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The Road to Recovery for the Travel Industry

5 MINUTE READ | November 19, 2020

The Road to Recovery for the Travel Industry

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

The road to recovery post-COVID will almost certainly be tumultuous but not without pockets of opportunity for travel marketers and hoteliers.

Earlier today, we dropped in to hear from our friends at Koddi during their webinar with Google on what the road to recovery looks like for the travel industry. Let’s take a closer look at what the experts discussed and what marketers can expect in the months ahead. 

While global travel has certainly taken a hit during the pandemic, leading indicators from the likes of Google, Koddi, and other partners show that travel demand remains. Google Search behavior reveals that people are opting for either more remote destinations or vacation getaways that avoid flying and are much closer to home. In fact, over 90 percent of hotel searches in the U.S. in September were for domestic destinations, according to Koddi’s internal data. 

This trend is consistent with what was shared in Airbnb’s prospectus last week. While the pandemic initially crushed Airbnb’s business, an “unforeseen pick up in local stays” (combined with cost-cutting measures) led the company to post a profit of $219 million over Q3. In that same timeframe, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky also ordered a redesign of Airbnb’s apps and website to emphasize local stays during the pandemic, which has seemed to pay off ahead of Airbnb’s December IPO. 

With tools like Facebook’s information hub serving as an easy-to-use source of truth, consumers are being empowered to make the best decision for their unique travel plans — whatever they may be. As a result, data from Google’s COVID-19 community mobility reports show that rising coronavirus cases in the U.S. haven’t appeared to impact travel demand (or interest in traveling). Demand is certainly depressed compared to 2019 but the consumer behavior that’s driving these demand trends facilitates pockets of opportunity for marketers to engage with travelers.

Screengrab from the Koddi x Google “Road to Recovery” webinar

Rather, local restrictions are the biggest disruptor as consumers seek to understand how local guidelines will affect their mobility. This phenomenon will certainly be put to the test in the coming days as local and CDC officials recommend that people reduce large Thanksgiving gatherings — and therefore, some travel. 

Looking ahead, broader consumer and market trends shed light on the future of travel. 

It’s evident that everyone has been taking greater precautions to slow the spread of disease this year, which is why cleaning and safety procedures remain a top priority for travelers around the globe. Travel brands that quickly implemented contact-free check-in or keyless entries early on in the pandemic (or even before March 2020) are reaping the benefits of those investments with positive consumer sentiment and a greater share of bookings. Just take a look at this compilation from Koddi that shows how top brands are emphasizing cleanliness in brand messaging: 

Image courtesy of the Koddi blog

Interestingly, Brain Chesky commented to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that many Airbnb users consider stand-alone properties safer than using shared facilities in hotels. That sentiment would certainly explain the popularity of alternative accommodations including B&Bs, RV parks, campgrounds, especially as more travelers seek less-crowded destinations. For hoteliers, that means brand communications focused on cleaning protocols and safety procedures will remain critical during holiday 2020 and well into the 2021 travel season.

As Koddi highlighted, consumers are also using this unique time to invest in more outdoor activities and visit national parks and green spaces. 

Other important trends noted by the Koddi team were consumers’ ever-changing search habits. Pre-COVID, vacation-goers would often book their accommodations weeks — if not months — in advance. Now, more travelers are searching and booking within days of their arrival date. This trend is likely a by-product of pandemic-induced economic volatility but also mobile’s dominance in the travel space. As more focus is put into contact tracing and understanding the nature of regional outbreaks (or how a state is responding to local outbreaks via restrictions of any kind), travelers are making decisions quicker than ever before and preferring their mobile devices to do so. 

Lastly, while there have been positive developments in the race for a vaccine, we can certainly still expect a level of uncertainty heading into 2021, particularly in the first half of the year. With more WFH and less business travel for working professionals, a greater interest in traveling locally, and a shorter booking window when folks do decide to travel, travel marketers will need to remain agile and up to date on the latest consumer trends while acting on those pockets of opportunity within digital marketing programs as they appear. 

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For even more analysis on the travel industry, be sure to check out all the thought leadership and reports over on Koddi’s blog.