author is Burt Systems' founder, former software engineer, online marketer, and blogger. During the sudden change of culture in 2020, he used the opportunity to recreate his career. He has gone for other challenges, but we celebrate his works!

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