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Travel Ad Spend Reboots

Covid-19 hit, and travel plans got cancelled. Hotels shuttered while airlines grounded planes, and nearly overnight the travel industry went from bustling to stagnant. But now, movement is resuming. Nielsen recently reported that seven out of 10 Americans are eager to book a vacation and hop on a plane. Despite the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus that is hitting unvaccinated populations particularly hard, over two-thirds of the world’s countries, including most European nations, are now accessible to US tourists. Canada also opened its border to fully vaccinated Americans on August 9. That spells good news for the travel sector that saw ad spend drop 77 percent in 2020. Here’s how some companies are welcoming back consumers after a long year away.

Local Diversions
When excursions did occur in 2020 they often took place close to home, accessed via cars as opposed to boats or planes, with consumers striving to avoid crowds. Some concerns about public gatherings may now be easing, but many Americans remain cost-conscious after making it through a challenging economic year. In response, advertisers hoping to target budget bookers may do well by featuring local destinations, as per eMarketer’s report. Car companies that sold off large portions of their fleets during the height of the pandemic are now also working to rebuild inventory as wanderlust sets in and consumers seek to hit the open road.

Of course, not all excursion decisions are informed by finances. A staggering nine out of 10 Americans have travel planned for 2021, according to a recent Longwoods International poll. Tired of being cooped up, revenge travel defines a new class of voyager who’s more willing to spend money exploring an exotic locale and less likely to cancel plans regardless of Covid restrictions. Increased demand directly correlates to a rise in both domestic and international airfare rates, which were up nine percent and 17 percent since April 1, respectively. Some hotels in popular vacation spots like Mexico and Hawaii now cost more to book than they did pre-pandemic.

Meaningful Excursions
Whether its reconnecting with friends or family not seen for months or commemorating important occasions like weddings and birthdays, travel has in many ways become more meaningful. Today’s treks may require masks, Covid tests, quarantine periods and proof of vaccination. Companies are keeping pace by shifting policies to comply with CDC and government regulations. “After a year of very low traffic demand, we’re excited to see [travel] coming back, and we’ve been adding new routes and making sure that we’re ready,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines managing director of marketing and advertising, in eMarketer’s report. “We had made a lot of changes to the flying process to ensure that we had important safety and cleaning procedures in place.” Ditto for hotel groups, which are taking extra steps to guarantee guests’ comfort and safety. eMarketer reports that Hilton Hotels recently revised its service policy to be more flexible in terms of cancellation policies plus onsite amenities. “With the uncertainty that came with the pandemic and how quickly things are changing, people found that they needed to be able to change their plans at the last minute,” said Amy Martin-Ziegenfuss, senior vice president of global enterprise and brand marketing. “They expect the brands that they buy from to meet them there in terms of flexibility.” As with airline reservations and car rentals, hotel discounts hold great appeal. Roughly 56 percent of US adults said they’d be more likely to book a trip if the hotel offered a rebate, according to an Adweek-Morning Consult poll.

Experiential Offerings
Perhaps in the biggest sign of a return to normal times, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) told eMarketer that tourism is back in Sin City. “We’re seeing active bookings from all of our segments, whether it’s casino guests, meetings and groups, or just the leisure traveler,” said CMO Kate Wik. “I have three words for you: pent-up demand.” Many Vegas resorts, dining venues and entertainment destinations are accommodating shorter booking windows that average 30 to 45 days in advance, as continuously evolving circumstances make it hard to lay long-term plans. Safety matters, along with the thrill of novel experiences. Case in point: The Las Vegas Convention Center recently partnered with Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to create the Vegas Loop, an underground tunnel network that whisks customers around the Center in a private electric Tesla. Two national LVCVA television spots, “The Dance” and “Boom Boom Clap,” welcome back visitors after months of isolation.

Though travel is still in recovery mode following last year’s slump, Morning Consult reports that 64 percent of Americans have planned a US-based trip this summer. Optimism regarding the pandemic may be low as Delta-related cases continue to drive infection rates, but cabin fever can’t be underestimated. In fact, nearly 24 percent of Americans are already looking forward to a fall getaway, according to destination analysts.  Here’s hoping that travel might be back to stay as we keep a close eye on coronavirus variants plus CDC recommendations.