As we emerge from lockdown, there is huge uncertainty about the readiness of British families to get back into the holiday booking mindset. But as a travel company, can you afford to be on the wrong side of a booking surge if it occurs?
My expectation is that it will be a tale of two countries in the summer of 2020: for those on the furlough scheme or who have already been made redundant, it remains a time of huge uncertainty and worry. However, those still in jobs are likely to have more spending money than ever, due to being forced to stay in for months. It may be an exceptional circumstance, but this also represents an exceptional opportunity for travel companies to tap into this huge pent up demand.
So many travel companies, from Ryanair to Hertz to Hilton, will be planning their re-entry into the advertising market to first test the levels of demand, and then extend their investments into fertile areas that are generating the right levels of return on investment.
So what are the key factors travel companies should consider in these unusual times?
Adopt a UK data-led approach to decision making
A first consideration may be a pivot to targeting UK customers at this time, and away from the traditional focus on the high margins we are used to earning from international visitors coming to these shores. It may not be a total pivot to target UK consumers, but many travel companies will do well to learn quickly about the tactics for winning business from the UK holiday-makers doing a full ‘staycation’ for the first time.
In this new world travel companies will need a fresh approach to the data, with a test and learn approach. This will include a reassessment of their reporting to understand how many of their website visits, enquiries and bookings are coming from the UK, adapting creative and copy analytics to new segmentation and scoring, and shifting campaign focus based on the insights and signals that they observe. By following the data and reacting they will be best placed to win these new customers.
Set up reporting for the domestic market
Analytics platforms and reporting tools will need to be set up to look at the UK market in new ways. Many travel companies with predominantly international bookings will simply not have their analytics set up for the domestic market but will instead be drawing almost entirely international insights. However, what worked before may not be appropriate in these months as lockdown ends, and quarantine rules are relaxed. Additionally, the buying cycle may need to be monitored, as consumers are panicked by rising prices and the reduced number of package, room and flight availability. While travel companies might have worked on longer lead times in ‘normal times’, bookings this summer may follow different patterns. We might also see the summer season extended much further in the autumn, and marketing investment may need to follow this trend, or travel companies could miss out on this longer tail of booking demand.
Adapt digital ad copy and landing pages
Ad copy on landing pages and in digital ads will need to be ruthlessly examined to ensure the best engagement and conversion can be achieved for UK customers. Copy that might have worked in other territories may not work in the UK market. New testing will need to be instigated to understand what will work in the UK. It is certainly ironic that for many UK travel companies there may be less understanding of what will work for UK customers than in other overseas territories.
Exhaust your own channels
With many companies fishing in the same pool for paid ad campaigns, travel companies should also focus on exhausting their own channels to drive engagement and conversions. Email marketing remains an effective communication tool in the arsenal, especially for luring their existing customers away from the temptation of switching to a rival firm. The right approach should be to tailor messages based on customers’ preferences and permissions, so that your offers have resonance and engage your customers’ tastes, complemented by follow-up paid activity to drive customers to the final booking.
React swiftly to the fast-moving news agenda
With the fast-moving situation with the pandemic, travel companies should ensure they can react to the news agenda to provide timely and relevant communications to customers about their potential visit. This will include any restrictions that might be in place, specific social distancing requirements for the trip or safety measures that are in place. Many customers will be nervous about travelling at this time for obvious reasons so the more detail and information that can be provided, the better placed companies will be to win customers.
Ensure you adopt a mobile-first approach
In this new world it is crucial to do anything you can to have a head start over other competitors. This means ensuring a mobile-first strategy should be adopted. We recently conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of mobile site effectiveness commissioned, ‘Milliseconds Make Millions’. We discovered that just a 0.1 second improvement in the load-time of key pages of the mobile sites of travel brands delivered a 10.1% increase in conversion rate. Additionally we saw a decrease of 5.4% in bounce rate on the product listings page, a 3% increase in page views per session and a 1.9% up lift in average order value. These marginal gains could be a crucial factor for travel firms to win business ahead of competitors.
While times are undeniably tough in today’s market, there is an opportunity for travel companies to adapt to the new situation and save their summer. By following the data and acting fast, they can reach new domestic customers and prove there is no place like home.
Richard Wheaton, managing director, 55 London